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Getting Behind (but we are still alive!)

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A lot has happened since the last entry. We´ll fill you in when we have more time and a faster internet connection. Here´s a short list of things that have happened or that we´ve done since the last report...

  • Met Tim Theis in Latacunga

  • Took a 4 hr bus ride on the worst barely-there muddy eroded roads I´ve been on since my trip to Costa Rica.

  • Experienced a full bus fishtailing on those muddy roads, occasionally slamming into the hillsides and eventually getting stuck 3 feet deep in the mud, until we all disembarked and somehow managed to dig the bus out and make it to our destination. It got so bad that even the locals were standing up and peering out the windows at teh road´s edge along the way. Very reassuring, I tell you.

  • Went on a stunningly beautiful and often exhausting 5 hr hike from 3850-meter high lake in a volcano crater down to the tiny town of Chugchilan.

  • Wandered through the indigenous markets of Saquisili and Zumbahua, witnessing hundreds of bushels of rosemary (hi mom) for sale, along with guinea pigs, chickens, llamas, just-carved goats, donuts and screen doors.

  • Flew from Quito, Ecuador to Lima, Peru.

  • Met up with Ryan Rigoli and embarked on a 4 day Amazon trip to the Muyuna Lodge, where we saw gray and pink river dolphins, innumberable birds, tarantulas and caimans, and unsuccessfully fished for piranha. We also got about 40 mosquito bites apiece and visited a shaman in a local village built on stilts.

Right now we´re sweltering in a remote town on the edge of the Amazon called Iquitos. It´s crazy and wild here. There are hundreds of three-wheeled open-sided taxis whizzing by on the streets, the rumble and whine of their motors filling the air like white noise. It´s hot and sweaty, and there are flies and gnats everywhere. Today is Easter Sunday, and when we arrived back in town this afternoon it was quiet and sedate. Now that it´s 9:30 pm or so, the taxis are back at it, the whine of engines is back in the air and the Plaza Armas (the central square) is teeming with life.

Tomorrow we fly to Lima, stay overnight, then head for Cusco and a few days in the Sacred Valley before we begin our Inca Trail/Machu Picchu trek.

Pictures to come...sometime...

Posted by jtlande 13:52 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Saquisilí Market

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Our travels along the Quilotoa Loop began with a trip north of Latacunga to the town of Saquisilí to see the Thursday market. There we saw all sorts of things - local fruits and veggies, herbs, live animals for sale, like chickens, pigs, guinea pigs (for the local delicacy called "cuy"), and many more things that you don´t usually see in Safeway.

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We headed back to Latacunga mid-morning and met up with Tim Theis at the bus station. We immediately hopped on a bus to Chugchilán, where we planned to stay for a couple of days and use as our base for hikes and the like along the Quilotoa Loop. Tim was a brave lad -- he´d only arrived in Ecuador two days earlier, and had already taken a 2 hr bus ride to meet us. This next ride was supposed to be about 3.5 hrs long. Of course, before long Tim will probably be taking 10+ hour bus rides, but to us he was a hardy soul.

As always, the buses are a bit crazy. This one was a relatively comfy bus, but since there are only two buses per day going to Chugchilán, the locals streamed on board and very quickly it was overcrowded. At least we had our seats and were ready for the long ride.

Posted by jtlande 15:53 Archived in Ecuador Tagged bus Comments (0)

Get on the Bus, Gus

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Little did we know just how crazy our bus ride to Chugchilán was going to be. We found out later that the weather recently has been the worst they´ve had in decades, which meant the windy cliffs-edge dirt roads we were taking were in really bad shape. REALLY bad shape. At several points the locals stood up from their seats to look out the windows over the sheer edges. The woman sitting next to me looked really upset. I´d pat her back now and then as if to reassure her, and while she smiled at that, it didn´t make the bus ride any smoother.

At least a couple of times, the bus fishtailed and slammed into the mountainside...but kept on going. With so many people on the bus, the windows were all fogged up, and that proved to be a godsend since we couldn´t see just how close we were to plunging of the cliff into a gorge below.

Finally the bus got stuck at a particularly muddy section of road with a river running across it. And I mean STUCK.
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Everyone got off the bus. One old local woman just took off up the steep hillside, there in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. The rest of us tried to pull the bus out.

