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We couldn’t think of a better way to wind down our trip, our 5th Wonder of the World and 36th UNESCO World Heritage Site, that is, the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu.

The Incas started building Machu Picchu around AD 1430 but was abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers a hundred years later at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Although known locally, it was largely unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian.

Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and a New Seven Wonder of the World in 2007. Since it was not plundered by the Spanish when they conquered the Incas, it is especially important as a cultural site and is considered a sacred place.

Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows.

Our disappointment of not being able to trek the Inca Trail, due to illness, was short lived once we entered the gates of this architectural wonder.  We will never forget our first glimpse, gradually dark shapes became visible out of the swirling mist, and all of a sudden we realised that we were looking at stone walls and terraces.  I headed straight for the ‘Watchman’s House’, to take the classic photo (with no tourists) while Sam’s joined the queue for Huayna Picchu, the large mountain in the background.  Only 400 are allowed to climb the mountain each day, 200 at 7am and 200 at 10am – after missing out on the trail, we didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity.

The trail was quite steep but only took us around 45mins.  From the top, you get a birds eye view of the whole of Machu Picchu (and unfortunately also the modern monstrosity, the Sanctuary hotel) spread out more than a thousand feet below. It was hellishly scary at times and so damn steep – not good for those suffering with vertigo.  For us, it was certainly worth the climb.

Once we got down we had a quick bite to eat and then it was time to meet our guide, Tacco.  A good guide definitely adds to the experience and ours has written five books on the subject.  According to Tacco, Hiram Bingham who ‘discovered’ Machu Picchu would never have found it if he hadn’t been helped by villagers living nearby. Apparently he had surveyed the area right where we were standing without realising that there was actually a ‘lost city’ right under his feet! All the clues were there, it’s just that our friend Hiram was not expecting Machu Picchu to be where it is. Until today, there remains speculation that there is a much grander ‘lost city of the Incas’ as yet undiscovered. One can certainly believe this looking out at the terrain.

Our guide also didn’t have very good things to say about Mr. Bingham after he had been helped to locate Machu Picchu. According to him, lots of artifacts were carted off to America and have never been returned.  Actually, this is not true, in September 2007, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement regarding the return of many artifacts.  The majority are still unaccounted for and are most probably lying in museums or attics somewhere.

Our guide explained what each building was used for (some are clearly known, some are just speculation) and why the Inca went to all the trouble of building their cities so far away from the resources needed for such an endeavour. The precision with which they laid the stone blocks to create each structure is unmatched by modern day craftsmen. When you look at the shoddy way in which many buildings are put up nowadays, you’d wonder whether we have really progressed over the last thousand years! The construction was so precise that the stone blocks fit together without any form of binding whatsoever, and yet you would not be able to find a gap big enough to fit a razor blade through.

Interestingly, the authorities are currently in the process of approving planning permission to re-thatch all of the buildings, restoring them back to their former glory and to protect the stonework from further rain damage.  We seen a drawing and were really impressed with the new look.

The second walk that we did in the afternoon was to the Inca Drawbridge. This was along part of another Inca Trail leading to Machu Picchu from the southwest.  This path was described to us as being very narrow, clinging to the sheer mountain side in places and needing a good head for heights as there were often sheer drops on the other side of the path.  They weren’t wrong, it is by far the scariest walk I have ever done, ten times scarier than Huayna Picchu and never again. While we were there, National Geographic were filming a documentary called Machu Picchu Uncovered. They were filming the clearing of the old path around the side of the mountain. Supposedly, this path (or trail) and the drawbridge was at one time the only connection to the outside world.  The Incas deliberately left a strategic gap in this buttress bridged by some logs. These could be taken up to prevent intruders getting across.

And so after 11 hours we left Machu Picchu, happy to have fulfilled a lifelong dream and still in awe of the place. We hope to be back someday to hike the Inca trail.

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Cusco City

June 21st, 2009 | Posted by Davey in 18-Peru | UNESCO World Heritage Sites - (0 Comments)

A city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley (Sacred Valley) of the Andes mountain range.  Cusco is the historic capital of the Inca Empire and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 . It is a major tourist destination and receives almost a million visitors a year. It has been designated as the Historical Capital of Peru by the Constitution of Peru.

We have been here for just over a week and have seen very little.  We have been laid up in bed for most of it with an illness which can only be described as something in between a cold and flu, hence the lack of updates.  A definite result of travelling for long hours on overcrowded buses and staying in 10 bed doorms.  At this altitude it takes forever to get rid of any aliment, you’re out of breath just walking up the stairs.

We did have a four day hike to Machu Picchu booked but having postponed three times we ended up cancelling.  We have not fully recovered and don’t really have the energy required for the gruelling hike so instead we are taking the train.  To say we are gutted is an understatement but we’d rather make it to the top than not and see the great wonder, one we have both been looking forward to for months.

More to follow in the next day or so.  Today we had off to Aguas Calientes where we stay for one night and visit MP early the following morning.

