Saturday, 28 February 2015

Meghan On Amelie-February 2015

For those of you who didn’t find out, my mom and I left the guys on the boat for a couple of weeks and flew to Peru with only two backpacks in hand. The places we went to were:

Lima
So our first destination was the capital of Peru: Lima. It was a big city full of different people. I was actually very impressed by how many spoke English there since most people in South America only speak Spanish. 

The hotel we stayed at was run by two, very caring guys (sometimes a little bit too caring until we thought they were maybe crazy) who seemed to really appreciate our being there. The hallways were filled with beautiful paintings that were like replicas of Picasso and Van Gogh painted by the owner’s uncle. 

On our first day, we visited many sites around Lima. Our first stop was a Pre-Incan temple called Huaca Pucllana that they started excavating only in the 1980s and they were still not done when we were there. They had found skeletons, pots, fossils and personal belongings around there that they were showing to us (the real things!). It was cool to see the Pre-Incan people’s things since we would soon go see Machu Picchu (which I will talk about later in this blog entry) which is where Incas lived. It was also very fascinating to see real artifacts because the Pre-Incan who lived around this temple lived more than a thousand years ago and the artifacts were still very well preserved!

After we left the temple, the taxi ride to our next site allowed us to see many other things about Lima like: the beach where dozens of surfers were riding away, the underground, outdoor mall, the city park and just the people’s daily life there. 

Our next stop was the “Choco Chocolate museum” which was also kind of like a chocolate factory. We found out that there was actually a workshop you could do at any time during the day where you make your own chocolate from scratch so we signed me up for it. The lady who did the workshop with me first showed me all of the machines and explained what they were used for. Then we put some cocoa beans to roast on the stove for ten minutes. Once they were roasted, we crushed them into a paste to make hot chocolate and tea. We made a traditional Mayan hot chocolate so we mixed: water, spices and cocoa bean paste but the only ingredient we didn’t add was blood (thank goodness we didn’t). We also made another hot chocolate and cocoa tea. The other hot chocolate was a traditional Conquistadors (Spanish) drink. The cocoa tea we made apparently gives you a boost of energy (but cocoa is caffeine free) so we bought a bag of cocoa bean shells to bring back. 

Then after that the lady got my chocolate liquid out of the machines and I put them into moulds with little candies in them to take back! I had wanted to take them back to the boat but they were milk chocolate so we had to eat them all within the first two days or else they would all melt.

On the second day, we caught a taxi again to see another part of Lima. We stopped for lunch at a nice restaurant hoping they would have what we were looking for on their menu which they did. Now, some of you may not be very happy when I say this but what we were looking for and what we ate was guinea pig! It was traditional Peruvian gourmet meal and we wanted to try it! I was very excited to try it but when it was delivered to us, I lost my appetite a little bit, which was okay because there was so little meat on that thing anyway. A tourist that we met the day before had told us to ask the waiter for it without the head but we didn’t think it mattered but apparently it did! It also didn’t make me any hungrier when the waiter picked up the paw, waved it at me and said “hello” in a really high pitched voice!


Planes, Trains and Really Squished Buses!
After two days in Lima, we went back to the airport and flew to Cusco where we were going to catch a bus out of the next day. 

When we went to the bus station the next morning at 5:00 am to catch our bus at 5:30 am, the lady there, who had said the day before that we were on the 5:30 bus for sure, said that we weren’t on the first bus, we were supposed to be on the bus that left at 6:30 when on our ticket, it said 5:30 and we couldn’t leave later than 6:00 because we had to catch another bus in the other town. Finally, we explained that we absolutely had to leave before 6:00 so they put us in a small car with three other people so that’s how we ended up doing school for 3 hours shoulder to shoulder in a car.

When we got to Hydro Electrica after been in two buses, we walked along the train tracks for a couple of hours with our new friend who came from Portugal and was a backpacker too but he was also biking around South America which I found extremely cool! We saw many breathtaking sights of the Andes on our walk to Aguascalientes (meaning hot water) which was the town just below Machu Picchu. After two hours of walking with a 35 pound backpack on my back, I was willing to stay the night in a broken shed if it meant we could stop as soon as possible! We ended up finding a very nice youth hostel and a nice restaurant to eat at for dinner. It was very exciting and a bit hard to sleep that night because the next day was Machu Picchu!

