The town that we are living in now is called Ollantaytambo (pronounced OH-YUN-TA-TUMBO) It is in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and is in fact a real living, breathing and authentic Inca town that has survived the Spanish Inquistion and was left pretty much in tact. We are here until August, working at Apu Lodge. The towns setting is breathtaking, it is set in the cleft of a Mountain and is completely surrounded by mountains. Also, according to Inca mythology, Tunupa’s Face (Tunupa was a god that the Inca’s believed created just about everything) has been enshrined into the mountainside just above the lodge that we are in. So, take a look at the top image of this post and see if you can see his face.. We are so happy to be living in such a beautiful place, the mountains are amazing and the setting is spectacular…
Remember to CLICK on the images to enlarge them, especially the Panoramics, its worth it…
Machu Picchu is possibly the most famous icon of the Inca world. It is located 80 km away from Cusco, which was the political centre of the Inca world and is 2430m above sea level. Much like Antarctica, there are no superlatives to describe Machu Picchu when you see it for the first time. We arrived on the site at about 08:30 in the morning and were greeted by the most incredible view of….mist. Loads of thick mist. It was so thick that I wasn’t even sure where Machu Picchu was as the visibility was down to about 20 metres. Francis and I perched ourselves on a rock that supposedly overlooked the citadel and waited. As the mist began to lift, we caught glimpses of the ruins below us, but soon more mist would blow in and they would disappear ethereally again as soon as they had appeared. It seemed that we weren’t going to see anything for a while and we decided that if the mist hadn’t lifted by 10:00 we would move on to other areas of the site. The mist began to lift at about 9:55 and we were treated to an amazing display of nature. Fast moving and swirling mist lifted and revealed the magnificent beauty of the city that is Machu Picchu. Within minutes we had an incredible view of this wonder of the world and pretty soon I found myself just staring in awe at this amazing place.
The site itself is set on top of a mountain, it is a breathtaking setting that is very commanding. From the top of that mountain, the Incas had a view of all the surrounding peaks and Machu Picchu was at the centre of it. The sacred geometry that the Incas used to design the place and position it so precisely remains largely a mystery. Rocks are carved to millimeter precision and fit exactly together. The design is on purpose and not simply for aesthetics. It is believed that some of the patterns were used to prevent collapse during an earthquake. The structures look almost like a tetris game as the rocks are cut into different sizes and patterns, some as big as a car, others small stones the size of a mans hand make up the rocky puzzle. It remains a mystery how they managed to take these massive rocks up to the site as well as place them so carefully in place. The effect is incredible, the symmetry remarkable and the workmanship and beauty simply unlike anything I have ever seen before. There is even running water in some parts, the Incas had waterways and canals that fed certain parts of the settlement and you see this running throughout the place. There are also some very sacred areas that would have been used for rituals and sacrifices, the Incas would do human sacrifices from time to time. As I stood there, marveling at this masterpiece of architecture and design, I couldn’t help but think that some part of that place had run red with the blood of humans that had been offered up to the Inca gods.
We visited and walked the whole site and it is BIG. We spent over 6 hours there and we could have spent more, but were pretty tired and hungry by the time we left. We walked up to Intipunku or the Sun Gate and saw some very unique views of Machu Picchu. We then walked along the other side of the mountain to the Inca Bridge and looked at that. That walk was along a narrow path along the side of a cliff and it could be a little sheer at times!
All in all, Machu Picchu was one of the highlights of our trip so far, and certainly a highlight in Peru. I somehow think that we will return there someday, but until then, I will always remember how incredible it was to see one of the 7 wonders of the world first hand and realize just how breathtaking Machu Picchu really is!
Ushuaia has been our home for the last few days. We have had to stay longer than expected because of our trip to Antarctica. In the process we have been really just relaxing and as a result, both Francis and I have been a bit sick with a cough and a sore throat, basically a head cold. The weather here hasn’t been helping much either, in the morning, you can go out and it will be sunny and warmish (Ushuaia never really gets very warm, it is a sub polar climate…) and within 20 minutes, the clouds descend over the mountains and it will be drizzling a fine icy rain. When the clouds lift, you notice that there is more snow on the mountains and then the wind blows off the snowy mountains into the city, can be a bit nippy then…Having said all that, Ushuaia is set in a beautiful setting. The city is down on the harbour and once you go three streets up you begin to climb some steep stairs as the mountains are literally just out of town, they are huge and beautiful and can be seen from anywhere in the city. So, this has been our home for the past few days and will be until the 8th Feb (only 4 days away) when we leave for the White Continent.