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Lake shiticaca

June 21st, 2009 | Posted by Davey in 17-Bolivia - (0 Comments)

Following our Pampas tour we headed back to La Paz for another night and then onto Copacabana, a small town on the edge of  Lake Titicaca (on the Bolivian side), the largest lake in SA.

Tourists flock here in their droves, but for what we are still unsure, it is just a lake…why were we expecting anything more?  There are several tours you can do on the lake, floating islands, trout fishing etc.  We declined and headed off the following day. 

We did however enjoy our time in Copacabana, the only town in the world where they christen vehicles.  Men and women from every walk of life from around Bolivia make the journey here annually to have their taxi, buses, lorries etc. blessed.  If, it seems, your vehicle is a revenue generator then it should be blessed with good fortune for the coming months.

That evening, we saw the ritual being carried out on an American Hummer, we didn’t take out our camera for fear of being shot.  A clear sign that the drug trade in Bolivia, the largest producer of cocaine in the world, is reaping the rewards and clearly the owner wanted his good fortunes to continue.

Our last stop in Bolivia before we head into Peru.  We’ve been here just shy of a month and cannot speak highly enough of the Bolivian people and their culture, the country should be a must for any traveller in South America.

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Our Pampas (Amazon) Tour

June 15th, 2009 | Posted by Davey in 17-Bolivia - (3 Comments)

A trip to SA wouldn’t be complete without a jaunt somewhere down the Amazon.  It is said that Bolivia’s slice of the Amazon Basin is one of the most pristine that can be found.  Our reading and research suggested that it is far better preserved here than in Brazil or Peru. The rivers are also smaller so you can get closer to the wildlife!

We signed up for a 3–day, 2–night excursion – 80 euro each inc. transportation and food, plus 50 for a return flight.  An absolute bargain considering.

We flew from La Paz to Rurrenabaque on a twin prop plane, an exhilarating 45-minutes.  During the flight the landscape changed from mountains to rainforest and then the pampas (not sure what the difference is between the Amazon and the Pampas, nobody seemed to be able to provide a definitive answer).  We landed on a grass strip in Rurrenabaque Airport, something we’d only ever seen in the movies.  A great start! 

Our tour wasn’t starting until the following morning, so we found a nice place to stay and wandered around town for a bit – a really cute place with very friendly people.  We travelled and shared our tour experiences with an Irish couple, Jamie and Claire.

The 3 days were just outstanding: we drove to Santa Rosa in a jeep (about 3 hours on a dirt road) then caught a boat for another 3 hours up the Yacuma River to our Ecolodge.  From the start it was pretty much all go.  Without blabbing too much, we had various boat trips and saw an abundance of wildlife.  Lots of birds, monkeys (the common squirrel monkeys were the cutest – jumping on our boat and running around like crazy), capybaras (biggest rodents in the world), alligators, one black caiman, yellow-spotted river turtles etc.  The highlights were swimming with the pink river dolphins in alligator, pirana and snake infested waters, pirana fishing and anaconda hunting.  Yes, we caught a few anacondas, smelly feckers!

It was great to see these animals in their natural habitat! We had a fantastic local guide, Yuri, who spoke the Queen’s English and treated the animals with nothing but respect. 

After our drive back, we stayed a further night in Rurrenabaque, went out for a nice meal and had a few too many beers with Jamie and Claire.  We were scheduled to fly early the next morning, but it had rained and the plane couldn’t take off on the grass.  We finally took off when the bad weather had subsided.  We were lucky, some are stranded for days.  It was honestly the worst flying experience we had ever had.  The turbulence over the mountains was beyond belief, it felt like the plane was dropping hundreds of feet at a time, creeping ever closer to the mountains, and to make matters worse, we could see the pilot fighting with the controls.  I’m never getting on a small plane ever again, period!

That said, it was an absolutely fantastic tour overall and it will certainly be in our top ten – the stuff of dreams!  We hope you like the photos, it was difficult narrowing down some 600 odd photos.

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In 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank named the North Yungas Road (also know as the Death Road) — an approximate 64k long road between La Paz, Bolivia’s capital and Coroico, in the Amazon region — the “world’s most dangerous road.”

It’s estimated that 200-300 travellers were killed yearly along the road, which has crosses marking many of the spots were vehicles have fallen over the side. If one were to click for more information regarding such perilous roads, they’d know how dangerous the construction and maintenance would be. At the end of 2006, after 20 years of construction, a new, considerably safer road from La Paz to Coroico was finally finished and opened to the public, resulting in a marked decrease in use of the original North Yungas Road by travellers.

However and although still used by vehicles, an increasing number of insane adventurers now bike it for thrills (some web site).

Yeeeee haaaaaaaaa.  That’s me… Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.

Yeah I did the death road, it was a fantastic and exhilarating 4–5 hour experience.  I almost went overboard a few times (seriously) but I survived!  It was a close one, it must be the spirits of the dead, what gets to you along this trail.  Luckily for me the trip ended up at Hotel Esmeralda, Coroico. Cold beer and a spectacular view of the snow capped mountains which lye behind the death road.

I would highly recommend it to anybody trying to top the buzz of a skydive.

Shit, what next?

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I’m second behind our crazy guide!!!