Peru 1 – From the border at Inapari, Puerto Maldonado, Quince Mil, Ocongate and Cusco.

PERU

Capital – Lima                 Currency – Nuevo Sol (S)                  Language – Spanish, Quecha, Aymara.

6th June – From the Brazilian border to the Peruvian at Inapari, about 3km down the new road that has been built.  Our passports are given a 90 day entry stamp and following this, the vehicle papers but first we have to go across the road to the ‘fotocopie’ for copies of our vehicle document, my driving licence and passport.  Back at the ‘official office’, we sit next to the guy (who has a good sense of humour) and help him fill in all the necessary details, during which time, the generator cuts out at least 4 times, turning off the air conditioning which he is not too happy about, being a rather large guy and it it is very hot.  With our forms completed, we are given a useful map and a box of mate de coca tea and a town is circled in biro on the map to show where it is grown.  A sticker is then made out for our vehicle and a number of shouts are made for his right-hand man to place it on the windscreen.  No response, so he finally gets up to do the job himself, but not before putting on his official cap.  As we leave the office, we notice that the guy  who was supposed to be doing this menial task, is across the road chatting up the girls at the fotocopie stall.  Quite a laid back and humorous start to this new country and a lot more like an African border crossing!

Leaving Inapari, we head south for Puerto Maldonado.  The forests are more dense, often reaching the edge of the road, with a great variety of trees and creepers giving a real ‘jungle’ feel, especially as we slow to allow monkeys to cross the road.  Every time we stop, we are surrounded by masses of black butterflies – it must be the time of year when they hatch.  Many of the timber and thatch houses are on stilts and we pass people raking brazil nuts spread over the ground.  A girl climbs up the bank with an armful to give me when I stop to take a photo.

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Another heavy downpour just before we reach Puerto Maldonado and Anaconda Lodge where we can camp in their ‘garden’ which turns out to be a mini jungle!  The Lodge belongs to Donald (originally from Switzerland) and his Thai wife Wadee.  As it is late, we enjoy a Thai meal in the communal dining/lounge area and will look forward to seeing more of their ‘special bit of paradise’ tomorrow.

7th – 9th June – Red Howler monkeys are amongst the trees this morning playing chase and rough and tumble with the cat and dogs….  very funny to watch!

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This little patch of remaining jungle with its maze of paths, is full of exotic and colourful flowers, jungle lodges hidden amongst the trees and even a swimming pool.

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We take one  of the many little motokars into town to visit the main Plaza de Armas with its pagoda-style clock tower and the bustling and colourful market.

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Beyond this is the 45m high Obelisco and we climb the 235 steps to the look-out tower  at the top, for a panoramic view of the city.

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Felix, one of the gardeners at the lodge, has asked us if we would like to accompany him when he visits his plot of land in the jungle at the weekend.  His dream is to one day, build his own lodge there.  We set off early following Felix on his motorbike, with Dominique (a volunteer worker at the lodge from Germany) on the back.  We return towards Brasil for approx. 1hour  before turning off on to a dirt road that will take us to his village called Sebaluyoc, situated by the Rio las Piedras.

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We all stop for Felix to point out monkeys in the trees and pendulum nests hanging from tall trees and built near a wasp’s nest.  When danger is threatening their young e.g. from a toucan, these little birds have a special call that encourages the wasps to fly from their nest and scare away the intruder….very clever!  Felix also points to a brazil nut tree, much taller that the others and with a very straight trunk.  We can just see some of the round, brown, coconut-shaped fruits amongst the branches.  They fall after the heavy rains, are collected up and then cut in half with a machete and the nuts taken from inside the shells.  There can be 15-20 nuts inside a shell.  One rodent is able to make a hole in this incredibly hard shell to eat the nuts, but will also hide some away like a squirrel, often forgetting where they are buried.  Once again, there are butterflies everywhere.

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We arrive at his grandma and are greeted by an assortment of dogs and a black cat.  Her wooden house with open sides, has been built on the top of the high banks of the Rio las Piedras which can rise another 3-4m in the rainy season, causing trees at the edge to collapse and washing away the banks, thus widening the river a little more on each side every year.  As Felix has to return to his home in Puerto Maldonado by the middle of the afternoon, we are taking a boat up river to his land, rather than walking.  Huge sacks of brazil nuts are piled on the river bank waiting to be loaded on to a lorry and more are arriving by boat from the other side of the shore.

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Water has to be baled out of our little boat and the engine coaxed to start.  We take a guy across to the other side of the river, where Felix buys some fuel for the boat and we then bring back two women and little girls on our return journey before we can start.

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The muddy, brown river is flowing very fast, collapsed trees, logs and branches travel at great speed down river and have to be avoided.  Clouds of butterflies are enjoying the salts and minerals at the edges of the river, whilst white egret line the top of the banks.  Our motor has to be coaxed back into life a number of times.  Felix points out a little turtle sitting on a log but before we can take a photo, a caiman has snatched it in his jaws!  Soon after a bend in the river, Dominique jumps out to secure the boat, sinking into deep mud.  We climb the steep bank and follow Felix through the jungle of trees.

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He is full of interesting information, having lived in the jungle for a number of years when he was younger.  He points out trees that are used for making bows and arrows, for making boats and for building houses.  Some are covered in lethal spikes and thorns so you have to look carefully before taking hold when clambering over slippery ground.  Some trees put out roots to seemingly ‘move’ along the ground.  Felix cuts down thick vines that would break the branches from a big brazil nut tree and eventually kill it, his machete slicing through them in a second.

