CLOUD-FORESTS, FEATHERS & CUZCO

SOUTH AMERICA BLOG 10

Saturday April 8, 2017

We are, as you’ve probably guessed, home. We arrived back in Godzone several days ago aboard a big Latam Airlines jet. And this final belated blog is an attempt to tie up the last loose ends of our grand South America adventure.

I left you (in my previous report) at Machu Picchu. And, on the morning after our amazing encounter with the Lost City of the Incas, we had the chance to enjoy a guided ‘bird-walk’ in the cloud forest above Aguas Calientes – wandering through lush gardens, home to swarms of tiny multi-coloured fruit-eaters, fly-catchers, nectar-drinkers … the rare and beautiful Cock of the Rock (with its brilliant orange-red plumage) … and extra-tiny hummingbirds (their delicate wings doing a blurring 100 beats per second as they hover in the trees).

Wanna see more of those hummingbirds in action? Check out these short video-clips:

Later that afternoon, we trained and coached our way back along the Sacred Valley to Cuzco, an amazing colonial city built high in the Andes. Cuzco features the remains of Incan palaces and massive Inca-built walls … colonial mansions and treasure-filled churches … and cobblestoned plazas thronging with colourful Quechua Indians.

We Kiwis spent our last day in Peru touring the city’s historic highlights, strolling the streets, mingling with the locals, shopping for a few more souvenirs, and snapping another zillion photos. Finally, that evening, we enjoyed our Midlife Madness Farewell Dinner & Folklore Show at Tunupa Restaurant!

Phew, what an adventure we’ve had! And what stories we’ve got to tell!

Gracias, South America …” Thank you heaps!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you’d like to read earlier chapters in this Travel Blog, just click on ‘PREVIOUS’ or ‘OLDER POSTS’ – either at the start or finish of this entry. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription!

MYSTERIOUS MACHU PICCHU

SOUTH AMERICA BLOG 09

Sunday April 2, 2017

Our five busy days in the high Peruvian Andes have gone by in a blur! And the fatigue we’ve all been feeling (caused by the altitude and oxygen-starved ‘thin air’) has made these jam-packed days even more of a blur!

A week ago we got picked up early and dropped off at the Ollantaytambo railway station – where seats were booked on the panoramic Vistadome train that took us along the Sacred Valley to the mountain-town of Aguas Calientes, nestled beneath the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu.

We then travelled a further 30 minutes by coach up a zig-zaggy road (I counted 12 hairpin bends!) to the top of the ruins – where a guided tour gave us some idea of what the Inca’s Holy City must have looked like 550 years ago.

The Inca Empire was at its peak in the 1400s AD, and Machu Picchu was begun probably around 1450. Perched some 2400 metres above sea level, in lush jungle along the flanks of two hills, the place was a bustling hive of activity. Constructed mostly in stone, with walls tilted slightly inwards to protect against earthquakes, and timbered roofs thatched with ichu or straw, it was an extraordinary example of architecture and engineering. But now it’s a silent shell. Narrow alleyways wind amongst empty homes, vacant town squares, official buildings, circular towers and agricultural terraces. A graveyard, a governor’s mansion, a sacred sundial, several worship sites and a still-functioning irrigation/drainage system all hint at lives long gone.

So what happened?

Well, some 100 or so years after work was started, as the finishing touches were just being made to the main temple … disaster struck. And Machu Picchu was abandoned!

Nobody knows why. Best guesses put the mystery down to a killer disease, or the arrival on the coast of the invading Spanish. All we can tell for sure is that the entire population vanished. And no-one lived here again till an American explorer by the name of Hiram Bingham stumbled across the overgrown ruins, cleared away the jungle growth and uncovered this wonder in 1911.

Unforgettable? Without a doubt!

COMING UP: It’s lush and green, misty and well-watered, and it’s home to a brilliant array of tiny colourful birds. They call it the ‘cloud forest’ … and there’s no way we could leave this amazing mountain-zone without a look-see. Bring your camera …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you’d like to read earlier chapters in this Travel Blog, just click on ‘PREVIOUS’ or ‘OLDER POSTS’ – either at the start or finish of this entry. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.)

SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS

SOUTH AMERICA BLOG 08

Tuesday March 28, 2017

On Friday morning, at the ridiculous hour of 4:00am as the hen squawks, we woke and headed sleepily to Buenos Aires airport – flying first to Lima (three hours to the northeast) then to Cuzco (once the life’n’soul centre of the Incan Empire), smack in the middle of the mighty Andes. We then transferred bodies and bags onto a local coach and head down into the famous Sacred Valley of the Incas … arriving in the dark at the Sonesta Posadas del Inca Yucay Hotel (long name, eh?), where we had beds booked for the next two nights.

