A Travellerspoint blog

Inti Raymi

Sometimes God Just Hands You One

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So this is the day I forgot in the excitement of my Inca Trail blog. This will be very short as a result:

So after a few weeks of bad luck I forgot to mention the one thing that I did luck out on. When I first arrived in Cusco it just happened to coincide with the sun festival, Inti Raymi. This is the most significant day on the Incan calendar and corresponds closely to the winter solstace and is a celebration in honour of the god Inti.

The celebration is full of plenty of colour and lots of dancing starting at 9 am in the morning and continuing all day through the city before finally culminating in a massive celebration at Sacsayhuamán. With the need to get to the start of the Inca trail in time to beat the strikes our celebration was cut short but not before we saw the main parade and celebration at the temple of the sun and also the progression into the main plaza, Plaza de Armas. The festival is all about prayers and offerings to the sun god in the presence of the all important Inca king.

We were lucky enough to be able to eat lunch on as balcony overlooking the main festival in the plaza and I only hope the photos that I will upload do it justice......

Posted by rhinoc 19:01 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Inca Trail

The 4 day trek to Machu Picchu

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Well it finally arrived the point that I had been looking forward to my entire time in Peru the 4 day inca trail through the Peruvian mountains to arrive at the one of the new seven wonders of the world just as the sun rises. Like seemingly everything in the last couple of months this was not without its only little difficulties though as country wide strikes (not uncommon here in Peru apparently) closed off the roads and burnt down the only bridge making road transport from Puno to Cusco impossible. A short flight to and from Lima though got me there in time to hit another strike this time by the independent guides on the Inca trail! Alas some quick talking here and an extra nights camping circumvented the strike - A happy ending for some very nervous people indeed!

The extra night of camping provided us all with the opportunity to get to know each other and framiliarise ourselves with how we would be living for the next few nights. First of all the tents we are staying in are not massive and myself and my tent buddy will definitely be friends by the end of it but otherwise the living conditions are simply outstanding with coffee/tea/hot chocolate accompanying the wake up call in the morning. Camping the extra night also enabled us to get an early start and we walked through the entrance by ourselves which allowed some complications with passports to be sorted out very quickly.

With the concerns over the amount of people using the inca trail (the amount therefore being restricted) there is also a limit on how much you are allowed to bring onto the trail. I found that the 6kg duffle bag plus a day pack was ample and would have struggled to fill much more than 6kg overall. The only thing that i would pack next time would be a pair of thongs as well Some people however struggled with this and my extra space was comfortably and eagerly taken by other people and their tuck shop supply of snacks.

The early start also afforded us a gentle first day (about 2500mm to 3600m) to allow some of our less aclimatised group members the opportunity to experience the altitude and deal with the day before we hit "Dead Womans Pass" at 4200m the highest point on our trek. The first day involved us hiking for only about 5 hours which gave us plenty of time to get to know each other and ease into the trek before settling down comfortably at the campsite around 3:30. The first and most impressive thing that you notice (after you wake up that is) is that you are walking through some of the most spectacular and untouched scenery that you are likely to see that immediately makes the hiking uphill worthwhile.We also had the joys of passing over the top of our first ruins which despite viewing from afar looked quite incredible and helped wet the apetite for further ruins along the journey.

I found the first day incredibly easy and would have had no issues with continuing for another few hours up to the highest point to make the second day slightly easier on us all (something everyone was keen on) but alas the guides decision was to camp lower and prepare mentally for tomorrow. After the porters set up our camp we were greeted with afternoon tea followed by an early dinner and we have all come to the conclusion that we are not going to starve at all on the trip. The food is really good and there is plenty of it and the only hinderance being that after a massive lunch you realise you still have to hike for a further 2 hours.....lessons were learnt!

The group for this trail is a mixture of three other intrepid groups that have arrived in Cuzco at the same time on varying itineraries. We have two couples in their 50´s, a family of four with two young teenage girls, a guy in his early 20´s, another girl turning 30 and myself. A fairly diverse group to spend four days hiking with. The group really got along well and with little else to do cards were played pretty every night with full attendance.

The conditions were really ideal for hiking with the nights and mornings being a little on the cold side (especially the second night). However once you got moving in the morning it warmed up quickly and was actually quite hot when the sun came out in the middle of the day.

