A Travellerspoint blog

I'm a piranha, they live in the Amazon!

sunny 35 °C
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Well, I've made it safe and sound after three days in the jungle! Three hot, sweaty, humid, beautiful, amazing days in the Amazon Rainforest!
After my night bus (which sucked due to the huge decrease in elevation from Cusco), I was picked up at the Puerto Maldonado bus station by one of the guides, Johnny, and got to enjoy a ride to the pick-up point on the back of his motorbike while carrying my big bag on my back! So fun. I had just enough time to change and freshen up before the drive to the jungle and then boat ride to the lodge.
Our group for the three days included Tom and Chris from Manchester area, Els and Frederiek from Brussels, and Connie from Germany. We all got along immediately! Tom was also kind enough to let me use some of his photos for my blog (I'll let you guys do the guessing of which are his and which are mine ;) )
We also had a token mascot.. Pepe the parrot, who perched on lots of shoulders due to someone having clipped his wings before he was taken in by lodge staff.


First activity upon arriving at the beautiful jungle lodge was to take a shower! Then some pictures of the great view...


The adorable lodge rooms with wooden plank floors, palm leaf roof, curtain doors, simple toilet and showers, beds and mosquito nets...


And this view out of the back window... So amazing!


Our first *real* activity after a delicious lunch was a jungle walk. Johnny showed us so many trees, plants, and other greenery and shared their medicinal uses. We also took in butterflies, lizards, hummingbirds, parrots, praying mantis, bullet ants and so much more. I had a real appreciation for Johnny's knowledge after he talked about living in the jungle for 7 months straight with his dad when he was younger.
He painted our faces with different designs from leaves that generate red ink (similar to henna) when you pour on a little water.


We found a natural jungle swing...


And really enjoyed all the greenery...



After some more down time (and of course another shower), reading and/or napping in the hammocks, we had a night boat ride. (It was only at 6:30pm but it gets dark in the area before 6:00pm!). We saw capybaras and caimans from the boat. After this was supper followed by a night walk. Which was the first time I almost said no to something on my trip... Because basically all we saw were bugs and two maaaassive tarantulas. But I wasn't about to let my fears stop me from something so I must say, I got pretty damn close to the biggest tarantula I've ever seen. Ugh! Then headed back for (yes) another shower before immediately hiding under my mosquito net for the night.
The next day was, of course, another early morning. We headed to the Chuncho clay lick for some bird watching and had to be on the boat by 5am. But the birds are there in the morning so we had to get an early start for the hour boat ride there! And we got to enjoy this sunrise and boat view..


It was worth it for all the amazing macaws (blue and yellow, scarlet and red and green), parrots (blue, yellow, green), and parakeets that we saw...


These ones are down on the clay lick, getting some necessary minerals..


This bird watcher loved every second of it! :)


The clay lick is in the most beautiful, green, lush area..


We were also rewarded with a view of a harpy eagle shortly before leaving. One of the top five predators in this area of the Amazon! Second largest eagle in the world!

We had some time off during the hottest hours before heading out to kayak down the river. Beautiful, peaceful, fun way to spend an afternoon....


Then after the boat driver picked us up, he let Tom, Chris and I stay on the kayaks for the boat ride back! It was like tubing on a kayak. So fun!


That night was another night boat ride, more caimans, and optional night walk. Which you can probably guess, I gave a pass. I did a little stargazing before bed instead. Great views of the Milky Way out there!
Next morning was an actual sleep in until almost 7am! Followed by breakfast and then fishing! Unfortunately after a couple hours of trying, the only successful person was Louis, the guide. He managed to catch a fairly big fish in the piranha family.. And it tasted delicious. This scenery down the stream made the (unsuccessful) fishing 100% worth it!


We had one last lunch and then it was time to pack-up and say bye to part of our group, Tom, Chris and I were off on the boat, then truck back to Puerto Maldonado.


