A beautiful sunset in Manu.
Awesome cock-of-the-rock in the reserve.
The beginning of our adventure took us from Minneapolis to Atlanta, where we met up with a good friend of mine, ilyat (EK). We had decided to travel together and were able to even finagle the same flight into Lima, which was awesome. We arrived to Lima, the city of Kings (a bit of a joke as it was built in a really miserable area on the pointed, ironic advice of native 'advisors' to the Spanish. Lima is quite an intense city and travelers are advised not to leave the touristy Miraflores district during their stay. Of course, we started our trip leaving that area and venturing into the inner city. Our taxi driver enlightened us about the problems the city is having with gangs, drug trafficking, and corruption. Our hotel was complete with steel bars and security. The most noticeable thing about Lima was the crazy driving - people seemed literally kamikaze, speeding, weaving and honking up a storm. Amazingly, though we watched cars constantly come within centimeters of each other, we didn't see a single car accident our entire time in Peru.
Early in the morning we left Lima behind and took a short flight to Cuzco, the scenery changing from metropolis to mountains as we coasted over the Andes.
Even the pigeons are somehow more artistic in Cuzco.
Beautiful textiles all over at the street vendors.
Our first day in Cuzco, we had a nice tour of the city including some of its beautiful churches which were Spanish architecture built upon Inca ruins. The churches themselves were an interesting mix of cultures - I think my favorite thing there was a giant monumental canvas painting of the last supper where Jesus was eating a guinea pig. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the Cathedrals.
Qoricancha, the Sun Temple.
Jaguar of the magical whiskers. (Inca replica golden tablet)
A beautiful inca rendition of the milky way in the southern sky - with the Llama's eyes (part of the southern cross), the fox, serpent, and many others.
Amazing craftsmanship of the Inca walls.
Floating angel heads!
Saqsayhuaman Inca Complex - it was really a treat to visit a lot of these historical places. I've studied them for years and to be there, knowing their incredible background and battles that took place there was amazing.
The stonework was really incredible - the sheer size of the stones is amazing, and how far they were moved (and accurately they were cut to interlock without mortar).
Our guide for the day.
Strolling across the fields where Spanish cavalry assaulted the Incas fortressed at the temple, attempting to keep them at bay.
After Saqsaywaman, we toured Tambo Machay, Qenqo and Puca-Pucara (which was a really interesting cave once used for mummification rituals).
After our tour, we found a great place to eat dinner in Cuzco that had a buffet of local food including the national specialties - alpaca steak and guinea pig (cuy). They were delicious, along with all the fresh fruits, vegetables, fried yucca, many types of corn, and much more. We were treated to many acts of native dancing, including these masked 'demon' dancers.
The jaguar dancer and black fox both came over to purr-trill at me and give me a kiss. The masks were really fantastic!
A native pan flute band, chakana. We ended up picking up one of their CDs, their native fusion music was really fun.
The next morning we were up really early for the start of our Rainforest adventure - beginning with a harrowing ride through the Andes on a tiny, one lane dirt road carved across the mountains. It's up there on the 'world's most dangerous roads' list and I can safely say I've never been on a ride anything like it. There were times when one wheel of the bus was teetering off the edge of the road with a sheer drop thousands of feet down on one side.
At one point our bus got stuck in the mud and we spent a bit over an hour repairing the road enough to get it out and back on our way, despite a flat tire that had probably been there for some time.
On this tiny road, you would often run into semis coming the opposite direction. We would have to back up until we found a place suitable to pass (which could often be quite far!) and then continue on.
Cactus on a roof in Paucartambo, a famous folkloric town on the way to the park.
Ninamarca, pre-inca ruins (Lupaca).
We made it to the park - an amazing place half the size of Switzerland. It is divided into three sections - a narrow 'cultural' zone where people are allowed to live/farm in the jungle and tourists can visit - the place most people go when they visit Manu. A second area is a small 'reserve' zone with very limited tourism allowed, but no farming/fishing/hunting/etc. The third is an off limits scientific/research zone where only a very few individuals on official business are permitted. That area is where some of the uncontacted native tribes reside. It is a truly magnificent, wild, untouched place.
