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The Amazon, Machu Picchu & the Galapagos

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S: The Amazon, Machu Picchu & the Galapagos

FC: February 2008 | The Amazon, Machu Picchu & the Galapagos

2: Lima, Peru | We arrived in Lima about midnight and it took us two hours longer to get to the hotel. We drove through a really bad part of town and wondered just what we were getting into. However, the hotel was in a nice, safe section of the city.

3: The hotel served a wonderful breakfast - eggs, French toast, pancakes, fruit, rolls and cereals. We met our local guide at 10:00 for a tour of the historic city.

5: San Francisco Monastery | Our first stop was this 16th-century monastery which had beautiful paintings, murals and carvings. We also toured the catacombs where the bones of over 25,000 people are stored. | Catacombs

6: Bolivar Square | Archbishop's Palace

7: Presidential Palace | Changing of the Guard | The ceremonial Changing of the Guards lasted almost 10 minutes. | Lots of security around the palace.

8: Archaeological Museum | We saw some very unusual and odd pieces of pottery and some beautiful fabrics.

9: The Gold Museum

10: The Amazon | After our city tour, we had dinner at a sandwich shop near our hotel. Steve had pizza and I had avocado ravioli - both very good. We were exhausted - went to bed at 8:30. Our wake-up call came at 1:15AM!!! We had breakfast at 2:15 while other hotel guests were having a night cap. We weren't really hungry but did eat a little cereal. | We were served a small breakfast on the plane - 2 muffins, popcorn and a chocolate stick - is that a healthy breakfast or what? We arrived in Iquitos about 6:30 and drove into the city. Transportation was mainly these motorcycles with a covered bench on the back. They were very noisy and the pollution was awful.

11: Iquitos | Airplane bone yard - right by the runway. | We had a quick tour of the city where we were accosted by these street vendors. | Amazon River

12: We boarded our boat for the 24 km trip to our first lodge, Ceiba Tops, and arrived at 8:30AM. We were ready for a nap and we hadn't even done anything yet. This is the most comfortable of our three lodges; our room has A/C and a bathroom! A pool was in the middle of the gardens. | Pet tapir | Sloth

13: Ceiba Tops Lodge

14: Monkey Island | We left the lodge at 9:30 for Monkey Island, a private nature preserve. The monkeys at the preserve were primarily sick or malnourished orphans. The owner took them in and nursed them back to health. | Sue and friend

15: The owner | Eight kinds of monkey are on the island: marmoset, tamarin, titi, saki, uakari, woolly, spider and the red howler. | Beverly makes a friend

16: After lunch, we walked to the Ceiba tree. These trees can be hundreds of years old and grow to 150 feet. This one was gigantic! It soon started raining - one minute the sun was shining, the next, it was pouring. Everyone got soaked! | Ceiba Tree | Later, we took a boat ride to view pink and gray dolphins. We saw egrets, sloths, a weaver bird nest and a tree iguana.

18: We continued up a small tributary to see giant water lilies called Victoria Regia. As we got off the boat, it started to rain again but the sun came out in about 5 minutes. The water lilies can reach a diameter of 6 1/2 feet. They weren't very attractive but were certainly interesting.

19: The owners of the area were selling beads and other trinkets and the youngest daughter would pose with her baby sloth. | As we returned to the lodge, the sky got very dark, the wind picked up and we got drenched again. Later, we had a delicious buffet dinner and then were entertained by high school students from the nearby town of Indiana. The students performed four numbers which blended native music and dance. One dance even involved a very large snake that we could hold. We finally got to bed at 10:00 - we had been up for 21 hours. It was an exhausting day.

20: The next morning we motored to the ExplorNapo Lodge on a small tributary of the Napo River 160 km from Iquitos. Here we had the opportunity to live in an authentic Amazon River style palm-thatched house with mosquito-netted beds, kerosene lighting, shower house and an out house all surrounded by the rain forest. | Pet capybara | Half walls - I hope no one snores!