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That didn´t work very well. So we were stuck for a while, at least.

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After a half hour or so of digging and McGuyver-like creative road re-engineering, the bus driver managed to get the bus out of that mess, and we continued on our way. The ride took maybe 4.5 hours in total. But we finally made it to Chugchilán, a really small town (the main street was maybe 40 meters long) in the northwest of the Quilotoa Loop area. We met a fellow named Denis, who´s lived in Chugchilán for 3 years (he´s a former Bronx boy living there as part of the Peace Corps). Denis pointed us to the three hostels in town. We took his advice and chose to stay at the Cloud Forest Hostal.

That night we were given a cute Andean dance show by the local girls.

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Posted by jtlande 16:03 Archived in Ecuador Tagged bus Comments (0)

Ollantaytambo

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After visiting Pisac, we headed to Ollantaytambo. Many folks who visit the Sacred Valley area use the town of Urubamba as their base of operations, but we´d read comments from a number of people who found Ollantaytambo to be much more charming. We´re really glad we decided to stay in Ollantaytambo for a few days--it was hands down one of our favorite destinations on our trip.

Ollantaytambo is a town in southern Peru, and is approximately 60 km to the northwest of the city of Cusco, situated at an altitude of 2792 meters above sea level.

The city of Ollantaytambo is best known for its ruins, and for the spot where the Inca emperor Manco Inca was able to defeat the Spanish in battle. The finely cut rocks and plantation terraces were very large obstacles for the Conquistadors to surpass, and the fortress was also used by Manco to conduct successful attacks on Francisco Pizarro and other Conquistadors who were based in Lima.

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More importantly, for us, Ollantaytambo was a really wonderful small and relaxing town. The people there proved to be really friendly. The hotel where we stayed, Hostal Las Orquideas, was a warm, friendly and comfortable little place with a view of the ruins above. Aside from the constant stream of busses coming through the main square - Ollantaytambo is the last stop before Machu Picchu for many tourists, and they often stop to buy last-minute supplies and hiking poles.

We spent one day, after a lazy morning of breakfast and wandering around town, exploring the main section of ruins above town.

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Much of the town is laid out in the same way as it was in Inca times, and there are still several houses dating from the Incan times.

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KB Tambo, mountain biking
With a few local ruins under our belt, we decided to go with the guidebook´s recommendation of doing a some mountain biking in the nearby hills. The local gringo-turned-tourist guide KB (a really nice guy from Minnesota with a smile on his face and a love for mountain biking) set us up with bikes and a guide to bike from Moray, an ancient Incan agricultural post to the (still in production) famous salt wells - two of the areas best sites to visit. The ride was tough for our non-mountain biker, Joanna, with some rather steep and rough patches, but the views were amazing!

Our guide started us out at Moray - among the many Incan terraces in the area, this one is special. Set in a circular pattern, each level has a different micro-climate. Just the immense size of the site made it an intriguing sight to see.

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Our bike ride started on the road that we took up to Moray, but quickly veered off onto the hiking-biking trail. The trail was well used with ruts, bumps and the occasional burro traffic. Our guide, Raul, was a real pro. Waiting for the slow rider (Joanna), showing us the best way down the trail and taking our pictures at photo-perfect spots.

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We briefly rode through Moras, a little town we drove through earlier in the day.

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The second site on our trek was the salt wells. These wells are still used to harvest ¨Peruvian pink salt¨from the mountains. Each well (or a group of wells at the site) is owned and harvested by a different family. It takes 3 months for the salt to be ready for final harvest.

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Hearts Cafe
After our rugged bike ride, we were HUNGRY! We stopped at the Hearts Cafe in a corner of the main square. What a great place that was, especially after riding for a few hours. The food was among the freshest homemade food we´d had on our entire trip. The place is also quite special. It was opened in March 2007 to raise funds and awareness of the plight of the women and children in the Sacred Valley, and all of the profits go to children's projects in the Sacred Valley area. The cafe is run by a lovely Brit named Sonia Newhouse. We chatted with her for a few minutes, and she´s a really great lady. We actually ran into her a week or so later in Cusco - we were having breakfast at the time at a cute little German-run cafe where Sonia gets all her fresh yogurt. Small world!

Posted by jtlande 11:10 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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