Manatees, turtles and a sloth…

Some of the most amazing wild animals I’ve seen in my life has been in some sort of rehabilitation center. At first I thought I would prefer seeing them in the wild but on second thought I realised that some animals, like sloths, and manatees, are quite hard to spot in the wild.

I had the opportunity to visit the CREA rescue center near the jungle city of Iquitos, and I was blown away by the amazing experience. Not only do they do fantastic work with the animals, but they also provide the opportunity to see some very special animals and learn a bit about their lifestyle. Although nearly all the animals come from a sad background, usually as pets or as illegally traded animals, the centre gives them the opportunity to learn to be wild again and give them a second lease on life by releasing them back into their natural habitat.

Along with the important rehabilitation work, the CREA center is also involved in various projects to educate the community about the importance of conservation of natural resources, and sustainable hunting and fishing practices.

The center visit starts with a video that makes visitors aware that buying illegally traded pets and animal products contributes to the problem of the trafficking of exotic animals and the terrible practices associated by it. The video and more information can be seen on their website There’s also a very informative video on their main sponsor, the Dallas aquarium, about how they use tourism to subsidize conservation.

Our knowledgeable guide explained that the rehabilitation process has four phases. At first the animals are monitored in isolation to ensure they are healthy. After that they are socialised with the other animals of the species to learn to integrate with nature. The penultimate part is an area without human interaction, before the last part, release into the wild.

It is here where we had the fantastic opportunity to see the special creatures. A couple of manatees were happily munching away at their home grown water plant while us humans were learning about some special features of these adorable animals, like the fact that they are friendly and kind animals, a trait that sadly lead to their endangered status.

We also got to witness a couple of otters that are learning to fish, different kinds of tortoises and turtles, including a pre-historic turtle that managed to survive, likely due to its great camouflage. To be clear, I mean a species of prehistoric turtle, not an individual, although some turtles do get really old!

Among the residents were also a sloth, eating lazily at its carrot, before taking a snooze with his legs in the air!

The monkeys we saw here were in cages as they are still receiving some treatment for the ailments they arrived with, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get up to shenanigans! The wooly monkeys have a padlock on their door, because apparently they like to open their cage and that of their cousins, to run amok. Talk about monkeys on the loose!

One of my personal favorites was Mickey the Tigarillo, a leopard print relative of the jaguar. As pretty as she is, she gets anxious when there are a lot of people around and unfortunately she will not be able to be rehabilitated. Another stark reminder why wild animals remain in the wild!

Jungle boogie

The recent long weekend was the perfect opportunity for me to explore the Amazon jungle of Peru, so I packed my bags and headed out to the jungle city of Iquitos.

Finally I understand why all the travel websites say nothing can prepare you for it. Why? Because it is true. I expected strange and overwhelming, but I what I got was a different kind of strange, and a different kind of overwhelming.

As I stepped off the aeroplane, the first thing that struck me was the heat. Straight on, in my face,equatorial heat and jungle humidity.

I was thankful to see our transport with our names on his board waiting outside the arrivals gate, because even the airport is different from anything I’ve encountered, and I’ve been to some unique airports… Luckily my trusty travel agent, had thought of everything so all I had to worry about was showing up. To get in touch with him, you can visit his website here, or contact me for his contact details.

What makes the city so interesting is the fact that it cannot be reached by road, only by air or river. It is basically an island, surrounded by river and the jungle. It does have roads though, and is connected by road to one other city, but the two share the island, so to speak. It was noticeable that there were a lot less cars than in other Peruvian cities. No wonder, as all of them had to be imported by boat or possibly air.

Don’t be fooled though, despite the lack of cars, the Peruvian tradition of crazy traffic is held high by means of thousands of “mototaxi’s”, specially adapted 3 wheel motorcycles for carrying people and goods, or both.

The city was founded in the rubber boom and frequented at the time by Portugese, Italian and other settlers alike. The remnants of the colonial era is a colourful mix of beautiful old buildings intermingled with bustling jungle business, chicken restaurants and auto repair shops alike.