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We are shown one particular, incredibly tall palm that bulges out at the bottom of its trunk.  This tree apparently is never cut or used for anything, otherwise people would become fat like the bottom of the tree, suffer from bad dreams and eventually die……people believe in many things in the jungle.

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The most spectacular tree is where we finish our walk to return to the boat, as time is getting on.  Some of the roots are as high as a wall, the trunk just disappearing up into the top of the canopy.  Little termite trails wend their way up the trunk….what a journey!

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Back at the boat we once again wait patiently for the engine to decide to burst into life to take us down river and to return to grandma’s house.

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She has kindly cooked us a lunch of rice, chicken and vegetables.  It is amazing how simply she lives, using rain water for everything and once that is gone, water from the river.  She is completely self-sufficient, having chickens and cows and growing rice and vegetables.  She is obviously pleased to have a visit from Felix.  Clouds begin to build and thunder rumbles and before long the rain is beating down, soaking Felix and Dominique on the motorbike, before they arrive back at Anaconda Lodge…..but what a very interesting and enjoyable day!

On our last day here, we see a red squirrel in the trees and as I walk to the shower block, my torch picks out a long, thin snake with an attractive pattern, making its way across the path in front of me.

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Wadee comes to look and tells me that it is a baby boa constrictor, which will of course, grow very large.  It eventually slithered into a small hole in a long, dead piece of wood and disappeared.  At least Wadee knows where it lives , but she tells me that if it is not careful, the chickens will peck it up and eat it.  They used to keep a large boa constrictor in their kitchen when they had mice!  As we watch the snake disappear, another smaller, flat, shiny and slimy creature is slithering out from under another piece of wood….the jungle is alive at night!

We say our goodbyes and collect pamphlets and cards from Wadee advertising their lodge and promise to distribute them as we make our journey through Peru, to try and attract more guests for them.  This route however, is not perhaps such a popular way to enter Peru, as the one from Bolivia via Lake Titicaca.  We would certainly recommend this lodge to travellers however, and also Wadee’s great Thai cooking!

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10th June – A misty start with low cloud as we leave Puerto Maldonado to make our way to Cusco via Mazuko, Quince Mil, Marcapata and Ocongate.  We will then pick up a main road north to Cusco.

We climb the Sierra Santa Rosa before the bigger and busy town of Mazuko and have views down to the Rio Inambari.

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We cross the Puente Inambari and leave the Madre de Dios region behind, entering the Cusco region.  At Quince Mil, there are forested hills and mountains over 6000m, we are up in the clouds at nearly 5000m between here and Marcapata.

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Suddenly, dark clouds move away to reveal Mt. Ausangate (6384m) an enormous, snow-covered mountain, towering on our left.

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This barren landscape is a drab brown, yellow, grey and black, bitterly cold, yet people still live up here, so far from a town and with such meagre soil on which to grow anything.  Their little pack ponies that graze on the hillsides, have long, shaggy coats and the alpaca resemble furry teddy bears.

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At Ocongate we find a long, single storey hotel on a large plot of land and surrounded by a wall – Ausangate Lodge.  We have no idea what to expect behind the huge, wooden gates but a very pleasant lady comes out to welcome us and we can just get Moby inside, where parking is completely secure.  What a lovely place!  Beamed ceilings with comfy sofas, interesting local artefacts, a dining area and rows of rooms outside in the gardens, which still have many colourful geraniums in flower.

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Our room is lovely and there is warm water but no heating anywhere, so the whole building is very cold.  Alejandrina cooks us a good meal which we both could have eaten all over again but there is plenty of hot coca tea to drink.  I sit with Alejandrina with my little dictionary and we teach each other some Spanish and English. I lend her my book for the night to look at.  We get our sleeping bags out as well as the three blankets on the bed to keep warm.

11th June – There is no electricity this morning but somehow Alejandrina manages to fry us each an egg and have hot water for tea.  We then sit outside in the sun, and go though the notes that she has made from my dictionary.  I promise to send it to her once I arrive back in the UK .

At Ccatcca, I take a photo of life-size musicians in the little square, where local women are serving food for the men from long tables.

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We travel through some spectacular mountain scenery again at over 4000m with remote settlements clinging to the hillsides and patchwork fields climbing the sides of the mountains, almost to the top.  We stop for lunch at the side of the road.  Truckers hoot their horns at us as they pass, wave, or give a thumbs up….a jolly lot and they make us feel welcome.

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A large town and a laguna appear nestling in the valley at the foot of these beautiful mountains – Laguna Urcos and the town of Urcos.

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We stop at Andahuaylillas and drive through narrow, cobbled streets to visit the 17th century church there in an attractive plaza with many old, white-washed buildings with bright blue paintwork.  The spectacular interior of the church is full of ornate gold carvings and beautiful paintings on both the walls and ceilings.  No photos allowed inside however.

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Shortly after Andahuaylillas, we stop to look at the Inca ruins at Pikillaqta….

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….and then continue into Cusco.  This city looks amazing with so many beautiful, old buildings and will be exciting to explore.  We climb very steeply with splendid views of the city and surrounding mountains and arrive at Quinta Lala where there is camping.

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This is a very good place to catch up with other over-landers and exchange news but at nearly 3600m it is so cold again at night.

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