Tag Archives: Ruins

Cusco, Peru – Impressions

Cusco in Southern Peru is the historic capital of the Incan Empire from its establishment in the 13th century until the Spanish invaded in 1534 and sacked the place, destroying many of the Incan buildings so they could create their own city in its place. There are still a few Incan structures left, some temples and some think stone walls. Cusco was supposed to have been built in the shame of a Puma, a sacred animal of the Incans.

Like La Paz, Cusco is build in a bowl, although it’s nowhere near as large, only one or two of the bowl walls have housing built on them. And unlike La Paz, which is totally built using clay bricks, there’s not a single clay brick house in sight.

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Cusco is high in the Andes at around 3400m above sea level and has a lot of old spanish architecture dotted around the city…

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There are also many plazas around the central city and most have fountains. There are more fountains here than any other single place I’ve been to in South America. There are also more tourists here in Cusco than I’ve seen in one place elsewhere in South America. There’s good reason for this, Cusco is 71km away from the number one tourist site in South America; Machu Picchu. When walking around the city, there are groups of tourists 20-30 thick walking everywhere.

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There are quieter places in Cusco, many of the roads around the city central are cobbled and rather quaint.

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Then, while in Peru, one must try one of the delicacies, deep fried Guinea Pig. I compare it to dark duck meat, and while it was nice, it’s not something I’ll be eating all the time.

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On the streets of Cusco, around the central plazas, are lots of hawkers trying to sell different tours and the like. they go along with the many, many tour operators stores everywhere. But tours aren’t the only thing they’re hawking, they also push massages, suggesting you’ll need one after climbing to Machu Picchu.

My next stop is a small town called Aguas Caliente, literally ‘hot waters’ or hot pools. It’s only 4km from Machu Picchu and other than the Inca Trail is the only way to get there. My aim is to be up at 4am to make the climb to the hidden city to be there at sunrise and to miss most of the tourists. And while I love to hike, I plan to not do the Inca Trail as I call it Disneyland, there are just so many people walking it that it goes against why I like to hike, the serenity and quiet of nature. There are plenty of other places in Peru to hike and I have a couple planned.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Lake Titicaca, Copacabana and Isla del Sol, Bolivia

At 3800m above sea level, the massive Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. Stretching 190km in length, the blue watered lake just disappeared off into the horizon.

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From the Bolivian side, Copacabana is the city on the lake and the only way to get there from La Paz is by bus, also meaning a 15 minutes ferry ride, as the direct road actually crosses into Peru and back again. Copacabana as taken from a ferry…

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There are several small islands near the southern end of the lake…

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With the major island on the Bolivian side is Isla del Sol, the Island of the Sun, a place where the Incas believed the sun lived. There are more than 80 ruins on the island, this one being the Temple of the Sun…

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The most common thing to do from Copacabana is to catch a ferry to Isla del Sol. Landing on the Southern pier there is a daunting set of steps leading up. It’s more daunting knowing that at altitude it’s going to be a difficult climb.

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At the highest point of the island is a small castle which is being built for tourist purposes. On the island there are numerous hostels and restaurants for the Gringo visitors, of which there are about 250 a day, some choosing to stay overnight, while others return to Copacabana.

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Small communities are dotted all over the island, with 800 families living here…

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Off to the east is Isla del Luna, Island of the Moon.

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When you’re this high in the mountains, you don’t expect to see such a massive lake, but it’s a thing of beauty. While Copacabana is a typical Bolivian small city with plentiful brick buildings, there’s also a large tourist base and plentiful hostels and hotels. With many of the hotels offering similar prices to the hostels, it’s often a better choice to treat yourself.

Unfortunately while I was here, it was Bolivian Independence week and there were markets everywhere. The unfortunate part is that all accommodations are more expensive at this time of year.

Next, I head off to Cusco, capital of Peru.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

El Choro, Bolivia

The El Choro Trek is a three day trek that’s easily accessible from La Paz in Bolivia. I wanted to do different trek here in Bolivia, but without my own transport, many of the treks are difficult to get to. And while I tend to like hiking alone, the easiest means to do this trek is via a tour. This means I wouldn’t be carrying any food or a tent, as there will be a porter along with us to do that. This is the first time not having to carry all of my own equipment and it doesn’t feel quite right.