21: Shower house | Our water was heated by the sun but we were so hot, the water felt cold. | The out house was located in the other direction from the shower house along a covered boardwalk. I think everyone had to make the trek at least once during the night. | Wash stand | No electricity but we had WiFi! | ExplorNapo Lodge

22: Piranha Fishing | We are fishing for our dinner today! We took one of these open boats to a fishing spot on a small stream about an hour from the lodge. Our high-tech equipment was a stick with a line and hook; small pieces of beef were bait. Most of the piranha were too small to keep but we did manage to catch two 8-inch fish for dinner. Not much for 16 people - I hope we have something else to eat. | Pretty crowded in the boat! | The stream was only about 50 feet wide. On the other shore, children were playing in the shallows and mothers were washing clothes while we were catching piranha!

23: This fish was only 8-inches long but it had a mouthful of big, sharp teeth. | Joyce | Ilse | Sue | Catch of the Day!!!

24: Along with our regular dinner, we got to sample our 'catch of the day'. We each got about a 1-inch square piece of piranha. It was surprisingly good. | Rain Forest Canopy Walkway | The next morning, we set out early for our hour long rain forest hike. Even though we left by 7:30, it was already hot and humid. It had rained most of the night so the trail was very muddy.

25: The canopy walkway was almost half a mile long with platforms from 12 feet to 122 feet high. The walkways were wooden planks about 1 foot wide with net sides about 4 feet high. There were 14 walkways ranging from very short to 300 feet long. The longer walkways swayed quite a bit. | We saw only a few butterflies and a lizard on the walk but we got an idea of what the jungle looked like from above and the amazing size of the vegetation.

26: We walked back to the lodge, took a shower and had lunch. We decided to take a nap before our school visit.

27: School Visit | The village had about 200 residents who grow bananas, pineapple and rice and raise cattle. The houses have thatched roofs and half walls. | The children introduced themselves and sang some songs. The older ones practiced their English. Joyce had brought Beanie Babies for the students. Luckily she had enough for everyone.

28: We had a great breakfast of French toast and then headed upstream to our next lodge. We stopped at this small rum 'factory' for a tour and a tasting. This family-run business grows its own sugar cane and has the equipment to press the cane and heat and distill the syrup into rum. | Sugar cane press

29: Rum Factory | Basilio, our guide | We tasted four kinds of rum - plain, with molasses, with ginger and one with seven secret ingredients. I thought they all tasted terrible. | Don & Sue | This was a pretty spot - flowering trees, wildlife and of course, the river. | River bus

30: Hammock House | ExploRama Lodge

31: Our rooms still had half walls, mosquito netted beds, kerosene lighting and palm-thatched roofs but it was definitely more luxurious. We had a private bathroom!

32: Yaqua Village | Native Dancing | Blowgun Demonstration | Target Shooting | We visited this Indian village for a dancing demonstration and learned about blowgun making. There was a small market where we saw some hand made crafts. Very reasonably priced.

33: We had a quiet morning on our last day in the Amazon. After lunch, we took a small boat to the Ceiba Tops Lodge where we boarded the Amazon Queen for a slow cruise to Iquitos. | Cruising the Amazon

34: Cruising the Amazon

35: Waiting for the river bus | The cruise was a pleasure - we got to see scenes along the river's edge at a slow speed. Our flight back to Lima was delayed from 5:15 to 9:40. To kill some time, we were bused to a great hotel to relax and have dinner. We could also walk around Iquitos but no one felt like walking in the polluted atmosphere. We got to the airport in plenty of time only to find that our flight was delayed another 2 hours. We arrived at our Lima Hotel at 3:30AM! Luckily, we could sleep in before our flight to Cuzco the next day.

36: Cuzco, Peru | We arrived in Cuzco about 11:00, had a short ride to our hotel and were told to drink coca tea and go to bed - at 10,909 feet, we needed to acclimate. | At the airport, we were greeted by an Andean band in traditional dress. Outside, we were accosted by street vendors selling knit caps, souvenir hats and dolls in traditional clothing.

