Archive | South America

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Starting Our Machu Picchu Travel from Cusco

Posted on 19 September 2011 by onthegroundtravel

Inka Woman in Cusco Peru, the starting point of any Machu Picchu travel

Machu Picchu Travel – Cusco Adventure Log:

After our one-week stint in the Amazon jungle, we decided to start our journey to Machu Picchu from Cusco via the Sacred Valley.  The cool weather in Cusco was much welcomed after the hot and humid jungle.  Cusco is a medium-size town that caters primarily to the tourists on their trek to Machu Picchu.  Even so, one can feel quite comfortable and relaxed here.  However, be prepared to walk up and down hills a LOT.  You will definitely feel the effect of the city’s altitude after climbing up hill for 10 minutes.

Peruvians are very friendly to the tourists.  As with any other tourist spots though, they may try to sell you a few knicks-knacks, but if you are not interested, they generally leave you alone.

One of the most interesting paintings I saw on our around the world trip is the Last Supper in La Cathedral in Cusco.  Apparently, Jesus ate the Peruvian special feast of Cuy (Ginuea Pig) with a glass of chicha that night.  All this time, I though He ate bread and drank wine in the last meal!

La Marinera as seen in Cusco Peru, the starting point of any Machu Picchu travel

Machu Picchu Travel – Cusco Travel Tips:

1) In many local restaurants, ask for “El menu turistico” or “tourist menu”.  It is usually the most economical dining option, and it allows you to sample a few different dishes at a reasonable price.  For about 15 soles (~$5.50 USD), the menu comes with an appetizer, a soup, an entree, and a drink.  For the money you save here, you can then head to a nice restaurant for a fancy sit-down dinner another night!  Note that some local restaurants try to hide the tourist menu and will first hand you the regular menu, which is ~3-4 times more expansive than the tourist menu, so do ask for it if you are interested.

Plaza de Armas in Cusco Peru, the starting point of any Machu Picchu travel

2) It is impossible to leave Peru without having a cup of cocoa tea.  Supposedly, the tea helps prevent altitude sickness better than drugs like Diamox.  I am not sure how true that is.  Fortunately, we didn’t experience any altitude sickness, and we definitely drank a lot of cocoa tea!

3) There are quite a number of Mexican restaurants in Peru.  As is the case with New York City, we didn’t come across one that served authentic Mexican food, for example what are called Tacos are actually really just flautas.  Therefore I wouldn’t recommend trying any Mexican food in Cusco.  And don’t get me started about trying Chinese food there.  I didn’t try because the dishes hardly even looked like Chinese food!

Llama in Cusco Peru, the starting point of any Machu Picchu travel

4) If you need to change money in Peru, do it in the many exchange bureaus on the streets of Cusco.  They have the best exchange rate, beating those at the airport and at other towns in the Sacred Valley and Aguas Calientes.  It never hurt to shop around for the best rate, but in our experience, all the exchange bureaus around Plaza de Armas have the same rate.  There is no commission fee also.  After Cusco, your next chance is in the Pisac Market.  Even there, there were really only two exchange bureaus in town to choose from, and their exchange rate were less favorable than the ones in Cusco

5) Peruvians are perfectionist in the condition of their currency bills.  If there is a tear on the bill, whether it be big or small, the Peruvians will promptly refuse to accept the bill.  This applies to both foreign and local currency.  So when you change money, make sure you apply the same level of scrutiny on the condition of the bills received.  Otherwise, you may have to keep them as souvenirs and take them back home.

Jaywalking Police in Cusco Peru, the starting point of any Machu Picchu travel

To follow our journey to Machu Pacchu, check out these posts:


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Dead in the Middle of the Amazon Jungle

Posted on 18 September 2011 by onthegroundtravel

Dry Land in the Amazon Jungle from trips around the world

After days of hiking through the lush Amazon jungle where there was life lurking in every corner, we were surprised to discover a piece of land along the Amazon bank that was so dry and deserted that the ground cracked and peeled.  We found many dried fish with its shape still intact there.  Aside from the vultures and the one fisherman family that set up a temporary camp on the shore, there was absolutely no life to be seen.  It was an eerie landscape.

Dead fish in the Amazon Jungle from trips around the world


To learn more about the lush Amazon jungle as we know it, the posts below will be helpful:


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Amazon Jungle – A Frog’s Camouflage Ability

Posted on 17 September 2011 by onthegroundtravel

The creatures that live in the Amazon jungle have amazing camouflage ability.

Don’t believe us?  See if you can find where the frog is?




