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Wednesday, November 21, 2018
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Dive Tales

CLIVE  BENNETT 

SOUTH AMERICA

EXPEDITION 

15th May  -  2nd June 2008

 

ECUADOR

Quito 15th – 18th May

Galapagos 18th – 25th May

 

PERU

Lima 25th – 26th May

Cusco 26th May – 1st June

Machu Picchu 29th – 30th May

 

 
 

The Group 

Clive Bennett, Vicki Billings, Paul Coxon, Alan Davies,

Wendy Fagan, John Heap, David & Annie Lester, Gill Seels

Len & Rita Sumner 

All departed Heathrow early morning 15th May flying to Quito via Madrid arriving Quito 17.15 local time 

Sarah Thompson 
Flew into Quito from New York later the same day 

Cormac and Holly Murphy
Arrived Quito from Heathrow on 16th May
 

 

(where was Wendy?!) 

QUITO
15th May Thursday  
The main group arrived in Quito 5.15pm.  We were eventually met by Christian from Latin Tours with a placard ‘CLIF BENNETT’.  He was to be our guide for the next 2 days.  With good English and a ready smile we warmed to him immediately!  At 2800m (over 9000ft) there was a distinct lack of puff as we pushed trolleys of luggage over to our bus.

After a short bus journey we reached Hotel Antinéa, an old colonial style hotel with large rooms and good accommodation.  Sarah joined us later and we all crossed the road for a meal at the Cafito restaurant.  Tried out some Spanish and learned how to ask for ‘no garlic’ for Gill!  Early night after a long day.

16th May Friday
Today we experienced Quito.  Christian joined us after breakfast and Monica from Latin Tours dropped in to say ‘Hi’.  Bus arrived at 9.00 with driver Jorge, we all piled in and headed for the old town.  We visited the following places:

Iglesia de la Basilica del Voto Nacional – an impressive building standing on the hillside, relatively modern, not quite finished and with gargoyles representing different aspects of Ecuador eg Galapagos, Amazon.  A group of women milled about trying to sell us brightly coloured scarves and paintings – some of us succumbed to their persuasive powers.

La Plaza Grande de la Independencia – where there was a peaceful demonstration going on outside the Palacio Gobierno.  Christian filled us in on some of Ecuador’s history as we stood beneath the independence monument in the centre of the square.  We strolled along in front of the Govenor’s palace and peered in through the gates.  Then walking through the streets we jostled with local people and groups of  orderly and smartly-dressed school children.                                                                                                   

       
   
 

Iglesia y Convento de San Fransisco – not used as a church, but housing a museum of local crafts where we could buy clay pots, tiles (for Clive’s chimney breast) and colourful wall hangings.  In the square outside we watched dancers in national dress and costumes performing a ritual dance.

Iglesia de la Compaňia de Jesus – a very ornate Jesuit church which was almost completely lined with gold leaf.  Very impressive but oozing opulence and wealth.

We emerged into the rain and beat a hasty retreat to the Panama hat shop where a happy half hour was spent trying on hats of all shapes and sizes and several purchases were made – with the assurance that they were un-crushable.

 

The bus picked us up and took us up to the Panecillo where a huge winged Monumento de la Virgen de Quito overlooks the city from high above. A wonderful vista of Quito, hemmed in by mountains on all sides.

 

Then it was on to the Teatro Sucre where we sat down to a sumptuous ‘haute cuisine’ meal.  Several courses, all immaculately served and very delicious.  During the meal we learned (thanks to Gill) that Christian’s wife was about to give birth at any minute!  So we dropped him off at the hospital on the way to our next event.

Equator Museum – here we saw a burial chamber ascribed to the pre-Inca Quito-Caro people.  Then there were several activities centred around 0º latitude – teetering along the line with eyes closed, balancing an egg on a nail, demonstrating Coriolis force either side of the line – all good entertainment but we weren’t too sure about the science behind it all!

Jorge took us back to Hotel Antinéa via supermarket and the day ended with drinks and nibbles in Clive and Alan’s penthouse apartment.  Cormac and Holly had arrived so the group was complete.  Some went out for a bite to eat, others headed straight for bed.

 
 

 
 

 

 

 











17th May Saturday
Up early for 6.30 breakfast.  Bus left at 7.30 am and we headed N out of Quito and then W towards the coast. Took a long time to clear the city.  Learned from Christian that baby had arrived safely and back home already.  He is called Bruce!

Dull overcast day with spots of rain and clouds hanging in valleys.  First stop:

Pululahua, volcanic caldera – view from crater rim showed flat expanse of productive farmland and scattered houses.  Crater is dormant not extinct! 

Then followed a 2hr journey descending through cloud forest.  Stopped at road-side café, Los Armadillos, for drinks overlooking steep sided valley with wisps of static cloud.  Continued the journey to Mindo.

Mariposa de Mindo butterfly farm.  We were shown butterfly life cycle, saw huge owl’s eye butterfly, then free to wander round covered sanctuary full of butterflies of so many different colours, shapes and sizes; also tiny tree frogs and stick insects.  Holly went into butterfly panic mode!