Two nights ago the clouds lifted for a few hours and Ushuaia revealed her true beauty, so I quickly put on my camera backpack and went out and caught some of the last light of the evening. It was fun and I had a photography buddy with me. We met a Canadian couple in El Calafate called Paul and Sandra and they were coming down to Ushuaia too, so we got here before them and we booked some place in the hostel we were staying for them. Paul is a keen photographer and shoots weddings in Canada and was very keen to get some shots too. So, the light looked good and Paul and I went out and captured some of it.
The images you see in this post are the ones done on that evening, the big ship you see in the harbour is a cruise ship, the ship we will be going to Antarctica on will be smaller than that and we are going on an expedition trip. The cruise ships go down to Antarctica too, but they generally don’t to landings i.e. they don’t take the passengers onto the actual continent. Expedition ships do anything up to 3 landings a day and because they are smaller, they can fit into tighter spaces than the big cruise ships. So we are off soon, the countdown is on!!
So, let me be honest, the idea of working on an organic farm for 2 weeks wasnt necessarily high on my list. There were a few things that concerned me, one was, the lack of meat on the menu for that time. Other than that, I wasnt overly concerned. By the end of our time there, it was really quite special to have spent so much time in such a beautiful place. Yes it was a farm, a working organic farm, and we learned so much. Our day basically went as follows:
07:30 – Wake up
08:00 Breakfast – consisting of homemade bread, Jam, Oatmeal and Te Negro (Black tea)
09:00 Work assignments handed out and that could range from weeding the beds in the veggie garden (a large veggie garden) to picking raspberries, cleaning certain areas, making adobe bricks etc etc
09:10 – 13:00 Work!
13:00 Lunch – always a hot cooked meal which could comprise of lentils, potatoe bake, veggie stew, millet casserole and so on, sometime with rice and other accompaniments
14:00 – 16:00 – Siesta time, literally
16:00 – 20:00 Work
20:30 – Dinner time
230:00 Bed Time
We were only working half day on the farm, so generally after lunch we had time off, so we relaxed, read our books, typed up blogs, edited photos etc.
The farm, as I said, is a working farm and so it generates income off the produce. A lot of the fruit is made into jams or preserves and sold in the local town up the road called El Bolson. The nearest town is El Hoyo, but it really is very small, so not much of a market there. Most of the tourists end up in El Bolson and that is where a lot of the produce is sold. The veggies and fruit really is very good and very fresh and of course all natural, so no chemicals or pesticides have been used in growing the produce.
We were on the farm with about 10 other volunteers, 5 of them were from the USA andthe rest were from France. This made for many interesting chats as the French group could not speak much English apart from one of the girls, Lena, who was actually very fluent, more fluent than she let us know. Then the USA group, all girls, were mostly out of college and travelling for the next few months before they returned to the US.
We had a lot of fun and laughter, two of the French guys were highly talented musicians, Nico was a really good guitarist, so good that he could listen to a song one or two times and begin to pluck it out on a guitar. Antoine made music with just about anything, he turned pots into drums, PVC pipes into Didgeridoos and he had a mouth organ which he played with great aplomb. It was really amazing to be sitting around after dinner listening to an informal jam session that they would strike up…
The scenery at Chacra Millalen really stole the show. The farm is surrounded by beautiful rugged peaks that seem to push up effortlessly from the valley. In the distance are snow capped mountains and just beyond that the border with Chile. The valley is green and lush and is home to a lot of cherry, raspberry and strawberry farming, so it really is a great place to have a farm. Also, there are plenty of horses in the area, we would be walking down the country road and two horses, by themselves, would amble by along the road…really rural, but very very pretty.
The owners of the farm we also such lovely people, Fabio (who didnt speak any English unfortunately) had a lovely open and smily face and was always joking and making people laugh, Josephine who is fluent in English, Swiss, German, French and Spanish is always in control of what is happening in her garden. Every afternoon, she would walk through the garden with her clipoard and make notes of what needs to be done next.
Overall we had a great time at the farm, and learnt a lot about how things get done on an organic farm, a good experience and as always, great new friendships were made..
Mendoza is surrounded by mountains, tall and strong and mistakenly I thought that these were the Andes. Technically they are part of the pre cordillera of the Andes and there are two more ranges between Mendoza and the Andes proper. Nonetheless, when we started getting out of the city, it was a perfectly clear morning and we started to see some of the giants that were sitting out there. On average, most of the peaks around Mendoza are above 4000m high, but as you get deeper into the mountains and enter into the Andes then some of the peaks tip 6100m some even 6200m.