37: Plaza de Armas

38: Plaza de Armas | We had lunch around 3:00 and then took a slow walk around the main plaza. The two churches were very impressive. We returned to the hotel for another rest period followed by dinner at the hotel and an early bedtime.

39: Church & Convento La Merced

40: Juan, our Trip Leader, told us that a regional strike was planned. He wanted us to get out of the city early before it started. We left promptly at 7:15. We drove up the hill for a view of the city before continuing on to Sacsayhuaman. | Father Earth and Mother Earth

41: Sacsayhuaman

42: Sacsayhuaman | The Incas built Sacsayhuaman entirely by hand fitting boulders together. The largest rock is 8.5 meters high and weighs almost 300 tons. The structure was probably a monument to the sun god although no one is sure. The final battle for control of Cuzco was fought here. | Juan, our Trip Leader

44: Curandero Healing Ceremony | Shaman Enrique | This folk medicine practice is not simply a cure for illnesses, but a prayer for good health and well being. | The offering consisted of coco leaves, sugar, rice, seashells, beans, candies and several other things. After touching the bundle to everyone, he made an offering to the gods by burning the bundle.

45: Kenko Ruins | These ruins are thought to be an ancient ceremonial center for the Incas. We could see remnants of stone statues engraved with sacred animal figures.

46: On our return to Cuzco, we ran into strike-related problems. The strikers had blocked the roads with rocks, tree limbs and glass. For a fee, we could remove the debris and continue into the city. Our driver was able to drive almost to our restaurant. We walked the rest of the way. | The restaurant was boarded up but Juan gave the 'secret' knock and we were allowed to enter. We had a wonderful lunch complete with entertainment. | Our walk back to the hotel was uneventful and entered through this small door. Later, some people toured the Temple of the Sun. Steve and I took naps.

47: Home Hosted Dinner | That night, we had our home hosted dinner. It was quite a feast. We had fruit juice, egg and noodle soup, roasted guinea pig, chicken, potatoes, beans, rice and tamales. It is quite an honor to be served guinea pig, which tasted like chicken. | We walked past a woman selling these loaves of bread. Juan bought some and we all had a good size chunk. It was delicious.

49: We left Cuzco at 7:30 for our trip to Machu Picchu. The only sign of the two day strike was some rocks in the road. We drove up and over the mountains, reaching 12,000 feet before we began to descend. The area is considered the bread basket of Peru.

50: Ollantaytambo | We had time to walk around town before we caught the train to Machu Picchu. The streets were very narrow and vendors were everywhere. I bought an Andean doll in native dress for only $5.00 - quite a bargain. We visited one of the homes where guinea pigs were wandering freely in the kitchen. There must have been 50 of them. Not only are they food for the family but they also are a warning system for earthquakes.

51: We boarded our train to Machu Picchu about 10:30. We had traditional Andean entertainment and a fashion show. The scenery was spectacular.

52: We arrived in Aquas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu in time for lunch. Our restaurant had this interesting mural of the Last Supper. We had soup, trout and chocolate cake for lunch. We walked through town in the pouring rain to our hotel and then took the 30 minute bus ride up to Machu Picchu. Along the hairpin switchbacked road, we could see the raging Urubamba River and the almost vertical faces of the mountains. | Aquas Calientes | Stand here in case of earthquakes!

53: Urubamba River | The road to Machu Picchu

54: Machu Picchu

56: Temple of the Condor | We toured the entire city - past temples, monuments and agricultural terraces. Machu Picchu felt almost mystical as we walked through the fog and clouds. We climbed to the two highest points and had wonderful views of the area. | Hitching Post for the Sun

57: Machu Picchu

58: We returned to Machu Picchu early the next morning; it was raining and foggier than the day before. We arrived before most of the tourists and saw whole herds of llamas wandering about. Somewhere in the fog we heard an Andean pipe being played. It gave us all an eerie feeling. Once the fog lifted, we could see the piper on top of the cliff.