Stopped for lunch at Septimo Paradío restaurant where we had soup, chicken or trout followed by dessert cake.  Many humming birds around feeders in garden area.

After lunch Christian led us on a walk in the cloud forest.  Saw shimmering green quetzal bird and Christian pointed out tiny poisonous spiders.  Climbed gently up through lush vegetation to view point overlooking forest and valley below.

Final visit was to archaeological site at Tulipe, constructed by Yumbo people not conquered by Incas.  Walked around stone walled ceremonial pools, fed by water channelled into stone culverts.  It started to rain and soon turned into a deluge.  We sheltered in small bar nearby enjoying the local hospitality!  Wendy and Sarah insisted on being photographed in the rain – something of a treat for Wendy.

Long bus journey back and Christian had us doing a quiz – how much had we remembered?  It turned out that Sarah had remembered a lot!  (Ecuador’s main exports?  Well, bananas, fish, oil, tourism - what’s the other one? Oh yes, roses to Russia!)

Back at the hotel, bags were all re-packed so that we could leave one bag behind, taking only what we would need in Galapagos.  Then went out to Italian restaurant for pizza dinner.

 
 

 
 

 

                                                                  

 

 

 

 


18th May Sunday 
Up early, breakfast 5.45am, left for airport at 6.30am.  Christian saw our luggage through check-in and miraculously none of us had to pay excess!  Christian has done a great job – he has been an excellent guide, and is very well-informed.  And all whilst becoming a Dad for the first time!  We were glad to hear that he was heading for some time off.

Boarded plane for Galapagos, via Guyaquil where we had to disembark for half an hour.

Some time after taking off again the captain announced that we would have to turn back to get a problem fixed.  Fortunately this did not happen and whatever it was, was sorted in mid-air.

 

GALAPAGOS

       
   
 

Arrived at Baltra at about 10.30am local time.  We were met by Juan Carlos, our guide, and Carlos from Nemo II, our boat.  Luggage was checked and all dealt with for us.  Took bus to quay-side where all the seats were taken up by sea lions, and marine iguanas loitered underneath.  Humans obviously take second place here!

Boarded Nemo II and were shown our cabins.  Comfortable cabins with en suite bathrooms and air conditioning.  Lovely boat – spacious catamaran in very good condition – Clive was delighted! And breathed a sigh of relief!

Juan Carlos gave us a brief introduction.  Then we had a light lunch, sorted our dive gear and went for a check-out dive in North Channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz Islands.  Here began the twice daily struggle to ease and squeeze various people into their semi-dry/wet suits!  We were warned of poor viz and nothing to see but some of us had interesting dives, including Clive seeing a sea snake that turned out to be a tiger snake eel. Amongst rocks at side of channel there was plenty of life.

Early evening ‘cocktail party’ to welcome us on board and to introduce crew who were all smartly dressed in white.  We drank a white coconut and rum cocktail, followed by an excellent buffet dinner of pork, fish, broccoli and potatoes.  Good food too! What more could we want?

 

            Crew members:           Juan Carlos Naranjo – dive guide and naturalist

                                                Henri  -  Captain

                                                Javier  -  Chef

                                                Antonio

                                                Carlos

                                                Chino  -  engineer

                                                Miguel  -  barman

                       

4 hr crossing to Santiago Island, with sails up for part of the journey.

 

19th May Monday 
Up at 5.30am for dive briefing at 6am.  New regulations stipulate that diving should take place from local boats, so we had ‘North Star’ alongside, with William our local dive guide, and gear had to be transferred across before every dive.  8 of us were to dive from North Star and 5 from the ‘panga’, a bright yellow inflatable.

Cousin’s Island diveThis is a wedge-shaped island dropping off steeply on all sides.  We went in at the S end where a ridge extends southwards ending in a vertical wall covered with yellow ‘black’ coral.  This is an endemic species of black coral which we saw on most of our dives. Many fish, especially creole fish and salema. Swam northwards along E side of island where the topography was rough with ledges, overhangs and gullies.  Sea lions came to play, saw a large ray, 2 white-tip reef sharks and some lucky people saw a sea horse.  Clive was green with envy.  A great first dive.

 

 

Bartolemé Island snorkel

After breakfast we set out in the panga with snorkelling gear looking for penguins.  Wonderful volcanic scenery – basalt and tuff (volcanic ash).  Saw penguins on the rocks and several of them joined us in the water, fishing.  Penguins on the equator seems so bizarre and to see them underwater was unbelievable!

 

 

Bartolemé Island dive

Dived on E side of island.  Down onto rocky platform and swam out to drop off to 25m, swam S.  Interesting overhangs and plenty of fish life.  Ended dive over boulder bottom, rocks quite barren but there were isolated patches of hard coral. 

Nemo moved to channel between Santiago and Sombrero Chino.  After lunch went snorkelling again and saw more penguins and a couple of sharks. Annie had a disaster when her swim suit caught on the ladder as she entered the water – that was the end of Annie’s swim suit and her snorkelling!

