A Travellerspoint blog

Chile

It took a couple of hours to reach San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. This was to be our base for the next few days. It was such a quaint little town. There were dirt streets and dogs relaxing everywhere.
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It was also Shane’s birthday today so he got a birthday cake.
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While in San Pedro we made sure that we went out to see the Atacama Desert.
The Atacama Desert is a plateau, covering a 1,000-kilometre strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes mountains. It is the driest non-polar desert in the world. According to estimates, the Atacama Desert proper occupies 105,000 square kilometres or 128,000 square kilometres if the barren lower slopes of the Andes are included. Most of the desert is composed of stony terrain, salt lakes, sand and felsic lave that flows towards the Andes.
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Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) and Valle de La Muerte (Death Valley) make up an other worldly landscape with their amazing geological formations, which have been eroded by the passage of time. We took a walk-through Death Valley.
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We then went to see the sunset in the Valley of the Moon.
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We were almost at the end of our adventure. Our next stop was Santiago. We didn’t spend any time in Santiago as we knew we would be back next year and could spend more time there then. So off we headed to the airport to take a flight to Easter Island. This was another one of our bucket list highlights. The flight was 6 hours. Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world so this was a long flight just to see Easter Island, especially seeing we would then fly back to Santiago and then back track again to fly back to Australia, but this is what we had to do seeing we had flights booked.
Easter Island, is a Chilean territory, it is a remote volcanic island in Polynesia. Its native name is Rapa Nui. The name "Easter Island" was given by the island's first recorded European visitor, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who encountered it on Easter Sunday (5 April) in 1722. It’s famed for archaeological sites, including nearly 900 monumental statues called moai, created by inhabitants during the 13th–16th centuries. We had almost 2 weeks in Easter Island so planned to see as much as we could.
We booked into our hotel in Hanga Roa which is the main town, harbour and capital of Easter Island.
Our hotel grounds.
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The main street.
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The local church.
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Just down from our hotel was the coast.
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Looking up the coast you can see there are no trees.
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We went up to a look out to see Hanga Roa.
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During our stay, these are some of the highlights on the island.
The first restoration of the Moai of Easter Island into their upright positions was a project started in 1960. It is called Ahu Akivi. What makes Ahu Akivi different from other moai sites on the island is that it is not on the coast and the moai are looking towards the ocean (whereas all other moai look inland). And just like other ahu, this ceremonial center is orientated astronomically since the moai look straight to the sunset during the Spring and Autumn equinox. According to tradition, the 7 moai of Ahu Akivi represent the young explorers sent to explore the island before the arrival of the colonizers led by founder Hotu Matu’a and they are looking to their original home island.
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Ahu Tongariki is the largest ahu on the island. Its moai were toppled during the island’s civil wars and in the twentieth century the ahu was swept inland by a tsunami. It has since been restored and has fifteen moai including an 86 tonne moai that was the heaviest ever erected on the island. All the moai here face sunset during Summer Solstice.
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Not far from there was another moai.
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You can see how big the moai are as these are some of the top knots for their heads that Shane is standing by.
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The Tahai Ceremonial Complex is an archaeological site. It was restored in 1974 by the late Dr William Mulloy. Tahai comprises of three principal ahu from north to south: Ko Te Riku (with restored eyes), Tahai, and Vai Ure.
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Ahu Akahanga is a ceremonial platform located on the south coast. This platform is 18 metres long, and has not been restored. It allows you to see the state in which the island was found by the first European explorers. The Akahanga ahu had at some point about a dozen moai of different sizes, from 5 to 7 metres. It’s also known as “the king’s platform”, because it’s said that the first king of the island could be buried here.
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We visited this wonderful beach which is surrounded by a beautiful coconut tree forest.
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Anakena must be the only beach in the world that was blessed with two important archeological sites. On the hill above the beach lies the Ahu Ature Huki, along with an enigmatic and solitary moai.
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Ana Kai Tangata has a spectacular location on the seafront. Its cave paintings and the legends that surround it, make it worth visiting. Ana Kai Tangata is a cave of volcanic origin in which the continuous attacks of the sea have eroded lava from the cliff until creating a cavity 10 metres wide, 5 metres high and 15 metres deep. Its opening overlooks the sea, where the waves break with force, but being located above the high tide line, it was easily accessible.
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The Rano Kau is located on the southwestern part of the island.Its eruption, about two and a half million years ago, was one of three that gave rise to the island. Its crater is more than a kilometre in diameter and forms a spectacular natural amphitheater that’s about 200 metres deep and frames a large freshwater lake, which was once one of the main sources of fresh water for the Rapa Nui people.
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The ceremonial village of Orongo, a Rapa Nui word that means “The Call”, is majestically nestled on a narrow strip of about 250 metres, between the edge of the Rano Kau crater and a 300-metre cliff that plunges steeply into the Pacific Ocean. During the period of the moais and the ancestor cult, Orongo was a ceremonial centre where initiation rites and the entry of children into adulthood were practiced, but it was never a proper village. At no point in history Orongo served as a permanent residence, due to difficult access and lack of direct access to the sea, so there are hardly any moais or platforms. However, the increased importance of Orongo emerged along with the Tangata Manu (birdman) cult and the Make-Make god, in the late seventeenth century.
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During the tribal crisis due to lack of resources, which caused a decline in faith in the moais and their chiefs and priests, the warrior class or Matato’a took power creating a new religion based on the Birdman Competition. In this new order, who held power was determined by their physical prowess and not their rank or status. It was at Orongo where priests and members of each tribe, gathered to witness the Birdman Competition. The goal was to obtain the first manutara (Easter Island seagull) egg and with it the power to govern the island for a year.
One of the first images that you see on on arrival at the ceremonial village is that of the three islets, which are just off the coast. These are, Motu Kao Kao, meaning “narrow islet”, shaped like a needle; Motu Iti or “small islet”; and Motu Nui or “big islet”, which is the most important of the three; as it was here where hopu manu or competitors would wait for the first manutara egg.