The second day was by far the longest day of the trek calling for a wake up call at 6am to start hiking by 7am, finally reaching our destination in the late afternoon about 5pm. This day also included a visit to three seperate ruins on the way which helped to break up the uphill hiking, although with plenty of time allocated it was not an overly stressful pace. The first lot of ruins were not as impressive as others and were little more than an observation/communications base with quarters for sleeping. The second and third ruins however were really awesome, the second set high up on a hill but making the steep climb all the worthwhile. These ruins were surrounded by cloud forrest views and came complete with spiritual rooms and several hidden incan steps. From these ruins on the hill you could also see the third set of ruins that lie in the valley far below. The third set of ruins were not quite as big as the second ones but still maintained a large city type feel complete with the religous temples and defensive garrison.

Personally I didn´t find the second day too overwhelming but it was atleast slightly challenging. With one of the teenage girls Maisey as my new climbing buddy we flew up both passes with ease arriving at the top in time to enjoy the scenery and watch the remainder of our group complete the climb (although she did manage to leave my behind for a few minutes nearing the top of the second pass, a very fit young girl!). The views from the top is really quite spectacular with mountains and rivers as far as the eye can see broken up only by clouds with little more than a campsite or a set of ruins off in the distance providing any evidence of human presence.

Tonight was our highest campsite and therefore also our coldest night and it certainly was nice to have the sleeping bag to call on but it was nowhere near as cold as the night in Cibay. With a long day behind us we were all ready for bed about 9pm ready for a bit of a sleep in come tomorrow morning.

Whilst we were glad for the slight sleep in the morning was freezing cold and we were all thankful that our wake up call comes to the tent with a choice of hot drinks!. Once out of a bed a full of breakfast the priority for me was to keep moving and move fast. Feeling no ill effects from the previous day i was able to fly up to third pass in very good time giving me more a chance to catch up on some diary notes and check out the interesting scenery. My climbing buddy didn´t back up quite so well today so I was left to go solo but was still quite strong and managed to meet a few other groups along the way as I passed them en route to the third pass and final decent climb of our hike. The best bit is that I feel like I am slowly starting to recover some fitness which is not bad considering I have done very little for the previous three months!

The best bit of todays hike was the opportunity to hike some of the original incan trail, a road made of granite around the mountains with some sections built up to 10m high. We also saw two impressive incan tunnels that were carved out of the cliffs in order to allow the horses access to the trail.

The other thing that you notice as you progress along is that the incan buildings still remain in tact however the spanish buildings that were put up are all but demolished. This speaks volumes about the structural techniques of the Incans that their buildings have survived so long especially during repeated earthquake and volcanic activity around the country. In fact most of the damage done on the Incan trail was apparently done by the final Incan in a bid to destroy and thererfore preserve this sacred area from the conquering spanish.

The valley that the path leads down is between two significant mountain ranges in Peru and gives rise to both jungle and plains type environments. As a result there is a diverse range of fauna and flora to peruse as well as you progress through the picturesque scenery, absolutely perfect for hiking. At the third pass we even managed to see some hawks that were circling around the mountain attempting to find some food, not quite as majestic as the condors but quite good none the less.

The food quality has remained nothing short of remarkable and we all well and truly over catered in regards to bringing along snacks. By the third day we were all in the process of pulling out snacks at every opportunity in a bid to get rid of the mostly (and for some people to lighten their loads). The problem however has been that despite the regular presence of snacks we are all really struggling to finish even one meal let alone the four on offer on a daily basis.

Once we arrived at our campsite on the third day both the guys and girls were overjoyed. The reasons for the immediate increase in spirits was the presence of a developed campsite which provided the first opportunity in three days to have a shower and buy a drink at the bar. We were all very happy about this but I suspect that noone was happier than Molly for whom the presence of shower rated perhaps second only to Nadal in her present wishes! The campsite was also lower in altitude and would have warranted shorts if I had bought them.

After some time to settle in it was off to see our final set of ruins before heading to Machu Picchu, one of the new seven wonders of the world. These ruins were arguably the best that we have seen and were very well preserved and were also very large. With the campsite nearby and no more hiking for the day this afforded us the opportunity to take our time and spend a good couple of hours walking amongst the ruins. The views from the ruins on the top of the hill through the valley to Machu Picchu mountain and the nearby town of Aguas Calientes were also quite spectacular if ruined only slight by the constant whistles of the train.