Sombrero Chino  

At 3pm we all went on an excursion to this small island which has a volcanic cone in the middle giving it the shape of a hat!  Wet landing onto sandy beach.  Bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs on the rocks everywhere.  Many sea lions and several youngsters, marine iguanas piled up on the rocks, all totally un-phased by our presence.  Saw lava tubes, one with resident sea lion enjoying the shade.   At S end of island rolling breakers were crashing on the rocks.  Wendy and Sarah insisted on getting soaked – waiting for the big one.  Returned to Nemo via penguin colony drying off before nightfall.

  

Showers and beers before tomorrow’s briefing by Juan Carlos, followed by another great meal.  The boat became several bottles of wine lighter as the evening wore on.  Set off over night for S end of Isabella Island.

20th May, Tuesday
Isabella Island: no diving today, so had lie-in until breakfast at 7am. Panga took us across to Puerto Villamil, the small town on Isabella Island. We all piled into a mini-bus for short drive to tortoise farm.  A fascinating visit.  Tortoises are hatched and kept for several years until old enough to be returned to the wild.  Every tortoise is labelled according to which population it belongs.  Each of Isabella’s 5 volcanoes has a different sub-species of tortoise – tortoises prefer the vegetation at altitude so populations are isolated by lowland areas between the peaks.  Watched slow motion antics of adult tortoises, including amazing mating ritual!

Walked back to beach along wooden walkway, through mangroves and past lagoons.  Then some of us went into town – Annie found the last swim suit  - and it happened to fit!  Others stayed on the beach and spent a happy half hour watching marine iguanas playing in the waves and legging it across the sand.  We all met up for a drink at a small bar on the beach.  Then returned to Nemo for lunch and a well-earned siesta!  What bliss - nothing to do for a whole 1½hrs! 

Went snorkelling by panga later on.  Another great snorkel with sea lions mating, white- tip reef sharks, sting rays, huge schools of grey and yellow razor surgeon fish and shoals of juvenile salema. 

Back to Nemo briefly then off by panga again to visit Las Tintoreras nature reserve nearby.  Extraordinary rough lava landscape.  Massive piles of iguanas, and many lava lizards.

Back on board for tomorrow’s briefing.  Then another great dinner, followed by Sarah’s gymnastic entertainment (de-briefing you might say)!

En route to Floreana Island over night.

21st May Wednesday
Floreana Island:  arrived in early hours of the morning.  Up at 5.30am and found that we were anchored with several other boats, including Nemo I, our sister ship.  North Star arrived late! 

 

Punta Cormorant dive

Headed out over sandy sea bed looking for sharks and rays.  Then swam westwards parallel to shore and ended up on interesting boulder area.  Saw sting rays and at least 2 galapagos sharks here, circling around us.  Creole fish, king angel, Mexican hogfish, many star fish including thin armed blue star fish.  And the usual yellow black coral.

Floreana excursion:  wet landing on sandy beach.  Went in search of green olivine crystals in fine gravel at top of beach.  Walked across island to salt lagoon where there was a small colony of flamingos.  Also saw Darwin finches and yellow warblers (male and juvenile taking a bath at water’s edge).  Walked on to white sandy beach at other side of island. Paddled in shallow water where there were young sting rays and a small shark.  Saw large spiders suspended in webs, striped grass hoppers and tiny blue butterflies.



 Champion Wall dive

Dived on vertical wall with gentle drift towards the north.  Lots of very playful and inquisitive sea lions came to play and stayed with us for the whole dive.  Eagle ray ‘flew’ past overhead.  Saw several turtles and William spotted a sea horse which made Clive’s day!  Wall was rich in fish life (creole fish, cardinal fish, moray, Mexican hogfish) but not many invertebrates – except the ubiquitous yellow black coral.  Gill and Vicki were reprimanded for staying down too long!  

Post Office Bay 
Wet landing on sandy beach. Went to sift through postcards in wooden post box left for others to pick up and hand deliver to home address – free of charge.  Meanwhile the crew played football against Nemo I and they won!

 

Champion Wall dive (2)

3 dives today!  Repeat of this morning’s dive which was so good.  Sea lions were playful again, saw turtles, guinea fowl puffer and porcupine puffer beneath overhang.

 

A great day, but all worn out by the end.  Juan Carlos showed Galapagos video after supper – for those who could stay awake!  Night crossing to Espaniola.

 


22nd May Thursday
Espaniola
Quite a bumpy crossing.  We left Floreana at 1am and arrived at Gardner Bay, Espaniola just in time for first dive. 

Gardner Island dive

William said he knew a good spot, so this was William’s dive, which turned into a fiasco.  Dropped onto bare sandy sea bed at 30m and proceeded to swim into current.  Juan Carlos showed signs of agitation!  Most of us then decided to go with current and eventually reached rocky area in reasonable depth.  Saw red-lipped batfish which was a first, and tiger snake eel.  Galapagos sharks at end of dive.

 

Beach walk after breakfast for those who wanted to go – sandy beach with sea lion colony.  Passengers from other boats also on shore. 