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In front of the village there are several petroglyph engravings representing Birdmen, This is what it looks like.
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These are the rocks
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Puna Pau is a small extinct volcano. During the end of the Rapa Nui sculptural period, the Puna Pau volcano’s crater was the quarry from where the stone needed to build pukaos, or moai headdresses, was taken. It is a red volcanic rock (scoria) that is characterized by being soft and easy to carve and having a high iron content, which gives it its characteristic reddish color. The pukaos were a very late addition made to the sculptures, possibly from the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. In fact, approximately 100 headdresses have been found on the island, compared to almost 1,000 existing moai. Some historians argue that the pukao were possibly added during the time of tribal warfare as a way of making the most impressive and elaborate ceremonial platforms. The prevailing idea is that these aren’t hats, but rather the representation of the hairstyles used at that time, i.e. long hair curled and tied on top of the head. In ancient Rapa Nui culture, it was considered tapu (taboo or prohibited) for certain high-ranking men to cut their hair, so they wore it long and tied in a bun.
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Vinapu is a ceremonial area where the remains of three platforms can be found.
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Last but not least the biggest highlight of the island for us was the Rano Raraku Quarry.
The Rano Raraku volcano stands out on the island. Located in the southeast part of the island close to the coast, it’s known as “the quarry” as it was here where the moai were carved and then taken to the ahus distributed throughout the island. The quarry is made of tuff, i.e. hardened volcanic ash and is, therefore, softer and easier to cut; although it’s more fragile than basalt, a material used primarily as a sculpting tool. In Rano Raraku there are 397 moai in various stages of development and it seems as if the sculptors left the job abruptly and could come back at any moment.
At the bottom of the volcano.
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At the farthest point of the quarry is the most surprising of all the moai, known by the name of Tukuturi or “kneeling moai”. This moai is completely different from any other one on the island. It’s much smaller, has well defined legs, and is kneeling with its hands resting on its knees. Its facial features are rounded, much more human when compared with the traditional square shaped heads of the other moai; and if you look from the side, you could even say that it has a small beard. It was unearthed by Thor Heyerdahl in 1955, and its discovery was a surprise, for even the Rapa Nui had not heard of it. Although some researchers argue that it may belong to a later period, the prevailing idea is that it was one of the first sculptures to be made and wasn’t transported either because it was damaged or simply because it was never intended to be erected on a platform. Some even speculate that it’s the representation of a famous master sculptor, set on the edge of the quarry to supervise the work of his successors.
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These are moai that had been started but were never taken from the quarry, but you can see how they carved them.
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Then we wandered around all the other moai.
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After all these amazing attractions we were due to fly back to Santiago. We headed to the airport and were informed that the flight was going to be 2 hours late. We originally had 3 hours between arriving in Santiago and boarding our flight back to Australia, but this would now mean we had an hour. We had to pick up our luggage and then book it back in at the international counter. We got to the counter and there was a line with only one person checking every ones bags in. We were at the end of the line. There were 8 people in front of us. Time kept ticking. We eventually checked our luggage in and rushed through immigration. We arrived at the gate as the plane was boarding. Boy how lucky were we. Had we missed this flight we might not have got another one for another month. Anyway we were now on our way home and another holiday was over.

Posted by shaneandnicola 17:57 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Bolivia

We headed to the border by bus and made our way through the Peru border into no man’s land. It was then a bit of a walk to get to the Bolivian border and I was still not feeling very well. I couldn’t wait to get it over and done with.
We finally made it through the Bolivian border and back onto our bus. The next part was really interesting as there was water between us and the other side. We were at the Tiquina Strait. We got off the bus and took a quick ferry ride to pick up the bus (which is ferried across by barge) on the other side.
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We then headed to La Paz. It is a big city.
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Once in La Paz we tried to sort out our new flights home. We had made a big mistake as we had cancelled our flight home but there was not another flight available for a month not 2 weeks. So, our plan was to travel from La Paz to Santiago in Chile then fly home. So, we booked the flights home for a months’ time and we would have 2 weeks to spare. Spur of the moment we decided to plan a trip to Easter Island to kill the time. This was all being done remotely from La Paz. We got a flight over there no problems, but the only flight from Easter Island back to Santiago was the afternoon that we were due to fly back to Australia. We had a few hours to spare so decided to book it. So, all our plans were sorted.
We had a walk around the city.
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We also walked through the markets where there were lots of stall selling llama foetus. The llama foetus aren’t here to lend a macabre air to the street. They are one of the most important parts of an offering to Pachamama, the goddess Mother Earth, who has a tremendous following in Bolivia.
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In the afternoon, we headed to the Valley of the Moon. It was not far from La Paz and it was really unusual.
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On our final day in La Paz, Shane went and did the bike ride down Death Road. I wasn’t game enough to go and do it. In 2006, one estimate stated that 200 to 300 travelers were killed yearly along the road. The road includes cross markings on many of the spots where vehicles have fallen. That’s why it is called Death Road. The adventure began at wind-swept La Cumbre (4,700m) where there were fantastic views of a number of snow-covered peaks, including Huayna Potosí (6,088m).
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From there you descend rapidly down a twisting asphalted road among mountain peaks, grazing llamas and alpacas, tiny villages and a checkpoint.
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The scenery of towering cliff faces, dramatic drops and ever greener vegetation, gets you ready for the next breath-taking section. After a brief undulating section of road, you enter the jungle itself and the most challenging part of the ride. This infamous narrow dirt road is cut precariously into the side of the mountain and descends 2,000m. With 1,000m+ sheer drops off to his left and hulking rock overhangs and cascading waterfalls to the right, you ride through mist, low cloud and dust. Since March 2007 the majority of traffic has stopped driving down this road leaving the road for bike riders to enjoy.
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As you near the end of the ride it got progressively hotter and dustier.