Our small group consisted of mbala, myself, EK, a couple from New Zealand/ Dubai, two Swiss guys, and a guy from Liverpool. It ended up being a really nice group to travel with!
The end of our first day in the forest brought us from city to cloud forest to river to the edge of the deep forest, where we stayed at a rustic lodge on a coca plantation. Our guide Rive (who was absolutely awesome) gave us a tour and explained a lot about the coca/cocaine business in Peru. It was fascinating to get a totally different perspective on it - that of the farmers trying to make a living from their crop, and the many natural benefits of the plant (when it is not being abused and perverted into powder).
Banana trucks along one of the last roads into the park area - lots of these semis were braving the narrow road to bring crops of fruit and lumber from the park to the city.
Madre de Dios river (mother of god) - we spent many hours traveling by boat, avoiding shallow areas and sunken trees.
When we moved from the Mother of God river onto the Manu river, headed into the reserve zone, our first greeting was by a huge red-tailed boa, probably about 12 feet long, floating along in the river.
Despite its massive size, Manu is not a popular tourist destination and apparently only about 1600-2000 people visit per year - only a fraction of that going into the reserve area (outside the cultural zone). There was only one other small group checked in at the ranger checkpoint when we arrived - and we pretty much had the feeling we were alone there.
Horned screamers, common along the river's edge.
Yellow-headed vultures. There were also lots of black and turkey vultures. I always forget how far many birds of prey range / migrate - many familiar birds were in the skies (ospreys, hawks, etc.)
Coca tea on the boat - helps to keep you going after a very long day of travel!
Woodpeckers, one of the most important birds in the rainforest. They start the holes that countless parrots use to make their nests.
I think that the most powerful and incredible experience for me, personally, was these jaguars. We stumbled upon a mating pair at the edge of the river, hanging out under a downed log in the early evening. The male was massive, and quite offended that we showed up to watch. Preferring his privacy, he stalked into the bushes - the female here pawed after him when he left.
Eventually, after a few of his plaintive calls, she followed suit.
Apparently only about 5-10% of visitors into the deep reserve zone see wild jaguars, so it was an incredible privilege to see them. It really took my breath away.
This picture (link) was taken by EK - http://www.coyotek.com/photos/albums/peru-100418/IMG_1528.JPG - it shows the male as he was taking off.
Large caiman in the river!
Wild blue and gold macaws!
The parrots were all quite a treat for me - we saw scarlet macaws, green-wings, blue and golds, a variety of amazons, pionus, brotegeris (grey-cheeked parakeets and kin), and conures.
After an awesome night walk in the forest, we had another early day where we went to a nearby lake (Salvador / Oxbow) to see the giant otters. They were quite huge, and they were circling the lake making unearthly, mournful cries. Rive told us this was not normal behavior for them at all - and also that three of their kits were missing from the group. He suspected that caimans might have gotten them.
Giant otters live in sociable family groups, with a lead female and often her kin (other mated pairs).
The otters weren't afraid of us at all (we were on a small catamaran paddled by hand) - they are used to researchers who have watched/studied them for many years. They came very close and went about their business as if we weren't there.
We also saw a lot of birds around the lake, including hoatzin (so awesome) and ani, cormorants and big parrot parties.
This was a tree which was being eaten from the inside out (hollow so you could walk through it) which smelled strongly of garlic.
You can see some of the famous 'clay licks' alongside the river - the big Tapir lick and macaw lick often seen on nature documentaries are actually privately owned outside of Manu itself. Parrots and other animals come there to feed on the nutrient rich soil.
Dr. Suess trees!
This picture does not do justice to the sheer size of this tree - and the incredible root system spanning out from it. All of the trees were really amazing.
Water spray from the boat.
(stealing this picture from EK!) - I will leave this as a 'to be continued' point - here I am posing with a wild tagua palm - called 'yarina' locally. I was so excited to get to see them in person, I have been working with the material (tagua nuts) for over twelve years now.
More pictures soon. :)