I think the english parents must either love me or hate me by now because the girls seem to follow myself and the other young guy wherever we might go. Whilst it definitely helped them both get up the mountains without much complaints (well atleast not that many complaints anyway) I suspect they are probably not so impressed when we head off the beaten track up a peak or towards a cave. But oh well the girls are enjoying themselves and we are making sure we look after them so all is well.

Later that night it was time to enjoy a warm shower and a few beers and some more cards. This kept us going until we were ready for bed and our early morning wake up call tomorrow at 4am to make it to the sun gate by sunrise. We are all looking forward to tomorrow and the three days of hiking will make it all the more worthwhile.

As we set off early in the morning we had a very short walk to yet another checkpoit where we were validated entrance in Machu Picchu. After this short wait we had a gentle 1.5 hour stroll to the sun gate as the sun rose you arrive and take in the views as you first set your sights on Machu Picchu. The site at first glimpse is incredible so much bigger and grander than you would could ever expect.

Exploring the site is a real priveledge amd impresses you the more you wander through it taking in all that Hiram Bingham found almost 100 years ago, years after it had beem looted it for all its gold and jewels. Hiram Bingham for those that don´t know is mooted as one of the most likely inspirations for the Indiana Jones character.

The site itself is simply incredible both in its magnitude and and in its detail from the design to the lay out. The design is quite remarkable and you can see the most important buildings by the detail that is put into the brickwork. The most important are the sun temple and the temple of three windows is specifically set up to recieve the suns rays for both the summer and winter solstace interacting with the sun gate. This combined with the Intihuatana stone which is famous for supposedly providing you with energy are the main attractions at the site other than the site in its entirity. Sadly owing to the instability of the volcanic activity the site itself is endanger of being destroyed and I can only say that the appearance of this site transgresses words and that anyone wanting to get there should get there as soon as possible whilst the opportunity exists and certainly before the suggested resort or helicopter landing sites make their way in there.

After walking around for over 3 hours I decided to stroll off some of the less used pathes finding my way down the to the road back to Aguas Calientes which provided stunning view back up the mountain towards the site. Finally it was time to head back to Cuzco where a day of white water rafting awaits before heading off to the might amazon. Goodbyes to the group were a little easier as most of them are continuing on the same path as us for the next couple of days and with the girls and parents joining us for rafting tomorrow.

Honestly this trail was nothing short of spectacular and one of the best things I´ve done. The hike itself is not overly challenging and I could have comfortably done it in two days so four days is more than enough time for most people to do it. The record time for doing the trail for anyone interested is just under 4 hours which is quite unbelievable given the size of the both the rises and decents which do not make running very easy at all. The hiking is made so much easier by the ruins and scenery that you get to take inalong the way. The trek went as well as you could possibly wish with the help, the food and everything being quite spectacular definitely one f the top highlights of my trip thus far.

Posted by rhinoc 12:09 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Condors and AFL on Lake Titicaca

Arequipa to Puno

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Leaving Nazca we took the overnight bus to arrive in Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru with about a million people and another colonial city. The city is nicknamed the white city as most of the building are built from the white volcanic ash from Misti Volcano which looms large over the city. The main attraction in arequipa istself is the opportunity to see the "Ice Maiden" Juanita, who was an Incan girl that was scrificed on the great volcano. That fact that she was frozen for so long means that she is incredibly well preserved and the museum dedicated to her discovery was well worth seeing. Our main reason for stopping in Arequipa however is to break up our journey into the highlands of Peru an area that is supposedly full of traditional villages and wildlife.

Once in the highland villages we headed off to see the local hot springs that are fed by the volcanos above them producing very warm water that is a nice change from the cold day temperatures. We are based in a relatively large town (about 20000 people) in the centre of the highlands but tomorrow we head off to colca canyon to see some condors and then off to a local homestay with nothing planned other than to go along with what the locals are doing.

A trip to Colca canyon showed off quite an amazing canyon with mountains either side giving it an even greater concept of depth. The canyon is very different to the grand canyon but is spectacular none the less. We were very spoilt in Colca canyon with twice as many condors on display (approx 12) as on most days and it was a real treat watching the majestic creatures in aciton. The condors themselves have limited ability to flap their wings to fly and as a result they rely more on thermals and their wingspan to glide through the air. It is incredibly peaceful watching them in action and once seperated from the group I was lucky enough to have a couple of condors as well as a falcon fly within 5m of me that was quite a sight. I hope i got some good photos! Along the way we also had the opportunity to get some photos of llamas, vicunuas and alpacas.

