Escape • Explore • Enjoy

While the bodies still can and we still have our marbles!

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Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – The Jungle Part 5, Happy Birthday Claire – Jungle Walk

As we made our way back to the lodge, we encountered the Giant Otters again hunting and feeding.  They simply fear nothing below the water.  Even a solo Caiman is no match for a gang and apparently make good eating. Leather bag, belt and shoes from it’s hide too.

Giant Otter feasting.

Not on Lake Sandoval though, this is a reserve and everything is protected from human sacrifice.  Apart from the fish that was lying in our canoe first thing this morning. It was stiff having obviously jumped aboard during the night.  Alex took it up to the kitchen and the smell of it frying in butter and garlic was a nicer smell versus repellent and sunblock.  Possibly BO from sweat.

Half sunbathed, half not!

A cooked breakfast was served with the additional side dish.  It tasted divine.  Alex shared the table with us before he disappeared when we were nearing the finish, to reappear with the cook.  He was holding a plate with a flax piece in the shape of the sun as decoration.  On the plate was the top half of a bread bun and an ignited candle.  They started the “happy birthday to you” song that was sung with heartfelt kindness.
He positioned the flax decoration onto Claire’s head like a crown and then, she blew out the candle.

The three of us cheered and clapped.  There was no other sole present at the lodge.

The stiff fish found in the canoe.

The stiff fish cooked.

Alex and cook bringing out Claire’s birthday cake.

Happy Birthday Claire xxx

How simple and yet so special was that?

The art of placing value on an act of kindness far outweighed any materialistic gift that would normally be given.  Besides, I hadn’t bought her anything let a lone there being any room in my daypack to have carried the thing.

I’m confident, Claire will remember this birthday for as long as her body allows and, she still has her marbles.  Experiences, priceless ones, travel with you internally.  No matter where you step on the planet in future; nor how old you reach in age.  And is the core of behind why we love to travel still how we do, as crazy as that may read.

A birthday to always remember.

Picking up free-loaders is all part an parcel of it too.  As you will soon find out …

After we cut up the bun, spread some butter and plum sauce and ate a piece, we chilled a little swinging in the hammock.  Day trippers soon arrived.  Peace and quiet was lost in conversational noise.  All good.

Alex then signalled us and it was back down to the canoe and another b-line for the opposite side of the lake.  This time, there was no jetty but the embankment.  Paper, scissors, rock as to who of us steps off the canoe into the jungle to secure the rope.  I lost.

For the next two to three hours, Alex escorted us on a jungle walk.  We were on the side where the Howler Monkeys resided and their cacophony got louder as our compass took us in their direction.

Over to the opposite side of the lake we go.

Ales leading the way.

No worries, Alex had a machete.  It’s natural for images to flash before your eyes of how your life could end with one strike of the blade and the final resting place be fodder to life in the jungle.  Happy to write it wasn’t.  Alex sometimes had to cut a clearance for us to walk through.   Wearing hats gave us some solace that anything above if it fell would bounce off!  Meant we keep our eyes on the ground in-front and hands close to the sides.

How the family of Tarantulas didn’t hear us coming surprised us.  Five baby ones just parked up outside a hole.  Let’s not tickle the entrance, moving right a long.

The family of Tarantulas.

We happened to be standing at the base of a massive tree when a Iguana just walked on by a couple of meters from our spot, not giving us the time of day.  We did it, moving closer to the machete.

We observed more monkeys and birds however, we were just blown away by the trees and fauna as we trekked.  Trees that were hundreds and hundreds of years old.  Vines that co-habitat the trees too large to wrap your arms around.  Walking trees that actually grow new legs so as to move towards sunlight.  Strangling trees that like a Boa Constrictor or Anaconda, find a host to grow up it and then contract to kill the life out of it, using the rotting trunk to feed it the nutrients to grow more.

Stunning coloured butterflies darted and dodged.  Alex peeled back some bark from a decaying tree trunk to reveal leaf shaped cock roaches.  They scarpered as fast as they could under the decay on the ground.  Which was always constant, leaves showering down.

The walking tree.

The trees were just massive.

A leaf cock roach.

Look closely, can you spot it?

The tree vines were as equally as huge.

Eat Love Pray … not to be the one eaten!

The time did go quick and we ended up back at the canoe having done a full loop.  Alex has been doing what he does for fifteen or more years and knew the route taken like the back of his hand.  More living things tend to hide from the heat of the day which we didn’t mind.  Doing what we had just done at night, well, Alex assured us that it would be more alive with insect life ten-fold.

