October 30, 2009

Peru 2009 -- Finding Our Way

I'm sitting in the only corner of our hotel room here in Cusco where the wi-fi doesn't disconnect me every three minutes. I shouldn't complain though...who woulda thunk finding wi-fi would be so easy in Peru? I thought I'd give another quick update, this one with more pictures. I had to use the crappy Microsoft photo editor for these, so they're not as cleaned up as I'd like them to be.

The legendary Lost City of the Inca. No words can adequately describe the magic of this place. Even the thousands of pushy tourists couldn't detract from the experience. Well, not much, anyway.

Llamas at Machu Picchu on Wednesday morning.

Sonja admiring some of the exquisite stonework characteristic of the Incan empire. The lines are so straight, and the stones carved so perfectly, you couldn't fit a pin between them! No mortar is used, either. Only perfect craftmanship (literally) holds these walls together.

The fortress of Ollantaytambo was much smaller than Machu Picchu, but impressive nonetheless. Even moreso when you consider it was the site of the Incan Empires only win against the invading Spanish Conquistadors.

After exploring the Incan fortress at Ollantaytambo on Thursday morning, we found ourselves in the middle of a festival in the village center. Men and women were packing the tiny village, many wearing traditional clothing.

Local women enjoying the festival, with a bored boy hanging out behind them.

A street vendor in Ollantaytambo.

Yes, this is exactly what it looks like: roasted cuy (guinea pigs). While I did manage to muster up the courage to try alpaca last night (not my favorite), I haven't yet decided whether I will attempt to partake of this particular Peruvian specialty.

The ruins at Pisac, northeast of Cusco, are very impressive in their magnitude and architecture. Some of it rivaled what we saw at Machu Picchu. We stopped there yesterday afternoon after an exciting ride in a local bus from Ollantaytambo.

We leave for the Amazon on Sunday morning, so I will probably not post again until the evening of the 9th. But then I hope to have lots of fun monkey, bird and rainforesty photos to share.

October 28, 2009

Peru 2009 - Walking in the Footsteps of the Inca

This was our view this morning at around 6:30, as Sonja and I stood in awe on a terrace above the legendary Machu Picchu. It was as magical an experience as you would imagine in a place like that. The stonework was phenomenal, the ruins expansive, and the crowds plentiful. Still, we were able to find little nooks and crannies as we explore the site where we were able to enjoy the experience on our own.

Tonight we find ourselves back in the mountain village of Ollantaytambo. Yesterday we were greeted here with a wonderful festival, including dancing, music and llamas. Much quieter tonight, but still a cool place. Oh, and we saw the southern hemisphere night sky tonight for the first time! Too many lights in town to make out too much, but we do think we spotted the southern cross. Still can´t believe we´re in Peru, but the fact that the water drains clockwise in the toilet helps.

This won´t be a long update, since I´m typing this from an excruciatingly slow computer in an internet cafe, with a keyboard that has all sorts of funky keys (like Ç and ¿ and ñ. Bet your keboard can´´t do that!). But as soon as we find some wi-fi I´ll be sure to post a bunch more pics and stories.

October 27, 2009

Peru 2009, Day 1 -- 5972 miles in 24 hours

Flying sucks. It doesn't matter how often you travel, or how comfortable the seats are in first class (and they ARE quite comfortable), flying across the world is still a grueling, agonizing, exhausting process.

We arrived in Lima about an hour ago and promptly found a Starbucks with a wifi connection. We also found a McDonalds and TWO Dunkin' Donuts. Man, I love American capitalist empirialism!

Anyway, I'm not all that coherent right now, so I'll keep this post short. In a few hours we catch a flight to Cusco, high in the Peruvian Andes, then catch a train to Aguas Calientes. After a LONG, good night's sleep in a real bed we'll hopefully be feeling like we're on top of the world. Tomorrow morning we will be climbing ancient Incan steps up into the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Flying first class does certainly have its perks.

I've never had a better meal on an airplane before!

Our first impression of Peru! Gotta love it.

October 25, 2009

We're Leaving, On a Jet Plane

Well, we will be tomorrow morning, anyway. Everything is packed. We still have some room to stuff all sorts of fun items we discover on the other side of the world. This will be the first time either of us has traveled south of the equator. I can guarantee that one of the first things I'm going to do upon arriving is to flush a toilet and check which way the water goes down (FYI - in the northern hemisphere water drains counter-clockwise).

One of the other things I'm looking forward to seeing is the night sky. All sorts of fun constellations (the Southern Cross) and heavenly objects (the galactic center) will be visible...all of them for the first time. It will be strange to look up and not see some of our most familiar "landmarks".

Well, I hope to post here as often as possible while we're wandering through the high Andes. Check back often (or just subscribe to my blog using google reader, it will automatically tell you when I've posted). I'll be sharing our adventures as they happen.

October 24, 2009

Alpenglow and Anticipation

Sonja and I took the dogs for a good walk this evening to make up for the fact that we're leaving for almost a month on Monday. I brought my camera along for the first time in what seems like forever to try to get back into the swing of photographing stuff. The alpenglow on the larch and the snow did not disappoint.

Our walk was cut a bit short by a neighborhood trespasser, though. He had been gorging on the rotten apples that had fallen off of a tree near the West Glacier school. Thirty minutes later he ventured into the park's housing area, where he was greeted by a few rubber bullets to the butt by one of our rangers. Hopefully he'll have learned his lesson and won't be back in the residential area again.