Next was the homestay high up in the mountains and the most obvious thing to say about this was that it was cold. Freezing cold in fact! Now the cold doesn´t effect me as much as other people but I was freezing and that night I slept under 4 blankets, in my jeans, a jacket, a beanie and some gloves - COLD! This is easily the coldest I have ever felt even colder than Estonia in the middle of winter!

The homestay itself however was absolutely brillant and my best experience in a homestay yet. We arrived and were left to do whatever our families were doing, this resulted in 8 of the group collecting firewood and myself and Rod helping to build a house. We definitely got the best of the homestay chores and it was quite interesting seeing the way the houses are built. We were mainly helping to put the roofs on which consisted of a material similar to bamboo interwoven for strength this is then secured to the A frame by nails. Next a plastic coating goes on for waterproofing followed by a layer of reed grass on top of the roof and also inside for insulation. A very fun afternoon however progress was not as fast as could be due to their 3 chiefs to every inidan policy, also they like to flock to one job with all resources and then onto the next rather than allowing people to work on multiple activities.

Once we finished work for the day we were left to play with the two girls of the family, aged 4 and 8. They absolutely loved us as we spent ages playing with them, drawing pictures of animals for the youngest one as well as showing photos from around peru and letting them listen to our ipòds. They absolutely love animals as they normally see is llamas, alpacas and vicunuas so our photos of condors, sea lions and penguins were particularly well liked. It was shame we couldn´t print some out and leave them there but oh well we all had fun! Again the more spanish you speak the better time you have and the easier it is to communicate with the families. The familly looks after you very well and we had heaps for both dinner and breakfast including alpaca steaks a real treat. We also had a mountain goat casserole in the main town which was very tasty.

The next day it was time to say many goodbyes and head off for Puno and Lake Titicaca, over the last couple of days we have been aclimatising to the altitude reaching a maximum height of approximately 4900m on the way to Puno which is at about 3800m. The altitude doesn´t seem to bother me too much with no sickness yet just feeling ridiculously cold at night! Lake Titicaca itself is simply massive, easily the biggest lake in south america with a depth of over 200m!

The lake itself is famous for its floating islands, particularly Uros. We got to visit this island and look at how the island itself is built which was quite ineresting. Initially they start with some top soil that the reeds are growing in and then they layer reeds on top before finally building their houses on top of this once again with reeds. It is quite incredible what they manage to achieve and the hand work of the boats and houses is particularly spectacular.

Next it was off to our homestay on the mainland but very much an island town anyway, with the plan once again to do pretty much whatever they were doing at the time. This time we were pack mules for about an hour moving the pile of reeds from the bottom of the hill to the top of the hill where their house was. A fairly decent workout and a bit of a shock to the system especially at the higher altitude. Next it was off to pick some beans for dinner and put the fishing nets out in the lake. After this it was time to help prepare dinner before dressing up in traditional clothing and heading out for a night of traditional dancing. To give you some idea the major dance attempts to mimmic the condor and whilst fun to do looks quite ridiculous. The homestays really are a great opportunity to see how the local people live outside of the main cities.

The absolute highlight of this homestay however was games day, since it was a sunday in the afternoon the kids and the adults get together and play volleyball and soccer. We joined with much enthusiasm and were having quite a bit of fun with the kids especially. Then we decided it was time to introduce some aussie culture so we set out to have a good old fashoined kick of the footy with the kids. They absolutely loved it and the volleyball and soccer were left behind as everyone wanted to be involved in the footy. They enjoyed it so much that I donated my footy to the village here, I´ll miss it on my travels but there was never going to be better opportunity to give it as a present and this way it goes to a village rather than just one family. Next its off dodging strikes on our way to Cuzco the centre of the Incan kingdom where I am very much looking forward to the 4 day Inca trek, arriving at Machu Picchu to see the sunrise.

Posted by rhinoc 16:01 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Wildlife, Desert Oasis & Mysterious Lines

Welcome to Peru

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Today we set out to see the old city of Lima, which is strangely almost completely deserted far from the usual tourist traps that most old city centres produce. The old centre has ofcourse got some nice examples of spanish architecture with some cathedrals and the like. Whilst we were there it just happened to coincide with a major church gathering and whilst it was nice of everyone to come and welcome us it did making moving through the crowds a little bit difficult.

