With the permission of my wife Barbara, I decided to take advantage of relatively inexpensive "Round the World" air fares, to see or trek a number of special places I'd longed to visit.
Lima in Peru didn't excite me, and I was happy to fly on to Cusco for a few days acclimatising. Cusco is a pleasant town built in a hilly area, providing the opportunity for exercise at altitude. I enjoyed a trip to the Sacred Valley area, past snow topped mountains to the large Pisac Market where a superb colourful display of arts and crafts was on sale. We hiked around the impressive site of Ollanbay Bambo, the last town destroyed by the Spaniards. The huge rocks used to build the town were quarried on another mountain, brought to the base of that mountain where a river was then diverted behind the rocks, which were hauled up the mountain on which the town was built - an incredible feat. We also stopped at the village of Chinchero, where we saw village people spinning, dyeing and weaving lama wool, as well as painting pottery.
On Day 1 of the Machu Picchu Trek, the group of 12 participants, team leader, guides and porters all piled into a bus to the starting point at Km. 82, at 2600 metres. We slowly started trekking for 12 arduous kilometres up a gradual ascent to the first camp at Wayllabamba at 3000 metres, which we reached as it was getting dark. On the way we passed impressive mountain scenery and the remains of Hatunchaca, built on a series of terraces, which gave us a taste of what was to come. I was pleased to see the control point on the track where the porters loads were checked to ensure they didn't exceed the maximum of 25 kgs. Unlike me and 5 of the others, 2 Spanish women and a group of 4 young Spanish men, had decided they were fit enough to carry their packs for the entire trek. At the end of the first day, porters were engaged to carry their packs for the remainder of the trek.
Day 2 started with a quick wash before packing all my gear at 6-30 am, and breakfast at 7 am. while the porters dismantled the tents. During breakfast, I experienced "pins & needles" in all my fingers, which I was advised was a symptom of high altitude dizziness. At 7-40 am, we commenced trekking up hill for 9 km to the top of Warmi Wanuska Pass at 4200 metres, which took me about 4 hours. The track was so rough and uneven, you had to stop to look around to enjoy the spectacular scenery of sparkling streams, stunningly attractive forests, and steep hills and mountains with sharp ridges, some covered in snow. At the top of the pass, I received a warm welcome from some of the Spanish fellows who had already arrived, and much to my surprise, from another group which included a friend from Australia whom I didn't know was also on the same trek. After a short rest, we walked down a steep track for 2 kms to Pagaymayu Camp for lunch, and then on to the next camp of Runkurakay at 3800 metres.
Day 3 started in the wet at 7 am, as it had rained heavily during the night. The day's route took us up and down over Runkurakay Pass at 3900 metres, past the incredible ruins of Sayaqmarka at 3600, and Conchamarka at 3500, and then up and over Phuyupatamarka Pass at 3580 metres before descending to our camp at Winay Wayna at 2650 metres. The track now consisted of the path paved by the Incas, a tunnel carved through solid rock, and terrace walls on the sides of the mountains to support the track. Once again, the scenery was superb.
Day 4 required a wake-up call at 3-45 am for a 4-30 departure by flashlight in the dark, along the narrow paved Inca track to Inti Punka, the "Sun Gate", which gave a fantastic view down on Machu Picchu exceeding expectations, being in a magnificent setting, high in the mountains above the Urubamba River. Walking through the ruins of the city, which it has been estimated took 100 years to build, was a marvellous experience. The work involved quarrying the huge rocks, moving them into place after having been shaped to perfection to fit precisely together without mud or mortar, and not a crack between them - Incredible !
I stayed the night in Aguas Calientas, a small town at the bottom of the mountain, which gave me the opportunity to soak in the local thermal springs, and look around the unusual and interesting town. The train back to Cusco provided great views as it switched back and forth down the mountains.
Sightseeing around Cusco, and the trek to Machu Picchu, provided a marvellous experience never to be forgotten.
Buenos Aires is an interesting city to visit, although I far prefer the natural or ancient wonders of the world. My favourite memories are of the excellent steaks and local wines enjoyed at inexpensive restaurants; the antique shops in the San Telmo area; the extraordinary 18 tonnes, 20 metre high aluminium "Giant Flower" which opens its petals to the sun each morning, and closes again at dusk; and the Recoleta Cemetery with its extravagant mausoleums.
Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil are an impressive sight amidst beautiful scenery. A series of paths on the 'Inferior Circuit', meandering through lush tropical forests, reach the "lesser falls" which are impressive for their width, numbers and settings. The major fall, Salto Union, is a dramatic sight, as the wide Rio Iguazu flows smoothly along until it suddenly tumbles into a seething white cauldron of turbulent water violently throwing up spumes of heavy mist which drifts down a canyon above the river. Another sight never to be forgotten.
Rio De Janeiro is a fascinating bustling modern city with great views of the city and surrounding bays from the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain reached by cable car, the statue of Christ on Cordova Mountain, the activity along the waterfront and on Ipanema and Copacabana Beaches. Now one of my favourite cities in the world which I regret I may never have the opportunity to visit again.