Gardner Island dive (2)

Dived near to first site but further east.  Went straight down onto white-tip shark.  Gentle current to W and we went with it over sea bed of boulders, sand and bed rock.  Juan Carlos found a large conch – Mexican horse conch with bright scarlet body + blue spots.  He placed it on the sand upside down and we watched as it turned itself over.  Saw another white tip, also marbled ray, garden eels and moray.

Punta Suarez

Dry landing in small ‘harbour’.  On land for about 2 hrs and saw so much.  Red iguanas and sea lion colony to start with.  A good path but we were walking over large stones for much of the way.  So many birds including Galapagos mocking bird, finches, dove and hawk.  Blue footed boobies doing mating dance, Nasca boobies (rather like gannets), 

 

swallow tail gulls, waved albatross sitting on nests, all quite unconcerned by our presence.  Also albatross, frigate birds and flocks of Galapagos shearwater in flight.  And lava heron seen at end of walk.  Wonderful scenery – a wide sweeping bay with high cliffs and waves breaking, and an impressive blow hole.  Sat and watched the scene for quite a while, trying to take it all in. 

Juan Carlos’ slide show after dinner.  Left for Santa Fé at 8pm, due there by midnight. 

3rd May Friday 
Santa Fé
Woke up in lovely little bay on E side of Santa Fé, sheltered by small island with opuntia cactus trees and sea lions barking.  Up at 5.30, dive at 6.30 as usual.

Santa Fé dive – SE corner of island.

Down onto rocky outcrop with wide archway underneath filled with schools of snapper and surgeon fish, ceiling lined with stony corals.  This was probably an old lava tube.  Swam along vertical wall heading seawards, between pinnacle and wall, then back shallower along same wall.  Saw morays, yellow soft coral and small sea fans, giant hawkfish.

Santa Fé dive (2) – NE corner of island.

Second dive after 2½hr surface interval – no landing on Santa Fé

Rocky and boulder sloping sea bed.  Saw tiny blue-lined nudibranchs and an octopus.

2hr crossing to Santa Cruz Island, Puerto Ayora the capital town of Galapagos. 

 

 

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz excursion

Crossed by panga to jetty, bus ride partly on rough roads up into foothills of volcanic peak to about 600m.  Visited Rancho Primicias to see giant tortoises in the wild, on the ranch and within a national park.  Walked along a maze of paths through natural vegetation.  Saw at least 4 large tortoises including one ancient individuual that proceeded to launch himself into a tiny muddy hollow, drank some muddy water, then settled shell down into mud with much squelching.  After the walk we stopped for a drink in bar area.  Wendy and Clive climbed inside empty tortoise shells for everyone’s amusement.  Set off back down the hill by bus.  Had to wait for tortoise crossing the road.  Another brief stop to climb down slippery steps lined with dense vegetation into huge lava tunnel the size of a London tube!  Back down into Puerto Ayora and John realised he had left mobile phone behind.  Bus driver went back up to get it – lucky John! 

Puerto Ayora

Did shopping in the town, then Gill and Vicki returned to Nemo II and others went for meal at restaurant ‘La Garrapata’.  Pleasant restaurant, live music (quartet of Galapageňos), good food and good entertainment including dance routine by Sarah and Wendy!  Returned to boat as and when.  Cormac and Holly caught a water taxi.  As Cormac was stepping off, taxi backed away a bit and Cormac fell into water.  Caught by Juan Carlos. He was unhurt but mobile phone and camera were not so good.

24th May Saturday

No North Star today, Queen Karen turned up instead.  We have to obey the rules today, so no diving from the panga.  Or that was the plan - before Queen Karen started to take in water!

Gordon Rocks dive 1.

This promised to be an awesome dive and it proved to be just that!  A horseshoe of rocks with 2 pinnacles at the north end, remnants of a volcanic crater.  Into water at SW corner, some went down deep to 40m and saw 2 hammerheads, others remained shallower and had a turtle experience instead.  Headed N and current gradually increased.  Reached the pinnacles and current was extreme, hanging on tight.  2 sharks swam past – Galapagos I think but no chance to stop and look! Gill got separated and surfaced on her own.

Gordon Rocks Dive 2

Short surface interval. Only 5 went in for second dive after this morning’s experience.  Dived the E wall on the outside of crater where the rocks dropped away vertically to unknown depth…..  Manta ray glided past. Good viz and only slight current, even at pinnacles.  Many fish, and pencil urchins jammed into hollows in the rock, 2 turtles at end

 

of dive.  Juan Carlos later admitted to being lost in the ‘blue’ when he went off after some rays – and we all followed!  A great last dive for those of us who did it!

We completed 12 dives altogether, including the first check-out dive, and about 140 individual dives, thankfully without incident, apart from Alan flooding his camera.  All dives were carefully logged by non-diver, Annie who did a great job in extracting details from us all.  Thanks for keeping us in order, Annie!

South Plaza Island

Walk amongst opuntia cactus trees.  Saw land iguanas – waiting for prickly pears to drop.  Juan Carlos knocked one down and we watched largest iguana roll it to remove prickles before swallowing it whole. Crossed the island to cliff top on S side.  Very windy, watched Galapagos shearwaters and shoals of fish near surface.  Group photo backed up to cliff edge – thanks John!  Don’t step back, please.

