Wednesday 26 July
Our adventure to South America started with three flights from Brisbane. An Emirates flight to Auckland and then via Santiago to Lima. A 30 hour travel time span from starting in Brisbane to our arrival at the hotel in Lima. It was really good to see the Andes covered in snow as we travelled along the coastline. We were met by George who provided an excellent introduction to Lima, a city of over 10,000,000 people. We arrived in the midst of the rush hour so it took an hour to get to hotel from the airport. Settled in quickly and some of us had a snack at a small local restaurant across the road.
Thursday 27 July
A free day to recover from the flight, yet we were up early anyway. Although winter, it was reasonably warm during the day, though with full cloud cover. All 10 of our group decided to take George's recommendation and visit Huaca Pucllana, a temple pyramid built in the 700's by the Lima people. Built from hand shaped bricks the temple is built in the form of a pyramid with the top cut off. We were provided with a one hour guided tour because the site is still very much in the stage of an archaeological dig. Apparently the area was used as a recreational area for generations and was only discovered as an of historical importance thirty five years ago. An amazing construction, years before the Inca overtook Peru and created so many of the better known ruins around the West coast of South .america. After lunch at a local cafe we visited a well known shopping centre built into the face of a cliff, right on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Quite an amazing construction with many of the best known shops within the complex. An excellent dinner at the hotel finished the day.
Friday 28 July
The day started with a gathering of our Peru tour group with details of the variety of activities. Sounds great. A lazy morning with everyone doing their own thing. Most of us ended up at various craft markets which are so colourful.....naturally a few souvenirs were purchased....it is good to bargain for products in these markets, which makes life just that bit more interesting.
After lunch we had a guided city tour of Lima, which was made even more interesting because it was the National Anniversary of the independence from the Spanish in 1821. The city was crowded out with most of the streets closed to traffic. We were to visit the main Cathedral but the long line of people waiting to go in put that out of the question, so we walked through the city to visit the Saint Dominic Priory, founded in 1535, which is one of the most famous in Peru. The day finished with a meal in a very busy restaurant right on the cliffs, and in the open air, with a cool wind keeping us wrapped up in our coats, but the food was excellent.
Saturday 29 July
An early morning start with breakfast from 0530 then on our way to the airport at 0630. Pleasant drive through the city with little traffic. Quite a change. Then a wait for our flight to Cusco, just one hour away but at a height of 11,300 feet. We were met by our local guide and set off to a National Park, just over 12000 feet where we were able to see some Inca ruins and a replica of Jesus the Redeemer, which is relevant to the people of Peru because 93% of the population are Catholic.
Onwards to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which is a very fertile area and has several small villages scattered along a river, which ultimately flows into the Amazon. We stopped in one village for a couple of hours to explore the local markets and learn something about the two main "industries" in the valley, making silver products and clothing from the local , alpaca and other animals which provide some wonderful wool products.
En route we stopped at a display detailing all the different animals which provide a lot of the population with a good lifestyle, together with several live animals of each type, which many of the group enjoyed feeding.
The mountain scenery on either side of the valley has been quite spectacular as we moved through the area, with the setting sun making it even better. Arriving at our hotel, which did not look much from the outside, we were amazed at the quality as we entered and moved through to our rooms.
Sunday 30 July
A later start today with a drive through the Sacred Valley past several interesting villages until we reached the only Inca town remaining in Peru. Ollantaytambo has running water in miniature aqueducts throughout the city, fresh from the surrounding snow clad mountains. Apparently there is year round supply of water with the channels running alongside each narrow road.
Being a tourist town there are dozens of stalls with a multitude of crafts, which everyone was attracted to. The town has fascinating archaeological Inca ruins, which we were able to visit with our local guide. Climbing over 500 feet to the Temple of the Sun and exploring the ruins which was very much a fortress in the 1400's when over 20,000 Inca warriors were based there when the Spaniards arrived.
Before we returned to our hotel we stopped at a ceramic a studio to see how some local pottery is made, with some purchases of course. We also stopped at a local chicheria to see how a local Inca drink is made.
Dinner at a local restaurant which we enjoyed. A very enjoyable day.
Monday 31 July
Once again we were up early for our adventure to Machu Picchu. Bus, train and bus took us to the ruins of Machu Picchu.....three hours travelling all told. The train journey was particularly picturesque following a fast running river with 12000 foot mountains all around us.
Entering the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu is something many of us had been waiting for for a long time. We spent two and a half hours with our guide exploring the main features of the site, with many, many photographs.
We have been blessed with wonderful weather and although at over 8,000 feet for the past few days it has been warm and pleasant.
We are staying at a hotel in Machu Picchu township which is very nice and right in the middle of the action in town. We need a good rest after climbing up and down the ruins all morning.