We were happy with the present status.

Back to the lodge we paddled.

Lunch and an afternoon siesta awaited us.

Un-beknown to us all, there was more on the canoe than we realised.

Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – The Jungle Part 4, Happy Birthday Claire – McCaws

The watch alarm interrupted complete darkness, enough to stir us awake.

We survived the night in our thatched hut without incident!  Only forgetting that it was still night and we had to get up and get dressed under torch light.  Remember, shine the torch only wear necessary and not up.  Last evening’s clothes re-worn; new application of insect repellent rubbed on.

Just after 4.30am, we were wandering back down the path toward the canoe.  Careful not to shine the torch off the track neither and, remembering to swing wide away from the holes we had taken a mental note of the day before.  Conversation was loud to warn we were approaching so as not to make eye contact with, anything.

Morning Mr Toad.

Out onto the lake we paddled and back towards the canal; back to where we uplifted the canoe from, and the hut with the coca cola, water and local inka cola.  It was all shut up and quiet.  Only us.

Streaks of orange and red were appearing on the horizon as dawn was breaking.

Sunrise mist rising on Lake Sandoval – the water was warm.

We re-traced our steps along the walking board for a kilometre and a half before Alex stepped off, and straight into the jungle foliage he went.  Without hesitation, we followed, keeping right up Alex’s jacksy so as not to loose sight of him.  There was a trodden track that we certainly didn’t deviate from it.

We could already hear them before Alex put his finger to his mouth to usher silence.  We creep forward at a snakes pace – I mean snail, to a small open area that had enough camouflage to hide us from their line of sight.  Looking up, we saw what we had come to see.  There were dozens of them.

McCaw Parrots feeding off a snapped in half palm tree.  Below them clinging to the same tree, were a number of Mealey Parrot’s.  Everyday, they congregate at the same spot at the same time to peck at the minerals from the rotting tree.  The noise was berserk.  As were new arrivals trying to off-stage the old ones off the stump.

We stood there for about an hour.  As the sun climbed up into the sky, the colour of shade dispersed.  And as the sun reached the feather of the parrots, did the full colour of their beauty blaze.  A rainbow of greens, blues, reds and yellows.  Still the noise was berserk.

McCaw Parrots feeding on a broken Palm tree.

Mealey Parrots below the McCaws feeding.

There is no rhyme of reason for when they decide to fly off.  Other people arrived as the parrots took to the sky.  Too late.  They should have had Alex as their guide; he was certainly onto it.

We too departed, backtracking the track towards our canoe.

What we had just experienced was so captivating.  Made extra special because it was Claire’s birthday.  What a start to the a special day.  The best present one could ever receive, being present at a McCaw feeding frenzy.

This was going to be a day of more, being present.

Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – Into The Jungle We Went – Part 3, Giant Otters

Can ya get out of me sunlight please?

The sun was still beating down as we pushed off from the jetty.  We were now wearing long sleeved shirts and pants for the moment the mosquito’s clocked on a little later, deet having been smeared to exposed skin.  As was sunblock.

I helped Alex paddle as we broke bow water toward the opposite side of the lake.  There was some shade cover on that side, as I gathered my stroking technique from the good old dragon boating days.  Made me feel young again, although I was being careful not to dip the right hand grip under the surface.  Deet is water proof but limited only against living creatures above the murky brown stuff.

Once across, we slowed the pace to nigh a stand still.  Different birds featured more, whether basking in the sun or scrounging along the foreshore.  We’ve seen on National Geographic how croc’s leap from the shallows to gobble feathered species in one mouthful and wondered if we would get to see such in real life by a Caiman.  It wasn’t meant to be.

We spotted monkeys from tree tops and deep inside the jungle, the Howler Monkeys were echoing their hollows to warn off others from swinging into their territory.  Three groups were going for it.  It sounded more like truck passing traffic.

The Hoatzin was a deep inhaling breathing bird that snorted at us whenever we flowed passed them.

Bare-throated Tiger Heron.

Grey-necked Wood Rail

Neotropic Dormorant.

Red Howler Monkey.

The Hoatzin.

A number of other canoes with other patrons were also sharing the lake.  A group had congregated so we made headway to join them.  The family of Giant Otters (over 2 metres in length) were feeding on captured piranha’s.  The noise of crunching bones from teeth on bone was loud, drowning out the click of camera’s by the spectators.  No one from any canoe spoke as the we watched the episode repeat itself, as each otter faced skyward munching their prize.