Remember – Click on the images below to see them MUCH bigger, they are far more impressive that way….
It is impossible to give you the scale of these monsters, they are so huge and it seems like you can get out of the car and walk a few hundred meters and touch the mountain, until the tour guide tells you that the snow capped peak that we can see (the one you can almost touch) is actually 150km away. That blew me away, 150km away and it looks like it is just over the next hill. As we got deeper and deeper into the mountains, slowly the vegetation starts to disappear and the cruel, hard and yet beautiful high mountain landscape starts to become prevalent. It is dry, rocky and sandy, but has a stark beauty that is captivating, it almost lures you in to see more and we went deeper in.
We stopped off at an old bridge along the way, it was the place where General San Martin fought against the Spanish and crossed over the Andes (no small feat there) and took on the Spanish and won! He is hailed as a national hero across Argentina and there are special memorials to his battles all over.
From there we continued in and then we stopped at a ski resort. There is no snow in the lower levels of the Andes right now because it is summer (even though it’s a little chilly up there) but we took the ski lift up to one of the peaks to have a look around. It was amazing and quite incredible to see the height of some of the mountains around us. You soon realize just how small man is in comparison to these incredible mountains and this vast terrain. The size cannot be comprehended unless you are there. I have seen images of the Andes before, but truly, nothing can prepare you for the size that you are seeing. The ski lift ride was really fun, even though Francis had second thought about being suspended on a thin cable and being tugged up the front side of some steep slope. Once we were up there the view was worth the tension.
Once we came down from the ski slope, we then were off to the big one, Aconcagua or the Stone Sentinel. In Inca language Aconcagua means Stone Sentinel. This is a massive mountain that is 6959m high and stands head and shoulders above the rest of the mountains in the area. It is also the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere (that is in North and South America)
At the place where we are staying, there are two American mountaineers who have just come off an 18 day expedition from climbing Aconcagua. I was chatting to the one guy yesterday and he said that from the summit, on a clear day, you can see the Pacific Ocean, which is probably 300km away. This is not a small piece of rock, it is utterly majestic and impressive. We saw as we came around a corner and there it stood, massively impressive and fully white and snowy, simply because of its altitude. It is huge and it looks BIG, but not as big as you would think, until we had to be reminded that it is 40km away. If you want to climb Aconcagua you have to go to the Aconcagua National Park (which we stopped in and took the photos from) and from there hike the 40km into the base camp at the base of Aconcagua. There is no road to get you there, so before you even start climbing you have to hike 40km in, with all your kit, food, clothing etc. The area that Aconcagua is in is really pretty. There are some green meadows in the foreground, but apparently as you get closer to the mountain it takes more of a wasteland feel with very little growing there. When we got out of the car to go and get some photos, we were blown around, literally, but the wind. It was really gusting down the valley from Aconcagua and it was pretty cold. At this point, we were at an altitude of 3100m above sea level and we were looking at almost 4km of rock that is the Stone Sentinel, very impressive. To be honest, the photos can never do this kind of landscape justice, the scale is just too big and there is nothing to measure what you are seeing. Even standing 40km away, the sight was breathtaking and rekindled in me a desire to climb these big mountains. This is of course a dream, but one that I hope to fulfill in the next few years, I guess that means that I will one day return to the Stone Sentinel, hopefully to tackle the summit and see the Pacific Ocean in a way I have never seen it before, from 6959m up!
In South Africa, we don’t have much to choose from when it comes to public transport. Unfortunately, we have not developed a robust system that can be used by all South Africans.
In years gone by, air travel was expensive and I remember as a child we would travel from Durban to Johannesburg by train. In recent years, this has changed because air travel became more affordable and unfortunately, train travel became less safe.
Recently though, we heard about a new train offering that was travelling to major destinations in South Africa called the premier classe and we decided to travel from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town on the train.
We had an absolutely amazing time. The train was certainly luxurious, but more than that, the scenery w
as outstanding and the service was excellent. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff, they were friendly and very
helpful. The trina itself was in very good condition, the cabins and lounge areas were spotless and this made for a fantastic experience. We meandered through some fo the most amazing scenery in the Eastern Cape and into the Western Cape,
we saw some amazing sights that you just dont see when travelling by road and certainly not by air. Some of the kloofs and passes were amazing with the highlight being the Outeniqua pass into George. It was quite an interesting trip, sleeping on the train took a bit of getting used to, but it was a lot of fun…try it some time.