The streets that run down to the harbour is littered with a bustling market, serving anything from fresh fruit to dead fish and everything in between.

Going down the muddy bank is part of the experience, as it is still in the dry season and the river levels are very low. The walk down isn’t the greatest experience, as the mud is not only slippery but studded with rubbish. I am once again reminded of the impact we as humans have on our environment and how important it is to tread lightly, leave nothing but footprints, and educate ourselves and those around us to leave the environment in a better state than we found it in. For more info on ways to reduce our plastic use, have a look here and have a look at the amazing work the guys at 4ocean are doing(they work in the amazon too, despite the ocean part of their name)!

The harbour is a floating platform for boarding one of the many boats onto the river, and also provides a location for festivities, such as a full on day time party with live band and dancers clad in blue chintz on a public holiday when I passed by. The boats consist of an assortment of vessels that take an assortment of passengers and cargo into the river lands. From groups of tourists like ourselves, to village folk who came to the city to go about their business and to buy and sell their wares. It is such a different way of life, being so dependent on the river for transport, water, food, and so much more.

What an amazing jungle city. It has so much to offer and more!

We’re going to Paracas…

The best thing about meeting new friends while traveling, is they are pre-screened as good travel companions! So it happened that one of my fellow Vietnam travelers made it out to the other end of the world (quite literally) and we could continue our adventures on another continent. (2 and counting… and yes, we do keep score – life jackets optional)

Although I had to work, I could squeeze in a vacation day next to a weekend and we could take a trip to the south to visit Paracas, for a bit of sunshine, blue skies and bluer seas!

On our arrival, we realised we had the afternoon free to explore the adjacent countryside and we took the opportunity to visit the nearby town of Ica, complete with Pisco Tasting and Desert Oasis at Huacachina for a lazy afternoon sunsets.

 

On the next day we head out to the  Islas Ballestas – also known as The Poor Man’s Galapagos – to view some local ocean wildlife and glimpse one of the local petroglyphs.

We opted to go visit the national park in the afternoon, and although the guidebook wasn’t exactly flattering about it, it blew my mind with its amazing colour contrasts, and emotive lanscapes. Somewhere in those stretches of desolate sand, salt water and scorching sun, there may just be an extra terrestrial trying to phone home…

No trip in Peru is quite complete without tasting the local cuisine, and we did our best to sample some of the best. Whether it be crepes with peaches, cerviche, or concentrated coffee, we gave it all a fair chance.

 

And along with the wild wildlife, there is another kind, the dogs of Paracas. Peru has a unique blend of dogs. Some are pampered to the point of rain jackets and socks, while others are so scruffy they scare away the fleas, and Paracas has every kind, even a sub-version of the Peruvian hairless dog, with short legs!

 

Sandy adventure

A friend invited me along on a day out in the sand dunes, and being up for an adventure I accepted, of course. Early morning, for a Sunday at least, he picked me up in his Landrover and we headed out to the north of the city.

After a toll gate we stopped beside the road and waited for all the cars to arrive. All of them land rovers, but in any flavour you can imagine, with cheerful drivers to match. We had a roadside breakfast of coffee and biscuits and a few good-natured laughs before setting out further.

I would love to tell you where we went, but in honesty I don’t know. Somewhere along the road we turned off onto the sand dunes and suddenly we arrived. We stopped once more, to let some air out of the tyres, this time. One of the guys handed out two way radios and little did I know the value of those little things.

When we had to navigate through more challenging bits, it was very useful to have an experienced off-roader talk us  through it(by us I really mean the driver, I was just along for the ride to look nervous and make appreciative sounds when we made it.)

