Saturday, 28 August 2010

Arequipa & the Colca Cañon

Arriving to Arequipa with a night bus form Cuzco, we (the family & I) found ourselves in the main plaza at 6am. Dad & I search for a place to eat breakfast, and the rest guard the bags. After a good meal, with crepes (with Nuttela toppings) as desert, we do the same for finding a tour operator for the famous ``Colca Cañon Trek``.
We found three major price ranges:
1. Scary cheap - 150 Soles for a 3 day trek per person. We thought it was just to good to be true.
2. Lonely Planet price - ``Colca-Trek`` company recommended by the guidebooks just raised their noses a bit to high - 650 Soles for a 3 day trek per person.
3. Reasonable price - ``Pablo-Tours`` offered a different route from the others (off the bitten ``trek``), for just 280 Soles for a 3 day trek per person.
Talking to Pablo-Tours, we have a problem convincing Edwin (the owner, funny how his name isn`t Pablo..) we truly are a group of 6. We planned on doing a 4 day trip, just in 3 days, connecting the first to days together. In order to do so, we thought it would be better if we just took a local bus the same day all the way to Cabanaconde, a village located on the cliff of the canyon and the starting point of the trek. The bus is 7 hours - local bus - which means it stops A-LOT on the way. Before setting the deal, Edwin reports us that there aren`t any running water in the small town of Cabanaconde.
21:00, Cabanaconde, Time without shower - 29 hours.
After leaving our belongings in the hostel, we sit at the nearby restaurant. Long story short:
We had to wait an hour and a half for our meals, which were served cold. The nice owner kindly explained that it`s the new (and bad) chef`s fault, and the whole meal (6 dishes & 2 bottles of beer) is on the house.
08:00, Cabanaconde, Time without shower - 40 hours.
A very good breakfast was served in our hostel (owned by Edwin`s brother). Satisfied, we greet our guide with ``Buenas Dias``, and leave to witness the deepest canyon in the world.
We all know our abilities from the said to be harder Inca-Trail, but still, when finally seeing the 1200m descent we have to pass - all of us have just on thing in our mind - the last day, and the climb back (to the same height off course!).
Half way down, Inbal twisted her ankle. We all walk slower, and thoughts about the length of the day play with our minds. Edison, the guide, which was promised to be a good guide that speaks just Spanish, says (in perfect English) that we`ll keep on going to the lunch village, and see what goes from there.
The way down is long and hard on the knees. Surrounding us are cliffs and mountains dry and bold. On every other curve in the mountain side in front of us, there`s a small village with very few crops around it.
Edison turns out to be an excellent guide and a very interesting person. His main job is not being a guide but growing Cacti. On the Cacti, grow valuable parasites, which he collects, dries, and sells. We already knew about those parasites, but this time we got a very good explanation from a first hand informant.
Reaching the bridge is good & bad. Good - the way down is done for. Bad - I`ll just let you guess.
Just an hour more, this time up hill, and we reached the beautiful ``Llauar``, a true oasis. It sits with an astonishing view of the main Colca river, and another smaller river connecting to it just bellow the hosting huts.
Inbal is dog tired, Llauar is lovely, and knowing the World-Cup Final is now in play, we easily decide to stay for the night as well.
On arrival, we found Edison (already in the kitchen making lunch) hooked to the Spanish speaking radio. Even though I understood only a few words, and needed Edison`s translation every enthusiastic shout, all the guys of the family were listening to the commentary like it was in Hebrew. Football is certainly a game made to be broad casted in Spanish.
There are also thermal baths in Llauar but you`ll have to walk a long way down (not a problem) and up (a bit...), to enjoy them. Kobi & Igal were the only ones with the powers.
08:00, Llauar, Time without shower - 64 hours.
The next morning we were all feeling better after the long unexpected rest, and were doing our way towards ``The Oasis``. On the way, we passed a nice small village called ``Tapay`` were we stayed to rest and were offered the local ``Chicha`` as a refreshing beverage. Don`t have it mixed up with the famous ``Chicha Morada`` (a sweat corn-drink served cold). The Chicha is a strong alcoholic drink better served cold, but not always. When leaving, I told the owner how good his home-made drink was - in return I was asked to pay for tasting it. I didn`t.
In Tapay, we decided it would be better to split our forces. Kobi (who is really cute but also knew there was a pool waiting) offered to go with Inbal and her twisted ankle. The rest went for a longer walk, in order to site ``San Juan De Chucchuc``.
In the evening we regrouped for a football match (Boxermans + Edison Vs. the local team) so I could re-twist my ankle (worst than you Inbal! - not that it`s a competition or anything) and have a better challenge for the upcoming day. Igal, Kobi & Edison played amazing though - and off course - we won!
We went to bed (not before another favorite family game of ``Wist``), setting our alarm clock for 02:30am.
03:00, Oasis, Time without shower - 83 hours.
Waking up way to early, we couldn`t find Edison. After searching, calling and waiting for over 15 minutes, we decided we have to try and walk by ourselves if we want to catch the early 06:00am bus to the Cruz del Condor view point.
The climb from the Oasis, is not an oasis at all. It`s a 1200m ascent back to Cabanaconde. In order to not loose our moral, I started to count the curves of the climb, all was dark, and that was the only sure thing we could see during the long ascent. Edison met us mid way to the top, and apologized for the fact that his alarm just didn`t ring. We understood the human mistake. The climb was hard, and due to some more family difficulties, we separated again to the fast and the slow. The goal was that at least the fast could get in time to the view point and see some condors.
Thanks to Edison - Kobi, Igal & I got to the bus on time. The condors were amazing and flew far away at first, but got closer as the thermic winds got stronger.
Edison (who waited for the rest of the family in Cabanaconde) & the rest of the team met us on the next bus in the view point, and we were on our way, all together again, back to Arequipa.
16:00, Arequipa, Time without shower - 96 hours.
We got early enough to Arequipa in order to buy bus tickets to Nazca for the same day.
Edwin set for us a hostel, with showers, so that we could get to Nazca without killing the driver and passengers on the bus on the way.