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By the time you arrive at the bottom in Yolosa (1,100m) you are tired, hot, dirty and exhilarated. But Shane said he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The next day we left La Paz and head 540km south by bus to Potosi. Potosí is a city in the southern highlands of Bolivia. Its long mining history is on view at Cerro Rico, a mountain and working silver mine south of the city. We based ourselves there for a couple of days.
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We had heard about a place a few hours from Potosi where you could do a hike to see some dinosaur footprints. So, we made our way to Sucre, picked up a guide and went out in search of the footprints. It was further than we had expected. The scenery was beautiful though.
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We arrived at the dinosaur footprints at Ninu Mayu. The footprints are embedded in a large sloping section of rock exposed by a recent earthquake. It was incredible to be so close to these prints. The prints consisted of three main sets, one by a member of the Rex family, one by a large elephant-like creature, and one by an armadillo-like animal. There were probably about 100 prints in total.
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From Potosi, we made our way to Uyuni. A group of 8 of us put our money together and hired a bus just for us to take us 250km to Uyuni. It was worth every cent.
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The scenery was dry and stark in places.
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We arrived in Uyuni and settled into our hotel. Uyuni is a small trading region high in the Andean plain. It has long been known as an important transportation hub in South America and it connects several major cities. In the early 19th century, big plans were made to build an even bigger network of trains out of Uyuni, but the project was abandoned because of technical difficulties and tension with neighbouring countries.
So, we headed out to the outskirts of town see the cemetery for trains. The trains hollowed out bodies are caused due to the salt winds that blow over Uyuni, as it hosts the world’s largest salt pan. The metal just corrodes.
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The next morning, we started our next big adventure by 4WD across the Uyuni Salt Flats and across the Altiplano. The Salar de Uyuni salt flats covering more than 10,000 square kilometres, are the most extensive in the world, and so level that the surface is used to calibrate the altimeters onboard satellites. This salt flat is the remnant of several prehistoric lakes that dried up. The salt and minerals were left behind as the water evaporated. The Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain 10 billion tonnes of salt, of which less than 25,000 tonnes is extracted annually. In some places, the salt is over 10 metres thick.
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Not far into the salt flats was a salt mining area. The salt is scraped from the desert into pyramid-shaped piles and left to dry. After a few days, it's shoveled into trucks and carted to a processing facility.
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We then came across a hotel where everything was made of salt.
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We stopped in the middle of nowhere to take some fun photos.
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Our next stop was Incahuasi which is a hilly and rocky outcrop of land and former island situated in the middle of the salt flats at an elevation of 3,656 metres. It is one of those places that all visitors stop at as it so unusual and in the middle of nowhere.
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By the end of the day we had travelled across the flats. There had not been much wildlife until then, but we then came across vicunas.
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On our second day, we went to the Siloli Desert, where we saw the Stone Tree, a rock of volcanic origin with the form of a tree.
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Along the way we stopped at a rocky outcrop to see if we could find any viscachas. Viscachas are rodents and are chinchillas, but look similar to rabbits, apart from their longer tails. We were in luck. They were quite shy but really cute.
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The scenery along the way was so different but yet again beautiful. Even though the sun was shining it was really cold even during the day.
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During our travels we could see the active Ollague volcano.
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We also visited the Chiarcota, Honda, Hedionda and Cañapa Lagoons.
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We stopped to see a really old burial ground where the bodies had been put into coral tombs. It was hard to get your head around the fact that at some time this part of Bolivia was under the sea.
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There were also lots of cactus around.
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We overnighted in a hostel at Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon). The lake contains borax islands, whose white color contrasts with the reddish color of its waters, which is caused by red sediments and pigmentation of some algae. This lagoon is a nesting centre for more than 30, 000 flamingos. We only saw a few.
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It was freezing overnight. Thank goodness, we had good sleeping bags.
We got up really early this morning so we could have sunrise at the Sol de Manana Geysers. At this point we were at the highest altitude of the whole trip (5000 mts above sea level). The cold here was intense and we walked among the smoky and noisy hot springs and the mud pools.
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There are also hot springs out here.
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We then continued by driving through the Salvador Dali Desert. The colours were amazing.
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Our final stop was the Green Lagoon and White Lagoon located at the foot of the Licancabur Volcano.
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We then arrived at the Bolivia/Chile border. It is in the middle of nowhere.
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It didn’t take too long to be processed and we were then on our way to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.

Posted by shaneandnicola 21:42 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Peru

Our first stop in Peru was in Mancora.
This is a beach resort in the Piura Region. It is located in the Talara Province. The Pan-American Highway serves as Máncora's main street.
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We stayed in a lovely hotel. It was nice to be in a spot where we could relax and enjoy ourselves after a busy time in Ecuador.
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The local church.
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We heard about some mud pools out of town. So, we got a tuk tuk out into the middle of nowhere. When we arrived at the mud baths, we couldn’t believe that this was actually a tourist attraction. All there was, was a pool filled with muddy water that was literally in the middle of nowhere. The water was lovely and warm, so we repeatedly retrieved handfuls of mud from beneath our feet which we subsequently rubbed all over our bodies, waited for it to dry, and then posed for lots of silly photographs. It ended up being really relaxing.
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After a couple of days relaxing in Mancora we were off to our next stop. We were once again taking public transport but could not believe the quality of the buses. This was an overnight bus trip. The seats were bigger than business class in a plane and reclined a long way back. We paid extra to be on the ground floor and have these nice comfortable seats. On the top deck were smaller seats.
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The distance was around 600 km but it took around 10 hours to get to Huanchaco.
Huanchaco is a beachside town of Mochica origin. Situated 12 km northwest of Trujillo in a bay, on a terrace at the foot of Campana mountain, Huanchaco is notable for its surf breaks. It also has great ceviche which is typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices. We lived on it.
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Totora reed fishing boats sit on the beach. You can pay the fishermen to go out on them but it was too rough.