Moved on to North Seymour Island and most people went snorkelling after lunch. Reported seeing Galapagos shark, sea lions, moray, trigger fish, king angel and shoals of salema.

Dive gear all rinsed and drying ready to pack later on. 

North Seymour Island 
Dry landing amongst very boisterous sea lions.  Walked for about 1½ hours, saw great and magnificent frigate birds nesting and many blue-footed boobies carrying on courtship dance and even mating right beside the path.

 

Back on board packing up started.

Cocktail party at 6.30pm.  All crew smartly dressed for final evening. Drank crème de menthe cocktail, followed by another splendid meal – Javier has done us proud all week.

25th May Sunday
Final morning, up at 5.30am (it’s becoming a habit!).

Black Turtle Cove

Into panga for boat tour around inlet lined by mangroves.  Lovely morning, flat calm water, mist hanging on distant hillside.  But several other boats on the same mission.  Saw school of golden cownose rays in formation just below surface.  Turtles, baby shark, herons, striated heron, many other birds, and fish jumping – mullet? 

 

Back to Nemo for breakfast, finished packing, group photo.  Disembarked at 8.30am.  Bus to airport, all our luggage transported by crew, Juan Carlos saw everything through check-in for us, what a treat, no excess to pay!  Time to go, and sorry to leave – what an incredible action-packed week we have had!  Juan Carlos has been a fantastic guide.

 
 

                                            (Antonio, Miguel,Henri, Juan Carlos)

Flight to Quito 11am, putting down at Guyaquil but did not have to get off.  Arrived Quito 15.00, had refreshments, then met up with Monica who had brought our bags to airport.  Some re-packing was necessary to re-distribute weight before checking in for Lima flight at 20.55 hrs.  Paul and Annie were called from departure lounge for routine baggage check – all OK!

Cormac and Holly were heading back to Heathrow tonight, not joining the rest of us in Peru.

PERU
25th May Sunday

Lima

Arrived Lima at 23.10.  Took ages to get through passport check, Paul had to open bags at customs.  Met by Ophelia from Inca Natura who organised luggage transport to bus.  40 mins ride to Hotel Sonesta Posada at Miraflores, south of the city.  Huge en suite rooms – quite a change from small cabins on Nemo II!  About 1.30 before we finally got to bed – it’s been a long day!

 26th May Monday
All had a lie-in!  Leisurely breakfast then packing/re-packing, leaving dive gear behind at hotel, only taking what we need for Cusco.  Collected by bus at 10.30 for transfer to airport via Lima suburbs.  Ophelia helped us check-in.  Flight took off at 12.40 hrs.  All LanPeru and AirGal flights have been very punctual. 

Cusco

Arrived about 14.00, met by Millie from Inca Natura local office.  Checked in at Casa Andina Hotel.  Met our tour guide, Edison.  Bought some food supplies from shop nearby – no time for lunch because we were off on a city tour.  Altitude now 3300m (about 10,500ft) and we all felt it especially going up stairs!  Drank coca tea and chewed coca leaves which seemed to help some of us at any rate.

Temple of the sun, Qorikancha

Originally built by 9th Inca king, Pachacuteq in 1438.  Later flattened by the Spanish, who used some Inca stones to rebuild Convento de Santo Domingo del Cusco.  Some Inca temples still survive within: temple of sun, temple of moon, temple of rainbow and temple of lightning and thunder.  Amazing dry stone walls with perfectly shaped stones fitting together – all slightly convex.  Edison was a very well-informed guide.  We learned of the three Inca worlds – spirit world of the Condor, earthly world of the Puma, and the after life of the Serpent

 



Cusco Cathedral

Built in 1580 by Spanish on the site of Temple of Wiracocha, the Inca supreme god.  Some of the original stones survive in foyer of Casa Andina.  Walls of Cathedral were lined with gold, silver alter and carved cedar choir stalls.  Festival of Corpus Christi meant that effigies of saints, all beautifully dressed, had been brought to the cathedral on display, to be returned to their own churches next week.  Edison remarked on the one-sided relationship between the people and the church.

 

Saqsaywaman

Bus ride up to old Inca temple high above the city, situated surrounding an outcrop of igneous rock.  Huge stones, one as heavy as 120 tons, all shaped and fitting perfectly together, and positioned in a wide zig-zag pattern.  Granite quarry where stones were sourced was a few km away.  Apparently stones were slid along mud/gravel pathways.  Began to get dark very quickly, it was also very cold.  Couldn’t find Clive or Alan.  We went to bus and found Clive there, but no sign of Alan.  Edison went back in dark to look for him.  Reassured that Alan is a resourceful guy (we hope!) and sure enough he had walked back down to the hotel!

 

All ate out in the town at Basco’s restaurant where we had a good meal and Alan bought Pisco sours all round!