Tips for Arequipa & the Colca Cañon:
1. Never take a taxi from the street - Edwin warned us to much about the danger included. Every tour agency would be happy to order one for you.
2. Pablo-Tour, run by Edwin is a wonderful agency. Edwin is a lovely person and will be happy to help with any question. Checkout thier website at .
3. Edison was a great guide, and even though Edwin promised he doesn`t know English - he does.
4. Llauar is one of the most perfect places I`ve been to in South America, and isn`t in the touristic route inside the cañon - go there!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Inca Sites Around Cuzco

Machu Picchu & The Inca-Trail are the main tourist attraction near Cuzco. But, there are about 10 more major sites around Cuzco, most of them don`t resemble the Machu Picchu, and if you`ve got the time - it`s certainly worth it to go and observe them from up close.
To do so, one must first purchase the ´´Boleto Turistico´´, an expensive way for the Peruvians to make you think you`re about to see a lot, but then - no one really has the time to visit all 16 sites included. The updated price for the ticket is 130 Soles (about 45$US) for adult, or 70 Soles (about 24$US) just for a one day visit (one tour). It is valid for 10 days.
This is the story of a family, trying to see as much as they could - in the three days they had.
We booked all of the tours before going to the Inca-Trail, through one agency - Inca Sol Travel, located on Av. El Sol 101. That way we got a pretty good price for 3 different tours (City Tour, Valle Sagrada & Moray).
City Tour:
All sites in this tour are located near the city, and could be reached in one day. If you`ve got strength in your legs - take a Taxi early in the morning to Tambomachay and walk your way back to Cuzco (less then 5Km). We took the tour.
Located in Av.El Sol and not included in the ´´Boleto Turistico´´, looks like a fort from the outside. It is definitely the best way to witness how the Spanish (Christians) treated with ´´respect´´, the local Incas.
Half of the building is still Inca made, but on the other - the Spaniards just destroyed everything and built it the way they thought was better. Luckily, we can still see the perfection of the Inca´s work. Also in this site - The Smallest Inca-Stone found in a building.
Not pronounced ´´Sexy Woman´´, but still is fun to say.
With a beautiful view above the city of Cuzco, This site is most famous for it`s ´´Big Ass´´ Inca-Stones. As you mite have guessed, here lies The Biggest Inca-Stone ever found in a building.
In Sacsaywaman, we also learnt about the importance of Peruvian (or South-American) accuracy:
Guide: ´´There you can see the largest stadium in the world!´´
An American tourist: ´´Really?! how big?´´
Guide: ´´It has 42,000 seats!´´
Also known as the labyrinth, is a very small but impressive site. It`s located in the middle of the woods, and most of it is underground. We even met a ´´real´´ Inca!
Puca Pucara:
Looks like a fort from a far, but resembles an old night-club from the top - with a flat square on the top of the ruins.
Located just 400m from Puca Pucara, locals sell souvenirs here (a regular tourist market in South America). After a short climb while the sun was setting, we reached the Water Fountains.