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Huanchaco is near the ruin of Chan Chan. So we took a trip out to Chan Chan. It is the largest city of the pre-Columbian era is now an archaeological site in La Libertad Region 5 kilometres west of Trujillo. It is located in the mouth of the Moche Valley and was the capital of the historical empire of the Chimor from 900 to 1470, when they were defeated and incorporated into the Inca Empire. In the Chimú tongue, Chan Chan means "Sun Sun;" it was named for its sunny climate. The city spanned 20 km² and had a dense urban center of 6 km² which contained extravagant ciudadelas which are large architectural masterpieces which housed plazas, storerooms, and burial platforms for the royals. The splendor of these ciudadelas suggests their association with the royal class. We could not believe the size of the walls.
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They have re-created parts of the city so you can see what it would have looked like.
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They stored their water right in the middle of the city.
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After such an interesting site we didn’t think that it could be beaten but then we visited the Temples of the Sun and Moon. The Huacas del Sol y de la Luna (Temples of the Sun and the Moon) were constructed from millions handmade adobe bricks, by the Moche people between about 200 and 850 AD. Successive generations added new platforms on top of the existing structures, such that each one grew higher and higher.
The Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun), also known as the Capuxaida, is believed to be the largest adobe building in the Americas, comprising approximately 140 million mud bricks. Despite its name, it’s actually thought to have had a more political and administrative function. Archaeologists estimate it was originally over 1130 feet long, 525 feet wide and 100 feet high. A large proportion of the structure was destroyed by colonial treasure hunters in the 17th Century. This is the Temple of the Sun in the background.
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The Huaca de la Lune (Temple of the Moon) consists of three main pyramidal platforms and four large plazas. It is positioned at the bottom of Cerro Blanco.
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Unlike its slightly larger neighbour, the Huaca de la Luna is most definitely a ceremonial and religious structure. It includes religious designs and has several altars, some of which were used for human sacrifice.
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In many places, the brick walls were coated with mud, upon which artists created relief designs. The designs were strictly controlled by the Moche priests.
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Many of the bricks used in construction of the temple have marks on them, possibly indicating their makers.
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There were still signs of the vivid colours with which these designs were painted. All the colours used at Huaca de la Luna came from natural sources. The pigments are all water soluble, and would not have survived if the climate were not so dry.
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The North Façade of the North Ceremonial Plaza. It is split into seven distinct layers of decoration. This is what it would have looked like at the time.
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This is what remains.
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From bottom to top: (1) Warriors leading Prisoners; (2) Presenters of Offerings; (3) the Spider Decapitator; (4) the Sea Twin or Marine Deity; (5) Mythic Being carrying a severed head; (6) on the right is Aiapaec’s head with the legs of a bird and on the left a huge Serpent which extends from the Great Ramp; and finally (7) God of the Mountains aka the Beheader.
The most complex and best-preserved Moche mural known to date is located near the northeast corner of the North Ceremonial Plaza.
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This is the decoration on the ramp.
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While at the Temple of the Sun we even go to see the famous Peruvian Hairless Dog. It is a breed of dog with its origins in Peruvian pre-Inca cultures. It was a funny looking thing.
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Our next stop was Huaraz, it was founded as San Sebastian de Huaraz and is the capital of the Ancash Region. It is a small city nestled in below the Cordilla Blanca, the second highest mountain range in the world. With an altitude of a little over 10,000 feet. Upon arriving in Huaraz it makes for a slight shortness of breath and takes some time to acclimate to the altitude, especially after being at sea level for the majority of our time in Peru so far.
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There was a procession on in town with all the school children.
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There were lots of women and children around.
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We headed out for some hiking. On the way, we saw the locals cooking.
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We visited Lake Chinancocha.
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There was a local packing his donkeys.
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The following day we went on another hike, this time to visit an underground tomb that we had heard about.
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You would not even know where the tomb was, but it is underneath this big rock.
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You need to go down through a small hole and down some stairs. I was a bit worried about being claustrophobic but I was ok.
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After a couple of days enjoying our hiking we headed to Lima.
Lima is the capital and the largest city of Peru. It was founded by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro on January 18, 1535, as Ciudad de los Reyes. It became the capital and most important city in the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru. Following the Peruvian War of Independence, it became the capital of the Republic of Peru. Around one-third of the national population lives in the metro area.
We couldn’t miss wandering around the city as the buildings were beautiful.
Monastery of San Francisco
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Main square
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Archbishops Palace
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Municipal Palace
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Government Palace where we saw the changing of the guard.
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San Pedro Church
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Cathedral
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We then headed for Huacachina Oasis for a bit of fun. Huacachina is a desert oasis and tiny village just west of the city of Ica. At its centre are the green waters of the Huacachina Lagoon, ringed by palm trees and thought to have therapeutic properties. The lagoon's shores are dotted with bars and clubs.
We wandered around the oasis.
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We climbed the sand dunes to get a great view of the oasis.
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We relaxed in a great little hotel.
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They had some friendly birds.
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We did a day trip to Paracas which is on the coast. We took a boat trip out to the Ballestas Islands. On the way out on the boat we saw the Candelabra Geoglyph which is a well-known prehistoric geoglyph found on the northern face of the Paracas Peninsual at Pisco Bay. Pottery found nearby has been dated to 200 BC. The design is cut two feet into the soil, with stones possibly from a later date placed around it. The figure is 595 feet tall, large enough to be seen 12 miles at sea.
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The Ballestas Islands are a small group of islands that are an important sanctuary for bird life.
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Boy there was certainly a lot of bird life.
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There were even seals
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After a couple of days at the oasis we were due to head off for another bucket list moment. We were heading to Nazca. Instead of public transport we took a mule. It was a big old yank tank. It was a lot of fun.
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We arrived in Nazca and settled into our hotel. The next day was our flight over the Nazca lines. The Nazca Lines are a series of large ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert. The largest figures are up to 370 m long. They were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The high, arid plateau stretches more than 80 km between the towns of Nazca and Palpa. Although some local geoglyphs resemble Paracas motifs, scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture between 500 BCE and 500 CE. The figures vary in complexity.