Tuesday 1 August
A sleep in. The best night for everyone. I guess with the knowledge that we did not have to get up early. After a good breakfast we wandered around the town and found some interesting carvings in several of the rocky outcrops and enjoyed strolling beside the river to the main part of the town. The railway runs through the middle of town and several local trains passed through while we there. The colourful markets were an attraction for all of us and several good purchases were made.
We had a one o'clock meeting at the station ready for our return journey to the Sacred Valley. Once again the scenery was really enjoyed by everyone and we were entertained by some of the train staff to an very good fashion show and an excellent masked dance.
The two hour drive into Cusco was enlightened by our local guide who gave us information about the original Inca populations and and subsequent arrival of the Spanish and the present use of the fertile land throughout the area. Arriving in Cusco we passed through some very poor areas before reaching the hotel, quite near the centre of the city. An excellent hotel with good rooms and facilities. Another enjoyable day with exceptional weather.
Wednesday 2 August
Cusco, a bustling city of 435,000 at a height of around 11,150 feet. Cusco was originally the capital of The Incan Empire and is now known for its archaeological sites and Spanish architecture. An early morning tour took us to several of these sites outside the city and within the city itself. Visiting the main square of the city we were confronted by a large demonstration against recent government policies. Fortunately very peaceful and no concern to us as we moved into areas outside the main meetings. Plenty of well armed police on all sides of the square, but no problems. One interesting stop was at a shop, attached to a factory which makes clothing from Alpaca wool.....some very nice products available.
A free afternoon and a chance to mail cards to family and relax at a very nice coffee shop - the best yet. Out for dinner tonight with a one hour show which we are looking forward to.
Thursday 3 August
Today we had a flight from Cusco to Juliaca which was delayed by early morning fog. On arrival we were met by a local guide with a huge bus, just for 23 of us. We travelled into the high plateau area of Peru which is flat and dry at the moment and just 12500 feet above sea level. We stopped at a couple of very interesting spots and ended up at over 13000 feet with a wonderful view of a lake. We all survived quite well though you do get a little short of breath if you try to do something too quickly. One of the stops was at a family home on the plateau which showed us how the natives live, in what we would class as a very primitive situation. They all seemed happy enough. Our bus ride took us to Puno, on the shore of Lake Titikaka, and on to our hotel which is very good. An evening meal in the hotel was enjoyed.
Friday 4 August
After an early breakfast we travelled by bus to the port of Puno to catch a boat for the days activities. Lake Titikaka is the highest navigable Lake in the world at 12507 feet after a half hour ride we arrived at the area of man made islands where over 1900 people live. We spent a couple of hours learning about the construction of an island and the way of life of the families living on one particular island. Solar power is available for each of the houses and they seem to be very happy living in this extended community of about 200 islands. They rely heavily on tourism, with regular visits, such as ours, and for selling the home made products which are of excellent quality. Some of the group took a ride on one of the reed boats, especially constructed for visitors. A short boat ride took us to another island for lunch, where we were again introduced to a different lifestyle for the 2900 people living on the island. There are no animals on the island so the people live very much as vegetarians from the crops grown on their own land, with the occasional fish harvested from the lake. An excellent vegetable soup was served and then some of us had trout and others had an omelette with a cup of local mint tea to finish off. An hours boat ride back to the port in Puno and a bus ride back to the hotel ended a very interesting day.
Saturday 5 August
A lazy morning before a flight back to Lima. A chance to wander the roads around the hotel and take couple photos. Our flight was delayed once again because of fog in Lima. Thus we had an extra hour to wait at the Juliaca airport after an hours drive from Puno in beautiful weather. Cloudy in Lima as we drove the one hour to the hotel from the airport. So a very quiet day which was needed to recoup our energies for the forthcoming trip into Ecuador. A very early bed time with a 4am wake up call.
Sunday 6 August
Yes, up at 4 am as we had to leave by 5 am for the airport. Amazed at how much traffic was on the roads and also at the airport. Took ages to check in for our international flight to Quito in Equador. Met by a local guide with a 40 seat bus for our 44 km journey from the airport to our hotel in the centre of Quito. Quito, the capital of Equador, at a height of 9350 feet and a population of 2,671.000, is a sprawling city with its Northernmost edge just 1 km South of the Equator.
After an excellent buffet lunch, we were advised to havoc our main meal at lunch time, we took a stroll from the hotel to a large local park where we were entertained by dancers in local dress, saw a wonderful selection of local artists work, wandered through the markets and observed the local population enjoying their Sunday afternoon out. Retuned to our Mercure hotel suites to rest up for another early day on Monday.
Monday 7 August
Another early morning as we had a 7am flight from Quito to the Galápagos Islands. At least the hotel provided some breakfast for us before we departed on our 40 seat coach at 5am. Good flight with snacks, which helped.. Galapagos is 1200 km East of the Equador mainland and encompasses several volcanic Islands, each with their own natural flora and fauna.