 

Not that it always worked… in one such instance we navigated around a deep bowl in the sand and my friend displayed some really good driving and a lot of confidence. He even shouted “We made it!” and I was halfway saying “Not quite yet, look o….” before we slid down a bank and got stuck in the sand. The picture above is just before they towed us out, and the hands on head gesture basically says everything that needed to be said…

The rest of the morning we tried some different challenges, experienced a lot of sand and sun and a whole lot of fun. We even stopped a couple of times for snacks and drinks!

We ended our journey through a long tunnel of sand dunes, and right there, in the middle, it feels like there are nobody else in the world!

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Another day, another adventure to be thankful for!

Chasing the sun

Those people who said it never rains in Lima forgot that we have “garua”, a sort of grey nearly rain that hides the sun and makes the floors really slippery.

The only remedy to endless days of grays is to get out of the city for a bit, and chase the sun. I decided to venture a bit into the highlands, where the Andes meets the jungle, and get a bit off the beaten track.

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My plane landed in Jaén, a little airport an hour’s flight north of the capital. By little I mean there are 1 runway, 2 flights a day and an open air airport. I kid you not!

 

 

Although the hotel wasn’t far away in terms of km (about 120km) it takes about 4 hours to get there, because the road winds along mountain passes and along the river. This child of Africa was dumbfounded by the sheer amount of water in the relatively unknown river. Ok, it has a name, Utkubamba river, but at home it would be part of my geography class and here it barely makes the guidebook.

 

Along with all the beautiful nature scenes, the area is rich with history of civilizations old and older. At some point the buss stopped along the side of the road, just to look at some rock carvings. There wasn’t even a proper path up to the carvings, just a dirt track.

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The 5km hike to the Gocta waterfall was more intense than I anticipated. Afterwards I realised that the altitude (above 1800m) may have something to do with it, but the track was also super steep up with a lot of up and down and I am not exactly an experienced hiker. For the people that didn’t feel up to the full walk it was possible to rent a horse, but I was not entirely sure if the horses are well cared for and they looked really sweaty, so I did not feel right about turning lazy and make my problem a poor horse’s. I decided that I undertook this hike and I will finish it, unless I have a medical reason not to.

 

Aside from the horses, there were some other fauna to enjoy, notably the amiable dogs as in most places in peru, and some llamas. And of course the breathtaking views, as always.

The walk was completely worth it for the views alone. The waterfall falls a total of 771m in two drops and is simply magnificent! The valley at the bottom is a marvel in itself, and the cold air and water spray is refreshing after the long walk.

 

After the hike I had a well deserved rest to get ready for the next days adventure: Keulap citadel ruins. Built on a mountaintop in the northern part of the Peruvian Andes, this civilization existed some time before the Inkas and had some fascinating skills. The round houses was built in a yellow stone that got discoloured though the years. The stone work is amazing, with intricate patterns built in.

 

The overgrown jungle vegetation of the aream the stone buildings, and the valleys below makes for a truly a magnificent sight to behold!

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Festive Cusco

After an adventure filled weekend doing a horse trail and visiting Machu Picchu, I decided to visit Cusco city itself. After a good rest, I made my way to the main square, stopping at Qorikancha along the way. The bizarre combination of Inka stonework and Spanish colonial architecture makes for some interesting viewing. It is mind blowing to imagine the massive courtyard covered in gold, and the stone are precision cut, and this without laser cutting technology.

At the main square, I encountered a whole lot of excitement. The city was full of festivities, in preparation for the biggest festival of the year, Inti Raimi, which takes place on winter solstice. The streets were filled with onlookers and parades of people with large banners. Groups of people in different variations of traditional dress paraded the streets and a gentle buzz of excitement was crackling in the air.

I joined a panoramic tour of the main sites around the city, and got a chance to hear a bit of the history, in Spanish, and in the process get a free language lesson. We stopped to attend a Inka ceremony with coca leaves and jasmin water, and to see some alpaca products on the outskirts of the city. The tour included a view of the moon temple and ruins of Sacsayhuaman, but I would have loved to get out and see it up close. Maybe next time.