I was sad to leave the beauty and the people but definitely not sad to leave the humidity and the bugs! My legs are once again completely covered in bites! Haven't spent a day on the trip so far without something having bitten me.. Woops!
Chris and I got to enjoy the truck ride from the seats on back. Which was beautiful, cooled us off, and very fun at first.. Until we headed towards rain clouds! But it was another fun adventure after we had to duck under the huge, noisy, blue tarps that covered all our luggage that was also on the back! As soon as it was only spitting we popped our heads out and still enjoyed the final minutes of the ride!
Back in Puerto Maldonado we had time to catch up on all things wifi at the hostel before having supper and then I had to grab my things for another night bus back to Cusco!
The Amazon was amazing.. Another item checked off the bucket list!!

Posted by elliehirch 15:17 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Back to Cusco & Rainbow Mountain

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Last day in Cusco with Alli... Talk about bittersweet! We had a nice day to take it easy, walk around a bit, and of course get in some of our favourite.. Tourist shopping.
We enjoyed one last morning with our great hostel view.


Another walk through Cusco's Plaza de Armas..


Then walked to San Pedro Market and bought any last things we wanted to have. Which I am pleased to say all fit in Alli's backpack. What a great friend taking my things home for me! :)
Cusco is a really beautiful city. This is a viewpoint that we found on our pre-trek day in Cusco...


We spent the rest of our outing eating ice cream, then chocolate (and chocolate liqueur!) at the Museo Cacao, and coffee at Museo Café.


After our last supper of pizza and wine together, we continued to drink wine on the patio and then inside at our hostel. A few last wonderful hours with wine and good company, what more do you need!?
Alli left at about 2:30am which in hindsight was a good thing... For me. Disoriented, sleepy Ellie is not a weepy Ellie. I was sad to wake-up later and know she was gone but happy to look back at our amazing two weeks.

I had a lazy morning before deciding I had better do something with my day. So another girl from the hostel, Shaza of Singapore, and I decided to check out the salt mines. Best decision. They are so cool. From far away they look like white honeycombs in the middle of the mountain valley.


Getting closer we can see local people harvesting the salt.


And walk along the edge to see all the different coloured pools.


We were able to taste some different flavoured salts, some salted chocolate, and do a little shopping before the ride back to the hostel.
I had a little down time, well used to catch up on blogging! And then had dinner with Shaza.
The quieter pace of the two days in Cusco was a great idea for me as I either have residual effects from altitude or have caught another cold. I also had another early morning looming. As in a 2:15am pick-up! Off to Rainbow Mountain I went.
I was able to sleep most of the three hour ride to the start of the days hike. The group (which included an American couple, two American guys, a Brazilian girl and two guides) had breakfast in a local families house at the start before setting off. I was a bit nervous for this one due to sickness as well as the altitude; a planned climb to over 5000m. But it went ok. Slow and steady wins the race man! I was successful on my first solo hike! It took about 2 & 1/2 hours to make the typical 3 hr climb. And I even finished the last leg with fellow Canadians (from Vancouver) that I visited with along the way! It didn't take long before I had zero regrets about the super early pick-up. We were one of the first groups up there and we actually only had about 15 minutes to look at Rainbow Mountain (Properly called Vinicunca by the locals) before fog rolled in. I would have been so disappointed to have been even a little bit slower in the climb! Would have missed this...


We climbed to the highest point, ~5050m is now my new personal record, and waited a bit to see what the fog would do. It only got worse, not better. But the top had a good view of mountains on the opposite side..


When it got colder and windy we headed off on the descent. Where we were also lucky. The mountains along the walk up that had been foggy were now clear! We got to enjoy these colourful, unique landscapes as well!


Then back to the same house for a delicious local lunch. Which we enjoyed in perfect timing in shelter from the rain that just started as we finished. All in all it wasn't the best weather day for Rainbow Mountain, but we had the best tour that was possible on this day and I was left feeling incredibly grateful for that.
After the ride back to Cusco I got dropped off a the bus station for my first solo night bus. Off to the Amazon!