Machu Picchu
We had to get up at 4:45 am on the big day to see the marvellous Unesco sight  (also one of the 7 wonders of the world!) and it was worth the early wake up! We got to the bus station because we heard that walking up the mountain was very steep and a challenge even for marathon runners so we weren’t going to risk was using all our energy on the hike up to Machu Picchu. We had heard that people started lining up for the first bus extremely early but I was not expecting what I saw! One entire sidewalk plus another quarter of another one was filled by 5:00 am when we got there and the rest of our sidewalk was filled up within 5 minutes! We saw many despaired faces who came at 5:15 hoping to catch the first bus at 5:30! I was really hoping we would catch the first bus and we did so we were up there before the gates opened! 

When we got in, we walked through a narrow passageway in between these two huts wondering when we were going to see it and a second later, we did. We saw the entire thing right there in front of us and since we were one of the first ones in, it was completely empty! 

We walked all the way to the top to see the famous picture and sure enough, we could see it! We also walked a bit on the Inca trail which is a five day hike but we only did about 5 minutes of it! It was also unbelievably quiet until about 7:30 am when more and more people started showing up but until then, we could hear the birds and the wind and it was just so amazing! For a long time, it felt like I was floating! I didn’t feel like I was there because I couldn’t believe I was!

Later that day, we took a private guide who explained all the important parts of Machu Picchu to us. For example, he told us that after years of investigating, they found out that Machu Picchu was only where the royal Incas lived. It was abandoned by the Incas and the Spanish, who killed all the Incas, never found Machu Picchu. When it was discovered for the first time in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, there were actually some people living there in the ruins (non-Incan, just farmers). Our guide also showed us all the sacred temples like: the temple of the sun and the temple of the condor. The temple of the sun was so the Incas could determine what time of year it was and so they could honour the God of the sun. They would look at the sun gate up on the top of the mountain (which we walked up to) and they could determine by where it shined on, if it was June 21 or December 21 or in between. We also saw the famous temple of the three windows. 

Their walls are amazingly built too. Remember, they had no metal tools but still, some of their rocks are completely straight and perfect. They are also so strong that they have survived all the earthquakes. Our guide actually explained to us how they cut the rocks. They would look for the weak spots on rocks and then they carve a hole in there with a rock where they put water into and then lastly put a stick in. After a while, it finally cracks in half! The amount of terraces they had too was pretty outstanding. That’s where they grew all their crops and today, that’s the llamas’ hotspot but people are not allowed on them.

The Incas also had these bowl type things that when they looked in at night, they could see the moon so that is where they would talk to the God of the moon to make him happy.  Also, they kept the Inca’s water collector systems which I found very impressive. They got all their water from the mountains which leaked down the rocks to the collecting space. Today, they still have the original water systems but not as much water comes out because it is only for demonstration so they don’t want to waste too much. I couldn’t believe how smart the Incas were and our guide actually said that we are trying to learn what they did and the technologies they made so we can improve our technologies today. 


I was also amazed by how many llamas and alpacas were just roaming around Machu Picchu. Apparently, they were put there by the government and so they are domesticated but they roam freely. We were actually walking up the steps when one walked right up to us and pushed past us on the stairs! It was really funny and startling because normally, animals are afraid of humans but these ones obviously think they are more superior than us! Once, a llama went into a little hut and decided to roll in the dirt and it got everybody on the bench beside him completely covered in dust! The only time I would dare not pet them was in the rain because they hate the rain and just by looking at their faces, I’d say that if anybody were to pet them, they would probably do some damage!

Aguascalientes
The little town itself of Aguascalientes was really cute. It was very clean and had many very good restaurants and hotels. I’m pretty sure, it got all it’s money to make it touristic by all the tourists who stay here before going to Machu Picchu! We also went to the hot springs since the town was called “hot water” but they turned out to be more like I-don’t-want-to-know-what-is-in-this-water-warm-springs rather than hot springs!

Ollantaytambo 
We left Aguascalientes by train to a miniature town right in the countryside and in the mountains called Ollantaytambo (pronounced O-yan-tay-tam-bo). We stayed there for a few hours and then left by bus to Cusco where we caught an overnight bus to a town called Arequipa near the famous Colca Canyon. 

The train was a really cool ride because it had windows everywhere (including on the roof) so we could see the forest, the mountains, the rivers and they even had a full sized window at the front so you could see everything! At one point we stopped and there were these two ladies who came to sell us flowers they had picked themselves. One lady was quite young and looked like she had been gardening and the other one, our driver told us she was over 100 years old! I couldn’t believe that she lived out here, all alone, away from all modern technology and she lived to be this old! That just shows you that fresh air does really help your health! It really made my day to see her smile when some people had bought her flowers!