Day 2 of our tour. These sites are a bit more remote from Cuzco. We chose Thursday for this tour because that way we see the Pisac Market as well.
Pisac Market:
We hoped to have more time here, because we love markets. Locals come to buy spices, tourists come to buy souvenirs. Given only 25 minutes, we had to run through it - and we still didn`t see 30% of it.
Pisac Remains:
Great view point and lots of terraces. Located above the Sacred Valley. Near the Inca site, we got to see Catacombs (graves located in the cliffs in front of the site). They were built in a way that animals wouldn`t be able to reach them. Grave robbers (another kind of animal) did reach them, and there for - they are today opened.
More stairs!? Yes. Apparently, the Incas loved to ascend/descend. After climbing all the terraces, you reach another great view point. On the top of the site, the Spaniards didn`t leave so much to see (damaged a lot). There`s an Inca face carved in the mountain. Back down there`s the prinscess´s fountain of youth and another fountain with a triple Andian-Cross.
The Spaniards really liked the Inca´s temples, that`s why all you could see from Chinchero is a Christian church. At list the Spaniards couldn`t take the sunsets away from South America.

Day 3 of our tour. We mainly wanted to see Moray`s terraces, but got the interesting Salt-Mines in the same package.
The amazingly shaped terraces used to function as an agricultural laboratory, each step is said to be in a different temperature & micro-climate. When in the bottom & the middle of it all, there are great acoustics.
Also not included in the ´´Boleto Turistico´´ (entrance 5 Soles), but astonishing.
A whole valley filled with drying pools fed by a salty spring. The workers randomly free/shut the water´s stream allowing the pools the fill up or dry slowly in the Peruvian sun.

When we got back to Cuzco every night, we tried seeing some more sites already included in the ´´Boleto Turistico´´. One of them is a horrifying dancing show where we got too late to, but still left before the end.
Another evening, we witnessed a parade in the main street of Cuzco (Av. Del Sol). Same dances as shown on the show, but this time we could choose to go on (just walk further down the street) when we got tired from the traditional dance (same routine...).

Tips for the Cuzco Area:
- If you`ve got just one day - do the City Tour yourself by taking a taxi to Tambomachay and walking back to the city. Pay just the one day ticket.
- Inka Sol Travel were really nice to us, and if you book several tours, be sure to ask for a discount. The guides working for this company are not the best, but you can always walk far from them and enjoy the sites by yourselves. Most companies in South America take a commission just for connecting you to the origin company - Inka Sol Travel is an origin company with their own tours - making them cheaper.
- There`s a really good, all you can eat, Indian restaurant just across the street from Inka Sol Travel.
- You can skip the traditional dancing show.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Inca Trail & The Machu Picchu