Giant Otters hunting piranha’s.

As the daylight faded, the noise of the jungle started to sing with crickets and frogs.  Wrinkles in the water became more regular as insects were being chomped by surfacing fish.  More fading and then bats started to appear, darting and diving above the water in hunt of any winged flying insect.  They became black blurs as we watched the sun disappear on the horizon.

Alex guided the canoe inland.  With head torches on, light was directed to under the over growth on the shoreline, looking for Caiman.  They were easier to spot.  Their iddy biddy eyes reflected orangey red when light hit them.  Like a red eye flash photograph sometimes with people.

It didn’t take long to make the call, “there’s one” pointing in the direction.

Again, a maneuver to vanish the front of the canoe into the undergrowth.  Unbeknown to us, Alex quietly prodded his oar deep into the water.  I’m sure our language spoken and Alex’s laughter is still echoing around the lake as the Caiman jolted vigorously to splash water profusely, so as to escape.  We simultaneously clutched each other swearing and screaming.  I swore, Claire screamed.  Alex laughed.

This was approx. 2 metres in length.

Get the first stain of your undies over and done with and then everything else becomes more enjoyable!

Which it was.  We hunted more eyes; sometimes got close; sometimes not; sometimes prodded; sometimes not, all the way along the foreshore to arrive at our jetty.  There was one place where the their eyes outnumbered ours, three to one.  We didn’t venture into that undergrowth!

Sun setting over Lake Sandoval.

Night Caiman spotting.

And just before we disembarked, dozens of monkeys were moving in the trees.  We couldn’t see them with our head torch but boy, they were making a hell of a noise – similar to millions of locusts plaguing a field.

We sat eating dinner reflecting on what was.  There was no other people staying and therefore, we had the whole lodge to ourselves.  It was kind of weird but cool.  The electricity is powered by generator and only comes on between the hours of 5pm to 9pm.  Then it is pitch black darkness.

By the time that happened, we had cold showered and was safely tucked up under the cover of the mosquito net.  The key, not to shine the torch on purpose to look things.

The sound of the night was the best music to put one to sleep.

We wondered if the Howler Monkeys ever do?

Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – Into The Jungle We Went – Part 2, The Caiman

The little shack was cute.  It was equipped with coca cola and water and the local Inka cola which tastes so much like the creaming soda we used to get as a treat growing up as kids, for special occasions like birthdays or Christmas.  Bags of nuts and chip were also on offer.  We weren’t tempted – just more weight to have to carry if consumed!  Instead, consuming water from our own supply was smarter weight apportionment.

A lizard scurried across our pathway we had trodden; too fast to capture a picture.

It was also the swampy spot where we climbed into a long canoe.  Alex centered us in the middle and he took a position at the back.  Stability balance was critical to stay upright and dry, especially when he gave a couple of back paddles to become afloat.  There were no life jackets nor safety brief neither – just the great Trip Advisor write ups about Alex being an excellent guide to the many who have gone before!  It was enough to be trusted.

Canoe dock.

Up the canal we go.

The small canal was no more than two canoes widths as Alex paddled softly.  Palm trees towered overhead and foliage skirted the lower waters edge.  He stopped suddenly to say, “Caiman, to the right”.  Both our heads swiveled in unison with eyes staring.  We had no idea what the hell we were looking at, expecting to see one bathing on the muddy swamp shore except, we couldn’t see anything all whilst Alex swung to point the canoe in it’s direction.  Crap, I was on the right side of the canoe and still, couldn’t see what he was seeing.  I moved closer to Claire that made the canoe wobble!

Alex slowed and then said “there, the two eyes are poking just out of the water”.  With focus, we too saw it.  Jeez Alex had sharp vision to spot the thing from the middle of the canal.  The canoe was pushed a little closer.   There was a stare off.  It was a small one but it’s body was under the water for us to tell.  Alex back paddled and we were moving again up the canal.

Alex has spotted a Caiman.

A little closer, now can you see the eyes?

Look closely, now can you see the eyes?

A second one was sighted and glared at before we reached the main water expanse of Lake Sandoval.  Wow, it was just beautiful.  The heat was up but we didn’t mind with the awe, as Alex shouldered us around the shore.  We ducked through a second canal way before some distance was made to reach a small jetty.  Ripples ringed the water continuously as fish jumped.  Smaller ones probably trying to escape the bigger ones because it was dog eat dog in the jungle.