We went on a nice tour through the San Fransisco church and monastery with the hightlight being a very cool library (think Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade on a slightly smaller scale), the kind you would love to have in your basement at home. Also worthy of mention was the catacombs below the church that served as a communal burial ground for hundreds of years. Curiously when they actually excavated the site to see how many people were buried there they chose to present the visible skeletons in a very artistic way, none more so than in the well. It was curious to see that subject matter used to produce art, sadly no photos were allowed so I am left to attempt describe it more than to show it.

The food is one of the big selling points here in Peru with their cuisine considered far and away the best in south america and among the best in the world overall. Being so close to the coast the local delicacy here is seafood, with the particular local dish being ceviche. This is esentially raw fish/seafood that is cured in a combination of pickling agents namely lime juice, red onion and chillies and is indeed very tasty. The other particularly unique style of food is called chifa which is the fusion of peruvian cuisine with chinese food which is very nice. Due to the absence of ingredients such as msg and fish oil the resultant dishes are drier and rely more on their ingredients for flavour rather than the sauce. As we move towards the highlands the cuisine drifts more towards goat casseroles, alpacas and barbequed guinea pig which sound quite interesting and I am looking forward to washing down with some beer derived from corn!

The complete city of Lima is very different to what I have been told, what I envisaged and also what I have become accustomed too. This is most certainly closer to a second world country than a third world country with all the streets nice and clean the overall condition of the city smog aside very nice and safe. The local and federal government in the area are on a massive program to improve the poor sites of the city and with the mayor running for re-election plenty of propoganda showing the before and after shots of the city are up on billboards and show the dramatic improvements.

The journey down to Pisco displayed a strange effect of the the Peruvian economy being pushed so hard (average ~8% growth for the last couple of years) for the last 5 years and only now slowing down to ~4% the government has tried to expand the city. To that end people have been offered tremendous deals to build houses along way from the city centre however there is almost no infastructre there and as a result most people build then return to Lima. This leaves you with the curious scenery of leaving Lima and seeing nothing but desert then all of a sudden out of nowhere you see a patch of housing and then nothing again.

Pisco itself is a little bit of sleepy fishing village with a very sad recent history. About 21 months ago the town was rocked by a horrible earthquake that combined with geographical and building factors resulted in the entire town being levelled including the hotel that the Intrepid group were in literally seconds beforehand. The town is set up on what would have been considered prime land bordered on three sides by water, the ocean and two rivers so plenty of available food and water. However having so much water around means that the water table is quite high and overtime an amount of water has made its way through the soil layer immediately above it resulting in the town actually sitting on a film of water underneath the surface. As the earthquakes hit off the coast the resulting after tremors are actually the land slipping on this film and result in tremendous stresses on the building structures. The structures themselves are made only of mud brick as well further escalating the resultant damage. As a result they are still in the process of completely rebuilding the town and it is quite sad to see the damage caused first hand. As if to further emphasise the effect for us on our second day we had a small earthquake (my third so far this trip) but the resultant slippage caused a lot of panic with people running everywhere.

The main reason to go to Pisco is ofcourse the Ballestas Island (part of the Paracas National Park) which are the combination of three different cold fronts resulting in ~10 types of bird life as well as the highlights, penguins and sea lions. The Ballestas Island are named after the archways that they mimic and it was quite a nice cruise out there to see ~6 types of birds as well as plenty of penguins and sea lions. Also curiously on the way you stop off to see the "Candelabra" which whilst not a Nazca line itself is very similar although there is alot of mystery as to whether it was put there by the two liberators, Bolivar and San Martin or possibly by pirates indicating a port where the spanish could be looted.

With plenty of wildlife spotted it was time to head off to our next stop that everyone was looking forward too, the desert oasis in Huachachina. In Lima and along the coast it has been quite mild with a jumper and jeans pretty much a requirement everyday, this was in stark contrast to the last 2 months of my trip and whilst I was enjoying the change most people in my group weren't. Welcome to the desert where the sun was present and thus temperature was alot warmer, as we arrived it was quite surreal to see an actual oasis surrounded by acres and acres of desert and it was quite beautiful (I hope the photos do it justice!).

This was our opportunity to do some adrenalin activities with dune buggy rides and sand boarding the particular order of the day. The dune buggies were very cool hitting speeds of up to 90km/h as they flew up and over dunes providing an almost rollercoaster effect - a hell of a lot of fun. In between it was time to sand board down some of the dunes and with the sand not giving way as much as snow might most opted to board down body surfing style. One guy attempted to board down snow board style with little success. All up a real lot of fun and well worth the journey there.