Back in the city I had an amazing lunch at the Balcone restaurant, overlooking the Plaza del Armas, the main square. From this vantage point I had another opportunity to take in the festivities and be amazed by the colours, sounds and dancing.

At the end of the day I could make my way back to the airport and eventually home, with my body and mind recharged with adventures filled with colour, views, blue skies and sunshine.

Machu Picchu

Finally I got round to visiting the crown jewel of Peru tourism… I made it to Machu Picchu, and man, was it worth it.

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Perhaps one day I will do the Inca Trail, but for now I took the day excursion option. I booked my park entrance and train tickets in advance, but I was unable to complete the bus ticket process online. Based on the availability and a number of factors, I decided to take the afternoon visit, or “second turn”, as per the ticket website. From Ollantaytambo, I took the Perú Rail Expedition train to Aguas Calientes, a quaint little town filled with markets, restaurants and excitement. When I arrived, I got a bus ticket and arranged a guide for the park. I also had to go to another ticket office to have my park entrance ticket printed. While the process is a bit cumbersome, I managed to avoid any queues and the weather was really magnificent.

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My guide, Agustin, hails from the Cusco highlands and have been working as a guide at Machu Picchu for the last 20 years. He is knowledgeable, friendly and knows every nook and cranny of the park. He also knows where to take the best pictures. Whether you are interested in Inca history, archeology or mountain air, you will not be disappointed. This place is famous for a reason. It offers mind blowing rock construction, beautiful vistas and hints to symbols of a mystical world of days gone by.

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Despite the magnificence of the site, it has to be remembered that only about 40% of the construction is visible. The other 60% lies in marvelous engineering in the terraces, retainer walls and layered construction of the whole city.

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Some friendly llamas are currently the only inhabitants of the city, and the rest of us had to vacate at the end of the day. Bathed in the golden afternoon sun, I looked at it one last time before making my way down to the bus and catch my train, the Perú Rail Vistadome, for my journey to Cusco, through the majestic Andes. The train is a luxury train with coffee and snacks and a bit of local entertainment. A joyful end to a magnificent day.

Sacred Valley adventure

On a whim I decided to go on an adventure with some of the girls, and it was so much fun!

We flew into Cusco on a Friday after work and a harrowing journey through Lima traffic. At the airport we had a moment of panic when we were told that the flight was overbooked, but luckily they found seats for all of us and we made it to the mountain city. On arrival we noticed two things; the altitude meant getting our of breath from laughing at our silliness, and we were really hungry.

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After a bit of negotiation we arranged for the taxi driver to take us into the city and wait while we dined, and take us to our hotel in a nearby town afterwards. For dinner we visited Incanta, a Peruvian Italian restaurant that came highly recommended by a friend as well as one of the girls on the trip. We even found a bottle of South African Syrah, what a lovely companion to the fantastic food.

After dinner we bundled into the car and took on the journey to Ollantaytambo and beyond, as our hotel was situated on a narrow dirt road a few minutes on the other side of the town. A few times I thought this hotel better be worth it, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Del Pilar hotel is situated between the majestic Andes mountains and overflows with style and class,with a little touch of local colour.

 

In the morning we were greeted by views of farming landscapes and majestic mountains, and even a glacier, just hanging about, breaking rocks and doing what glaciers do.  After a fantastic breakfast of just about anything we could dream of, we met with the local alpacas, Al and Paca, and hung about in the hammocks.

A little while later we suited up and met our driver for our next adventure: A horse trail through the Cusco countryside. Gabriel’s ranch is run by two locals and Gabriel himself was our guide for the day. The horses are very well looked after and very well trained. In the comfortable western saddles we could really relax and enjoy the scenery and the lovely ride.

Along the ride we had a few stops, one to visit the Moon Temple and another for a light picnic. All the while Gabriel gave us some insights on the insights and history of the place. It was like the combination of two separate childhood dreams; riding through a beautiful field on a gorgeous horse (this one was named Apachi) and having a look into the Inca world that fascinated me from as long as I could read about it in the household encyclopedia.