For the few hours we were there, I know it was for surely my favourite town in all of Peru. It was not full of tourism junk and it was not a very big town at all. The most beautiful part was the market place (where we bought a pair of Peruvian pants, a Peruvian poncho and a Peruvian quilt for very little) because in the background were the amazing Andes and with the market, it just made picture perfect! We also had a chance to take these miniature three wheeled taxis which they call moto-taxis! 

Colca Canyon
After a really bad night’s sleep on the overnight bus, we met up with our tour guide named Remi who was going to take us to the famous Colca Canyon! We drove up and down the mountains and we stopped to see many things along the way like: vicuñas (look like llamas but are smaller and have softer fur), llamas, alpacas, the best views of Colca Canyon, condor look out and other really cool things!

When we got to the hotel that night, it was carnival and so we got to see all the villagers dancing and playing music in these amazingly beautiful clothing. I thought at first that surely the clothes they were wearing were only costumes for carnival but Remi explained to us that most people dress like this daily! When we got back to the hotel, they even let us try the clothes on which I found really exciting. I don’t know how people wear these clothes everyday though because they are not that comfortable, they don’t keep you very warm and I don’t know how they never get them dirty if they wear them all the time! You will see in the pictures that mostly only the women are wearing the clothes I am talking about and I think that is because the men’s traditional clothes are the exact same as the women’s (dresses and everything!). 

The next day, we went to the condor look out, hoping to see one. We waited for a long time when all of a sudden, one came flying around the mountain followed by two others! Remi was so happy that we were able to see some that he started cheering and clapping because it had been foggy the day before and the day before that too so we were lucky to see them that day! They flew about 10 metres from us so they looked a bit smaller than I thought they would but it was still incredible to see them fly! Condors are the largest flying bird in the world since their wingspan can get up to 3 m long (twice my size!)!!! 

After seeing the condors, we went to see a marketplace that also had an eagle that could go on your arm and head and an alpaca which you could hug and take pictures with! Overall, our trip to Colca Canyon was memorable and treasuring!  


Cusco
After we said bye to our new good friend Remi, we left on another overnight bus back to Cusco where we spent the last part of our trip. 

Just like Arequipa, it was carnival in Cusco too so we got to see their traditional clothes too and this time, the men did have clothes either than dresses so everybody was nicely dressed! As well as Arequipa, most people of Cusco also wear the clothes they were wearing during carnival  as daily clothes and at first, we thought it was just to entertain us tourists but it was clearly not, this was how they dressed. I especially loved seeing the women walking around with babies in their ponchos! The only thing I didn’t like about carnival was that everywhere you went, you had to cover yourself up because everybody was spraying soap/foam at you and they especially liked to see tourists’ reactions!

Although the craft market was beyond words, the food market was interesting too. Did you know that Peru has 7 000 different kinds of potatoes?!? I only thought that, like, 2 kinds of potatoes existed! Also, their corn can get very big. Some of the kernels I saw were the size a pistachio nut! There was also corn that didn’t even have kernels, it was just soft like a potato. 

The meat market was definitely a shock and like nothing I have ever seen before. There were entire pigs on chopping tables and on the table beside were their heads. There were also entire chickens on tables. They were de-feathered and their legs were sticking straight up in the air as if they had watched a horror movie before they were killed! There were also cow hearts hanging on strings and I couldn’t help but laugh since it was Valentine’s day! I actually found it very interesting to see the meat market because if I buy my meat from there, I would never have to ask what kind of meat I was buying and I would never doubt where my bacon came from! I may never trust groceries stores again! 

We also went horseback riding on our last day which didn’t go as planned since we ended up walking quite a bit of the way but that came no where even remotely close to affecting my happiness of the trip! I know I will never, ever forget it and plus, now this has made me want to live in the Andes and raise llamas when I’m older!

Well, that just about does it for this month. When we got back to Panama, we were very happy to see our new solar panels which work excellently! We get to make ice everyday now! We are now in the Las Perlas islands right off of Panama City and we are kind of relieved to be out of the city chaos. Hope you enjoyed my blog!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Peru: Meg and MC's Excellent Adventure !

So this is how it happened : The PLAN was that we sail Amelie to Ecuador, find a nice anchorage and leave her for a couple of weeks, catch a bus to Quitos, then a flight to Cuzco visit Peru, together as a family, sometime in late February. But, as we have learned before on this adventure, plans are just a 'starting point', and often have to change. Since it was then decided that we would get an arch built and solar panels added on the boat while we were in Panama, we calculated that time was going to run out for us….so  it was decided, somewhat at the last minute, that Meghan and MC would go off to visit Peru while the boys stayed behind and get the job done…..