Posted by elliehirch 12:19 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Alli and Ellie hike to Machu Picchu

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Before we embarked on our two weeks together, Alli and I came up with two hashtags or slogans for our time together. #AlliandElliedrinkPeru and #AlliandElliehikePeru. So far we have only succeeded at the latter. While we have tried lots of local drinks (Arequepina beer in Arequipa, Cusquena in Cusco and area, Pisco sours, Chilcadas, lots of wine), the fact that we have not slept past 5am for the past ~week did not make us into the biggest party people. But man did we succeed at the whole hiking thing. Canadian girls at home in the mountains! And our 4 day Lares Trek to Machu Picchu did noooot disappoint!!
Our first day started with a 5:00am front door pickup. We had spent the day before wandering Cusco, shopping a bit, and attending the tour orientation so we had met our companions for the tour already. Thomas and Margot from Holland, and our guide for the full 4 days, Percy. We got a bit of sleep on the drive and then a stop for breakfast at an adorable restaurant before exploring the Incan ruins of Pisac. Arriving before 7:00am meant no other tourists, we literally had this amazing old Incan city to ourselves....


Back on the bus to drive to a town called Calca to stop at a local market where we bought food and toys to give to local children we saw along the trek. I loved this, Percy would introduce us to the kids, they were all so adorable and would say thank you and then run home to their parents in little stone houses in the middle of the mountains.


Our trekking began a little further down the road where we met our mules (who carried our duffel bags), cowboy, porters, and chef. So let me just (try to) quickly explain how amazing SAM travel, the camping, and the staff were. These local men (who live in many of the towns we passed through) lead the mules ahead of us, at a crazy fast pace of course, set up camp for lunch or dinner, have a food tent, or sleeping tent, or even a baños (bathroom) tent, complete with hole in the ground, seat (with a lid-surprisingly uncommon in Peru!), and zipper entrance. Then when we finish the next meal, we leave with Percy, they pack everything up, pass us along the way and have the next camp ready. This is not camping. This is glamping. They are nice, gracious, hard-working people... And the food! We ate better food out in the mountains than any town we were in.. 4 or 5 course meals, so many local foods, boiled water everyday. Wake-up every morning (unfortunately at 4 or 5 am) with a gentle knock on the tent and a cup of coca tea. So yeah, I loved it.
Our first day we hiked about 12km, up to 3900m at Cancha Cancha, the first small village. We gained about 1000m on the first day but it didn't feel that difficult as it was over a long distance. Plus I was probably distracted by the beauty all around.


We made camp about an hour past here, at about 4100m. So now that I've raved about how much I loved everything.. Here comes the bad part... Altitude sickness. I got it. Apparently my body does 'ok' hiking in and out of high elevation but it doesn't like sleeping there. The second day I woke up feeling the sickest I ever have. Google any basic symptom of altitude sickness, I had it. But you know what, I was still in the middle of the mountains, with amazingly helpful staff and I had no way to go but forward. They had an emergency mule that would be my noble steed for the day, lead the whole way by the cowboy, Ezekiel. They let me sleep in the tent the longest possible as they packed everything else up, then it was out, onto my mule for the climb to 4700m. Basically every time I stood up I had to vomit and unfortunately some spots were too steep and slippery for me to be on the mule so I had to walk... Just sitting it was hard enough not to puke, my whole body ached, everything got worse as we climbed and it was freezing up there.. So yeah, I can safely say it was the hardest thing I've ever done. I also had to walk basically the whole way down, it was tough and rainy/snowy at first, but every step down to lower elevation, things got better. I'm proud to say I only cried twice.. When I realized I couldn't complete the second day hiking.. And when we saw the orange SAM travel tents and arrived at camp. That cowboy got the biiiiggest hug from me. And then I took the biiiiggest nap.
So I didn't get many pictures from the day. But Alli did!

Here's my ride..

This was my only picture as I was walking the final leg..

And Alli's pics...

Honestly, the worst part of the sick day was missing the food. Anyone who knows me a little bit knows how much I love food. So to miss out on three of the amazing meals from our chef was actually the worst!

I slept about 12 of the next 24 hours, managed to have some soup for supper and feel much more alive at 4am of day 3. There was an option to take a bus ride to the next stop but I absolutely wasn't doing that, if my body would carry me, I would climb the next mountain! The next 14 km (7km up and 7km down) were probably the slowest hike I've ever done.. But I made it. Ezekiel sent his son behind us with a mule just in case (which was so nice!!), but that just motivated me even more to make it on my own two feet. Which was worth it for this view...



I mean look how happy I am to have made it...