This special trek had to be arranged 3 months in advance in order that all of us would have room during the desired dates. We chose a private tour, not knowing our ability to carry all the equipment by ourselves, or how well we would all keep up with other (more fit) people.
We were told to arrive on the 1st of July to Cuzco, so that we could pay the remaining 50% of the payment directly to the company (Enigma), as well as to be briefed by the guide on the 2nd. The trek would start only on the 3rd of July.
Apart from those specific meetings, we didn’t have planes for the 1st & 2nd of July, so meanwhile we just rested (we took a night bus from Puno) and walked around the beautiful center of Cuzco.
2.7.10, evening, we are all packed up, ready to go and waiting (I drinkGoldstar’, my first good beer in months! Brought especially for me strait from Israel!) for our guide (Milton) to show up. He arrives late (first bad impression), but apologizes nicely. The briefing goes fast and well. The main outcome of the meeting is a repack of the bags and the fact that we don’t have to wake up as early as we thought (03:00am), and could sleep a bit late (06:00am).
Day 1:
07:00am, 3.7.10. We leave the hostel and drive off to K82 (the starting point of the Inca- Trail, located 82km from Cuzco).
For us (me and my family), the whole idea of going to the Machu Picchu is like a dream
come true, and to be able to be there as a familythat’s a whole new level of fun.
The first day doesn`t give us a taste of what awaits us in the following... We start on with a flat walk, Milton stopping every 5 minutes to explain something. It`s nice - at first, but we start thinking about making an effort and progress. The first climb (and not last...) is just around the corner.
On the way, we mange to witness some of the Inca remains that were built close by to the Inca-Trail. Sallapunku & Wilkarakay are bellow the trail, and we explore them in our minds (Hopping the real thing is a lot nicer!).
In the middle of the trail, we stop to eat lunch; The kitchen/dinning tent is made and ready to feed us. From meal to meal, we will learn to love our awesome chef Teo. Just a bit more, and we`re one day closer to our goal!
Tired, we arrive to camp Wallabamba (3100masl). The porters clap there hands as we enter the campsite, our tents (Three of 4-Pax, a per in each leaves a lot of room) already made. The kitchen/dinning tent is also up, and after washing our hands, and eating the great Israeli made (by Inbal) Brownies, we continue to a great dinner. Knowing what awaits us tomorrow, we all fall asleep very easily.
Day 2:
Waking up and leaving before everybody, we start the 1100m ascent to Abra Warmiwanyusca (4200masl). We climb together. Slowly. Inbal is having trouble to keep up, and so we find ourselves walking even slower. Milton stopped explaining, and instead complains about our achievements in height. Even though we are the last group to do so and Milton was of no help, we all arrive to the pass happy, and satisfied.
The pass is the highest point in the Inca-Trail which makes the second day the hardest of all the 4 days of the trip. Knowing the worst is behind us, we descend 600m the same day and arrive to camp Pacaymayo (3600masl).
Day 3:
First to wake up, knowing our abilities (Milton has a hard time excepting that...), and starting to climb (again!). After an hour of ascent we, reach Runkurakay (3800masl), AKA ´The Balcony´. From it, we can see Rio Pacaymayo, and Milton (happy to get there early), throws out a short explanation. From Runkurakay, we ascend some more, and reach a Lagoon. Today Inbal is feeling great and reaches all the summits first!
To Abra Runkurakay (3924masl) we arrive first of the groups (not including the running porters) and continue quickly to being the first group to descend and arrive to Sayacmarca (3600masl), AKA ´The Fourte´. Sayacmarca was the most impressive remain before Machu-Picchu. It is located on top of a steep cliff, which makes it very strategic. Too bad the Inca knew nothing about strategics. From it, we can see camp Chanquicocha (3680masl), our lunch break location. Before lunch, we descend to Conchamarka (3500masl).