MC and Meg's Excellent Peruvian Adventure !
Peruvian Markets !


We had about 4 days to get everything ready if we were going to do this and get back in time to prepare for our next crossing…..So, we packed light and got an itinerary together, got online and booked a few nights stay in a few key places (Lima, Cuzco) and booked the flights, grabbed our passports, good walking shoes and we were off…

First stop: Lima….

Even in my haste to getting things organized, I had managed to remember some advice given to me a few months before, about the dangers of flying into a high altitude place and getting altitude sickness. So I was quite proud of my *foresight* in deciding to start the trip in Lima: "Where we could get acclimitized to higher elevations for a few days, before heading into the higher altitudes of Cuzco and Machu Picchu." Somewhere in my mad research I had thought that I had read, somewhere,  that Lima was at about 5000 ft elevation…..So when our plane was landing on that first day and Meg, who was looking out the window of the plane, said :  "Oh look at the Pacific Ocean mom!" as we were making our final descent….I was feeling somewhat less confident about my brilliance…..hm……how come we are so close to the ocean ?…..and where are the Andes ?  (Ok, so Geography is NOT my strong point!) 

Turns out that Lima, being at Sea Level, is not actually the best place to get acclimitized to high Elevations !!!  (Although,as Meg pointed out, our hostel was more like 157 feet above sea level, that still was not quite what I 'd had in mind!). Luckily we found out that there was an over the counter medicine that we could easily buy at pharmacies in Lima to get us ready for the higher elevations of Cuzco and Arequipa. 

It turns out that Lima IS a great place to get acclimitized to PERU though , and we thoroughly enjoyed our 2 1/2 days spent in this vibrant city. We visited a 3000 year old Pre-Inca fortress, enjoyed delicious food, and visited neat districts such as Miraflores and Barranco. 

Meghan participated in a 3 hour long chocolate work shop, that gave her hands on experience on how chocolate is made. She started with the raw bean (from the Cocoa fruit) and went all the way through all the steps of the process until the finished product - pouring her home made chocolate into moulds, and later that evening enjoyed eating them for desert. Meghan also learned how to make a traditional Aztec drink; A mixture of cocoa paste, chili , paprika , honey and hot water (the only modernisation was the omission of blood which they used to add).  She was then able to compare this to the Conquistadores version of hot cocoa; adding milk to cocoa paste, sugar, cinnamon and cloves, and mixing by hand  with a special wooden rod. Our favourite though was the cocoa tea, which is simply made by adding the discarded cocoa shells into hot water and adding sugar. All in all it was a fantastic experience but we paid for it , drinking all of that cocoa kept us up all night ! 

Peru's national dish is Ceviche and I can honestly say that its the best I've ever tasted ! Turns out that Peruvians also eat Guinea Pig (which are NOT kept as pets here, as they are in North America)…and…. well..we just had to find out: "Would those little guys taste more like Porc or Chicken?"
For those who are dying to know, the answer is : more like chicken…and, to be honest, we were not enthralled with the taste !  (The fact that it was served whole, on a plate-complete with head and little hands and feet-did not help !)  I can tell you though that Alpaca (similar to Llamas, but more woolly and better tasting meat) did taste VERY good and, unlike beef, it has very little cholesterol ! 

Peru has such a diverse climate throughout the country, they can grow just about everything here and the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables on the menus shows this well !  But Potatoes and Corn are the most famous of their products. They have 7000 different types of spuds here !  And some of the corn we saw had simply HUGE kernels, which they roast and salt and sell as snacks in retaurants.

Oh, and since we are taking about food:  I might as well tell you about their soft drinks called "INCA COLA"…(which tasted like Coca Cola)…I thought it was great that they had their own unique, national brand, until I learned a few days later that Coca Cola had bought Inca Cola just a few years ago !



Lima 


 Machu Picchu…the definitive highlight !

