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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tchau to South America

Hi everyone, I´m homeward bound and just about as excited as when I was ready to go seven long weeks ago..... we were supposed to have 16 hours here in Santiago airport waiting for our connection from Lima to NZ, but due to heavy fog and snowstorms in Chile we had a 9 hour diversion to Concepcion (an hours flying south of Santiago) and only have a short time to fill in here now. A bit frustrating in part as we had to mess about with our suitcases and go through immigration again, but I have another stamp in my passport now, we saw some amazing glaciers and snowy peaks from the plane, and the weather looks clear so I think we will be on schedule from here onwards (touch wood/head).

Cusco

Ever since ´Mysterious Cities of Gold´ was my favourite after-school cartoon and the Capybara (world's largest rodent) was my favourite animal at the Taronga Zoo, I think I have been destined to come to Peru. There´s so much to tell but it´s also really hard to put into words - I didn´t suffer from any altitude sickness here in Peru apart from feeling strangely breathless when walking up stairs etc (maybe that´s my fitness though) - one effect it seemed to have on me was to make the whole time here feel as if I was walking around in a dream. The perfect way to describe this amazing country I think.

Cusco

The tour I joined was a GAP Adventures trip and was really fantastically organised and run. It ended up being three couples and me for most of the time, but we all got along so well and I only felt like a nigel every so often! The whole Inca & pre-Hispanic plus the colonial history of Peru is so fascinating. In Lima we saw some beautiful colonial buildings like an old Franciscan monastery with catacombs underneath, and big city cathedral built on an old Inca temple (sorry don´t have my notes with me and wouldn´t spell the names right anyway!!). On day two we flew to Cusco (highest we went, about 3600 metres altitude) which is the historic heart of the Inca empire, though the spanish conquest has had a huge impact on its appearance and culture. Fantastic food here and all the classic peruvian handicrafts - plenty of colourful weaving and knitting - llamas and tiny andean people - I really felt like a gigantor towering over all the locals! Helped to escape from the maddeningly persistent street sellers and beggars though with a few long strides :-)

Machu picchu

From Cusco we took a train to Aguas Calientes (meaning hot water) which is the town at the base of Machupicchu. They have some hot springs there (hence the name) but after seeing the colours of the ´natural medicinal waters´ and thinking about the hundreds of dirty smelly Inca trail walkers who are soaking there every day I gave that a pass and read my book in the bar with the river flowing next to me and the shadows slowly creeping across the mountains.

Machu Picchu

Taking the bus up to Machupicchu the next morning at 5.30am was another moment out of a dream. We walked to the top of the site and watched the sun rise over the surrounding peaks. Apart from the famous ruins, it´s in the most amazing location - towering mountains on every side and steep, steep cliffs dropping down to the Uragamba River (meaning ´Ballet of the Spiders´) which cuts its way all around their feet. The river was actually called something more like ´Sacred River´ in Inca times and they believed that it was a reflection of the Milky Way, so the cities they built around the area are built in the shape of constellations - Machupicchu was built in the shape of the condor; Cusco is a puma and another site we visited called Ollyantatamba really looks just like a llama.

Machu picchu

It was so amazing to be there, I really can´t describe it and the photos won´t do it justice either. My camera actually decided to take a day off after I took my first two pictures. You can imagine what that felt like, but luckily S came to the rescue and loaned me his spare so I still have some awesome pics. Speaking of travelling companions, two of them got engaged up there at sunrise so that was very exciting and romantic. We had a few celebratory Pisco Sours that night!

I´m glad we didn´t end up walking the Inca Trail as it sounds like a really hard slog (4 days and we just didn´t have time), but we did climb Waynapicchu which is the pointy mountain in all the classic Machuupicchu photos. Muito muito steep but it was such a great feeling to get to the top. Amazingly there was perfect phone coverage all over the place up there and it was the perfect time to get a hello message from a favourite person at home. That day was really just perfect. I got to be there right at the place I think I most wanted to see in the world right from childhood. I don´t think I really realised it until I was there but that was it.

Jungle

The last few days we stayed at an eco-lodge in the Peruvian part of the Amazon rainforest. Another amazing time and completely different from the other parts of the trip. My highlight was seeing a two-toed sloth on our spotlighting tour on our first night, and also swimming in the lake where 30 minutes earlier we had caught a few little pirahnas. The guide didn´t tell us until afterwards about the black caiman (crocodiles) that also lived there but apparently they don´t attack humans......... often. Plenty of mosquito bites even though we were wearing long clothes and stinky insect repellent all the time. We were all pretty stinky actually when it was 29 degrees and 90 per cent humidity. The lodge was in a fantastic location - 45 minute plane trip from Cusco (it would take more than 24 hours by car apparently due to the condition of the road), then one hour in a bus and two hours up the Tambopata River on motorised canoe. Right in the middle of a national park and wildlife all around. Falling asleep each night to the sounds of frogs, monkeys and cicadas I had the best sleep of the trip so far.

Jungle lunch

Once again this wee email doesn´t come close to describing the experience. You should all definitely put Peru and the rest of the continent on your must-visit list. I honestly didn´t think that South America would really be my kind of continent but it is the most amazing place. I would love to come back and have a look at Chile and Ecuador one day. Definitely not just a once in a lifetime trip (as Wolf would say - what do you mean once!!)

So that was the journey. Maybe I´ll write another tying-everything-up kind of email when I get home (plus pics from Peru) but for now I am happy to be heading back to see the next things that I most want to see in the world - my fella, family and friends. Can´t wait to catch up with you all.

Tchau amigos, Jill xoxo

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