On the Inca-Trail, each group registers for certain campsites, and is not allowed to switch between them. Arriving fast to the lunch area, Milton decides to take a risk and try and sleep a bit closer to Machu Picchu tonight. The plan is to tell the rangers that we (the family) felt sick, and needed to continue (down) so we`d feel better. The Porters get the message, so that they could make camp in the right campsite.
We have to climb some more before the major descent to our new campsite. On the way, we pass Inca Tunnels carved inside the mountains. Puyupatamarka (3600masl), our registered campsite, is located high and as we pass it we had a good first view of Aguas Calientes and also could feel how cold it would have been that night (lots of winds). On the way down, Inca stairs help us locate our knees. We pass the Puyupatamarka remains shortly after leaving the camp with the same name. There, we learn that the porters don´t like to serve groups here because of the fact that they have to climb up and down from the remains to the camp in order to bring water.
Winyay Wayna (2700masl), is the biggest looking camp yet, and it seems to us, that no one really sleeps up at Puyupatamarka. On arrival, 17:00 tea & popcorn are served to the table. Later on, a great looking dinner is serves as well, in order to say farewell to the porters and chef which we wouldn`t see the following day.
Day 4:
This is the day! For this we waited!
The Inca-Trail finishes in a gate that blocks the trekkers on the trail from getting early to the Inti Punku (The Sun Gate) & The desired Machu Picchu. In order to be first in the cue near the gate, we woke up at 03:00am.The gate opens at 05:30am, and the sunrise (a very beautiful one - so they say), is said to be 06:30am. The walk takes an hour. We divided to three and three, Mom (Orly), Dad (Shlomo) & Inbal behind (walking slower), and Kobi, Igal & I running with all the recording gear (3 cameras & a tripod) in the front. The sunrise was not worth the run. Calling it `The Sun Gate´, the Incas meant that the sun could be watched rising up, from Machu Picchu itself, and not from the Sun Gate. We still were happy to finally see the great and beautiful Machu Picchu, from high up!
We stayed, resting, on the Inti Punku (2700masl), until the sun went up and over Machu Picchu. Then climbed down to the sacred site.
Machu Picchu:
Only 400 people are allowed to climb to the Wayna Picchu (2700masl), making it impossible for the Inca-Trail trekkers to reach it on the same day. We were with the rest.
Passing quickly through the famous remains, we head for the entrance where we are supposed to get out and then in again (Milton says that`s the only way to go, though it seems stupid). Then, after being recognized as the right ticket owners (they check passports!), we head back to the dream.
The town is located on a `saddle` between two mountains (Wayna Picchu & Inti Punku). It is said to be a sacred agricultural laboratory, and so hundreds of terraces welcome us to our right (downwards) and to our left (upwards).
We first sit down and listen to what seemed to be an endless history lecture by Milton. He then frees us from his spell, and we go to the next spot of interest.
The Main Gate - A big open door was built, only Incas (kings, rulers & monks) were allowed to enter through it, all the rest were told to step aside. At night, the whole town was `shut`. The door was closed with two poles tied into a shape of a cross and a blanket made of leather was connected to them. Never was the door `really` closed.
Entering in the ways of kings, we go to see the main courtyard. All temples were built with giant `Inca-Stones` - very impressive! The Pachemama Temple, The Sun-Clock Temple The Condor Temple, The Stars Temple, The Wayna Picchu Temple & The Sun Temple all built for the purpose of serving the gods (Mother-Earth, Condors, Stars, Mountains, and the Sun), today are walked upon by Tourists and explained about by guides (serving the money god).
After the tour with Milton, The strong (Inbal, Igal & I) continued to see the Hanging Bridge. in one word - disappointment. we thought it would be an `Indiana Jones` like bridge, but instead - we got this.
All of us were really tired from the 4 day walk, and some of us didn`t feel good from the early (and unnecessary) run, but we still `ate` all that was in front of us with hungry eyes.
There are not enough words to describe how excited we were to walk around all the amazing structures of the sacred then, and definitely now, Machu Picchu.