Barcelona has several unique buildings designed by the architect Gaudi, including the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral which commenced construction in 1882, and is still not finished. There is also the La Pedrera apartments building, Casa Battlo and Park Guell, decorated with masses of mosaics. The Colon area has lots of interesting squares, narrow streets with old apartment buildings, and the popular Las Rambles Mall where I saw several amusing "living Statues".
Istanbul is a fascinating older city with numerous historical buildings including the Blue Mosque, Topaki Palace, and Grand Bazaar; the attractive and busy Bosporus River, all requiring time to visit, apart from absorbing the atmosphere of this vibrant city.
Gallipoli near Canakkle requires a full day for Aussies and Kiwis, if you have a good guide. Turks also respect this area which has deep emotions in their history. While it usually means little or nothing to people from other countries, an American girl who toured the area with me was nearly moved to tears on a couple of occasions as we listened to the stories related by our excellent Turkish guide. Pergamum is an interesting ancient site high on a hill, once on the edge of the sea, which over the years has receded some miles away.
Ephesus is even more impressive. The magnificent Celsus Library, Marble Street leading to the Great Theatre at the end of the Harbour Street which could seat 25,000 spectators, the smaller Odeon Theatre able to seat 1,500 people, the various other paved streets decorated with marble columns and statuary, as well as various other building ruins which provide a glimpse of what life was like thousands of years ago.
Kusadasi and Koycegiz are pleasant sea side towns along the route.
Saklikent Gorge is the result of a mountain split in half by an earthquake, provided the opportunity for a hike over or around boulders strewn along the river flowing through the gorge.
Fethiye is a very picturesque harbourside town from which numerous boats depart for cruises of the Mediterranean. Impressive mausoleums are carved in the rock face of cliffs surrounding the town.
A Mediterranean Cruise is a relaxing way of breaking the travels, eating, drinking, and sunbaking as you sail from one interesting location to another, where you have the opportunity to dive into the crystal clear waters for a swim in places like Oudinez. Kas is another pleasant harbour town, with an ancient Roman Theatre on the outskirts, and opportunities to enjoy a cruise to the sunken city of Kekova, or a swim in the Med.
Olympia is the location of possibly the world's most rustic and picturesque backpackers at Kadir's Tree Houses. The track to the beach passes ruins along the way, and there are others on the cliffs above the beach. A bus trip to Mt Olympus to see the eternal flames at night is illuminating.
Cappadocia lived up to expectations. I had a bedroom in a cave, wandered around and into numerous cave churches in the open air museum, visited an old haman for a Turkish bath, and climbed down the stairs of an underground city 8 stories deep.
Delhi is hot, dirty, dusty and dry, and generally an uninteresting place compared to much of India.
Jaipur is also dry, dusty and dirty, but far from dreary - it's vibrant. The enormous Amber Palace built in the 18th century, massive Pink Fort with the world's biggest canon, Palace of the Winds, all require time to visit. And the streets ! The traffic is horrendous with constant noise, and mixed in with the ordinary vehicles are pedestrians, cyclists, trishaws, tuk tuks, overloaded buses, sacred cows, camels, elephants, pigs and monkeys.
Pushkar is relatively small, and appears to be "hippy heaven". A great place to wander around on foot, and observe the locals. Once again, most of the women wear magnificent colourful saris, but I observed that many of them went bare foot walking the streets.
Bharatpur's Keoladeo National Park is renowned for the bird life where among others, I saw owls, eagles and masses of nesting cranes.
Agra, filthy and smog bound, is home to the magnificent, incredibly beautiful Taj Mahal.
Varanassi is a fascinating city for no other reason than the activity on the banks and in the Holy Ganges River. The population uses the river to swim, clean their teeth, wash themselves and their laundry, immerse themselves for religious cleansing and blessings, and throw in the remnant ashes of cremations. Cremations on the banks are a constant occurrence, and the limbs of the bodies are often visible protruding from the pyres. There are several different styles of temples in the city, each worth a visit. Observing the weaving of beautiful silk shawls, sometimes by children, in dark cottages with old wooden looms on dirt floors, was a revelation. (Incidentally, the children appeared healthy and happy in their work, having been to school in the morning.)
Calcutta appeared on arrival to be dirtier and noisier than what I'd already experienced, but a tour of the sights was enlightening. The highlights were a visit to a maharaja's marble palace in which the family still live in one half, while the other half forms a museum. Priceless paintings, statuary, furniture and fittings provided an idea of how opulent life must have been, before the building and contents became neglected and began to deteriorate. The Jain "Jewel Box" Temple, covered inside and out with mosaics of tiles and mirrors, and set in immaculate gardens was a revelation after the dirt, filth and neglect of so much of India. I was startled to see numerous rick shaws being towed by Indians running barefoot on the roads, hauling passengers or loads for a pittance. A depressing sight in many of the cities is the families who eat, sleep and live in squalor beside the roads.
A fascinating country due to the history, vast differences in culture and activity !
My fourth trip to this marvellous country of friendly people, beautiful scenery, superb beaches and delightful healthy food. I spent three weeks swimming, sun baking and relaxing before returning to my favourite country - Australia.
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