Canadian girls loving the mountains

And the llamas we hiked beside a lot of the time..

We descended slowly to our awaiting bus which took us to our destination reward.. Hot springs! Felt so good on our tired muscles. The SAM travel staff even set up a tent inside the hot springs for us to have our last lunch from them. Fantastic as usual. Then we said goodbye to the porters, cowboy and chef and off by bus to Ollantaytambo, one step closer to Machu Picchu. We had supper at a restaurant there, which was good, but not SAM travel good!. Then train to Aguas Calientes for the night. In a hotel. With a hot shower. And a bed. Oh the simple things!
Alli and I decided we really wanted to be on that first bus to Machu Picchu. Which meant a 3am wake-up. I mean, after two weeks of no sleep, what's one more night? We had to wait in the queue at 3:30am for about an hour and a half, but we were indeed on that very first bus and we got to see our final destination with much fewer people, and watch the sun rising between the mountains to shine on Huayna Picchu (the mountain behind the city). Worth it!!!


So yeah, we took a looooot of pictures in those first couple hours..

Then we met up with Thomas, Margot and Percy. They came up later as they had a train that was two hours later than us the night before. Percy took us to see the Inka Gate, the Inka Trails around the area leading to the city, then we had a bunch of time with him in the actual city for explanations and history. He had told us so many things along the 3 previous days of trekking, and it all seemed to come together in the city. He was so knowledgable and interesting to listen to.


We took a break before our next climb and hung out with some llamas.


Then Alli and I had our final hike together in Peru, climbing Huayna Picchu. 700m up in less than 2km. Short but not exactly easy. Some parts are pretty steep, you really feel on the edge of a mountain (Mom, you would have HATED it :) ).


Again, worth it for the view.


The climb down was just as scary. After one last look at Machu Picchu, we headed out to wait for a bus back down. We met Percy for lunch in Aguas Calientes and then had to say goodbye to him as well. Alli and I both had to fight back tears, unable to believe that our biggest event of the two weeks was coming to an end. Goodbyes suck.

Our train back to Ollantaytambo was more comfortable than on the way there. We sat with some awesome American girls, had great visits about our respective treks, enjoyed a weird traditional dance from a performer on the train, as well as a fashion show for Alpaca clothes they were selling (weird but hilarious).
The last bus to Cusco was less than comfortable and thankfully short, we finally made it back to our hostel, had a shower and some food and slept like babies!!

So... In conclusion of my longest blog post yet... This was without a doubt my favourite thing I have done on the trip so far. The trek we chose was amazing, the people we met, places we saw, exceeded my expectations, and Machu Picchu wasn't even the best part, it was more like the cherry on top. And best of all, I got to do it all with the most amazing travel companion. Only having one more day to spend in Cusco with Alli was a sad realization! #AlliandElliehikePeru was a huge success!


Posted by elliehirch 19:13 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Arequipa & the Colca Canyon

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Well, while Alli and I are getting better at Peruvian night buses (managed to sleep ~3/4 of the time), it was a very groggy morning in Lima. Which may have been the previous nights gravol, or the 6 on the clock, who knows for sure. We unfortunately had to spend too many hours in the Lima airport waiting for our plane. Now, to be fair, airports aren't necessarily my favourite in the first place, they're stressful, or crowded, generally not the best to hang out for 6+ hours, but the Lima airport is now officially my least favourite airport. I acknowledge a portion to my sleep deprived state and the rest for the stupid organization, terrible restaurant service, terrible wifi, pushy taxi people, and waaaaaay overpriced stores. I've never been happier to get on a plane!! We only had an hour and a half jaunt to Arequipa and flew in with a great view of the setting sun and the volcanoes that surround this adorable city. It was a quiet night out for supper and then hanging out with the two other guys (Cesar from Lima and Mark from London) in our dorm room. We managed to get a decent sleep before a sightseeing day in Arequipa.
We started our time with a free walking tour, joined by Cesar as well. Started in Plaza de Armas main square and took in churches, cloisters and other architecture of the white city (most buildings are made with white volcanic stone), history of the Incas and Spanish, the local market and views of the volcanoes (El Misti, Pichu Pichu and Chachani) and the city.