From Machu Picchu, we took the bus to Aguas Calientes. We still had a lot of time to spear, and so we went to rest ourselves in the Hot-Springs whome give the name to the town. Like any other thermal bath I took around South America, these ones were disapointing. We still had fun together (as a family).
Bathed and happy, we took the train + bus back to Cuzco.

Tips for The Inca-Trail & Machu Picchu:
- Book ahead. Do to the strict bureaucracy of the National Park and the Peruvian Government & it`s popularity, you can`t enter the beautiful Inca-Trail unless you book 3-4 months ahead. Children under a certain age get 20$ discount (we discovered that too late).
- Check in advance which campsites you are booked to, and what time your train back to Cuzco is. This will save you a lot of worries. (we were booked to the wrong campsites, and at first had a train at 14:00 leaving us with about 5 hours in the Machu Picchu site).
- Enigma is a very expensive company recommended by the Lonely Planet. We were treated badly, had worries and trouble about the booked campsites and train back, and they `forgot` to mention to us about the discount we deserve (Igal & Kobi are young enough - that`s 40$!). Putting that a side, eventually they managed to fix the campsites & train problems, and their porters and chef did an outstanding job!
- Milton was not professional. He complained a lot, and stopped to explain in the wrong moments.
- Even though the walk is nice, the Hanging Bridge is not that impressive.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Peruvian Side of Lago Titicaca

Peru, the fifth country in my trip (Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Bolivia so far…), welcomes us in Puno. Puno is the Peruvian tourist gateway to Lago Titicaca. On the bus from Copacabana, Bolivia, we meet Edgar, a nice agent that ended up helping us with everything we wanted in the Puno area + the hostel we ended up sleeping at in Cuzco.

Edgar led us to a nice & small hostel called La Casa Del Abuelo (Grandpa’s House), it was close to the center, and we enjoyed both the center & the hostel very much. Searching for a place to eat, we found a small pizzeria, named ‘Pizza Andina’, where they make your pizza right in front of you in a small stove. The streets of Puno are so cold, and the warmth of the restaurant was just perfect. The pizzas were served on a really thin base, and with loads of toppings to our choice.

The next morning we went on a 2 day tour around the islands on the Peruvian side of Lago Titicaca. The tour starts on the Floating Islands; these Islands are specially built by local Indians from floating mud, straws and ropes. On top of the hand-made platforms, they build their houses, kitchens & there’s even a fish pool. We had explanations about how the islands were built, and what people do and eat. We also got a chance to ride a traditional Indian boat made of only straw. These boats have an expiration date of up to three months. Today, the main income of the Floating Islands is tourism, but as touristic as they get, they’re still very special.

Next stop of the tour was Isla Amantani, a ‘none touristic’ island (then how come we go there?), where we were introduced to our hosting families whom served us lunch (mainly different varieties of potatoes), and showed us our rooms for the night. In the afternoon we met again with the rest of the group, and went on a walk on the island – to see the Pachetata (Father Earth) temple. Because of height problems, we made it to the temple only in time to witness the sunset. The temple itself is opened for the people only one day a year, finding a hole in the wall we managed to see the big phallus sculptured in the middle of the temple. Climbed down, ate dinner with the hosting family (mainly potatoes), and slept in our small beds (people of the Andes are really short). In the morning we ate a pancake for breakfast (that’s right, just one…).

The last stop of the tour was Isla Taquile, a touristic island (most of the tours go through it), where all of the people wear traditional clothing and are known for their excellence in knitting. All the people are very colorful. On the island we also had lunch (which wasn’t included in the trip); the guide takes you up the island, between the houses, and enters the restaurant. He then asks everyone to sit and hear his explanation about the clothing on the island, just when he finishes (after 3-5 plates with good smells fly by…), he asks who wants to stay and eat there. The prices were fine, so we stayed, but the pressure feasting was not a nice memory.

Back in Puno, we ordered a hostel in Cuzco through Edgar, and went to eat again in Pizza Andina.

Tips for The Peruvian Side of Lago Titicaca:

- The tour we took (The Floating Islands, Isla Amantani & Isla Taquile) was really short but satisfying. We got to see three different places in just 2 days.

- Pizza Andina was certainly a success. You’ll find it on Libertad Street (before it changes to Melgar).

- La Casa Del Abuelo (Jr. Tarapacá 399 y Libertad, Tel. (051) - 363465), is a nice place close to the center. With good beds, hot showers, and nice owners.

- Edgar is a real treasure. Contact him for any help or information (Edgar Cuno Adaza, cell 951-643678, or in La Casa Del Abuelo hostel), and say hi from the Boxerman family.