27th May Tuesday

Buffet breakfast, collected by Edison at 8.30.  Bus drive up past Saqsaywaman to llama wool factory, La Vicuňeta.  Were given a talk about different grades of llama and alpaca wool, vicuňya being the finest and very expensive.  Baby alpaca next best, and many purchases were made of sweaters, shawls and knitting wool.

Q’enqo

One of 365 Inca sites around Cusco, Q’enqo is based around a large limestone outcrop with a narrow gully cutting through the middle, a tunnel underneath and an altar chamber aligned with the sun. 

Pisac
Bus ride continued across high plateau to N of Cusco and then down into the Sacred Valley. Stopped in small market town of Pisac on the banks of the Urumbamba River, a tributary of the Amazon.  First we visited a large communal oven used for baking all sorts of things including guinea pigs!  Ate cheesy empiladas cooked there – delicious.  Guinea pigs running around underneath.    Then spent a happy hour exploring the large and very colourful market which was fabulous and once again several purchases were made.  (The ATM opposite our hotel is working over-time!). 

 

Sol y Luna Hotel

Headed on further north along the river with high mountains on either side and occasional glimpses of snowy peaks and ice fields in the distance.  To Sol y Luna Hotel for lunch.  This was an idyllic spot with lovely gardens and mountain views.  We ate outside beneath parasols.  Lunch was a fabulous meal, impeccably served.  There was a choice for each course, example menu: Peruvian potatoes or ceviche, salmon and vegetables, passion fruit cheesecake.  We all thoroughly enjoyed the meal, apart from Clive who was not feeling very well.

 

Ollantytambo



After lunch. We headed on down the river to the village of Ollantytambo, built on the site of an Inca village.  Huge terraces stretched up the hillside behind the village.  All of us except Gill and Annie struggled up endless steps to the Sun Temple at the top.  Construction started by Pachacuteq in 1438 but was never completed.  It was very windy but warm in the sun.  Looked down on the village and across to opposite mountain side, Pinkuylluna, where Inca granaries were evident, and the shape of a face in the rocks was thought to be Wiracocha, the supreme god.  In the other direction, across the river valley was the hillside quarry where stones for Ollantytambo had been sourced.

Back in the bus, we crossed back over the river and began the long climb back up onto the Chinchero plateau.  Stopped at the top for view of snow-capped mountains, but light was beginning to fade. The road back to Cusco took us over a relatively flat plateau with patchwork of cultivated fields.  Back to the hotel by 6pm.  Edison gave us a briefing about Inca trail on Thurs.

We all did our own thing for supper this evening. 

28th May Wednesday

Off by bus at 8.30 after breakfast.  Across Chinchero plateau at 3750m.  Plenty to see in daylight – scattered communities, much activity and many people working in the fields, animals and many different crops, eucalyptus trees everywhere.  Brief stop to view wonderful mountain scenery.

       
   
 

 


La salineras de Moras – salt pans

 

Stopped high up and looked down on salt pans below – hundreds of them.  Then wound our way down rough road with steep drop.  Arrived at the site, walked down through chapel, past small shop and some nasty loos!  Went to look at the salt water spring first – tasted the water which was indeed very salty.   Channels deliver water to hundreds of shallow pans separated by low retaining walls.  Each pan is lined with a clay material, then filled with a shallow layer of salty water which is left to evaporate.  The business is run as a cooperative with different families from Moras working a number of pans. 

 


Moray

Back up the hill by bus, through the town of Moras to the Inca site of Moray.  A very impressive hollow lined with very regular circular and curved terraces which at first looked like an amphitheatre.  We walked down to mid-level and then climbed down steps set into the terrace walls right down to the bottom circle where quinoa and kichiwa were being grown.  Then there was the long climb back up – Wendy and Alan decided to race up over the terraces, in spite of the altitude!  Far from being an amphitheatre it seems that this site (probably a massive limestone sink hole) was an agricultural experimental area, with different climatic zones (temp and humidity) in close proximity. 

 

Picnic lunch

Back up at the top we found that 2 tents had been erected – one as kitchen and the other as dining room!  A cook and his assistant had come with us and we were treated to a safari meal in style!  Asparagus soup, chicken with marinated vegetables, and fruit followed by a huge cake.  All with the most amazing backdrop of snow-capped mountains: from north to south: Salhindi (actually out of site from here), Veronica (or Wakay Willen), Alamcoma, Illa Waman and Chicón, all at about 6000m.  Local children gathered round to finish up any leftovers, then gave us broad beans and potatoes cooked beneath a pile of earth.  The tents were then quickly dismantled, everything packed away, and off we went, leaving the children playing marbles on the hard-baked ground.

       
   


Back to the hotel by 4.30pm.  Sorted things for tomorrow’s adventure, then all went to restaurant La Coccilina for supper (not that we needed much!).

 

29th May Thursday

Up at 4.30am, breakfast at 5.00, checked out of rooms and left luggage behind reception.  Edison arrived and we went by bus to station for train at 6.05am.