We were in the tiniest plane at the airport.
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To see the geoglyphs the plane rocked from side to side so both Shane and I got to see them. They were amazing. There is no other word to describe them.
The flamingo-parihuana
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The dog
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The whale
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Trapeziums
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The Spaceman
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The monkey
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The hummingbird
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The condor
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The spider
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A spiral
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The parrot
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The tree
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The hands
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We then returned to Nazca. Here it is from the air.
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In the afternoon we headed to the Chauchilla Cemetery which is a cemetery containing prehispanic mummified human remains and archeological artifacts. It was only located 30 kilometres south of Nazca. The bodies are remarkably preserved mainly due to the dry climate in the desert but the funeral rites were also a contributing factor. The bodies were clothed in embroidered cotton and then painted with a resin and kept in purpose-built tombs made from mud bricks. The resin is thought to have kept out insects and slowed bacteria trying to feed on the bodies.
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The following day we took a flight to Cuzco. Upon arrival at the airport there was chaos. The people of Cuzco had gone on strike. There were big demonstrations and they had put big rocks on a lot of the roads so they could not be used. We were told to wait at the airport for assistance. The military arrived and put us in vehicles and then in an armed convoy they took us as close to our hotel as they could. They were extremely worried that we were in danger. Anyway, we arrived safely. We had to walk about 10 minutes to our hotel.
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Cusco often spelled Cuzco is a city near the Urumbamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. Located on the eastern end of the Knot of Cuzco, its elevation is around 3,400 m. The site was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th-century Spanish conquest. In 1983 Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site.
In the morning things had died down and we wandered around the centre of town.
Compania de Jesus, usually called La Compania, is a Jesuit church built in the 16th century.
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The Plaza de Armas is the heart of Cusco.
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Construction on Cusco's cathedral began in 1559 and was completed in 1669.
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The Baroque church and convent of La Merced was built between 1657 and 1680.
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A street and building
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We headed up the hill and got some great views of Cusco.
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A family with their alpaca.
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Before the Inti Raymi festival began we headed up to Saqsaywaman. This is a citadel on the northern outskirts of Cusco. Sections were first built by the Killke culture about 1100; they had occupied the area since 900. The complex was expanded and added to by the Inca from the 13th century; they built dry stone walls constructed of huge stones. The workers carefully cut the boulders to fit them together tightly without mortar. The site is at an altitude of 3,701 m. In 1983, Saksaywaman was also added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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We timed our visit to Cusco so we could be involved in the Inti Raymi festival. The Inti Raymi which is Quechua for “sun festival” is a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honour of the god Inti (Quechua for "sun"), one of the most venerated deities in Inca religion. It was the celebration of the winter-solstice - the shortest day of the year in terms of the time between sunrise and sunset and the Inca New Year.
The day before the Inti Raymi ceremony there were big celebrations in the main square. We went up to a restaurant and had a really good view of proceedings.
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There was later a procession with the children dressed up in their costumes from their region. They were really proud to show their culture off.
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The day had arrived of Inti Raymi. There were people everywhere as a lot of tourists come to Cusco just for this celebration. They put seating up for everyone to view the ceremony at Saksaywaman.
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They take the heart of a llama. (I am pretty sure they didn’t really take it from the live llama)
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They then put it on the burning altar
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Then the celebrations begin.
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After a great few days in Cusco we headed off for our big adventure. We were headed to Ollantaytambo to start our Inca Trail Trek. So, we got away early. The scenery was beautiful as we headed to the Sacred Valley.
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We stopped at the Inca ruins of the citadel of Pisac. Pisac sits at a strategic point above the gorge at the entrance to the Sacred Valley guarding Inca trade routes from the highlands down into the Amazon basin. Clambering up to its former battlements gives you a panoramic view over the Sacred Valley that is breathtaking.
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Shane wasn’t feeling well so he was pretty quiet on the bus trip. We arrived at Ollantaytambo.
Modern Ollantaytambo is a UNESCO World Heritage “living” Inca site.
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Shane was feeling so terrible by now that he went straight to the hotel while we ventured up the ruins. They were built for worship, the fortress served as the last Inca stronghold against the Spanish Conquistadors dating back to 1536. Ollantaytambo is recognised as an administrative centre for the ancient Incas. It is made up of huge agricultural terraces built on the side of a mountain, with a temple at the top, constructed from giant monolith stones.
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Pinkullyuna is the hill with Incan storehouses overlooking the town and facing the main ruins. There are a couple of faces in the hill side.
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The next morning Shane was still not feeling any better. We were due to start our trek today. There were signs that he was suffering from altitude sickness. I thought he was not going to be able to start the trek but he was determined not to miss out. At the start of the trail we got our passports stamped. The train was there to take people not hiking up to Machu Picchu.
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This is what the trail looks like.
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We headed off with our porters carrying most of our possessions. At first we enjoyed the scenery and the gentle hike.
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A rest stop
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Down below were Patallaqta ruins. Patallaqta was burned by Manco Inca Yupanqui who destroyed a number of settlements along the Inca road system during his retreat from Cusco in 1536 to discourage Spanish pursuit. In part due to these efforts, the Spanish never discovered the trail to Machu Picchu or any of its settlements.
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We had a long day of trekking and I had always thought that I would be the one to struggle on this trek but I was lucky enough not to get altitude sickness. So, it was me who stayed with Shane and encouraged him up the hill to our first nights camp. He even had a smile on his face when he made it.
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Day two of the trek was the hardest. We had to make it over dead woman’s pass today. (I will show you why it’s called that a bit later). It was all uphill until the pass. The highest point is 4215 metres. We felt pretty bad when the porters overtook us with their big loads.
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We just took it slowly and enjoyed the scenery along the way.
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I made it to the top of dead woman’s pass first and Shane never lived it down. Even though he was slowly getting over his altitude sickness I still beat him and I thought that would have never been the case.
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Look at his face.
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The view over the other side of the pass.
