Archive for January, 2009

On Again, Off Again, On Again

Sorry that I haven’t been totally constant with my blog. I have been very busy so far, but this weekend am heading up to the Catskills so should be able to tell you all about that soon enough.

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Remember the dog days of summer?  Click on the photo for the music.

Remember the dog days of summer? Click on the photo for the music.

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An Appalachian Spring

An Appalachian Spring

Click the photo for the music.

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Well, my vacation is over.  I will need some time to get back in the swing of things, so I will be posting only short bits for a while.  I hope nobody is too disappointed.

Click on the Picture for the Music

Sunrise over the snowy crest: Click on the Picture for the Music

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On this 10 day kayaking trip, the last adventure on our journey, we shall travel down the Amazon River.   The Amazon is a silt, white water river.  We begin our trip and pass through the high, luscious rainforest with yellow and blue macaws screeching in the canopy.  Our first camp is situated in front of a 25 meter cliff where tiny orchid plants grip the vertical rocky wall.  We wake up early in the morning to spot some wildlife and get to see another family of giant otters playfully frisking about in the water, gracefully gliding through the river. 

The Amazon River

The Amazon River

As we set out for our second day, we move through a rather narrow portion of the river, the jungle seems to be closing in on us from all sides, it is so thick.  The terrain here is a mixture of huge caverns and rich jungle foliage.  Near the evening, we see a truly magnificent creature.  Although not quite as rare as the Patagonian Puma, the Jaguar is a very enigmatic creature.  It moves so quietly that it seems not to be even treading on the ground.  We watch it for a while on the far bank and then it moves off into the jungle.  At night we hear the flutter of bats flying out of the cavern not too far away.  Fortunately, they are not vampire bats, which will suck blood from your fingertips and toes while you sleep and very possibly give you rabies.

Sunrise is the best time for giant Black piranha fishing.  We take our kayaks and go fishing.  It is best to slap the water with your bait, so as to get the piranha’s attention.  But be careful.  Make sure they are dead or you may get bitten.  Since we are here at the onset of the rainy season, the banks are already a bit flooded, but the river is still not swollen.  We have already experienced some torrential downpours, rain pattering away on our tents like hammers.   The next morning as we set out again we are moving through prime monkey territory.   Capuchin, Squirrel, and Saki monkeys float from branch to branch with amazing agility.  We also see colorful rainforest birds like toucans, macaws, and hoatzins-a prehistoric bird  Later we see some larger mammals crossing the river like deer and Capybaras.   I take us into the rainforest before dark, opening the way with machetes and stopping here and there when interesting medicinal plants like the give and take tree and sangre de drago (the former being a good source of resin and the latter being a natural antiseptic, resins to make torches, and water-are found.  On our way back to camp, we see the magnificent harpy eagle perched high in the canopy.  In the morning, we take a morning dip in the cool water: a truly invigorating experience.  We set out again.  Once in awhile, some fresh water dolphins will come around the kayaks, as they are curious to see how similar their nose shape is compared with the kayak beaks. Nearing evening, we see the Tapirs, large mammals up to 250 kg/550 lbs, sleeping near the bank.   We also see some speckled caiman, crocodilian creatures that prowl these freshwaters for meals. 

Today, we paddle through a mountainous region.  The valleys are deep, so we can hear howler monkey cries echoing far away.  On the banks, we find some Brazil nut trees and decide to make camp here.  At night, we are awakened to the paca rustling past our tents.  In the early morning, we see another amazing sight.  A harpy eagle spotted a giant three toed sloth and grabbed it from the tree.  The sloth had no chance, the eagle’s talons and broad wings helping with the kill.  Underfoot, leaf cutter ants march in prosecion  carrying heavy loads.  The adventurous and hungry in our group grab a few and snack on them.  They are about as delicious as insects go, having a wonderful zingy, lemony flavor.  We also try the slender Abacaba or Acai palm tree’s heart and coconuts.  These sweet plants placate everyone’s rumbling stomachs.  On a special night kayak outing, we spot a giant anaconda making its way through the water.  Just don’t fall in the water or you could be in real trouble.  We also see the eyes of caiman and other animals like insects and spiders in our beams. 

After a few more days of kayaking, we visit a local native American tribe here.  Some are still hostile, but this group is very friendly and gratefuly accept us.  We mingle with them and learn much about their indigenous culture.  The next day, we travel to the headwaters where there is a gorgeous waterfall.  We’ll also camp in this area.  

It is our last day on the Amazon.  We spend the day on the white sand beaches relaxing and then heading out to a small town on the coast.  From there we shall be shipped back home. 

I hope you enjoyed our great adventure.  I certainly did.

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As we move toward the the Guayana Highlands on our small plane, we see the Tepui in the distance.  These giant mesas dot the landscape.  We touch down on a small patch of grassland.  We then set out on foot toward Auyantepui, the largest of the tepui at 700 square kilometers.  We walk first through deep scrubland where we see creatures like the anteater, its strange form dashing from anthill to antill, slurping up ants with its long tongue. 