These days it is easier to get to Machu Picchu and it is accessible to almost everyone….. but we wanted to "earn" our entry to this legendary place. So we opted for the (cheaper and) more adventurous minibus from Cuzco which mainly consisted of:  a 4:45am alarm clock, boarding a van in the dark at 5:30 am  followed by a 6 hour drive to a town called Santa Maria. We then boarded another minibus for another   2 1/2 hour to get to a town called Santa Teresa, near the starting point of our walk along the inca trail. This starting point is simply called "hydroelectrica" (because it is situated near a hydroelectric plant). From here we walked, with our fully loaded packs, for 3 hours, along the train tracks which are surrounded  by the picturesque Andes mountains. Joined by fellow backpackers, we walked into the town of Aguas Caliente by 4:30 pm. We found a comfortable hostel, and got a bite to eat and then checked out the towns name sake: the hot springs. We paid the 10 Soles entry fee ($3) , changed into our bathers and joined the hoards of other people in the tiny, barely luke warm pools. We lasted for about 10 min  before running for the showers which were nice and hot! We went back to the hostel and set our alarms for 4:30 am  ( in order to be on the first bus up the mountain)…..both ready and excited for a big day the next day …..



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Meeting the God (-ess) of the Sun….

We went up to the gate to meet 'her' and in exchange 'she' gave us each a parting gift: Sunburnt noses !  No, but seriously, I think 'she' gave me another gift, which came as a deeper appreciation of my life and the people in it. I felt it, for sure, like a ray of sunshine that I carry in my heart now! 
What an amazing experience this day was ! 

                                                                                                       (Diary entry that night)

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When you first get to the top of Machu Picchu, at 5:45am, it is still a bit dark, you stand at the closed gate and then the security guard arrives to open up. He calls out a greeting to everyone (about 30 of us at this point), and states the rules and safety regulations and opens the gate….

After crossing the entry gate  gate, you walk towards some restored stone houses, and then the path takes you towards a tilted stonewall, like the entrance to a cave and you have to crouch a little bit to walk through……. and then … ... there you are !  Machu Picchu, in all of its splendor, is before you ! That first moment, for me, and Meg too I am certain, was like a dream.....there was some fog, but only a little, as the sun was beginning to rise, it stopped me dead in my tracks. You can't help it, you become completely still ( I notice the same happen to the other visitors as they came through the stone , everything seems eerily quiet, but there are dozens of other people near you, they stand in awe like you, immobile for those first few minutes.....and for me it was overwhelmingly beautiful....the tears just poured down my face … What an exhilarating , life affirming moment ! And then you see them......they look like statues in the mist.....standing on all fours with their heads held high on the terraces all around you....are they real?  They are so still, and majestic looking.....whoa, one just moved! They are real ! Llamas!!! Cool ! 


Then the spell is broken, people wake from their reverie, someone up above just yells a tremendous yahoooooooo! People become giddy, like children in a toy store....everyone, young and old just look so ELATED !  They did it ! They are really here, looking at this phenomenal site, in person! This is how we felt too, Meghan completely appreciating it : "Wow mom I can't believe we are here ! LOOK at this,  I can't believe how beautiful it is! "

We ran into our friend Miguel, (our friend from Portugal- whom had walked on the trail with us the day before) .....and he was the same as everyone else……just staring in awe. He told us that he had not been sure of what it was going to be like, wondering if it would measure up to his expectations...whether he would be disappointed after all the hype of Machu Picchu...but he was just overjoyed at how truly breathtaking this place was, he was not disappointed….no one was.




We took advantage of the quiet, since it was still early not too many people had arrived. We could see the mist was burning off with the sun getting higher, the birds were singing, there was a peacefulness to be appreciated, for we knew that the people ( 3100 of them are allowed per day) were coming......

We walked up towards the famous guards hut stopping to take  "the" photo ( actually more like 20 shots)  of the famous landscape below us with Wayna Picchu  in the background...then we climbed higher and found a path way leading to :" the inca bridge" we followed the path into the bush, and we found ourselves completely alone....in the dense forest ( which surrounds the inca city ) and here the songs of the birds were even more clear, the spirit of the place even more palatable...we walked along this narrow stony path ( which over looks some pretty spectacular views of the Andes), for about 10 minutes before encountering a few more people....this was one of the trails used by the Incas to get  to Machu Picchu. We did not make it all the way to the bridge ( we were getting impatient to visit the inca city before too many people came) but we heard a guide explain later that the incas used wood for their bridge ( to get over a large gap in the path) and after they had crossed , they pulled the wood away, making it impossible for anyone to follow them . 

We then explored the city, taking our time to enjoy the details and discover all the little hidden corners…...later we walked all the way up to the sungate (an opening at the top of the mountain where, on the summer solstice (on Dec 21 in the Southern Hemisphere), the sun shines through and directly into the window of the temple of the temple of the sun.