DAY 1 – La Paz to  Challapampa

The agency I booked through picked me up at 9.30 and I met the two other people I’d be hiking with, a french guy who spoke spanish well and some english, and an argentinian born girl who had been living in New Zealand most of her life. She spoke english and spanish perfectly. The guide with us only spoke spanish and his porter english and spanish. So, spanish became the spoken language of the trek and with my meagre understanding I decided hike alone for the most part.

The trek begins very near the start of the Death Road in a snowy mountainous area at a altitude of 4,800m. It was freezing that high up with an icy wind, so we couldn’t wait get started.

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The first 100 metres of the trek climbed to the highest point of the trail, 4,900 metres. This was the hardest 100m I’ve ever climbed in my life. With such thin air, I barely got 10 steps before having to stop and get my breath back, and I was only carrying half my usual weight! Eventually, we crossed over the ridge and the cold winds ceased. Ahead of us along the valley we could see the trail through the valley and a set of ancient Incan ruins at the base of the slope. The ruins were once a rest stop for travellers on the trail. Food and shelter was always offered for free.

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The trail weaved down the side of the mountain towards the ruins and it began to slowly get warmer, so we started shedding some of our warm weather clothes. At the ruins we stopped for a rest and watched as a Llama train came by. The Llamas and their master were returning from a delivery earlier in the day.

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We pushed on along the trail that from time to time was obscured by low cloud, through fields that housed other ancient ruined buildings and walls.

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Eventually, we came to a pair of newer buildings that were being used as farms raising Llama’s and drying several different kinds of small potatoes… We stopped for 30 minutes before pushing on.

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Much of the rest of the day was spent walking through the low cloud, so visibility was only several metres, meaning the focus went on the ‘road’ we were trekking along. We were told that it was originally built by the Tiwanaku, a race of people who would eventually become the Incans, and had been repaired by the Incans, so it was difficult to tell which was which. In the clouds, the stones get very slippery.

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Our day ended upon reached the very small settlement of Challapampa, where our guide and porter set up the tents and cooked our dinner. From the high point of 4900m, we had descended to 2400m. And while it rained during the night, it was a lot warmer.

DAY 2 – Challapampa to San Francisco
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Today we hit the Cloud Forest, a fairly untouched area of the valley which is usually covered in cloud. For only short periods of the day the clouds parted, but for most of the time, we could see the cliff edge, but beyond it only cloud.

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The trail meandered along the side of the valley for much of the day, climbing and descending small hills as we trekked along the thinner ‘Incan road.’

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The valley disappearing in cloud…

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…and opening up again.

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One wonderful part of the day was the plentiful different species of wild flowers that were growing along the sides of the trail. My super zoom camera getting great close up shots of most of them.

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We stopped for lunch at a small set of huts and rested for a while. Most importantly they served cerveza! Beer, in spanish.

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The rest of the trail was fairly straight forward, again with plentiful wild flowers. We eventually reached San Francisco, a tiny collection of huts, where the guide and porter erected our tents and cooked our dinner.

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DAY 3 – San Francisco to Chairo
We left San Francisco just after day break and headed away down the hill towards a river.
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As we slowly worked our way lower through the forest, we met a couple of wild donkeys who, after being initially fearful of us, just stood there and let us go past as if we weren’t there.

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We arrived at the river and crossed on a fairly new wooden suspension bridge. We were alerted to the carcass of a horse in the river under the bridge. We stopped on the other side and prepared ourselves for the climb to come, known as Subida del Diablo – the devil’s ascent.

The Subida del Diablo gets its name because it’s a very difficult climb up slippery Incan paving stones at a fairly steep incline that just keeps climbing.

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Once at the top, we stopped for a break at a place owned by an old Japanese man. Stories say he is a war criminal fled to South America after World War 2, but who knows. There is a camping spot at the back of his property next to the cliff line giving wondrous views along the valleys until the clouds again came rushing in.

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The trek continued for some time along the trail high up in the mountains. From time to time we could see the river below us, but clouds would race in to cover it quickly. Eventually, we started our decent until we could see the village of Chairo below us. It didn’t take us long to get down to the village where the guide ordered us lunch from the local cook house and we sat eating until our van arrived to take us to Choico, where death road finishes.

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We waited in Choico for an hour before catching a minibus back to La Paz. 3 hours later I was delivered to my hostel for a well deserved shower.