Before heading to Nazca to look at the lines we stopped in at a local Pisco distillery. Pisco is their national drink here with the most common form being the Pisco Sour. Pisco is basically a brandy and is therefore distilled from grapes and it is only in the last year that the distillery had moved to a mechanical press instead of feet. The pisco sour drink is a combination of this brandy, lime juice and sugar water with egg whites to give a bit of a head. Interesting taste and very similar to a sweet tequila and lime juice for those who are curious.

It was then off to Nazca to see the famous and mysterious Nazca Lines. Getting there just on sunset allowed us to climb what they generously call a tower to have a look at three of the lines, a pair of hands a tree and an aligator that was sadly cut by the road to Nazca. Whilst this sounds very average the road was actually installed before the lines were discovered as they are really only visible by airplane. The next day we went on the real Nazca excursion which involved jumping in a two bit puddle jumper light aircraft and banking from one side to the other to give everyone a good view of the lines. The lines themselves are quite remarkable taking the form of everything from perfect triangles, trapeziods to animals such as a dog, a monkey a hummingbird, a spider and even a "spaceman". There are many different theories as to why and how they were modelled with star constellations making the most sense to me - impressive all the same. Needless to say this is not a great excursion to do on a full stomach, luckily by the end of it two of us had successfully emptied ours. Not pleasant but worth it all the same to see some quite strange and unexplainable pre-inca phenomenon.

After this it was time to take in a burial sites of the Nazca people whose pre-inca methods of burial seem very interesting and in a way similar to egyptian ideals. They also appear to have developed a system for burying family members in family plots. Sadly for the region most of the graves were uncovered by tomb robbers looking for the gold, silver and jewels that were buried with the bodies. As a result many of the remains were found scattered around and have been placed back in the tombs, luckily one tomb was found by archieologists/anthropologists and therefore is still in pristine condition and is as a result on display in the museum.

Finally in Nazca it was time to visit a Peruvian gold refinery and have a look at their method of extraction and seperation. Basically primitive it is but effect none the less with the ore ground up in a ball mill and further ground up by mortar and pecil. Mercury is combined with the ore to collect the gold and is then seperated from the tails ore. The mercury/gold amalgam is then distilled to seperate and recover the gold, not exactly a fast or safe process and very labour intensive but it is still a third world country after all.

Posted by rhinoc 16:13 Archived in Peru Comments (0)


Tikal Ruins, Dulce River & the Pacaya Volcano

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Arriving at Flores it was immediately obvious that this place was undergoing major infastructure work. Those of you that complain over the occasional roadwork really needed to see this. Almost an entire neighbourhoods roads were ripped up offereing little to no transport through there other than walking. Not that the roads were actually shut though and on the planks that I treaded on extremely lightly, motorbikes and scooters still charged across and continued on down the roads. The other amusing thing was how they connected the jackhammers to the mains (I promise I will post pictures of this later) with the power lead ends fashioned into to two hooks and then these thrown on to the power lines ahead and then a piece of poly pipe used to ensure the hooks were placed appropriately, effective: yes, safe: well....

The main reason to come to Flores however is to explore the Tikal ruins which are supposed to be the best ruins in Guatemala and some of the best mayan ruins in existence. I am really looking forward to going to these ruins as by reputation they are simply awesome, I just hope that they don't dissappoint. For those familiar with Star Wars IV, A New Hope the Tikal National Park was used as the background for the rebel base on Yavin 4.

The ruins at Tikal are absolutely awesome complete with a jungle setting that simply adds to the aura and the seven hours we spent here was just not enough, I could have comfortably returned the next day. It is quite an awesome experience walking through thick jungle seeing nothing but trees only to see a giant temple emerge right in front of you. The fact that the jungle is so well preserved helps to create the illusion of slowly discovering mayans ruins as opposed to merely walking amongst perfectly excavated ruins. The very fact that large amount of structures remain unexcavated completely covered by jungle also offers the belief that in the future the site will be even more remarkable and also bigger.

As you walk in you are first greeted my the main plaza, an impressive open area with two massive temples, one at each end. The open area is then surrounded by city centre style buildings which gives quite a magnificent persective when standing in the middle looking around.