Met at Balthazar airport by the staff of the Galápagos Legend, our home for the next three nights. Quickly found our cabins and went for a buffet lunch. A welcome talk by one of the National Park naturalists detailed our program of on shore visits to several of the Galápagos Islands.
We were divided into groups and met our tour guide for the week, Pedro, who works for the National Park system. Then off on a zodiac carrying twelve of us to the first on shore visit on Santa Cruze. A coach took us into the highlands of the island to see giant tortoises, and there were hundreds of them, some enjoying a mud bath and others munching on the local vegetation. A climb into a large lava tube finished our walk with afternoon tea on the property we visited. A great afternoon and a return to the ship for a good evening meal.
Tuesday 8 August
An overnight cruise to another small group of Islands called the Genovesalk islands, which are actually over the equator in the Northern Hemisphere
Breakfast at 0700 and then our second land tour. Initially we followed a low cliff embankment looking at a variety of birds and sea lions and then climbed up to a flat plateau area where we we were amazed at the number of nesting birds and how close we could walk by them. Because there are no natural predators the birds seem to have no fear. Some great photographs of the various birds. In the afternoon we took a glass bottom boat ride alongside the cliffs and were able to see a variety of different fish, but nothing like the variety found on the pristine Barrier Reef.....no photographs here I'm afraid. A second shore excursion into a different part of the Island gave us an opportunity to see basking sea lions and many nesting birds of a different variety to those we saw in the morning. Once again some great photographs were taken as you can see below. Another good day.
Wednesday 9 August.
Overnight we travelled back to a different side of Santa Cruze Island where we were able to see sea iguanas and land iguanas and a few smaller varieties of birds, some of which are unique to the Galápagos Islands. We travelled to Santa Fe Island while having lunch to provide another opportunity to see another variety of fauna and flora. Again some of the group took a glass bottom boat ride and saw different range of fish and water flora. Late afternoon we had another shore excursion but on the way saw a pod of rays and we chased a couple of whales for some time. On shore we were met by several sea lions, of all sizes and saw a shark waiting for the chance to catch one of the younger ones. A hike inland introduced us to a different land iguana and several endemic plants, unique to this particular island, especially cacti. On return to a different beach we found dozens of seals of all shapes and sizes, the younger ones being very active and often chased anyone who got too close to them. An enjoyable day.
Thursday 10 August
A relaxing start to the day for some of us while others went ashore to one of the local beaches not too far from our departure point, as this was our final morning on the Galápagos. A transfer to the airport for our 1000am flight back to Quito. This was supposed to be a nice short trip but as we had a short stop enroute we had a bad interruption as there was a crash on the runway and the airport was closed. So we had to land at an alternative airport until the runway was cleared. A frustrating 3 hour delay which got us into Quito at around 5.30, instead of 2.30.
Most of the group had somehow developed coughs during our time in the Galápagos so we were all pleased to have an early night in the Mercure hotel.
Friday 11 August.
A lazy morning as we had a 9.00 am pick up for a Quito city tour. Ended up only five of us going as the others were still not feeling too good. Visited the historical sights of the city and of course the main churches which are resplendent in ornate gold decorations. Some of the group then went for a further ride to the actual equator where they could stand with one foot in each hemisphere. A lazy afternoon with most of us feeling much better.
Saturday 12 August
The end of our official tour so free all day until our 4.00 pm transfer to the airport where we then fly to Lima for an overnight stopover before flying on to Iguassu to see the famous Falls.
Most of us still not feeling the best, the result of the altitude we believe after being at sea level for the few days in the Galápagos. A lazy day for us all with short walks around the hotel to keep us occupied. Flight to Lima on time and the Wyndham Hotel was just five minutes walk from the terminal so all pleased about that. Good hotel with plenty of space and although right next to the airport, very quiet.
Sunday 13 August
A casual morning as we already had our boarding passes ready for a 1230 flight. Everyone had a last look at shops in Peru before our flight. 4 hour flight to Iguassu where we were met by Rodrigo, our guide for the next two days. A short drive to the hotel which is a golfing resort with apartments spread out over a large area, each sharing a swimming pol and spa with 7 other units. The whole property covers an area of 550 acres, including an 18 hole golf course.
Dinner at the hotel restaurant before an earlyish night.
Monday 14 August
Following breakfast Rodrigo met us at 0900 and we made our way to the National Bird Park where we spent a few hours exploring the wide variety of birds from the region. Many were contained within huge aviaries with small webbed fencing which made it very difficult to take photos. Overall we were able to get a few good pictures.
Then on to the Iguassu National Park for our visit to the Brazil Iguassu Falls. A wander on a pathway beside the Iguassu River which gave us an overall picture of some of the Falls, which extend for over 2.5km. A good day exploring another of God's creation.