The Sacred Valley combines the natural beauty of the Andes with the incredible ingenuity of the Incan Empire – at its peak during the 14th century. It is home to many hotly-visited ruins, fortresses, temples, and archaeological sites. Over the next day or three, we saw more Inca stuff than you can shake a stick at … and everywhere we went along this surprisingly populated Andes valley were colourful Quechua Indians.

We followed a muddy dirt road to the Chincheri Village where we enjoyed a lesson in the Peruvian art of weaving. We eyeballed the ruins at Moray – a testament to the genius of Incan agriculture, where enormous circular terraces were once constructed as a botanical laboratory for experimenting on plant crops. We spent a couple of hours in the town of Ollantaytambo, clambering around its imposing Incan fortress. And we stopped off in another town, Pisac, for some souvenir shopping in its quaint market.

On our weary way back to the hotel, we passed numerous sellers hawking the local delicacy: barbequed guinea-pig. And Helen couldn’t help herself. She asked our driver to stop, and bought one from a Quechua chef who came aboard our bus. Helen reported later that, of all the disgusting things she’d even eaten, guinea-pig scored a minus-1!

COMING UP: The mysterious Lost City of Machu Picchu is perched on a misty mountaintop down the end of this valley … the last big ticket item on our itinerary. The show ain’t over yet, folks!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you’d like to read earlier chapters in this Travel Blog, just click on ‘PREVIOUS’ or ‘OLDER POSTS’ – either at the start or finish of this entry. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.)

IGUAZU FALLS

SOUTH AMERICA BLOG 07

Sunday March 26, 2017

There’s this place on the South American map where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet up. It’s a humid jungle-zone of red soil, lush greenery, colourful moths and butterflies, and gorgeous birds … an eco-tourist’s paradise set in huge swaths of untouched forest. And we Mad Midlife Kiwis headed there several days ago (a 1hr-45min flight) to see the world-famous, jaw-dropping Iguazu Falls.

“Niagara on Viagra!” is how one visitor put it when he saw them for the first time. And having got up close and very wet on the spectacular Argentine side, then got wet all over again on the panoramic Brazilian side, we can fully understand why.

The trouble is, words and pix simply don’t do it! Sorry folks, but you’ve gotta BE THERE! You’ve gotta HEAR the sheer, raging, overwhelming roar as 23 kilometres of churning water crash down into a giant gorge – and you’ve gotta FEEL the sting of spray on your face as those geyser-like eruptions surge forever into the air.

Born in Brazil in the Serra do Mar, the Iguazu River flows westward for more than 500km before emptying into the Parana River and then the Amazon. It widens and curves until it reaches a fault in the subtropical rainforest, where it divides into many arms and becomes a thundering waterfall, exploding onto the rocks below in dense clouds of mist.

Iguazu isn’t one waterfall – there’s actually 200 or 300 of them (especially when the river’s running high). They’re spread out over an area four times the size of Niagara – and the most awe-inspiring fall of all is the Devil’s Throat. We eyeballed it from the safety of a steel catwalk, peering over the terrifying edge of the monster’s mouth and watching, spellbound, as an entire chunk of the river emptied itself endlessly into its gaping 100-metres-deep gut.

Those steel catwalks go everywhere – and, while some of our group walked their little legs off on the Upper Trail, the rest of us climbed aboard a hi-speed jet boat, racing down-river, then actually driving under the crashing, roaring torrent … getting soaked to the skin, and looking like drowned rats!

A highlight? Absolutely. And, give us half a chance, we’d go straight back and enjoy the entire unforgettable experience again.

Turn your volume up full, and click on the video-clips above (captured by Mrs Cooney) to experience Iguazu live!

In the early afternoon, we took a break from waterfalls and near-drowning, and headed across the border into Brazil to a truly magnificent bird-park – the Parque Das Aves. That, of course, isn’t possible – because, sadly, we’re leaving Iguazu this afternoon. And the final exciting chapter of our South American saga is about to be written …

COMING UP: We catch an early morning northbound flight to Lima, Peru … then another flight to Cuzco, high in the Peruvian Andes … then head out of town on a local coach in search of the beautiful, magical Sacred Valley of the Incas. The mysterious Lost City of Machu Picchu is on a mountaintop somewhere along this valley, and we may have kept the best till last. So don’t go away …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you’d like to read earlier chapters in this Travel Blog, just click on ‘PREVIOUS’ or ‘OLDER POSTS’ – either at the start or finish of this entry. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.)