Meanwhile, with our departure for Peru only a day and change away, the anticipation is reaching a fever pitch. We're making list after list (things to do, things to pack, things to buy) and creating a big pile o' crap that will be going into our backpacks tomorrow.

I've also been pouring through our brick-like copy the Peruvian Bible, trying to get familiar with the families and their location in the book. There are a lot of new sections that simply don't exist in North American bird guides...and others that are hugely expanded (27 pages of hummingbirds!). In fact, one of the reasons we chose Peru as our destination (besides it being Peru) was the incredible diversity of bird life.

In the process, I tried to come up with a top ten list of some of the birds I'm most anxious to see. It was almost impossible to pick only ten (there are over 1,800 species in Peru!), but here are some that would definitely be at the top of any list, in no particular order:

How can we go to a country with penguins and NOT try to see one! The Humboldt Penguins are found in Islas Ballestas, which will be one of our last stops during our trip.

Ever since I was 8 years old, pouring through David Attenborough's "Life on Earth" (yes, I was that much of a geek), the Hoatzin has fascinated me. I mean, the babies have claws on their freakin' wings! Claws! On their wings! And they have a sort of rumen-type digestive system...like a cow! They're like thirteen different types of awesome!

The world's largest flying bird. Was there every any doubt that we'd go try to see Andean Condors?

Motmots, in general, are really freakin' cool birds. But the Blue-crowned Motmot is one of the prettiest. Oh, and their tails aren't grown like that. The birds trim them to make themselves more attractive to females (not sure if the females trim their tails, too).

Few birds families are as indicative of the Amazon than the toucans. And I personally think the Collard Aracari is one of the coolest members of this cool family.

Hummingbirds and more hummingbirds. As I mentioned earlier, the Birds of Peru book has 27 pages full of hummingbirds! I just happened to choose this one to include here randomly. Because there are tons of others I'm equally excited to see, like the Sparkling Violetear or
Rufous-crested Coquette, for instance. Impossible to choose a favorite.

Incredibly colorful tanagers are also one of the symbols of neotropical forests of Central and South America. This Paradise Tanager is one of the most colorful.

We'll get a rare opportunity during our time in Manu National Park to visit one of only a couple known macaw clay licks, where hundreds of Red and Green Macaws (among other species) congregate to lick the clay, which helps them digest the toxic fruits they eat.

On our boat trip out to Islas Ballestas we are also expecting to see Inca Terns. In fact, I've read that thousands of these birds will follow the tour boats hoping for a bite of the chum they throw overboard. Not sure how I feel about birding tours chumming the ocean, but I suppose it's not much different than feeders set up at hotels, right?

And finally, no trip to Peru would be complete without a visit to one of the leks of the Peruvian Cock-of-the-Rock. Peru's national bird has become a lucrative tourist draw, and all of the trips into Manu National Park now stop at one of several leks that can be found in the cloud forests above the Amazon Basin.

Yeah, I'd say we're excited.

October 15, 2009

Countdown to Peru: T-minus 10 Days

Ten days from now we'll be hopping on a plane for our 3 1/2 week trip south of the equator. The endless trip planning has frayed our nerves a bit, but it's also elevated our excitement about this adventure. It still doesn't feel quite real...and probably won't until we land in Lima.

A lot of folks have been asking us what we're planning on doing while in Peru, so I thought I'd make a few posts here describing our itinerary. Below you'll see a map of our planned route (click on the image to see it bigger). The dotted lines represent air travel (except for those on Lake Titicaca, which will be a boat), with the solid lines being ground travel (bus, taxis, train or dugout canoes).

The other thing I wanted to do is highlight some of the things we are anticipating the most. I'll post several of these lists over the next couple of days.

5 Places We're Looking Forward to Seeing:

1. Machu Picchu

One of the world's most famous archeological sites, there's no way we could go to Peru without spending a day or two here.

2. Manu National Park

Nine days in the Peruvian Amazon, traveling by dugout canoes and staying in tents and thatch-roofed jungle huts. Need I say more?

3. Lake Titicaca

Ever since I was a little kid I've been fascinated by Lake Titicaca. Probably primarily because it's named Titicaca, really. Our time here at the "world's highest navigable waterway" (12,507' above sea level, required traveling over a 15,500' pass to get there) will mostly be spent staying with a family on Islas Amantani.

4. Colca Canyon

A two-day tour from Arequipa to Colca Canyon will give us a chance to see the amazing Andean Condors. The bus also passes through an altiplano wildlife reserve with an opportunity to see wild vicuña.

5. Isla Ballestas

We still haven't decided about whether or not we'll have time to take a boat tour of these islands, known as "the poor man's Galapagos". The biggest draw for us would be a chance to see Humbolt Penguins. I think we might just wait until we're back from Manu to decide if we want to try to do this.

There are certainly a lot of other places we'll be visiting, but these are the highlights. I'll post a few more lists of what we're hoping to do and see in the next few days.

September 01, 2009

Ptarmigan Ptunnel

Some pics from our Sunday hike with a couple friends up to Ptarmigan Tunnel.

July 30, 2009

Taking More Gooder Pictures

Last weekend I got to go to Seattle to take an "advanced" digital photography class taught by a professional wildlife and travel photographer. Wolfgang Kaehler has worked for National Geographic and Life magazines and has made a successful career out taking pictures. Taking very GOOD pictures.

So, I went to his studio, joined three others hoping to learn how to improve their picture-taking skills, and learned a lot. We spent about four hours roaming around Pike's Market with Wolfgang, taking hundreds of pictures and challenging ourselves to think more about exposure, composition and lighting. Here are the best of my attempts.