Train journey

Train zig-zagged back and forth up the mountainside north out of Cusco, then across very frosty plateau.  Served with (another) breakfast in colonial style, with table cloth, linen napkins and pottery cups and plates.  Very slow train.  Wound our way down the escarpment into the Urubamba valley to Ollantytambo, and on to Km 104 where those of us doing the walk got off.  Annie, with ankle problems, and Paul, who was feeling very unwell by this time, continued on to Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes) by train. 



 
Short Inca Trail
Crossed the river over shaky foot bridge, then through passport control!  Headed off in bright sunshine, past a small Inca ruin, and the trek began – all wondering how we would cope with the challenge ahead!  Edison led the way and another guide, Eleanor brought up the rear.  It was hot walking in the sun and there were welcome shady spots for a break, and drink of water at intervals.  Soon Gill and Eleanor, accompanied by Alan and David , dropped behind whilst the rest of the group pressed on.  We could see Winya Wayna , the high point of the path, far away and high above.  The scenery was spectacular and the path was lined with wild flowers much to Vicki’s enjoyment!  Far below on the valley floor we could see the river and tiny trains passing along the track from time to time.  We passed some wonderful waterfalls, walked through sun and shade, up many steps and just when we thought we were getting somewhere, the path would start to descend again for a while! Eventually we reached the ruins and terraces at Winya Wayna, Clive counted 320 steps as we climbed up to the upper terraces.  Eventually Gill’s group arrived and we went to the café nearby to have a rest and some refreshment. 



   

Soon we were off again, with Clive and Vicki joining Gill and Eleanor, while the others went on ahead.  Gill soon began to suffer severe cramp in both legs, so much so that she was in agony and we decided to call for help.  Edison arrived and took control – Clive and Vicki were sent packing – off to join the others.  Gill was part carried, part supported along the track.  But before long a stretcher arrived from Machu Picchu and then Gill travelled in style!  Bright orange at that!  Clive and Vicki caught up with the others who were waiting at the Sun Gate, Inti Punku.  From here we had our first glimpse of the ruined city of Machu Picchu, still far below.  But the sun was low by now and the view was a bit hazy.  Soon Gill arrived being borne like the Queen of Sheba on her litter!  She was allowed a brief glimpse before being transported rapidly down the path.  The rest of us followed at a slower pace – quite tired by now!  Finally reached the bus stop in time for last bus and found Gill, just in shorts and vest top, absolutely frozen, wrapped in a borrowed shawl.    The bus ride down to Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes) took a tortuous route with countless hairpin bends, as the road snaked its way down the mountainside. 

Inkaterra Machu Picchu Hotel

Once in the town it was a short walk to our fabulous hotel – with chalets set in lush tropical gardens.  Annie and Paul had kindly got everyone Pisco sours during happy hour, but unfortunately few of us wanted them – preferring to find our rooms first, and Gill was seriously under the weather.  So rather than see the drinks go to waste, a couple of people (who shall remain nameless) downed a few.  A short while later, for some reason David managed to fall into a flower bed, only to be rescued by Sarah.  And a very merry Annie arrived at supper.  Paul was still unwell and then Len became sick, so there were not many at supper that night.


30th May Friday

Machu Picchu

Nor were there many at breakfast the next morning!  Sarah was also unwell now.  So a small group of us met up with Edison at 7.30am and caught the bus up to Machu Picchu.  Paul came but was very unwell.  Edison gave us a guided tour in brilliant sunshine and we were joined by a Swedish couple.  What an extraordinary and fascinating place.  We saw the Temple of the Sun with an altar of natural stone; the royal residence + washroom; Temple of 3 Windows; a diamond shaped rock like the southern cross and aligned N/S; sun dial altar carved out of solid rock and set on high point overlooking huge central grassy area – a position of great power.  Edison demonstrated the echo – good acoustics here.  Then to a courtyard where a massive stone had been carved to mirror the mountain behind.  We saw stones partly shaped, and a huge stone slab evidently being rolled into place.  It seems that the Incas downed tools and left in a hurry – but why?


           
 
Temple of the sun 
 
Temple of 3 windows
 
Sun dial altar

                                                                        

 

 

 

 

 

Wayna Picchu (or young mountain)

Edison asked who wanted to climb this peak and only John and Vicki were keen!  So leaving bags and jackets behind with the others, they set off.  Only 400 people are allowed to climb the peak each day and our numbers were 374 and 375, so only just made it.  Took an hour to get to the top.  Quite a challenging climb, especially near the end, and remarkably, terraces had been constructed around the summit, with near vertical drops on all sides.  What a climb, but what a view from the top!  Absolutely stunning.  Lots of photos taken.  Then it was the long climb back down again – very glad of Gill’s poles. 

 Meanwhile the others had visited the Temple of the Condor – head and body carved in rock on floor, wings are natural rocks on each side, sweeping up towards the sky. 