Just about to exit the canal onto Lake Sandoval itself.

Turtles sunbathing.

Open water.

Lushness right down to the waters edge.

Tall palm trees ringed the entire lake.

Sleeping bats.

We disembarked and clambered up a pathway to thatched roof buildings.  One was an open dining area, bar and kitchen at the back, and bunk rooms along side; the second one was a fully enclosed room and, our bedroom for the next two nights.  Entering, instant look upwards to the roof exposing the weaving wondering if the fly spray being carried was going to be enough!  Mosquito nets over the beds, sweet.  It had it’s own toilet and shower meaning no traipsing across the landscape to the toilet once the electricity was turned off.  Shit, I would have adopted peeng immediately outside the door like the gals back on the first night of the intrepid trek if that was the case.

Lunch was served up in a banana leaf – chicken and rice with an olive and whole egg, it was yummy.

Our accommodation.

The view of the lake from our room.

Our bed with mossie net safety.

Lunch served in banana leaf.

Enjoying our lunch.

Day trippers frequent the place for their lunch as well so we had some opportunity to chat.  All the hammocks hanging from the trees were full as people escaped the mid-day sun.  Alex gave us some time to chill before we were head back down to the canoe for another paddle around the lake to watch the sun go down and then go Caiman spotting some more.

For the parents of the babies we saw earlier!

How does one rest up with those thoughts playing silly buggers with your mind?

Afternoon siesta, not graceful but off the ground!

Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – Into The Jungle We Went – Part 1, The Tarantula

Everything we needed for the next three days and two nights, had to be strategically squeezed into a daypack each.  There were no porters or horsemen for this adventure.  We were it.

What to leave behind was more stressful than the prospect of swimming with piranha’s!

By the time the complimentary pick up had arrived, our panic had evaporated.  Bridged with the knowledge that I have worn Claire’s undies before (blog post First Impressions and, Seconds, Thirds and Fourths – Part 1), as long as they were wholesome ones.

We met Alex at the Tambopata Giant Otter Experience tour location where we booked the tickets the day before.  He was to be our guide for the next three days.  His bag looked way more inviting to carry than our ‘stuffed to the brim’ ones.

Last minute water purchases were made – by the time we took our first steps, I was humping an extra six litres and Claire, four.   This was in addition to our day packs!

No sooner had we reached the end of the boulevard on the way to the long boat, Alex started his commentary of things of interest.  The huge mango tree laden with green oval shaped fruits yet to ripen dangling from branches high up was over two hundred years old.  And it was like that the remainder of the time we spent with Alex – he was a walking wikipedia with sharp eyes … especially when it came to animal and insect life.  He was incredible and just brilliant.

The giant mango tree over 200 years old.

Brazilian/Peruvian husk and nuts.

Of course, if you ask us to repeat the names of things that he imparted, pfft.  It took us half a day to let go of the thought of having forgotten something!

It wasn’t far to make our way down to the Madre de Dios River water’s edge.  The mercury was climbing, as was the humidity moisture so beads of sweat trickled.  All over.  The long boat was reversed up off the embankment and then we were off, carving the brown tarnished colour water towards the Tambopata National Reserve and Lake Sandoval.

It was a fifty minute scoot along the river to the spot we disembarked.  It was a bit of a steep climb up some steps to reach the embankment top; during the rainy season, the river flow volume increases to lap at the top rung.  That was hard to imagine and comprehend, given the width of the river in some places to be over 3-5 football field lengths. It forms part of the Amazon tributary headwaters.

Arriving at the long boat.

The race is on down the Madre de Dios River.

Arriving at the start of the Jungle Safari.

It was a short walk to the entrance where we had to register.  Authorities want to ensure that those that go beyond, do exit.  Or are able to advise next-of-kin that they didn’t because they became fodder for everything that crawls!

It was a 3 kilometre walk along well trodden track.  Stone steps used during the rainy season lay high and dry and a new boardwalk construction made for easy walking.  It wasn’t too far before Alex put his fingers to his mouth to silence the chit chat.  We slowed to a creeping step and then stopped to look up into the trees tops.  Monkeys.  Just doing their thing.  They stared at us as much as we them.  Wow.  To see them in their habitat was exhilarating.  We carried on.

Rainy season stepping stones.

Registering at the Tambopata Reserve entrance.