At the ruins their are six main step pyramid temples, of which four are climbable. Climbing these temples offers the opportunity to look over the entire national park watching temple emerge from beneath the jungle canopy, civilisation seemingly miles away. The most impressive view is from temple V which is also the steepest and give you the opportunity to look back over the plaza and the entire complex allowing you to appreciate just how grand a city this must have been. Temple V has a staircase that closer resembles a ladder and I had a lot more success when I started treating it as such. You really get a true understanding of how much of an achievement it is to have made temples this steep that have maintained their integrity for so long.

The other reason the jungle is so important here is that it acts as the natural habitat for so many of the local wildlife. Just walking around the Tikal ruins we were able to spot many types of colourful birds, including toucans as well as both spider and howler monkees, a curious locals animal called a pezote on display but sadly no jaguars. The highlight was definitely watching two monkees fighting, swinging from one tree to the next tarzan style! These ruins have definitely been the highlight of my trip through central america thus far.

The next day it was off to Rio Dulce, a river located between the Carribean sea and Lake Izabel. Our accomodation h8ere is quite unreal with the three of us having the "penthouse suite" fully located on the river. This meant that our view from our beds was of the sun rising right across the lake.

The other main reason to come to Rio Dulce is to experience the hot springs waterfall which didn't promise to be that spectacular but was well worth the visit. The waterfalls themselves are not that big but the water itself comes straight from the hot springs and is therefore about 70 degreees in temperature. They then flow down into a cool refreshing river that is about 20 degrees, kind of like having a nice hot shower flowing into a nice temperate pool. This was a very refreshing way to spend the afternoon!

After taking a personal detour via Guatemala City (really is becoming a joke my being away from the group) I headed back to Lake Atitlan to catch up with them. Since I had taken the route before I was reasonably sure I knew where I was going and could get there easily. However with no direct route on offer I was forced to take a series (five) chicken buses to get there covering what seemed to be half of central Guatemala in the process. This was a very local way to travel and I was always the only non indigenous person on the buses which I caught from places as obvious as a bus station to as varied as having to flag them down on the side of the road. Longer than I wanted the journey to take certainly but an adventure none the less. The indigenous kids were particularly fascinated by my presence on the buses but the people here are really friendly and willing to converse and give up part of their seat so that you can sit down.

After finally arriving it was time to head to my homestay here, which is some very simple accomodation in a locals house. This gives you the opportunity to see how they live day to day, eat meals with the family and also play with the kids ect. This was a really nice experience and even though I arrived a day late the family was very welcoming. It is nice to be able to talk a little bit of spanish and this definitely helps to get to know the family alot better. The father here sells chicken tortillas as a street vendor and we were all hoping that we hadn't brushed him off earlier in the day. They are very happy to have us here and despite being a little shy are very interested to know where we from and where we have been to.

The final night of our homestay we had a local mayan banquet night with all the families involved. Some of us were even given local dress to wear to the event and this should explain atleast a few of the photos on facebook. It was a really nice affair with traditional food and drinks with everyone having a good time. They outfits whilst very colourful were also very hot and despite enjoying the occasion we were quite glad to get out of them and cool down afterwards.

Finally it was off to Antigua where our tour was set to end but hopefully not without the opportunity to climb the active Pacaya volcano. Antigua is another colonial town which seems to be tourism speak for expect cobblestone streets, but it does however have a nice city square and architecture but nothing overly special.

The two main reasons people come here is to learn spanish and climb the volcano, I was off to do the latter. The volcano hike served as good practice for my impending Inca trek and the 90 minute climb was solid without being overly difficult. After this however it got alot more challenging as the hiking trails gave way to volcanic ash which is a tad slippery and it was diffcult to see how solid it was at times. However once we made our way up there it was quite incredible to see the lava rivers flowing albeit very slowly. I managed to get within about a foot of the flowing lava where it was still very safe although a fraction on the warm side. Some people were determined to be stupid and lit cigarrettes and also toasted marshmellows on it, finding out just how bad sulfur tastes in the process. With my guide keen we made our way back to the trail and proceed to run down the volcano leaving the others behind but avoiding the approaching darkness. After that it was time to say goodbye to everyone as they headed for Honduras and I headed for Lima.

As a footnote I seriously fell in love with a chilli sauce that they make here in Guatemala called "Picamas". It is kind of like a comination between tobasco sauce and normal chilli sauce and goes great on everything. I am seriously regretting the fact that I didn't get around to getting a bottle.

Posted by rhinoc 12:29 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

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