Overall, El Choro was a good hike where we spent much of our time climbing down. By the end, our calves were sore from the constant descending. While the low clouds meant that much of the view was hidden from us for parts of the hike, it was still good to get out into the wilderness and away from the city for a while.

Next, I head down to southern Bolivia to the Salar de Uyuni, one of the largest salt flats in the world.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Colonia, Uruguay – Impressions

Uruguay’s full name is ‘The Oriental Republic of Uruguay’, an english translated perversion of the name which actually means ‘The republic east of the Uruguay (river)’.

From Buenos Aires the ferry takes just over an hour to get to the small town of Colonia del Sacramento. It’s a must visit if you’re in Argentina’s capital for a few days. Although the trip can be a little expensive, about US$75 return, half of that for border taxes.

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After a mad dash across Buenos Aires in a taxi, I made the ferry with about 30 minutes to spare and once through customs and onboard the catamaran, I promptly went for a nap for the hour and ten minutes it took to cross.

Compared to the madly bustling metropolis that is Buenos Aires, Colonia is small, quaint and tranquil. Much of the 500-year-old original town is still there with its original cobblestone roads and buildings.

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As part of the ferry booking there was a walking tour around the original township, nestled at the end of the peninsula. We walked to what was left of the wall that had separated the town during the War of Independence. The wall is now only about 30 metres long with a single gate and drawbridge, the rest having been removed. As a welcome there was a white-faced mime standing on a boulder just on the inside of the gate.

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Many of the old buildings have survived through the years and are protected by the government. Some of the buildings weren’t so lucky and have had new buildings built within their old structures…

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Other buildings have been refurbished and converted to other uses, in this case a restaurant…

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After the tour, I went to find something to eat and found a restaurant where a singer could be heard inside. Outside, there were three old cars that had been converted to other uses… this one into a two-seater table for the restaurant. The other behind has a garden growing in it.

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The restaurant was lovely as was the entertainment and they gave the prices for the meal in US dollars, Argentinian pesos and Uruguayan pesos, but it was expensive unless you’re actually paying in US dollars.

After lunch, I walked around the township enjoying the quiet. I stopped at an ATM in hope of getting some US dollars but it had run out.  Many people come to Uruguay from Argentina to get US dollars to sell on the black market, sometimes for twice its value. I was unlucky, they’d run out by the time I’d got there. Later I headed to the bay to watch the sunset. Just to the left of the island, the buildings of downtown Buenos Aires can just be made out.

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The trip back across the bay was uneventful and at approximately 10pm local time, I arrived back in Buenos Aires.

This was my only trip into Uruguay. After a couple of more days in Buenos Aires, I traveled north by bus to my final destination in Argentina, Puerto Iguazú – one of the 4 largest waterfalls in the world and home of the Devil’s Throat, Iguazú Falls.

The Lone Country Hopping Trail Wanderer

Mornington Peninsula – Victoria

Today is a warm day in Melbourne and without any great plans, I pointed The Pointy Brick towards the Mornington Peninsula to see what I could find there. On a Great Ocean Road trip a few years back I stood on Queenscliff, on the other side of the harbour, and looked across. So, I wanted to look across from this side. It’s only 40km, so why not?

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Half way along the peninsula is a hill known as Arthur’s Seat. I drove up for a look. It gave good views down the peninsula…

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…and back the way I’d come.

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It had been a bit wet and the low cloud prevented a distant look at Melbourne across the harbour.

I drove on along the peninsula towards a little township called Portsea and the Point Nepean National Park beyond. Portsea is your typical beach township, but a cafe there makes the best Waygu beef cheese burger. I drove on to an information centre and further on to parking spot. There’s a 3.8km walk to Fort Nepean at the end of the peninsula, so I put on my walking shoes and headed out along the sandy trail.

During WWI this peninsula was fortified for war and the first actual shot of that war was fired from Fort Nepean. It said so on the information board.

The initial couple of kms cut through vegetation until I came to an old bunker.

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This was to be the first of many dotted along both inner and outer coasts.

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When I got to the first of the forts, I could walk into some of the rooms but others were closed off. Next was a set of barracks including a myriad of tunnels…

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…bunkers and gun emplacements.

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At the end of the peninsula…

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…the fort itself was complete with tunnels and gun emplacements at various different tiers.

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After checking out everything I could, I headed back to the van and back to the caravan park. Sometimes you have just got to get out there an explore, you just don’t know what you might find…

The Lone Ruins Wanderer