A wasp nest that looks like a pile of dog poo … with a sting or couple of hundred!

Alex stopped and picked up a length of grass, wiggling it in-front of a hole just off the board walk.  Then the furry thing appeared.  A Tarantula spider.  We both took a step back to the opposite side of the walking boards, putting a little more distance between us and it.  It retreated.

Alex wiggled some more and then the mother Tarantula exited the hole.   We couldn’t step back any further and thoughts of holding one ceased to be an option right there and then.  She was huge.  You had no clue which eye was looking at you as the fangs pronged at the piece of grass being toyed by Alex.  He got just as much enjoyment watching us whimper in fright as the hairs on the back of our necks stood to attention.

Our first ever encounter with a Tarantula!

The baby up close …

The babies mother … eeeeeeeek!

I made sure I was in-between Alex and Claire the remainder of the boardwalk to the canoes.

Taking a wide berth of all the holes from then on too!  No matter the size of the hole.  Just because.

Thank goodness I did pack the can of fly spray purchased at the market the day before too.

Okay for mosquitos and maybe half the can on the size of the spiders.

Puerto Maldonado

Getting food poisoning on an adventure is always an adventure within itself.

And that is just what happened the day after we arrived back at Cusco after Machu.  Within four hours of eating at a local food market … a vegetarian dish; we both simultaneously started the many steps to the toilet.  Claire with simultaneous pukes and squirts; me with just the squirts.

Biggest concern, running out of loo paper!

We let nature takes it’s place (within the toilet bowel) and we timed it to start taking the ‘Ciproflax’ medicine to knock the bastard on the head.  It meant the next day sleeping it off and, postponing our overnight bus to Puerto Maldonado to the following evening so as to allow the health to improve.

A better view of Cusco versus a toilet bowl.

The bus station was absolute madness and chaotic with people everywhere.  Counter staff from competing bus companies shouted out the destinations for waiting passengers to hear the call and then there was bedlam as everyone hustled towards the gate to board buses.  It was like froth from soapy water going down a plug hole.   We joined in the fracas.  Extra shit paper in our carry on – for that just in case back burp mistake.

It was a ten hour trip and there were lots of swaying as we rounded corners to descend from the altitude.  Felt more so in the seats of the bus because they sit a fair way from the ground. We managed to doze until a lady a couple of rows back puked.  A child sharing a seat cried.  We didn’t need our toilet paper, amen.

When sunrise appeared, there was lush of green everywhere.  We had entered the fringes of Amazonia.  Hanging a left off the main road tar seal, we were on a dirt road.  Could this be right?

Sure enough, it was.  They still have dirt roads in Puerto Maldonado.  We pulled into the back of the bus station, collected our belongings and exited into a large area that was similar to the one we left.  Except all the companies were silent because no buses depart at the hour we arrived.

We had booked another airbnb for two nights and the host was going to meet us.  We had arrived early and so we sat and patiently waited, hoping we had got it right.  A lady approached the desk of the company we had used and so we stood.  She turned and then held up a sign.  Arrr, relief to read the words ‘Brent Ruru’.  There was a greeting in both pigeon English and pigeon Spanish as the hosts spoke just as much English as we did Spanish.

The bridge over the Madre de Dios River.

A mural respecting the McCaw Parrot.

Only the motorbike driver needs to wear a helmet by law!

Wearing jandals on a motorbike just fascinated us!

Back at the host’s place, we had wifi to use the ‘tradactor’ app that allowed us to write and be translated.  It’s how we communicated for the whole time we spent at Salvit and Cesar’s.  And although a little older than us, they welcomed us as if we were their adopted kids coming home from a holiday.

Cesar’s face appears on billboards all over Puerto Maldonado as he is standing for local elections that are being held in October.  It wasn’t until after the jungle and booking an extra nights stay that we learnt how serious it can be to try to fight against corruption.

Salvit helped us source a local tour company to take us into the Amazon jungle.

Sharing a tuk tuk in Puerto Maldonado – on the way to book a jungle tour with Salvit, our airbnb host.

Yes, we all squeezed in the back!

Brazil is only 325 kms away in that direction … and the billboard features our airbnb host Cesar.

Cesar to the left of pic.

Three days and two nights with 80% deet repellent and a can of fly spray.

Did you know Caimen’s don’t give a damn about stuff like that.

Again, we carried extra shit paper. For us!

No words necessary!