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Blue skies, green fields and sunshine, combined with the lovely horses made for a perfect Saturday adventure. We followed it up with a drink in Olyantantambo and a dinner at Apu Veronica, on the recommendation of a colleague. An unassuming restaurant at first appearance, but when the meals arrived we were properly wowed. The restaurant assisted in arranging a taxi back to the hotel for a well deserved rest after a fantastic day.

Fun and games

It wouldn’t be the Panamerican Games if we didn’t get to have some fun, and so it happened that we were invited to take part in a local charity sports day at a local school. What makes it even better is that this school is a stone’s throw from one of our sports venues.

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Dressed to in our sports wear we arrived in the neighborhood, not really knowing what to expect. The school is in one of the developing areas of the city with a lot of less advantaged families, and a lot of hope. The school is the vision of a passionate director who has been building it, in numbers as well as in brick and mortar, for the last 20 years.

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The sports day was organised by a volunteer who is at the school full time, and it is clear they have so much passion and a “can do” attitude. The kids came over in 12 teams of 6 or so, each with a team name and war cry. The grownup kids got assigned to either a team or a sport, and handed a timetable for the day!

I had the privilege of being captain to “los leones”, a group of cheerful third graders. We took part in athletics, dodge ball, street dancing, rugby, taekeando and off course, football (or soccer ⚽ as it is called at home.) Along with many war cries of “un, dos, tres, leones!” we managed to score plenty of points and end second over all!

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Milko, the Lima 2019 mascot, stopped by for some additional fun, and of course to hand out trophies and medals.

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Today I realised once more, it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, the smile of a child is the most beautiful thing on earth.

The sad end to a happy adventure

Last week I lost my best friend of the 4 leg+tail variety. Charlie escaped the yard one last time for a wild run and sadly did not make it back home, but was run over by a car.

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As dogs go, Charlie was probably the best friend I could ask for.  Definitely the most loyal. And ever loving. And always always excited to see me. And play ball, especially if he could jump to catch it. I have a lot of photos of this little friend, although not many where he is both awake and in focus, because lets face it, there was always a part of him moving, usually his tail.

The best part of coming home from work was when the garage door open and a little black lightning bolt comes out to say hello, jump in the car, try to kiss me and hitch a ride into the garage.

Any day was a fun day with Charlie. Whether this meant hanging out in the sun, running around the back yard chasing balls, swimming with the kids “rescuing them”, chasing b balls, catching the odd bird and chasing doves and hadedas (sorry birds), eating rusks with my mom, watching TV with my dad, chasing balls, keeping me company when I had a sick day, curious about meeting my brother’s new baby when she came to the house the first time, “helping” the gardener and chasing balls,  keeping my parents company when I was at work, going for walks with friends old and new, chasing balls, one thing is certain, Charlie had a great life, probably the best a dog could ask for. I think it is fair to say he could end each day satisfied that he had done his best and deserve his rest.

And he was so generous in return. Not many people visited who did not fall for his charm. Not long will a visitor be at the house or Charlie would bring his ball of the moment. We had to warn each of them “do not throw the ball unless you want to continue throwing it.”

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To be fair, ball skills were never my strong suit, however I think I improved with this little guy in my life. I sure got a lot of practice, and a whole lot of trick shots.  Think: into the beam of the varanda roof, down onto the table, and back behind me. Or hitting the little metal man 3 times out of 5 throws, in stead of missing the man and the column behind it completely.

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I think everyone who knows me knows how much I loved this little guy. You should see how happy he was when i took out his green blanket, or his winter jacket, and especially his walking gear. If I had to move it somewhere I had to make sure Charlie doesn’t see it or hear it, otherwise he will jump around and I will feel incredibly guilty.

I will forever remember you, my boy.

Pas die huis op in die honde hemel, asb.

“Een oor af, en een oor op… Pasop!”