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So we headed down the other side. It was nice to have some downhill time.
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We enjoyed another camp that was already set up for us when we arrived. By now Shane was almost back to his old self.
The following morning, we headed back up the hill. Here is the view of our camp from that night.
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Now we got a good view of Dead Womans Pass from the other side. As you can see the lady on the hill is lying down like she is dead and has a top knot on her head, a face and then breasts.
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We continued to enjoy the scenery today.
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Our lunch spot
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Some more inca ruins along the way
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Some more downhill before our last nights camp.
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We arrived exhausted but excited about tomorrow. So we had a lovely dinner and celebrated with our group and porters.
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Today we were up at 3am. We were getting ready to make our final trek to the sun gate. We need to be there for sun rise. There were many groups setting off and it was surprising how the adrenalin was working and I seemed to be walking faster and faster. We made it to the sun gate in plenty of time so were well rested when the sun rose. We were so lucky, no log cloud or fog so we got a great view as the sun rose.
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Machu Picchu in the background.
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Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca citadel situated on a mountain ridge 2,430 metres above sea level. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). The Incas built the estate around 1450 but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although known locally, it was not known to the Spanish during the colonial period and remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911.
Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its three primary structures are the Inti Watana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Tree Windows. Most of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed in order to give tourists a better idea of how they originally appeared. By 1976, thirty percent of Machu Picchu had been restored and restoration continues
Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historic Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll.
So from the sun gate we headed off for another bucket list moment, to walk around Machu Picchu. As we got closer we could see how big it was. What a wow moment.
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Once we got there we had a tour around the ruins. We wandered in the sunshine for hours in awe of how this was built.
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After a long day we got a bus down to Aguas Calientes which is a small town at the bottom of the valley. This is where the train arrives and departs from. So we had a bit of a wander around town. There wasn’t much to the town.
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We got on the train back to Cusco. As it was the evening train it was dark so unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the scenery but after what we had been lucky to see in the last 4 days we weren’t too disappointed.
We had a nice shower and a great night’s sleep in a bed.
Having had such a strenuous time over the last few days it was nice to have a day to relax in Cusco before heading off for our next point of call.
Our next destination was Arequipa. It is Peru's second most populous city. The historic centre of Arequipa spans an area of 332 hectares and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Upon arrival we had a walk around town.
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There was also some sort of celebration going on.
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The following day we wanted to see as much as we could of this part of Peru so we headed off on a Reality Tour.
We visited the local market. It was really colourful and there lots of interesting things you would certainly not see in our markets.
All the cheese
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All the variety of potatoes
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Chickens
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Sheep Heads
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Alpaca meat
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Who knows what
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Beautiful fruit
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Pigs heads
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Giant squid
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Fish stall
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Meat Stall
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Tongues
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Last but not least Bulls Testicles (yum)
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Bulls Penis
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There were also nice things in the markets like empanadas and smoothies. Thank goodness.
We then headed out of town to a shanty town.
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We visited a child care centre.
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A cemetery.
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And a mine where sillar (volcanic stone) is extracted in a traditional way, to use it later for the construction of houses.
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The next day we were heading to Colca Canyon which is located 160 km northwest of Arequipa. The scenery was stunning along the way and we got to see lots of wildlife.
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Colca Canyon is a canyon of the Colca River. It has a depth of 3,270 m, it is one of the deepest in the world and more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.
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The canyon is home to the Andean condor, a species that has been the focus of worldwide conservation efforts. The condors can be seen at close range as they fly past the canyon walls. The Andean Condor typically lives about 60-70 years, and has a wingspan of about 7-9 feet. It is commonly referred to as the "Eternity Bird," as the bird is a symbol of long life and eternity. We were so lucky to see quite a few of them. What an amazing bird.
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We then headed to the town of Chivay for the night.
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We got immersed in the culture.
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Heading back to Arequipa we found somewhere to shop.
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Due to the altitude we also came across frozen parts of the hills.
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From Arequipa, we headed to Puno. Puno is located on the shore of Lake Titicaca. Our journey was soon to end in La Paz. But we were having such a great time that we decided that we would like to stay longer instead of returning work. So we both emailed work to see if we could get another 2 weeks off. We received the response that this would be ok so we went ahead and cancelled our flights home. Once we were in La Paz we would get flights sorted with new dates.
That night we headed out for a traditional Peruvian meal of cuy. Cuy is guinea pig. I was a little big reluctant but “when in Rome”. It didn’t taste too bad but there were lots of bones.
It was presented in a couple of different ways.
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We couldn’t help but have fun with it.
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The next morning, we headed out on Lake Titicaca to the Floating Islands. Lake Titicaca is a large, deep lake in the Andes and is on the border of Bolivia and Peru. By volume of water and by surface area, it is the largest lake in South America. It is often called the "highest navigable lake" in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812 metres.
The "Floating Islands" are small man made islands constructed by the Uros or Uru people from layers of cut totora a thick buoyant reed that grows abundantly in the shallows of Lake Titicaca. The Uros harvest the reeds that naturally grow on the lake's banks to make the islands by continuously adding reeds to the surface.
We were greeted by the people who live out on the reeds.
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They showed us around their home.
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There were lots of little reed villages on the lake. We went for a ride on a boat.
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We then headed to Amantani which is an island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.
The island is circular and about 9.28 km² in size. It has two mountain peaks, Pachatata ("father earth") and Pachamama ("mother earth"), with ancient Inca and Tiwanaku ruins on top of both. The hillsides are terraced, mostly worked by hand, and planted with wheat, quinoa, potatoes and other vegetables.
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There are no hotels on the island so we were put up in a home stay. What a fantastic opportunity to see how they live. Communication was difficult as they spoke little english only Quechua and Spanish. Our tiny bit of spanish did help a bit.
This is the home we stayed in.
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The view from the home.
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The kitchen
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Where we ate.
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The family.
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The knitting group.
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Once we had settled in we went for a walk up the hill. The view was spectacular so we watched the sunset.