The Mighty Inca of Machu Picchu

The Incas hid Machu Picchu so high in the clouds that it escaped destruction by the empire-building Spaniards, who never found it.  It was rediscovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist and historian Hiram Bingham with the aid of a local farmer who knew of it’s existence.

Our excitement escalated as we joined the stream of others about to board a bus to be driven the winding switch-back road to it’s entrance.  The drivers must have done a heap of kilometres in both up and down directions because they drove the coach like being on a race track, throwing the rectangle box around the corners, adding to the adrenalin.  Sometimes there were guard rails on the outer road edge.  Sometimes not.  Up towards the last remnants of morning mist we went.

Joining the stream of people in the que started the excitement feeling.

Looking towards the valley peaks from Machu.

Waiting for the toilet because once inside the ruins, you have to squeeze your cheeks together until you exit.

Once through the entrance formalities, there it was … the mighty Incas Machu Picchu.

It’s unequaled aura of mystery, magic and wonder was right there before our eyes.  It left us way more awe struck than anything else we have ever experienced.

The throngs of people that were there also, didn’t phase us.  Everyone was respectful to give way when photos were being taken.  The place is tightly monitored with control wardens so as to minimise deviating off the path to follow and, it was only one way traffic.

Frank our tour leader, found our group a spot to just sit and find fulfillment overlooking the rows of granite stone ruins.  As the ball of yellow rose higher, it methodically illuminated aspects of what remained of a remarkable civilization landmark.

Overlooking Machu Picchu.

Looking back at Machu from the another angle.

After taking a short walk to an Inca bridge that was hugging the side of a cliff face, we left the group to explore Machu Picchu on our own.  Words are hard to find to describe the feeling.  Perhaps best summed up that we have adventured to some spectacular places on this planet … journey and destinations.  Sometimes it was the journey that was the memory.  Other times, it was the destination.

Walking the to Inca Bridge.

The Inca Bridge.

Today, we can say that the Machu Picchu journey and destination went hand in hand.  Or one step in-front of the other.  An emotional place on the planet that will make you cry.  And that, is what it should do.

We did.

We re-grouped with the intrepid’s to board the coach for the drive down.  Sometimes silence was stronger than the combined chit chat of what was just experienced.  It allowed for folk to be at peace and perhaps pay homage to the lost ghosts from the mountain top.

Exploring Machu Picchu.

Looking back up the mountainside to our initial viewing spot overlooking Machu.

How the grass stays trimmed.

We re-traced our travel back to Cusco by train and coach, arriving into the city under the cover of darkness.  A splash of water, some fresh clothes and a little lippy before going out for a departing meal with people who were total strangers only a few days before.  It was like we had known each other for a life time.

Who knows if we will cross paths again in the future.

What matters more was that we got to share the Quarry Trail Trek, a snippet of the Incas and Machu, with fellow beings.  Perhaps they too have rediscovered a new liking for wanting more of what they experienced for the first time.

Escaping, exploring and enjoying.

The jungle now beckons, where the monsters live!  And a different kind of emotion … eeeeeeeeeeek!

Just taking it in … with a tear.

Choquetacarpo to Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes

Early morning sun on the top.

Taking a stroll before breakfast, looking towards Waqay Wilki.

It was the same routine as the day before with the wake up call, pack up and breakfast.  There was more dampness on the inside of the tent from condensation.  It makes the getting clothed even more faster so as no moisture touches skin so as to send a silver down the spine.  Nor make a whimpish noise!

We said our ‘gracias’ to the horsemen and cooks as we bid them farewell.  Their roles had come to an end. As we started our way down, one of the newer younger horsemen was sent running down the hillside in the same direction, trying to round up and corral the said horses back to the camp base.  They roam free after they do their job and one couldn’t but smile at how they were taking the mickey out of the runner by teasing him at going in all sorts of scattered directions!  How he manages to do it is share skill, technique, expertise or the fact, that’s what he gets paid to do it.  Poor bastard.

We have never seen horse meat on any menu neither!

The Quarry Trail is named for the quarry that was used to source the rocks to construct Ollayantambo Inca back in the 15th century.  They were just clever people who used stone age tools to manufacture the block sizes they did, and then methodologies to haul the chunks down the mountainside, across the river and then position them into the structures of the ruins we are just spell bound by, today.

Quarry Trail quarry where the rocks originated for the Ollantaytambo Inca contruction.