   

We spent the entire day at Machu Picchu, and were able to enjoy it from many different view points as well as up close. We took the time to sit on the terraces on our own, enjoying some peace and tranquility at the end of the day, overlooking the magestic Andes, one last time before walking down the Mountain. 

(By the way; In Quechua;"Machu Picchu" means "Old Mountain"  and "Wayna Picchu", the famous peak often seen behind the old city- the one that people line up to climb (only 400 per day are allowed), means " Young Mountain".)

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 I did not explain in detail about the buildings or the temples we saw, nor the fascinating insight to the ingenuity of the Inca which we learned about on our visit, since all of that information is available easily online for anyone who cares to know...Plus, I want to leave you some surprises as some of you told me you are planning your own visit someday soon…..but I would like to leave you with some unsolicited advice if you are planning on going:

Get to Aguas Caliente early , the day before is best. Get up early the next day (you 'll have the rest of your life to sleep in), and make sure you are on the first bus up the hill. Be one of the few to see Machu Picchu in the peace and tranquility of those first few hours in the morning. If you are the kind of person who trains yourself  for marahtons by running  up the side of  mountains, then, by all means, skip the bus and walk up Machu Picchu at 5:00am-like our friend Miguel did. (Miguel has been riding his bike around the world…(this guy is in good shape), and he told us that we had made the right decision by taking the bus, as he had passed by many people struggling that morning) . We saw that the people who had climbed up and made it in time for the 6;00 gate opening were young, very fit, mountain climbing machines.. and when we walked down the mountain at the end of the day, we FELT  how difficult a climb it would have been. Meg and I felt that, had we climbed it, we would not have had the energy needed to visit the site properly for the rest of the day, so that's my advice, get up early ( 4 or 4:30am ) be on the first bus up, and unless you are very fit and acclimatized to altitude hiking, do not attempt to climb up to Machu Picchu. 

One last thing: Meg and I found it wonderful to walk around MP on our own , making our own discoveries and developping our own theories about what we saw around us.....then , when it got busier , we took a break, had a snack ( bring your own , it's expensive food up there)' we found a  guide, (splurge and get the private guide, you will get more details, and no time wasted translating into 2-3 different languages. ) and for two hours walk with him,/her and get all of your questions answered. After having walked around on our own,  we had generated A LOT of questions and theories.....it was fun to see where we had been right and where we had been wrong…..
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Colca Cañon and the Condors

Our next destination was Arequipa and the nearby Colca Cañon. We took a two day tour driving and hiking through this picturesque area. One of the thrills was watching the Condors fly near us (We saw three) at the aptly named Crux del Condor. 





This area is splendid. The abundant small villages give you an authentic Peruvian experience; the people, the food and the local customs. We saw countless young lone sheppards walking with their animals in these high altitudes, making us feel like we had stepped back into time. We are glad we made the long trip out to see all this beauty.




And FINALLY……

We finished our 12 days back in the Cuzco area. Where we visited more Inca sites and great museums. We also enjoyed the markets of course…..and MC taught Meghan the subtle art of bargaining….this is how we ended up with four alpaca sweaters, (one for each of us) for a very good deal !  


Oh, and my Spanish is getting better in case you were wondering…. except for that time in Lima when I asked the  waiter if he had 'gaseo' (soft drinks)…One  raised eye brow and a crooked smile led me to believe that I had either asked him  a) if he had 'gas'    or weirder yet,  b) if he had 'gasoline' ...hm....looking it up in dictionary later that day I found that it was just a syntax mistake and I had just asked him if he had " Fizzy" .


The beauty of elaboration...

 Even though I feel more confident in speaking these days  I  still can't walk into a pharmacy and say:" I need to buy earplugs" but I CAN say : " At night I can't sleep because the people at my hotel  are talking too much, do you have something for my ears please."  At this the pharmacist promptly pulls out a box of earplugs from behind the counter. For once, my rambling on pays off……


I'll leave you now with a few last pictures of beautiful Peru :


Peruvian Ladies

LLAMAS, ALPACAS and VICUÑAS









Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Meghan On Amelie-January 2015

One word to describe this month would be: change. Change in lifestyle, oceans and perspective of life. 

First of all, we docked at a marina with modern civilization again after a month in the not so modern (but extraordinarily beautiful) San Blast Islands. Honestly, I think I looked pretty psychotic though when I laughed at every sip I took of my soft drink with ice in the air conditioned restaurant. It also felt pretty weird wearing shoes again and it was the first time I realized how uncomfortable those things are! 