 Lunch and Back to Cusco

Those who had stayed behind in the morning came up by bus and we all met up at Sanctuary Hotel for excellent buffet lunch.  Afterwards, took bus back down into the mountainside.  Wandered round the town shopping etc: central square with statue of Pachacuteq, and very colourful market.  Met up at station at 5pm, collected luggage brought from hotel, took train to Ollantytambo.  Entertainment on the journey – dance in national dress followed by fashion show – presented by 2 stewards and stewardess.  Very amusing.  Bus was waiting at Ollantytambo, 2hrs back to Cusco.  Paul still very unwell so called a doctor when we got back to the hotel.  Staying staying at Casa Andina again, but different rooms this time.  Said goodbye to Edison as we have different guides tomorrow.  He has been very good, and improved as we got to know him.  It is Amazon Explorers tomorrow and they came to give us a briefing.

 



31st May Saturday
Leisurely start to the day – 9am in foyer.  Sarah and Wendy went horse riding, Paul stayed behind – still not well.  David and Annie spent the day in Cusco.  Leaving 7 of us to go white water rafting. 

Annie and David had an enjoyable day in Cusco, they watched the saints being paraded around the town and saw a wedding take place in the cathedral.

Horse riding

Sarah and Wendy were driven up to near the Q’enqo ruins to collect the horses named Junior and Baňo.  Juan Carlos was their guide.  At first there were 2 guys leading the horses, but later they were just running behind.  Rode near to Saqsaywaman and visited the Devil’s Balcony:  water was diverted from an aquaduct into a culvert then falling as a waterfall and forming a rainbow at certain times of year.  They walked through a narrow fissure into a cavern with a river flowing through, exiting at the bottom.  Continued the ride up a steep mountainside, going zig-zag instead of straight up.  Fields at the top, lots of birds, a village with dogs and a trout farm.  Stopped for picnic lunch under a canopy.  Had been riding for 2½hrs, Wendy decided to go back.  Sarah continued, swapped horses with guide, back down zig-zag mountainside, 45 mins to get back to Q’enqo.

White Water Rafting

Had quite a long bus journey (1½hrs) to SE of Cusco, upstream along Rio Vilcanota, which becomes the Urubamba when it enters the Sacred Valley.  Alain was our guide, Karli and Christian were the boat handlers.  Alain had brought his dog, Cantu along.  Eventually arrived at the starting point – across a bridge to grassy area where boats were inflated. Then wet suits, life jackets, helmets, wind jackets and paddles were distributed.  We all got changed, had safety briefing then we were ready for off.  One boat with Clive, Alan and John, other boat with Len & Rita, Gill and Vicki.  Alain was safety cover in a tiny yellow kayak.  River was flat to begin with but we were soon tumbling down cascades – exhilarating and great fun.  Some rapids were graded as 3 – out of 5, I think, which was exciting without being too scary!  Buffeted by turbulence, bounced off rocks, sometimes balanced on top, turned and went down backwards.  Others tried to splash when they could.  We had to get out and scramble over rocks for a bit where water was dangerous, then we beached the boats for a chocolate snack half way down.  Saw ducks, torrentino ducks scrambling up rapids, giant humming bird, swallows or martins – and sea gulls!  All too soon reached the end, to find lunch laid out on a table beneath canopy beside the bus.  Had rolls, guacamole, meat, cheese and salad.  Fruit and chocolate cake.  Vicki got in a wonderful mess trying to eat a granadilla (similar to passion fruit).



Back to Cusco

Long bus ride back to Cusco.  Dinner at La Coccilina again, but not as good as last time, and there was dissatisfaction with some of the meals.  Paul was feeling a bit better so came along to the meal but went back early.  In the Plaza afterwards there was a band playing, leading a procession around the square.  An excellent last day was had by all.

1st June Sunday
No rush in the morning – packed, had breakfast and checked out of rooms.  Then went into Plaza where a large crowd was gathering.  It was a curious mixture of military parade around the plaza, parading of saints out of the cathedral, and festivities and dancing in the streets by the hotel, with wonderful colourful costumes.  There was a carnival atmosphere!  Local dignitaries turned up and took their places on platform outside cathedral.  Peruvian flag was raised, then Cusco regional flag.  All sorts of processions appeared including school children and people dressed as Incas.  All roads into and out of the plaza were blocked by people, processions and colourful dancers – it was a remarkable sight!  Back to hotel at 11am – but how would we get to the airport?!  Millie arrived and had it sorted – luggage was taken by car and we walked a few blocks beyond the crowds, crossing through dancers and processions as we went, to where the bus was parked.  It seemed a shame to leave, but how lucky we were to see all of this.

We made it to the airport in good time.  Said goodbye to Millie.  Dropped our bags and boarded flight to Lima.  Arrived Lima, had some lunch, then Ophelia arrived with our dive bags. Inca Natura have looked after us really well!  Had some re-packing to do to redistribute weight before checking in for the final time!  John had to pay for excess baggage but everyone else was OK.  Flight to Madrid at 19.45.  Fond farewells to Sarah who was heading home via New York.



2nd June Monday 
Arrived Madrid around mid-day.  Transfer to T3. Flight to Heathrow arriving 5.40pm.  Fond farewells to Wendy who headed off on her own way.  Village Cars were there to meet the rest of us and to take us home……. The end of a fantastic trip!  Thank you so much Clive – all the hard work certainly paid off, and we can safely say that the holiday went without a hitch!  Congratulations!

 

 

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