After lunch (at a picanteria for local food) we walked to another viewpoint..

This engraving (roughly translated by Cesar) says 'you were not born at the bottom of a volcano for nothing.

Then back to the hostel to book our adventure for the next two days... Colca Canyon! After buying snacks for this, we had supper with Cesar and Mark and headed to bed for another early wake-up... 3:00am. I'm beginning to think an 8 hour sleep is something that I can only dream about... ;)
We spent the first 3 hours in the morning (after the 3:15am pick-up) trying unsuccessfully to sleep on a freezing cold bus. My small daypack crammed full of only necessities for the next two days did not hold the warmest clothes. After a quick stop for breakfast in the small town of Chivay, we continued to the viewpoint for the flight of the condors (and all I could think about was Flight of the Concords). These huge black (and brown when younger) birds are carrion feeders, mate for life, can live up to 80 years, are endangered, and only reproduce every couple years. And look pretty majestic flying through the canyon.


Next stop was the start of the trekking. Our group included 3 people from France, two Germans, and two fellow Canadians, Liam and Kelsey, that we buddied up with immediately (obviously, eh), and our guide Roger. The first leg was only downhill and only 8km but it felt so much longer and harder because of the heat. Had to remind myself to stop and take in this beauty.


After our lunch stop we had another 8km that was more up and down. Some of the climbing was pretty killer, we obviously had to take a few celebratory pics when we reached the days highest point.


And a selfie with our cactus war paint...


After this was the last few km of a rocky downhill to reach the km 18 sign and a lush waterfall, just a taste of the beauty to come.


Our final stop across the bridge was the Oasis. We stayed in the Garden of Eden. And that's exactly what it felt like when we got there, saw the pool with waterfall and immediately donned our bathing suits and cannon balled into that beautiful blue water.

Have you ever seen two girls happier to be in a pool!?

Enjoyed the waterfall with our Canadian companions...


This is a picture from the beginning of the day. Shows our zig zag path down to the oasis in the bottom of the canyon.

After a few drinks, visiting, and supper, it was another early night because, you guessed it, we had to get up early again!
The problem with the oasis being such a beautiful spot in the bottom of the canyon is that it means you have to climb out. We had a 4:45am start for the 5km, 1000m climb out of there. This was the one that felt like running a marathon. Even more so for Alli who was unlucky enough to catch a cold right before we left for these two days. Reaching that canyon summit was in one of my top trekking finishing feelings. Especially after accomplishing the estimated 3 hr trip in just over two hours.


We enjoyed a big breakfast after this, as well as the knowledge that our bodies didn't have to carry us any farther, the rest of the trip would be by bus! We made our way out of the canyon with a number of stops along the way. First a great viewpoint..


Then the natural hot springs...


Last two were at the highest point on the edge of the canyon, 4900m, with a view of the areas volcanoes. And a stop in the national park amidst a bunch of alpacas and llamas (where we learned their differences and uses).


And finally back to Arequipa. For a quick rushing to pack, get some supper and get on our favourite.... Night bus!


Posted by elliehirch 19:31 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Hiking in Huaraz

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Alli is here, Alli is here!! Ellie is happy. We had a wonderful reunion in the Lima airport after both flying overnight (I at least got to sleep in a bed until 2:30am!). After a taxi to the bus station to drop off our bags and a bit of a 'now what?' moment, we found a Starbucks, some coffee, and wifi to decide where to go in Lima. We ended up spending the afternoon in the Barranco district, walking around the area, down by the ocean, buying a few things and drinking a few beers. Didn't take us Canadian girls long to find the local brewery! They also served really good food.


We started our first duo travel leg off with a night bus to Huaraz. While this was quite the fun experience, it did not end up being one that involved getting much sleep 😬. We very much underestimated the windy roads, slow speed, and stops and starts. Even the comfortable reclining seats, neck pillows, eye masks and sleeping pills did little to help the cause. Two very groggy ladies stepped off that bus in Huaraz! And rallied to get our bags and walk to our hostel in the early morning light. We felt like the luckiest people in the world after being treated to an early check-in, a 6-bed room to ourselves, a hot shower and a nap! Huaraz was looking up! And this hostel view!