Panama: On the Wild Side… Literally!
If you love animal watching and you are looking for a vacation, Panama is your paradise destination! Around 125 of the animal species in Panama are only found here and it is sometimes called “bird watchers paradise”. After my “not-so-friendly encounter” with a monkey near a small town called Porto Bello (read my mom’s blog: A Tale of One Monkey to find out about the encounter), I thought I would never want to return into the jungle again. Turns out, I was wrong because we did return back into the jungle a few days later and I am glad I did because I would have missed some pretty amazing things if I hadn’t gone. 
We saw this shy Common Agouti a few
times in the jungle 

A Jesus Christ lizard, lizards that
run so fast, they can run on top
of the water
Also, if I hadn’t been bitten by the monkey, I would not be the superhero I am today. You know, because Spider Man was bitten by a spider and Batman was bitten by a bat so since I was bitten by a monkey, I am now Monkey Girl!


We found out a few days after we got to the dock that just behind the main marina building, there was a paved road that led into the animal filled jungle. We went almost every morning around 7:30 because that is when we figured out we saw the most things.

First of all, there were the birds. We tried to take pictures of all the different types but it was impossible since there were hundreds of types of birds in the forests. My favourite birds were definitely the toucans though. Ever since we saw them in a cage in the Rosario Islands off of Colombia, I have wanted to see a wild one. I have to say though, Froot Loops did not make a very good impression of a toucan because Sam looks nothing like the ones I saw!


Turkey Vultures digging in the trash truck
A hawk that has found it's breakfast: an unfortunate crab

The loud smaller version of parrots: parroquets who
always seem to travel in pairs

A local bird that we found fascinating but is apparently as
interesting to locals as a shoe!


We also saw some really fascinating monkeys in that same jungle. They were thankfully not spider monkeys (the ones that I had encountered before) but howler monkeys. When we first heard them, I thought it was coming from a big hound dog but when I saw it, I found it quite funny how small it was compared to what it’s howl made it sound like. The first one we saw came out on a tree and walked across it howling loudly as if it was making it’s morning announcement to it’s fellow jungle mates. When it climbed off the tree and further into the woods until we couldn’t hear it anymore, it was quiet again for only a second and then all the animals started calling again. We also saw them swinging from tree to tree and playing around by hanging upside down by their tails. When they made eye contact with us, I could tell that they meant no harm and I immediately fell in love with monkeys again. Oddly, we saw them for about three days in a row but then, we didn’t see them again after that so we are guessing they are nomads who migrate every few days to different spots in the jungles. 
In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the monkey howls tonight!


Blue Morpho
Although the big animals are fascinating, you never know what kind of minuscule creatures you will see in the jungle if you just look carefully. We have seen some pretty cool insects and other small critters all over Panama. First of all, it is migrating season for the butterflies so we get to see many of the different types of flying beauties everywhere! My personal favourite were the blue morphos. Some other little wonders we saw were: 
Black scorpion (not poisonous but can hurt a lot) we found under a dead
piece of bark walking near Chagres River





Caterpillar













Grasshopper

















The two other animals we were hoping to see before we left Panama were: sloths and crocodiles. Luckily, thanks to our handy binoculars, we spotted a crocodile on a beach in Gatun Lake, during the canal crossing (which I will talk later about in this blog entry). Here,
on the Pacific side of Panama, there is an animal research institute that is also kind of a zoo that was said to have sloths roaming around freely. Sure enough, we spotted three two-toed sloths! We did have to look carefully though because they don’t move often. We were actually in the middle of looking at one, waiting to see if it would move when a man on the other side of the railing showed us another one making its way across this barb wire fence! We watched it for a long time as it struggled through clothes on the clothesline and moved slowly but surely all the way up to the roof of a house where it found poles to hang on! I don’t think it is correct that we humans say “we’re just hanging out” because that sloth was literally hanging out and trust me, that is not a position a human could do easily or comfortably!





Panama: On the Not-So-Wild (but still AWESOME!!!) Side
As magnificent and incredibly lucky it is to see the animals in the wild, it is fun to see them way up close even though that means not in the wild.