Answer to the first picture:


Want to learn more about traveling to the Amazon Jungle?  Our posts below may be helpful to you:


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Surviving the Amazon Jungle

Posted on 17 September 2011 by onthegroundtravel

Amazon Jungle Survival Tips:

1) In Europe, you learn to look up to see the frescos on ceilings.  In the jungle, we learned to look up, down, left, right, below, and everywhere.   It’s not the animals that are most likely to hurt you (most of them run away before you even know they are there), but it’s the plants that may cause you the most grief.  When you walk the jungle, try not to touch anything with bare skin.  Many trees have spikes on the trunks, underneath the leaves, or on the roots and some of the spikes are poisonous.   Furthermore, if you happen to brush against a tree trunk infested with fire ants, the pain from the stings will last several days.   If you get stung by fire ants, consider yourself lucky as there are other ants that can leave you in severe pain all over for days.   The same goes for tree sap, some can cure illness, others are dessert for the monkeys, and some are just plain poisonous.  On windy days, heavy fruit from the top of trees are dangerous as they may fall at high speed and knock you out or worse.  Locals call the fruit “Cabeza the Muerto” or “Dead Head” for that exact reason: they look like a head, and have knocked some jungle hunters dead in the head (we are not kidding!).

Spikes on Tree Roots in the Amazon jungle from trips around the world.

2) Wear white color, long sleeve clothing.  Mosquitos are attracted to dark and bright colors.

3) Buy a mosquito net for your head.  Outdoor equipment stores like REI sell them.  They will definitely give you peace of mind when you hear insects buzzing around your ears all day.  I know they work as there were definitely a few mosquitos stopped by the net right in front my eyes as they tried to bite me.

4) Make sure your lodge provides knee-high rubber boots.   This is essential.  You will be walking through some really muddy areas that can be knee deep.  Hiking boots will not be sufficient unless you don’t mind getting your socks and feet all muddy as well.

5) Our posts on Life in the Amazon Jungle and Iquitos and the Belen Market (port city to the jungle) may also be of interest to you.

Amazon Jungle Adventure Log:

Learning survival skills is one of the primary reasons we made a stop at the Amazon jungle.  Under the expert guidance of a local guide, we learned a number of skills that we can carry with us for the rest of our lives.  This includes how to avoid getting lost, and what to do once you are lost in the jungle.  Other tips such as finding water and food sources, and when to start a fire are also invaluable.  As difficult as it may seem for city dwellers like us to adjust to the uncomfortable weather in the Amazon, we were glad we visited this wonderful place.

Water Vine in the Amazon jungle from trips around the world

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Life in the Amazon Jungle

Posted on 16 September 2011 by onthegroundtravel


Leafcutter Ants in the Amazon jungle from trips around the world

Amazon Jungle Travel Tips:

1)  Animals are surprisingly hard to find in the Amazon jungle.  They do not come out for a photo op and greet you as you walk through the jungle.   The animals are either highly camouflaged or quickly hide away when they hear your footsteps before you even know they are there.  Be as quiet as you can when you walk, and hire an expert local guide who can spot jungle creatures for you.

2) Our posts on the Surviving the Amazon Jungle or Iquitos and the Belen Market (port city to the jungle) may also be of interest to you.

Mammoset Monkey in the Amazon jungle from trips around the world

Amazon Jungle Adventure Log:

If you think Iquitos is hot and humid, multiply that by four, and that’s the kind of hot and humid the real Amazon jungle has in store for its guests.  Within about 10 minutes of taking a cool refreshing shower, if you walk anywhere, you will feel the need to take another shower again.  Seriously.

From a jungle lodge there are many jungle activities you can partake in such as jungle hikes, piranha fishing, dolphin watching, lily pods viewing, and village visits.

The jungle hikes usually start at three different periods in the day: early in the morning (8am), late afternoon (3:30pm) or at night (8pm).  This is structured purposely to avoid the midday heat.  Each hike can take up to several hours to complete.  Keep in mind that there are almost zero predefined trails anywhere.  You or your guide will make your own trails with a machete as you walk through the lush Amazon jungle.  The jungle hikes are the the best time to spot jungle animals and learn about the jungle flora.  My favorite is the owl monkey: we spotted an entire family of them watching us high from their home up in the tree (although I think they spotted us first!).

Owl Monkeys in the Amazon jungle from trips around the world

Piranhas live in lagoons alongside many other creatures such as caimans, anacondas, electric eels, or other meat-eating fish.  In these lagoons even the lily pods have spikes underneath for protection against predatory fish. The concentration of this eclectic cast of characters, by which any single one of them can seemingly kill you in any instant, would certainly scare off anyone from dipping their toes in the water.  However, on our fishing expedition, one of our local guides did not even flinch as he got into the knee-high water along the river bank of the lagoon to find a better spot to catch fish.    I think I was more nervous for him than he was for himself!

Now don’t be fooled by the brown color of the Amazon river, it is lush with life and is the livelihood of many families who live alongside it.  At any time any day, you will find fishermen on the Amazon casting nets, waiting for the catch, or rounding up the catch of the day.  If you have never seen dolphins you may be surprised to see them swimming and frolicking in the Amazon!   Both grey and pink freshwater dolphins live in the Amazon river.  Grey dolphins are the most active (imagine SeaWorld but in the jungle).  Pink dolphins are more difficult to spot as they are much more shy and tend to stay in the water away from view.

Sardines Fishermen in the Amazon jungle from trips around the world


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