We spent the rest of the day acclimatizing to the 3100m altitude (just a liiiitle bit higher than the 1000m in Calgary and the sea level in Rio I had come from). We had a delicious huevos rancheros breakfast with a view.


And found a rooftop lookout at our hostel.


We also drank copious amounts of water and took our altitude pills and walked as much as we felt up to. And Alli enjoyed three naps :). All in preparation for two days of hiking we planned!

Our first hike was to Laguna (Lake) Wilcacocha with a local guide, Robert. He was so wonderful for helping us navigate a collectivo (local bus which is basically a shuttle people hop on, hop off wherever). This trip was chosen as a first day hike as it's shorter (3-4hrs) and a good initial outing for trekking at altitude. Let me tell you, it felt like one hell of a trek. It starts out winding up a dirt road into the hills. By about the second turn Alli and I looked at each other and said, between heavy breaths, ohhhh that's what hiking at altitude feels like. We took lots of breaks as we continued up, through a small village, and to even steeper, stone stepped areas.

Our guide's house in the village


Those damn steps were about the point that my nausea got the best of me... (Rocheal, remember that day at Temple's new location when we put way too much weight on the prowler the first time and felt like we were gonna die, or puke, or both? This felt like that.. Only I had to keep going!). The trip up was 3km long and 600m elevation gain. Alli compared it to hiking Ha Ling in Canmore, deathly hungover, and carrying a 100lb backpack. She was not wrong! Reaching the top was a huge relief! The lake itself wasn't too much to look at...


But this view made it all worth it! And the proud feeling of having done the approximately 2 hr trip in 1hr 40 despite almost dying...

We could see almost the whole way along the 180 km that make up the Cordillera mountain range. We were on the side of Cordillera Negra (black) looking over at Cordillera Blanca (white). We could see the tallest mountain, Huascarán, standing at 6768m (which Robert has climbed to the peak of!).
The way down was slightly easier and it didn't take us long back at the hostel before we were napping again! After a quiet afternoon walking around and having supper (and our first Pisco sours!.. Delicious), it was an early night for the 5:30am pick-up the next day.


Day 2 of hiking was the journey to Laguna 69 in Parque Nacional Huascarán (in Cordillera Blanca). The bus ride took about 3 hrs total with a stop for breakfast. By the time we had eaten breakfast, reached the park and started the trek, Alli and I had already joined an impromptu group of other backpackers that we would spend the rest of the hike with! Kai and Samara from New York, John from Scotland, and Paulo from Brazil. We had the greatest time! (Plus, these were some pretty cool New Yorker's who recognized my hat as a Canadian Tilley Hat!).
Our first stop along the way was at Laguna 65 (all the lakes in the park are named by number). The colour of the water is absolutely breathtaking.


Then began the second day of hiking, which I was extremely nervous for given the difficulty of the day before! And I am happy to report that no such struggles were had! This trek gained an altitude of 700m (from 3800m up to 4600m!) but it was a much more gradual ascent so I thankfully did not have a second experience of feeling I was going to die! Talking with other people really helped pass the time, the scenery was absolutely phenomenal, and we also chewed coca leaves the whole way up. While being very bitter and fairly disgusting to chew on, they really do help with the altitude. I know what we are stocking up on for Machu Picchu!!

Everything that we saw along the way was colourful, unique, amazing!

We reached the lake in good time and were not disappointed by the view!!


Again, the colour of the water is like nothing I've ever seen. The rock face is topped by glacial peaks running down the waterfall into the lake. We could hear/see rock and ice tumbling into the lake. Talk about a phenomenal lunch spot with a great group!

It started snowing a little bit before this picture!

Laguna 69 was one heck of a treat! Alli and Ellie hike Peru is off to a grrrreat start!

We made the return trip early enough that we could enjoy a leisurely pace and reached the bus just as it started raining! Perfect timing to enjoy a double rainbow from the shelter of the bus!


After the return trip on the bus, we were able to shower at our hostel (where they gave us an empty room to use to shower!), get our bags, finish check out, and taxi to a pizza place to meet the group for dinner. Then back to the bus station for another night bus. And copious prayers that this bus would be a bit more successful sleep than the last!!

Posted by elliehirch 10:36 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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