Scrubland turns to dense jungle.  We bushwhack deep into the rainforest until we meet the trail to Angel Falls.  We follow this until we hear the roar of the falls.  The spray permeates into the rainforest and we know we are nearing our target.  Coming to a clearing, our jaws drop.  Angel Falls!  We see the world’s tallest waterfall: the water plunges 979m to the ground.  This is 19 times higher than Niagara Falls.  The falls are actually so high that they only drop uninturupted for just over 800 meters.  The rest turns to mist and hits the rocky floor of the rainforest.  After many shots, we move on. 

Angel Falls and the Spectacular Tepui

Angel Falls and the Spectacular Tepui

The group will divide up into two teams, one will hike up around the tepui and to the summit.  The other will climb up the steep face of the tepui.  The tepui is actually about 3,000 meters high, so both teams will take a while.  Both teams set out, both struggling with the terrain: the hikers with the deep rainforest and the climbers with the steep cliffs.  At certain times, the climbers needed to climb artificially, that is, completely separated from the rock, using ascenders to climb. The hikers move onto the steep back face of the tepui.  It is climbable only with the use of switchbacks. 

Finally after several hours, the climbing team makes it to the top.  They wait as the hiking team concludes their trek.  Both are at the top.  Here the poor soil forces plants to get nutrients in other ways: leading to the evolution of many carnivorous plants.  This place is known as the Devil’s Mesa and the Place of the Dead by the locals, but it is actually brimming with life.  These tepui are ecological islands where endemic flora and fauna evolve separately from the rest of the population.  There are many different types of frogs hopping around us, many probably not known to science.  Even though this place inspired the Arthur Conan Doyle novel The Lost World we do not see any dinosaurs.

After seeing a wonderful sunrise and sunset from the top of the tepui, we go down our separate ways:  either hiking or paragliding into the open lands below, wind whistling past us as  we soar over this commanding landscape, and go off to the tributaries of the Amazon for our final adventure.

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Well, this is the week I have been dreaming of: we are heading to Machu Picchu.  This pre-Columbian Inca city is located 2,430 meters above sea level.  The site was built around the year 1460, but was abandoned as the official seat of Incan power around the time of the Spanish conquest.  It was never actually captured or located by the conquistadors.  It was “rediscovered,” by American Hiram in 1911.  Since then it has become an important tourist attraction and more recently, a UNESCO site.

Machu Picchu

The Amazing City of the Incas: Machu Picchu

We will bew following the Choquiquirao Trek instead of the Inca Trail, after a tip from http://besthike.com.  This trail has a number of benefits.  It is more remote, isolated, difficult and rugged.  The Choquequirao are amazing ruins which are en route to Machu Picchu.   We can climb through many different types of terrain, habitats and climates: on Salcantay, the highest mountain in the region, cloud forest, and humid jungle.  There is far more contanct with indigenous Quechua peoples.  Also, there is a good chance to see condors.  Finally, it is less expensive than the Inca Trail.

Like all hikes to Machu Picchu, the hike begins in Cuzco.  Here we hire a local guide and pay for a couple of days at Machu Picchu.  After a few days of acclimatizing we move.  Chachora was our first stop.  We spend the night in our tents tired after a long day full of logistics.  We then travel to Choquequirao, grand ruins of the Incas.  These ruins are built on a ridge overlooking the grand Amazon jungle.  It is an amazing view.  We spend the rest of the day scrambling around the ruins and camp nearby.  During the next day, we move to Yanama.  The terrain has become very steep.  We are moving through cloud forest.  Blue Morphos flutter about in the slanting sunbeams.  Somewhere deeper in the jungle, macaws screech.  Wetness pervades through everything.  Tatora is our next stop and then Santa Teresa.  This again goes over rough terrain.  Our last stop  before Machu Picchu  is Aguas Calientes.  Here we rest after a week of hard trekking.  Next day is Machu Picchu and everybody is restless. 

Finally, after a long night, we move to the grand city of Machu Picchu.  We come over the final ridge and see the city in all of its splendor: on fire with the rising sun.  We almost run to the ruins.  Here, we plan to spend two full days.  Most people don’t even spend a full one!  The bricks are cut perfectly.  They amaze all of us.  The rocks are cut so well that even today, there is no mortar holding them up and you cannot stick a piece of paper between them.  After a day of scampering around the ruins, we take up a stay on the hills surrounding the ruins.  Before we go, we eat a wonderful dinner of guinea pig and alpaca, local delicacies. 

On the next day, we hike up to the peak overlooking the ruins: Hayuna Picchu, well carved steps show us the way up and once there, we are treated to an amazing view.  Condors flew over the ruins and on one of the farming teracees sat a llama, which frequent these hills.  We spent another day before heading back, our hearts still high from the amazing views, culture of the Incans, and high altitude.  It was everything we imagined and more.

Tomorrow we head up to Guyana to see where Arthur Conan Doyle had the idea for The Lost World.

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