Peru: Part 2 – Machu Picchu & Puerto Maldonado

Let me start off by saying that Machu Picchu will probably be one of the most beautiful sites I will ever see in my lifetime.  I’ve traveled all over the world and the view of Machu Picchu, with the endless Andes in the background, ruins in front of you, blue skies and clouds, will forever have a place in my memories.  I mean seriously, does it really get a lot more beautiful then this?

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To get from Cusco to Machu Picchu we had to climb aboard the Vistadome train.  That was a fun experience in itself with it’s glass ceilings, spectacular views and ‘fashion and history shows’ put on by the attendants (to show off the different clothes made from alpaca wool).  There was even the Peruvian version of the “devil” who came out decked in a colorful outfit, mask and got everyone to dance with him.  He even made this crazy bird noise while doing it.  It had everyone on the train busting a gut.   It was an experience for sure.

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Quite frankly, we were actually very lucky to get out of the Sacred Valley when heading back to Cusco. The day after we left, there was a strike which led to the trains not running, getting cancelled, or not having any seats left.  When we actually showed up to leave Manchu Picchu, there was a mob of people yelling and fighting to get through.  It was a little scary and enough to create some nervous energy about whether the train would leave or not. Our guide told us when we arrived in Cusco, that many people were actually stuck in the Sacred Valley who were supposed to leave the day after this. That my friends, is pure luck.

Because of this, the second day we were supposed to up to Manchu Picchu, the line took us 2.5 hours to get on the bus (the previous day it had taken 15 minutes).  The same was true for the trip down, a 2+ hour wait in line.  It left us without enough time and unable to hike up to Huayna Picchu (the highest point where you can look down at Manchu Picchu) or even the Inca bridge which was a little easier hike but still had a spectacular view.  That was kind of disheartening but we did go up and down the mountain twice which was worth the trip in spades.

The bus trip is crazy.  Literally 2 inches from going over the edge and the bus drivers even reverse to let other buses pass (it’s too narrow at a lot of points for two buses).  The bus drivers (we were told) are actually some of the highest paid people in Peru because it’s such a meticulous job and there CAN’T be any accidents.

We were lucky enough to have two perfect weather days. Blue skies and puffy clouds every day. Manchu Picchu literally took our breaths away the moment we saw it.  You have to go through a ticket gate house and walk around a corner to see Manchu Picchu, but VOILA, it just opens up and it’s just mountains upon mountains of breathtaking views.  There’s actually even a little place to stamp your passport with a Manchu Picchu stamp.

A few cool facts Manchu Picchu.  It’s actually only recently been ‘discovered.’ Locals have known about it since it was built (circa 1450) but it was only discovered by historian Hiram Bingham on July 24th, 1911. It was overgrown and virtually untouched since the Incas abandoned it many years prior.  It’s home to over 150 different buildings ranging from houses to baths, temples and sanctuaries. There are well over 100 different flights of stairs (and I climbed a lot of them!). Unlike most cities built by the Inca civilization (which were destroyed by the Spanish conquest), Machu Picchu so hidden and virtually invisible from below that it wasn’t found by the Spanish.  This makes it one of the most well-preserved Inca cities and an archeological treasure. Llamas walk throughout the area and are the natural ‘lawn mowers’ helping to keep overgrowth from taking over. Soon, Manchu Picchu will not be accessible for tourists to walk through.  The weight and numbers of so many people is slowly starting to destroy this site as it was never built to support that vast number of foot traffic.

Seriously, an awesome place and I’d recommend everyone to see it.  The view alone is worth the trip.  Now you want to see some photos?  I know you do.  Though, truthfully, no photos can truly capture how absolutely stunning Manchu Picchu truly is.

Arriving in the town of Machu Picchu, and looking up at the mountains from the streets and riverbed.

A tiny replica of the buses we took up the mountain and one of the many stray dogs in the area looking at us as we waited in line.

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Driving up the mountain the views were just spectacular.

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You crest the walkthrough and this is the first thing you see.  Stunning.

Some of the llamas.

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Second day now, this fantastic older couple just sat on the top of a lllooong flight of stairs and encouraged everyone who made it up.  It was a wonderful showing of humanity at it’s finest.

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Just breathtaking right? I don’t want to be any more ridiculous and just post a thousand photos of this place but… I could.  Seriously.  From there (and that gazillion hours line) we headed back on the bus to catch our train, to meet our guide in Cusco.  Now this is where the magic stopped.  This was where we showed up to the airport and discovered we were ticketless and spent the next 30+ hour waiting to hopefully catch a flight.  We missed A LOT of what we were hoping to capture in the Amazon but we literally crammed as much as we could in one day.  Our guides in the Amazon were amazing at least!  They tried to give us as much as they could we the time we had.