59: Machu Picchu | Only two people decided to hike the Inca Trail to the Sun. The rest of us walked around the Machu Picchu admiring the views.

60: Machu Picchu | The climb up to the guard house | Urubamba River

61: We took the bus down to the valley to have lunch and then catch the train. Our bus took us back to Cuzco by a different route to visit the Pisac Market. However, it was pouring when we arrived. The group voted to continue on to our hotel. We arrived about 6:00 and just had the snack from the train for dinner. It was an exhausting day. | Pisac Market | Cuzco | Our wake up call came at 5:00AM. We were flying from Cuzco to Lima to Quito, Ecuador. All of our flights were late departing. We finally arrived at our hotel about 5:30. Had dinner and got organized for our morning flight to the Galapagos Islands.

62: Galapagos Islands

63: Isla Sante Fe | Isla Santa Cruz | Isla Santiago | Isla South Plaza | Isla Bartolome | Isla Rabida | Isla North Seymour

64: Isla Santa Cruz | We were bused to the pier where the sea lions had taken over. They were cute lying there, but the smell was awful. Luckily, we didn't have to wait long for the boats to pick us up. The Carina is very spacious and lunch was delicious. | After resting a bit, we visited Santa Cruz Island where we discovered Sally Light Foot Crabs all over the beach. This was the mating season, so they were more colorful than usual. We had time to swim and snorkel, and then went for a walk along the shore | Sea Lions | Sally Light Foot Crabs

66: Great Blue Heron | Turtle Nests | Avid Photographers

67: Isla Bartolome | Billy, our Trip Leader | We walked across the lava, along a boardwalk and up 374 uneven steps to reach the top of the lava cone. With the extreme heat and no breeze it was a very difficult trek.

69: Pinnacle Rock | From the top of the lava cone, we could look down on a submerged crater and see a spectacular 360 degree vista of the islands and ocean.

70: We returned to the Carina for some snorkeling and swimming, ate lunch and took a siesta. | At 4:00PM, we motored to a nearby island where we saw Galapagos penguins. There wasn't much else to see. Billy explained the different types of lava - smooth vs. ropey. We walked on 170 year old lava but didn't stay long. The heat radiating off the black lava was intense.

71: Galapagos Penguins

72: Before dinner we sailed to this large white rock. The island was painted by the boobies (poop) and perfumed by the sea lions - what a stink! We also saw some more penguins.

73: Isla Santiago | Sally Light Foot Crabs | Land Iguanas | Lava Lizard

74: Marine Iguanas

75: We started our 3 hour walk at 7:00 before it got too hot. We saw marine iguanas, sea lions and many different birds and, of course, the ever present sally light foot crabs. | Marine Iguanas

77: Sea Lions

78: We returned to the ship by 10:00 and watched a video on the Galapagos Islands during which most people dozed. We had lunch and took a siesta until 3:00.

79: Marine Iguanas

80: Isla Rabida | This afternoon we motored to Rabida Island where we walked along the red sand beach. Lots of pelicans and sea lions. The sea lions came up to check us out as we were checking them out. They were all over the beach and we could get within a few feet of them.

81: We saw this rainbow just before we returned to the ship. | Before dinner, we sailed to Bainbridge Rock which is a huge volcanic crater filled with fresh water. A colony of about 100 flamingos live here. | Bainbridge Rock

82: Isla South Plaza | We motored to South Plaza Island at 7:00 to avoid the heat. We saw sea lions, land iguanas and many different kinds of birds, including frigate birds and blue footed boobies. | A female sea lion and her pup were sunning on the pier when we arrived. After shooing them away, we had no problem landing. The walk started on the beach and then went inland where we had to walk very carefully on rocks. Billy cut our walk short since the heat was intense once away from the shore. | Land Iguana

84: Blue Footed Boobies

85: Sea Lions | Lava Lizards

86: Isla South Plaza

87: We sailed to Sante Fe Island and anchored in a cove where we had time to swim and snorkel. The water was a clear beautiful turquoise. We saw many different kinds of fish and even a turtle.