And those who perished on the quarry terrain were sent off into the after-life with respect as we deviated off the trail to enter a tomb and see skeletal remains.  We acknowledge the sacred place by blowing three times on some cocoa leaves and placing them beside the bones.  There was some spiritual being at peace with sharing in the ritual and made the trek very grounding.

Even if we had to get the altitude part out of the way first, we wouldn’t change the trekking route.

A Quarry Trail tomb.

As the valley floor patchwork became larger, so too did the heat of the temperature increase.  Insect repellent was added to sweat and trail grime to layer up protection from the beasties that like the blood vino.  It worked.  There was also more varieties of cacti too.  We often stopped at old buildings abandoned to ponder it’s history.  There was no rush.

More tombs.

The varieties of cacti got more.

The valley floor patchwork gets larger.

Back in Ollantaytambo, we raised our glasses with a celebratory beer as we ate our boxed lunch, prepared by the cooks way back up the mountain.  We also met up with Marty the Irish trekker who started out with our party and separated to do the true Inca Trail.  A bout of food poisoning meant returning back to Ollantaytambo to wait out the condition.  The Inca Trail would have to wait for another time and he had recovered enough to join us for the last part of the trek where it was meander down to catch our train to the last stop Aguas Calientes and, the base of Machu Picchu.

The hour and a half of clickety-click snaking alongside the Urubamba river wasn’t without fascination.  The terraced landscape held us again in awe.  How did they do it?  Eucalyptus trees were introduced here from Australia during the 1900’s and have now taken to the parched lands like a weed.  Except, they were welcomed shade spots during the trek up and down.  Now they too shouldered the banks of the river.

Urubamba River towards Machu Picchu.

Terraces along the Urubamba River.

Condensed and surrounded by sheer walls of vegetation cliffs, the town was alive with life.  Half a soccer field being used for football; the other half with dances practicing to beating drums.  The thud’s echoed.  But not enough to drown out the buzz of the people.

And, it was just buzzing.

The train station at Aguas Calientes.

In the middle of Aguas Calientes is a soccer field.

How is this for scaffolding to repaira bridge?

Intrepid Day 4 – Rayan to Choquetacarpo

Sunrise on the Quarry Trail Trek

At 5am came the “Senor Ruru, Senorita Ruru” wake up call.  With it, a cup of cocoa tea each.

Appearing on the eastern horizon, a streak of crimson orange and, the start of a new day.

We had 30 minutes to dress and pack.  Another hearty breakfast before water bottles were topped up.  It was a little coolish however, care needed to be taken so as not to layer up too much because you had to carry what you wore when the sun shrunk the shadows and you shed apparel.  Another lesson taken for the newbies.

The ascent was again straight up.  It was tough going, even with more stoppages to suck the air to oxygenate the lungs.  Accompanying us this part, was an emergency horse for that just in case moment someone needs the four legged ambulance.  One of the US ladies was hoisted up into the saddle.  There are no heroes on this type of trek and putting your health first is definitely paramount.

On the way …

Danielle making use of the emergency horse.

Here comes the horse troupe.

Soon, the horse troupe passed us again.

There was more climbing, stopping to rest, and more climbing.

Then at 10am, we stood on top of the first pass Pucapujaccasa at 4,400 metres.  The view of the snow-capped mountain range was breath taking … on top of the being breathless!  The mountain that was prominent (5,570metres) is called in Spanish – Veronica. Or it’s traditional name, ‘Waqay Wilki’ and means ‘Sacred Tears’.

One of the ladies from the Bronx, New York burst into tears.  These moments are the ones that are the priceless enriching ones.  To share the moment with someone who has embarked on an adventure that was way beyond their everyday life paradigm.  We hugged as we steered at the Waqay together.

Pucapujaccasa Pass at 4,400 metres. Waqay Wilki in the background at 5,750 m.

We trekked a little further to our lunch stop where the tent was set up and a cooked meal served.  They were just remarkable fellow beings making it as easy and enjoyable for us travelling beings as they could.  Especially when they had to de-camp and get down to our next camp site at pace to set up before our arrival, like the day before.

Lunch spot ahoy!

But before we started our decent, we summited a second Pass – Kuychicassa at 4,450 metres and the highest point of our trek.  Again, just spectacular 360 degree views with red iron mineral laden peaks; wild horses every now and again raising their heads to stop and gawk; fauna accustomed to the baron cliffs; and Waqay Wilki from a different angle.  We could see the yellow line of where the campsite was … but the steepness and rocky terrain meant a further two hours of trekking to reach, stopping at the Intipunko sun gate on the descent down.