We started our journey landing in the VERY small airport of Puerto Maldonado.  Literally.  It’s a one plane airport. Our guides picked us up and took us to their office where we stuffed a day’s worth of essentials and gear into a duffel bag.  You then hand them to of the the lodges associates and he literally lugs this around through our journey.  It’s incredible.  We first catch a long boat and head down a tributary of the Amazon river for about 40 minutes, then we have a 3.4 kilometer hike through the Amazon jungle, where we end up in a marsh of sorts and we get on a long canoe. From there, our guides paddle and the marsh opens up to the HUGE Sandoval Lake located in the Tambopata National Reserve.

This reserve represents such a huge diversity of living things from native flora and fauna with 165 species and 41 families of trees to 103 species of mammals, 1300 species of butterflies and 90 species of amphibians.  It’s incredible. It’s also home to the Giant River Otter, with only about 2500 left in the world.  They are about 6 feet long and one of the most unique creatures I’ve ever seen in the wild.  I mean these things are so large they actually attack and eat Caymans.  Freaaking CAYMANS.

Upon docking, you hike up a long flight of stairs where it then opens up to this absolutely stunning Sandoval Lake Lodge.  Sitting back and thinking about them having to drag all the building materials, beds, stove.. everything to this place on that hike and lake it’s just mind boggling. Since we lost so much time, our guide immediately took us on a sunset night tour so we got to see some monkey and birds.  Followed up by a night walk where we go to see scorpions, tarantulas, and lots of other cool insects. We only had power twice a day for a few hours.  Everything else is powered by gas (hot water, stove for cooking, and the lights outside the lodge to keep the caymans away at night).  We slept under mosquito nets with the sounds of the jungle as our backdrop (and the hub’s snoring.. which when you’re sleeping with open roofed rooms.. the comments of your neighbors are quite amusing).  We woke up at 5am to see the sunrise and the OTTERS!! Only to get back on the trail by 8 am to canoe and hike our way back to the airport.  Talk about a whirlwind of less then 24 hours.  I wish we had seen all the wild parrots and macaws but we lost that in our missed day.  We did get to see lots of other water birds on the lake though which was stunning. I’d love to go back and just photograph all the different birds and butterflies.  We’ll see about that lol.  But now, enough describing!  Onto our Amazon journey photos!

The boat and banana leaf lunch on our river ride.

Our sweaty hiking.  It was around 100 degrees and as humid as humanly possible.  You were drenched by the time you were done.

Those are bees on the leaf, isn’t that crazy?

Termites nest and wild tomatoes.

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This guy was literally right on our trail.  The guide almost stepped on him.  He hissed at us.  Like a cat. This is the spotted cayman as opposed to the black caymans which are more popular on this lake.

The ‘marshy’ area where we loaded into long canoes.

The lake just opened up.  It was stunning.  Notice the small snake hiding in the leaves by our boat.

The lodge is all it’s beauty.

Our little room + mosquito nets.  And the hubs enjoying the lake view.

Our sunset tour started with monkey spotting in all the trees.  These were a mix of Capuchin Monkey and Squirrel Monkeys.

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Our group on the catamaran (just two canoes topped with a ‘deck’). And that SUNSET.

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Black Cayman spotting with a flashlight on the boat.  The guide was looking for the ‘red of their eyes.’ Kinda creepy right?

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After we left the boat, we immediately started the night hike we had missed the previous night. Black scorpions and tarantulas.

An early 5 am rise to see if we could see the Giant River Otters.

And we have otters!!! Since it was a preserve, we weren’t allowed to be within 50 meters of them with the boat so they’re pretty far away.

They’d dive down and grab fish and come back up and eat them on their bellies!

We immediately got back to the lodge, grabbed my backpack and headed down to do the hike again.  Lots of cool wildlife and we even saw Scarlet Macaws WAY up in the trees along with more monkeys.

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Holy cow, what a 20 hour trip the Amazon was!

So many wonderful people we ran across too, sitting in the lodge after a long day and chatting with people from all over the world.  It was a little slice of paradise.  Back on the river boat we went to catch out flight to Lima!  And until the next post this week, that’s where today’s journey ends.  Next post I’m going to show you how to make Pisco Sours (a favorite drink of Peruvians) as well as the famous CEVICHE!  So until then, cheers!

Photography and writing by:

Alysha Yoder Photography

(b) www.alyshayoderphotoblog.com (w) www.alyshayoderphoto.com

(e) alyshayoderphoto@yahoo.com (p) 610.762.7810

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