88: We sailed into this busy port on Santa Cruz Island, had our farewell dinner and got organized for the land portion of the Galapagos Islands. | We disembarked at Puerto Ayora and drove to the Charles Darwin Center. We arrived at 7:15 ahead of all the other tourists. | Charles Darwin Research Center

89: Baby tortoises 3 years old | Young tortoises 40 years old | Adult tortoise | Lonesome George 110 years old | Land Iguanas | Galapagos Tortoises

91: Tortoises | The tortoises were so used to people we were able to get within a foot of them. | Cooling mud bath!

92: We finished touring the Darwin Center by 9:30. We had two hours to kill before we went to our home-hosted lunch. The main street of Puerto Ayora was one long chain of souvenir shops, cafés and hotels. No one felt like shopping so we just walked around for a bit until we went out on the pier where we had some shade and a delightful breeze.. We watched the wildlife and just relaxed. | Puerto Ayora

94: That afternoon we drove to our hotel and had a delightful surprise. Each couple had their own villa. The bathroom was big enough to get lost in and included an 18" rain shower fixture. We had a king bed, a living room and a porch with a Jacuzzi, overlooking the ocean. There was also a pool on the property. | Dining Room

95: Later, we went to see giant tortoises in the wild. We had to walk about 15 minutes through wet knee-high grass to find them. Unlike the tortoises at the Darwin Center, these tortoises hissed and retracted their heads if we came too close.

97: North Seymour Island | We had a 30 minute bus ride to the dock where we met our day boat. We waited and waited and nothing happened. Apparently, one motor wouldn't start. A battery was borrowed from another boat but that wouldn't work either. After much scurrying around, we started off - with only one engine!. The hour sail took over two hours and the diesel smell was overpowering. Several people were feeling very queasy. | We finally got to the island and saw frigate birds and blue footed boobies. Mating season was primarily over, but we did get to see some male frigate birds with their red pouches trying to attract the females. Frigate birds are huge - their wingspan is over 7 1/2 feet. | Pelican | Blue Footed Booby

99: Frigate Birds

100: The next morning we stopped at a lava tube and two volcanic sinkholes on our way to the airport. We had to take a bus, a ferry and a second bus just to get to the airport. Our flight actually left on time and we arrived at our Quito hotel about 5;30. We had dinner at a restaurant on a hill overlooking the city. | Sinkholes | Lava Tube | Ferry Boat

101: Quito, Ecuador | Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra | Our first stop was a performance by the Sinamune Orchestra. The school has over 120 children with special needs. They put on a rousing musical and dance show.

102: In the 18th century, the French wanted to determine the exact location of the equator. Unfortunately, they were off by 200 meters. This monument was built in the wrong location - it's pretty and commercial and everyone visits anyway. | Inti Nan Museum | The true location of the equator as determined by GPS and the pre-Incan people.

103: Middle of the World Monument

104: It was now late-morning and Juan thought we might be hungry. We stopped at this ice cream shop where all the ice cream is made by hand in a bronze bowl twirled in a tub of ice. They use only fruit and sugar - I tried the strawberry and Steve had the blackberry. Both were delicious! | Ice Cream! | The Cathedral was built in 1562 and is now an art museum.

105: Independence Plaza

106: Palace of Government | The street level of the palace was filled with souvenir shops.

107: La Compania de Jesus Church | This church took over 150 years to build and is one of the richest churches in the Americas. Some say there are seven tons of gold leaf adorning every surface inside. The church was overpowering - almost gaudy.

108: San Francisco Plaza and Church | The Virgin of Quito on Panecillo Hill

109: After visiting the Amazon, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands we were ready for home. We left the hotel at 4:00AM for our 7:20 flight to Miami which left on time. Our Atlanta flight was delayed over three hours due to thunderstorms. We didn't arrive home until after 2AM. It was a fantastic trip.

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Carol LaPonte
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