Look guys, more trekkers!

The colour of iron sands.

Walking down off the 2nd Pass.

Down some, then traverse the next ridgeline to the sungate, then it’s down to the yellow tent line.

The cliff face of the 2nd Pass.

Looking back up to the 2nd Pass.

The campsite, looking down to Ollyantaytambo.

This was the longest day walking and certainly stretched the mental states of most.  We could see Ollantaytambo below.  It lit up as daylight faded.  Dinner was served and gobbled.  Bed beckoned quickly after.

Cripes, we hadn’t even gotten into our sleeping bags before the person in the next tent to the left was snoring.

Yep, remember Bronte who purchased the chocolate condoms!

Intrepid Day 3 – Ollantaytambo to Rayan

Driving to the starting point had us maneuver up an undulating road under repair.  The drop off was significant however, the driver was gentle to ensure nerves were calm.  Not too sure if the padded roll bars would have made any difference tumbling down a mountain side, should we have gone over!

As we unloaded the mini-coach, the horse troupe, horsemen and a couple of cooks approached.  On the Quarry Trail trek, we only carry a daypack.  All the other equipment was carried by man’s best friend.  A couple of foals accompanying to get their education and training for when they become of age.

Some of the equipment to be carried – kitchen and dining tents … and chairs to sit on

As they were getting loaded up, we started our walking, upwards.  We learnt when we climbed Kilimanjaru that when ascending at altitude, you need to take smaller steps than usual versus what one is used to taking at sea level.  They called it ‘pole pole’ (or pronounced ‘polee polee’).  We weren’t concerned that we were at the back of the pack.  Newbies would soon learn to adjust or, exhaustion tiredness and catching the breath would eventually present itself.  It didn’t take long.

A farmer was preparing his field using oxen towing a wooden plough.  There is no machinery at this height.  Ironically, two school children overtook us going to school.  Now their voices were amongst the ones heard in session repeating what was being taught aloud as we arrived at the school to take a break.

It wasn’t long after we started again that the horse train also overtook us.  With all that they were carrying, they made it look so easy.  The odd call from the horsemen keeping their momentum going forward.

Farmers readying the land for planting.

Rest break at the school … the childrens play equipment

Here comes the horse train carrying the equiment.

And their goes the horse train.

Ruins higher up came into focus as we neared.  Before that though, we got to feel the spray of Pilcobamba – a water fall that cascaded out of a crevasse of rock.  A little further up, an earth viewing platform allowed us to sit on it’s edge and ponder at what had been trekked.  Another couple of farmers and Ox we passed were now in a field way below making plough lines.  Jeez, they just get on with life without fuss or complaint here.

The view up to the Q’orimarca ruins, the waterfall below.

Onward we go …

Pilcobamba waterfall.

A rest stop at the earth viewing platform.

We reached the Q’orimarca ruins at 3,600 metres and spent some time here to hear about it’s history.  We welcomed time off the soles of the boots to rest the bodies.  The newbies to this type of trekking were doing extremely well – they had left their comfort zones way back at the mini-coach.  And now the farmers looked even tinier dots.

Just about at the Q’orimarca Ruins.

Checking our the ruins.

I started to get a headache.  Arriving at our campsite, I popped half a diamox tablet which is for altitude sickness prevention (and cure).  It abated.  The horsemen had set up camp with a separate dining and kitchen tent and our tents, where it was our first night to be experienced under canvas.

We made the most of the remaining sun, exposing skin to the sun’s rays.  But as it disappeared behind the mountain top, layers of clothing were applied in preparation for the drop in the thermometer mercury.  We ate an amazing three course dinner before heading to the sleeping bags and shut eye.

When taking diamox, you have to increase the water intake by double.  Getting up every two hours to pee is what you do.  It was a clear night and I got to see the moon cross the night sky.

One of the ladies from the States further along the tent line, also had to get up during the night to relieve herself.  Except she squatted immediately outside her tent entrance versus a metre to the front or side.  Can you imagine the ruckus from her fellow American tent buddy having to also get up and pee, only to stand bare feet in the map of Michagan pee stain on the ground getting out of and into their tent!

But not finding out she had done so until the next morning!

Hahahahahah, the lessons we take when we step outside our comfort zone.  Or tent!

1st Campsite at 3,750 metres.

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