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The family went out of their way to cook and look after us. They were wonderful.
We only had one night with our family before we headed for a quick visit to Taquile. About 2,200 people live on the island, which is 5.5 by 1.6 kilometres in size with an area of 5.72 km2. The highest point of the island is 4,050 metres above sea level and the main village is at 3,950 metres . The inhabitants, known as Taquileños, speak Puno Quechua. We really enjoyed wandering around this island.
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We then boarded out boat to head back to Puno. We had the opportunity to go swimming in Lake Titicaca. Of course, Shane took the opportunity.
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We made it back to Puno later that afternoon and then I fell really ill. I could not leave our room. I was stuck sitting on the toilet and throwing up into the bathroom basin at the same time. I told Shane to go out to dinner so he left me alone to continue to be ill. This went on for most of the night.
I was a little bit better by morning but still pretty weak. I was a bit worried as we had to head over the border into Bolivia today. Good old gastrostop.

Posted by shaneandnicola 00:55 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Ecuador

Ecuador is a country straddling the equator on South America’s west coast. Its diverse landscape encompasses Amazon jungle, Andean highlands and the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands. In the Andean foothills at an elevation of 2,850m, Quito, the capital, is known for its largely intact Spanish colonial center, with decorated 16th- and 17th-century palaces and religious sites. This was our first stop on this adventure. We found Quito quite scary. It did not feel safe at all.
We went out and looked around Quito.
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We went to the look out to see Quito. It is so big, it was amazing.
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We then visited the tourist attraction at the Equator.
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On the equator you can balance an egg. Shane was able to do it. I wasnt.
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We then took public transport out to Otovalo Markets. Be ware on the buses. I got my camera stolen. I had it in my daypack between my legs and the seat in front of me. Locals sat behind me and they somehow managed to get under my seat and open my pack without me feeling a thing.
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It was then time to start our adventure. Here we are all kitted out to start our travels.
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We first headed to the airport for a flight to Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos Islands. This was the first to be ticked off our South American bucket list.
The Galápagos Islands is a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. It's considered one of the world's foremost destinations for wildlife-viewing. A province of Ecuador, it lies about 1,000km off its coast. Its isolated terrain shelters a diversity of plant and animal species, many found nowhere else. Charles Darwin visited in 1835, and his observation of Galápagos' species later inspired his theory of evolution.
Puerto Ayora is the capital of Santa Cruz Island. It has an area of 986 km2 and a maximum altitude of 864 metres. Situated in the centre of the archipelago, Santa Cruz is the second largest island. This island is a large dormant volcano.
Before heading off on our boat we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station which is a biological research station operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation.
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We visited to see the Galapagos Tortoise. They were so big but amazing to watch.
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They also have a breeding centre there.
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We also visited a pair of volcanic sinkholes called Los Gemelos, or the twins. They are often referred to as craters but their formation was caused by a collapse of the land beneath rather than an eruption of a volcano. These geologic structures are impressive to see; the lush green of the surrounding Scalesian forest contrast greatly with the immense grey and black volcanic rock walls.
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On our way to the boat there were lots of iguanas lounging around.
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We also stopped to watch the fishermen with the birdlife hanging around.
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Once on the boat we also did a zodiac trip into the mangroves. There we saw sea turtles.
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We were able to visit a number of islands during our visit. Here are some highlights.
North Seymour is a small island in the Galapogos Islands. It was formed by the uplift of a lava formation. The whole island is covered with low, bushy vegetation. The island is named after an English nobleman, Lord Hugh Seymour. North Seymour Island has an area of 1.9 square kilometres and a maximum altitude of 28 metres. There is a visitor trail approximately 2 kilometres in length crossing the inland of the island and exploring the rocky coast. This island is home to a large population of blue-footed boobies.
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It has one of the largest populations of frigatebirds.
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We were even lucky enough to see a short eared owl.
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There were also lots of Sally Lightfoot Crabs.
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Genovesa Island, named after the Italian city of Genoa, in honor of Christopher Columbus, (referred to in English as Tower Island) is a shield volcano. The island occupies about 14 square kilometres and its maximum elevation is 64m. The horse-shoe shaped island has a volcanic caldera whose wall has collapsed, forming the Great Darwin Bay, surrounded by cliffs. This was a great place to see the Red-footed Booby
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and Nazca Booby.
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We also took zodiacs out along the cliffs and went snorkelling. The seals were swimming amongst us. It was beautiful.
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This was our homely boat we travelled on.
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Bartolomé Island is a volcanic islet just off the east coast of Santiago Island. It is one of the "younger" islands in the archipelago. This island is named after naturalist and lifelong friend of Charles Darwin, Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan who was a lieutenant aboard HMS Beagle. With a total land area of just 1.2 square kilometres this island offers some of the most beautiful landscapes in the archipelago. The island consists of an extinct volcano and a variety of red, orange, green, and glistening black volcanic formations.
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Bartolomé has a volcanic cone that is easy to climb and provides great views of the other islands. It was so stark yet amazing.
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Bartolomé is famous for its Pinnacle Rock, which is the distinctive characteristic of this island, and the most representative landmark of the Galápagos.
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We swam and snorkelled around Pinnacle Rock; the underwater world there is really impressive.
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Some of the things we saw were Galapagos penguins.
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White-tipped reef sharks,
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and other tropical fish
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and amazing star fish.
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A turtle
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South Plaza is a small island off the east coast of Santa Cruz. It only has an area of 0.13 km and a maximum altitude of 23 metres. South Plaza was formed by lava up streaming from the bottom of the ocean. Despite its small size it is home to a large number of species and it is famous for its extraordinary flora. We enjoyed the beautiful view from atop the steep banks and strolled along the base of the cliff. There were beautiful prickly pear cactus
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and a large colony of Galapagos land iguanas.
