On our fourth trip with OAT we visited the Peruvian Amazon, the Sacred Valley at 10,000 feet in elevation (between Cusco and Machu Picchu) also in Peru, and the Galapagos, a group of islands in Ecuador about 600 miles off the mainland coast.
We flew first into Lima, Peru and learned about the early Spanish influence as well as the Inka and pre-Incan civilizations.
From Lima we caught a flight over the Andes and into the Amazon basin. We landed in Iquitos, a hot and muggy backwater river town, where we boarded a covered outboard motorboat to our first stay in a place called Explorama Lodge, about a 2-hour ride down the muddy Amazon. Between here are our second lodging on the Amazon we spent time birding, fishing for piranha, playing with monkeys, hoisting an anaconda over our collective heads, and walking along a suspended bridge in the canopy viewing orchids, insects, birds and bromeliads. At one time we visited the parents of our guide, Celio, who live in a small village along a backwater of the Amazon. The structures are elevated on stilts for flood protection, have no running water, open fire for cooking, open windows, and an outhouse for personal use. We learned the day to day life and customs of the people of the river, the Ribeirinhos.
The Sacred Valley
We flew back to Lima for a brief overnight and then flew into Cusco, the historic capitol of the Incan civilization. We meandered slowly north spending time with the high Andean women working the potato fields and weaving, at approximately 12,000 feet in elevation. All hotels and airports provided drinks of coca tea to help alleviate altitude sickness. Yes, this is the same tea leaf cocaine is made from. The leaves here are legal and commonly used. Heading north, generally following the Urubamba River, we rode in busses and an old train into Aqua Caliente at the foot of Machu Picchu. The entire sacred valley is decorated with Incan terraces and rock fortifications. Machu Picchu is perched on the top of a rocky hill, historically only accessible with a trail. Other similar ruins remain accessible by trail only. Not to be trite, but the Incans were the ultimate of the rock stackers.
From Cusco we flew to Quito, Ecuador to spend a few days before our final destination, the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos are a volcanic group of islands that are mostly a dry landscape. Only the higher peaks on a few of the islands catch the moist/cloudy winds causing these highlands to become green and wet within the “cloud forests”. My goal for this trip was to see the Darin’s finches, marine iguana’s and the land tortoises, which we did. Due to the lack of predators, these fauna are relatively tame and approaching them was easy. We observed blue footed boobies, seals, land iguana’s, terns, frigate birds, and pelicans. The pelican and frigate bird photographs were taken from the bow of the Carina while underway between Isla Santiago and Isla Santa Cruz. We spent 4 nights on board the Carina embarking in Zodiac’s for shore to walk the volcanic terrain, snorkel, and enjoy the view of the blue water and the fish within. While on Santa Cruz we were treated with the experience of seeing, close up, the land tortoises that inhabit these islands.