In a small town called Porto Bello (on the Atlantic side of Panama), we had read about a zoo that Canada had helped open up just 4 months ago. We normally don’t necessarily encourage zoos because of animals being caged instead of being in the wilderness but this seemed to be more of a rescue centre and they designed some of the cages so animals could just set themselves free when they were ready. The enclosures were also so clean and perfect for each animal. What was also good for us is that we got to either identify the animals we had seen in the wild (if we didn’t know what they were called) or we could see the other animals of Panama that are endangered or extremely hard to find in the wilderness. Here are some pictures of the different animals we saw at Seafarik’s Zoologico:
Male Great Curassow bird
An ocelot

Adorable, miniature squirrel monkey

Panama's national monkey: the
Geoffroy Tamarin monkey





















Very interactive and agile capuchin monkeys
A capybara, the world's largest rodent!
A female spider monkey which I kept my comfortable distance from!

I know I already posted a picture of a toucan but I thought you would like to
see his amazing colours up close!
Here on the Pacific Side of Panama, at the same place we saw the sloths, there was also a frog exhibit that showed us many of the types of Panamanian frogs. We were very excited to take that tour because we had been looking for tree frogs everywhere in the jungle and we had had no luck. We figured out that the reason we had had no luck was because the biggest frog they had at the exhibit was about the size of a large coin and the smallest were the size of my pinky nail! I was actually kind of relieved we saw them in a glass cage instead of the jungle because I could really look at them closely without getting poisoned since most of the Panamanian frogs are poisonous. My favourite type of frog was the adorable (but very deadly) Strawberry poison dart frog. 

Goodbye Atlantic, Hello Pacific
Yes, we did it! We crossed the Panama Canal and hey, no blood, no foul!

To cross, we were required to have four line handlers plus the captain (my dad) so we talked to some cruisers and 3 (plus my mom) agreed to do it. We were very lucky because I couldn’t have imagined better line handlers than the four we had! We also had 2 advisors on board that ensured we were following the rules and to show us where to go. The first one came on board for the day and then left once we were in Gatun Lake and the second one (on the second day) came on board in the morning and went through the locks with us and then left that evening once we were through. My job during the canal crossing was to look after Matthew and take pictures since my mom, our family photographer, was busy line handling.

On the first evening, we crossed the first set of locks: the Gatun Locks. Before we entered though, we had to “raft” with two other boats. It was fun being the middle boat in the raft because we had one boat to our starboard and one boat to our port. It was actually kind of cool seeing the chaos of throwing ropes and tying on happening but for once not having to be a part of it. I just stayed on deck and made sure to take lots of pictures. It was so much fun being kind of like “three boats as one” but it felt more crowded than I thought it would be! 

The Gatun Locks had three water rising locks. That means that we started low and when the gates (which were ginormous!) closed, the water rose to the next lock level. Then, we (us and the two other boats we rafted with) all moved forward together to the next lock. Then, when the gates closed again, the water rose to the next lock level and we moved to the final lock. The water then rose to the height of Gatun Lake and we exited the locks. Every time the water got to the top and we could see the bottom where we had come from, Matthew kept repeating 1,2,3 because he thought it was a log ride! I explained to him that these were not the kinds of boats meant for log rides and that it wouldn’t be as fun as he thinks it would be to go down the locks at full speed on a sailboat! Once we were in the lake, we untied from each other and attached to mooring balls (which were more like giant floating concrete balls) for the night. 

The next day, we got up nice and early to the sound of the howler monkeys in the woods. We had gotten up early so we wouldn’t be asleep when the next advisor came but it turned out he didn’t come until 2 hours later at 8:00 (but we had kind of expected that). As soon as the advisor got on board, we got moving because it took 4 hours to get across Gatun Lake to the Pedro Miguel Locks. 

The Pedro Miguel Locks had only one lock and this time the water in the locks went down. It took a bit longer to go through this lock because there was a big cargo ship behind us that was being pulled by little trains and couldn’t go fast because that would definitely end the life of that ship! It did make for interesting photos though!

The last set of locks we had to cross before we made it to the Pacific were the Miraflores Locks which had two locks where the water went down again. If you did have a chance to check out the website of the webcams in the locks, it was these locks we were in when the camera was filming us. There was also, as well as the webcams, an interpretation centre where crowds and crowds of people were watching us from the balcony of this building. I felt like the Queen or a famous star but instead of walking on the red carpet, I was boating down the Panama Canal locks! 

When we made it to the Pacific, the adults all had a beer as Matthew and I enjoyed our Sprite which in my opinion, is 100 times better than beer! Here are some pictures of the amazing experience of crossing the Panama Canal!

Well, that’s just about it for this month but I hope you enjoyed it. Now, my mom and I have to pack our backpacks for Machu Pichu this week!