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Floreana Island was named after Juan Jose Flores, the first president of Ecuador, during whose administration the government of Ecuador took possession of the archipelago. The island has an area of 173 square kilometres and was formed by volcanic eruption. The island's highest point is Cerro Pajas at 640 metres which is also the highest point of the volcano. When we landed we took a walk to the other side of the island. At Punta Cormorant, there was a beach.
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We also walked past a lagoon to see flamingos.
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We visited the lava tube. You can go down into it.
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Shane was brave enough to go swimming in it. Being underground the water was absolutely freezing but really clear.
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This island is also famous for Post Office Bay which provides visitors the opportunity to send post cards home without a stamp via the over 200-year-old post barrel and other travelers. You can leave your post card and go through the cards that are already there and take one close to home to post when you get home.
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Devil's Crown”, located off the northeast point of the island, is an underwater volcanic cone offering the opportunity to snorkel with schools of fish, sea turtles, sharks and sea lions, which are abundant amongst the many coral formations found here. It is popular for sighting hammerhead sharks but were didn’t get to see any.
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Española Island is located in the extreme southeast of the archipelago and is considered, along with Santa Fe, one of the oldest, at approximately four million years. As we came in to the beach in the zodiacs there were iguanas swimming. It was such a surprise to see them.
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Our first stop was the beach to meet the seals.
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There were also marine iguanas on the beach.
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We came here to see the waved albatross as almost the entire world population breeds on the island.
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Watching them in flight gave you perspective on their size. Although the photo doesn't show this.
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We also visited Punta Suárez which had beautiful scenery including a blow hole.
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The scenery along this part of the coast was beautiful.
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The marine iguana sun in big groups. Their colours were incredible.
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There were also lava lizards.
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After this amazing highlight we returned to Quito to continue our journey through Ecuador.

We went out to visit Cotopaxi Volcano for the day. Cotopaxi is an active stratovolcano located about 50 km south of Quito. It is the second highest summit in Ecuador, reaching a height of 5,897 m. It is one of the world's highest volcanoes.
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We walked up to the refuge at 4800 metres.
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When we came back down we realised how steep the climb up had been as we were running down it.
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Our next stop was the Amazon Basin. We made our way to Tena and the Shangrila Cabanas. This was to be our home for the next few days.
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Upon arrival, we had to hike in to Shangrila. Our luggage was left at the top and was taken down using a flying fox.
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As we walked into the accommodation there were beautiful views of the river.
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This is the hammock area where we enjoyed our relaxation.
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As we sat around that afternoon we got to see our first tarantula.
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That evening when we had settled into our room, Shane decided to go for a walk down to the toilet – in bare feet. On the way, he stood on a rhinoceros beetle. By morning he was in a lot of pain and his foot had swelled up. The locals at the cabana tried some local herbal remedies to no effect, so it was decided that he would be taken into Tena to see the doctor. Upon his return, we all fell into fits of laughter. The only doctor in town was a gynaecologist. There would not be too many men around the world who can say they had an appointment with a gynaecologist. He was given some medication and told to rest his foot and bathe it in hot water. I was the one carting water to him up and down the slope with lots of steps. Here he is resting and taking in the view.
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I also had my birthday while at Shangrila. For my birthday, I went canyoning.
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The lovely staff helped us get dressed up using local materials for the evening.
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The next day we went out to check out a local community. We visited the school and a house.
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We also went on a boat ride down the river.
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We learned how to dress up using local resources.
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Shane learned how to use the blow dart.
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There was lots of flora and fauna.
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On the third night, we had torrential rain. We had gone to bed for the night. In the middle of the night we heard banging on our door. We were being evacuated to another area as they were concerned that the side of the hill was going to give way. We settled into another room but did not sleep for the rest of the night in fear of what might happen. In the morning, we found out that the flying fox had gone and as you can see from the picture some of the dirt is gone in front of the cabana. You can see how close to the edge the cabanas are.
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In the afternoon, the waters had already subsided on the river so we went for a tubing adventure.
We farewelled the lodge.
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Down the river we headed.
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We had a great time in Tena.

The next day we got on a bus and travelled towards Banos.
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Here is Banos.
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Baños de Agua Santa, commonly referred to as Baños, is a city in eastern Tungurahua Province, in central Ecuador. Baños is the second most populous city in Tungurahua. It is known as the "Gateway to the Amazon, as it's the last big city still located in the mountains before reaching the jungle and other towns that are located in the Amazon River basin. It is located on the northern foothills of the Tungurahua volcano, at an elevation of 1,820 metres. The volcanic activity has been characterised by frequent powerful ash explosions and lava flows that can be seen from Banos.
We settled into cabins to spend a couple of days here in Banos.
We walked to the Devils Cauldron.
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Shane decided he would do a bridge jump. It was nothing like a bungy. All I heard was him swearing on the way down.
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That night Tungurahua lived up to its reputation and started erupting. We all went out and watched it. It looked pretty spectacular during the night. By morning it was still erupting and the decision was that our group would be evacuated from Banos. We hired a driver and vehicle who took us to our next stop Cuenca which was about a 6-hour drive. There is a rough road route around the volcano. This is the view of the volcano as we travelled around it.
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We finally arrived in Cuenca. The city of Cuenca — in full, Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca — is the capital of the Azuay Province. It is widely regarded as the most European city in the country of Ecuador due to its 16th and 17th century era Spanish colonial architecture resembling cities and architecture throughout Spain. The city of Cuenca is located in the highlands at about 2,500 metres above sea level. The centre of the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust Site due to its many historical buildings.
The next day we had a look around the town. We went up to a look out to see Cuenca from afar.
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We visited the cathedral.
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Here is some other architecture around town.
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There are little outdoor barbeque’s everywhere selling pork and guinea pig.
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The next day we decided to head to Ingapirca. These are the largest known Incan ruins in Ecuador. A lady at our hotel arranged for her husband to take us there. He spoke no English and with our little Spanish it was quite an interesting day.
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This is the temple of the sun
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Shane with one of the locals.
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From Cuenca we headed over the border into Peru.

Posted by shaneandnicola 20:28 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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