Sunday, March 15, 2009

Farewell to my travel companions

It had to happen eventually and yes, it was a very emotional for everyone. Hopefully Facebook will keep us in contact over the months/years ahead.

Caroline, Rosie, Carly and Kaitlyn... good luck in Ecuador... and your future journeys!

Sunset at Paracus

One of our overnight stops on the way to Lima was in the resort town of Paracus. Here was the sunset over the bay. A nice finish to our travels over the highlands of Peru.

Cuzco (in a nutshell)

We had very little time for touring Cuzco but managed to take in a couple cathedral tours. These buildings were almost impossible to describe. The amount of detail inside is mind-boggling!

Manchu Picchu (afternoon)

Llama's are used natural lawnmowers to keep the the grass down low. They were brought in as animals for a set in a movie a few years ago and were not taken back... so were a welcome addition to the grounds crew.

Manchu Picchu (afternoon)

Here's a breathtaking view of the valley going back towards the village of Aquas Caliente from the Sungate.

Manchu Picchu (afternoon)

Carly, Rosie and I opted for another hike... this one back up to the Sungate where the real Inca Trail enters the valley of Manchu Picchu. This is the route the Inca's would have used that comes from Cuzco. This is a very nice view of Manchu Picchu and also is used as one of the equinox points to reveal the winter solstice! Carly almost pushed me off the cliff (so it would appear).

Manchu Picchu (afternoon)

Here's the typical pic you would see in an advert on Manchu Picchu... although I thought I'd try it as B&W as well.

Manchu Picchu (Waynapicchu ascent)

Okay, anyone for a little cliffside yoga on top of Waynapicchu?

Manchu Picchu (Waynapicchu ascent)

Some of the trail conditions... you don't want to slip or miss a step around this corner!

Manchu Picchu (Waynapicchu ascent)

Welcoming committee at the top.

Manchu Picchu (Waynapicchu ascent)

Looking back onto Manchu Picchu.

Manchu Picchu (Waynapicchu ascent)

We opted for the side trip which was a climb to the top of the pinnacle mountain next to Manchu Picchu which was called Waynapicchu. It was a fairly difficult and at times, a treacherous ascent but we all completed the journey... at an astonishing pace I might add!

Manchu Picchu (morning tour)

A top the important area known as the sundial. This was a key building constructed to inform the people of the changing seasons through the use of the sundial that was pointed strategically and arranged in a manner to depict the equinoxes when the sun rose between mountains off in the distance.

Manchu Picchu (morning tour)

And an example of how the split stone... they would use the natural cracks in the rocks and wedge wood into the cracks, then soaked the wood. The wood would expand and force the crack open until it broke apart.

Manchu Picchu (morning tour)

Here's the working quarry; evidence they were not completed when they left.

Manchu Picchu (morning tour)

Guide informing of the differences in construction depending on the stature of who occupies the building.

Manchu Picchu (morning tour)

Posing in front of Waynupicchu... which we climb after signing a waiver!

Manchu Picchu (morning tour)

Mystical... now I understand what people mean by that expression!

It truly is wonderful how this culture thrived for so long and then tragically just seemed to disappear. There's too much to explain in a blog so I'm going to let the pictures do the talking.

Hydroelectric - Aquas Caliente

The last segment of our Manchu Picchu Trek. This was really a nice gradual stroll along the railway tracks connecting the the two communities. Luckily we were given a blow the train horn as it turned the corner in front of us and sped by. We had ample time to get out of the way but we did admit we were startled.

Along the way there was many colorful butterflies and this large gathering that seemed to be resting in the shade.

We got many glimpses of the top of Manchu Picchu from the backside. Everyone is looking forward to tomorrow's experience on the actual site.

Santa Teresa - Hydroelectric

A good start to the day after a magnificent thunderstorm last night... banana crepes with chocolate drizzle. Then we strapped on our backpacks and headed for Hydroelectric at the back of the base of Manchu Picchu. We are told this will be a 3 hour trek... it took us about 2.5 hours.

It started out as a rather a somber walk through the OLD Santa Teresa that was hit by a landslide some 10 or 20 years ago that almost wiped out the whole population of 2000 people. The community seems to be thriving again though... in part to tourism, agriculture and the hot springs.

We came across a small village where there was a couple puppies playing, an inquisitive kitty and a busy flock of chickens scampering about searching for food.

Then a few more minutes up the road we came across this amazing cavern spewing out an enormous amount of water at the base of the mountain. I won't forget the roaring sound this faucet made as it exited the mountain.

We arrived at Hydroelectric and were required to sign in as this was a checkpoint for the Manchu Picchu area. There was also a number of small vendors set up to sell their crafts and food. We stopped for a rest and a long lunch here before venturing off on the last segment to Aquas Caliente.

Arequipa - Cusco - Santa Maria - Santa Teresa

We travelled by luxury coach overnight from Arequipa to Cuzco... it truly was a luxury bus liner. We were in first class seats that reclined almost horizontally so most of us had a decent night sleep.

Once we arrived in Cusco we were whisked over to the Coyller hostel to repack for the trek. We left most of our luggage here as we were to be trekking for the next 3 days. We rode by mini-van for 7 hours with a couple stretch breaks to take photos and have lunch. Here we grabbed some spectacular photos of our ascent and decent through the pass (Alba Malaga) to a height of 4430m above sea level. At many sections on the road the streams would run across the road making the drive that much more exciting.

The road down the pass, through Santa Maria to Santa Teresa was extremely rough and dusty so we were all quite elated to arrive in Santa Teresa and take a walk down to the natural hot springs. They water was not overly hot but very comfortable... and surprisingly, no sulphur smell.

Final Day of School... Despedida (Farewell)

Here it this the last day of volunteering at the schools. A rather sad moment for everyone, including the real teachers who actually have to start doing some work next week. But seriously, saying goodbye to the kids was difficult. There was a strong connection with some of them... and I will miss them.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Flora of Lake Salinas

Here I thought I'd add some of the wild flowers from the area.

Lake Salinas Mountains

The Andean mountains in the region are formed by volcanic activity. The main mountain around Lake Salinas is Pichu Pichu, meaning mountain with many peaks. El Misti is the other and is closer to Arequipa. The other mountains around Lake Salinas are equally magnificent. Last year one of them erupted and spewed a lot of ash around the area. We couldn't see this mountain today though as it was covered in cloud.

Lake Salinas

After travelling 3 hours one way, in Land Rovers, over a low maintenance mountain trail, we finally reached our destination... which wasn't what we expected but actually turned out to be awe inspiring. The natural beauty was tremendous. We were at about 4000m, about 300 meters below the snow line. The salt lake in the dry season is almost entirely dry, but we're here during the rainy season which in this case is beneficial in other ways because it brings more wildlife to the area.