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Iguazu Falls and Parque Das Aves: Natural Wonders Of Brazil!

Our first experience in Brazil was… interesting. Foz Do Iguacu is the city from where backpackers/tourists/outdoor lovers venture to the incredible Iguazu Falls. The city itself isn’t the most specactular… but to give you an accurate description of it, I’d have to ask you to imagine an ordinary city whose main meal options include a piece of chicken or beef, rice and beans. The beans? We loved, but eventually you start craving vegetables. Now that we are in Ecuador, I’ve been ravaging salads like there’s no tomorrow!

Anyway, the reason for coming here is to stand – drenched – as a witness to thundering waterfalls and epic panoramas. Epic is an overused word, but epic justifies Iguazu Falls. For some reason when we travel, we aren’t overly taken by tourist sites nor find ourselves wanting to visit many, so going into the falls on the local bus, my expectations were mediocre. That sounds crazy looking back on it, but it certainly set me up for the knock-out punch that these mighty, cascading falls delivered.

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The day after the falls, when we tired of snacking on chips and chocolate for the lack of food options, we decided to go to another place which is far less talked about. Indeed, we only heard about it because we saw a small sign outside as we passed it by on the bus. Nobody seems to talk about it. For us though, Parque Das Aves was the best zoo experience we have ever had. Anacondas, colourful macaws, toucans and other crazy-looking birds whose names we will never remember, filled what is technically a zoo, but more a loosely contained wildlife park. The zoo has literally been built in between a rainforest, which makes you feel as though you aren’t in a zoo at all!

Check out our photos below. If you visit the falls, you absolutely must put aside a few hours for Parque Das Aves – you will not regret it!

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Six Days In The Amazon Jungle!

There’s nothing more adventurous than the Amazon jungle.

We wanted to go as deep into it as possible, and to do that involved a bit of research. The Amazon is costly and certainly not budget-friendly, but if you’re going to come all this way, you might as well do it right. A few days isn’t enough. We did the maximum amount so we could go deep into the reserve, where the jaguars, ocelots, and caimans roam….

Making our way through cloud forests and into the humid Peruvian jungle, over the course of six days we encountered crazy wildlife and rustic experiences. Trekking through the jungle at 5am in pure darkness, as the sounds of wild beasts roared all around us felt like it was straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Jungle bashing the Peruvian Amazon as our guide, Alex, hacked away with his machete proved to us just how real it was all getting. Boating down the river for hours on end, as large black caimans swam toward our boat, showed just how up close and personal you can get to danger.

Tarantulas, snakes, jaguars, ocelots, exotic birds, different species of monkeys, and tapirs in the clay licks were just some of the wildlife we encountered, which is usually reserved for wildlife documentaries. One evening, we slept up on a large wooden platform in the middle of the jungle, 15 metres high up. The steep ladder led to a platform that would be our bed for the night, where we only had a mosquito net covering us. On the platform were several lookout points, where for the next 12 hours, we would be awoken at ungodly hours to grab our binoculas, and observe the wildlife lurking beneath us. We saw a tapir, which is a strange, large mammal with a long snout, mucking about in the clay lick. A giant cockroach was crawling around the platform too, and when I say giant, I do mean giant!

Frogs of all varieties were spotted by us on night walks through the swampland. I managed to get stung by a plant (yes, a plant), to which our awesome, friendly guide Alex replied “This is jungle.” A perfect summation of everything we saw, experienced, and went through during our six days deep in the Peruvian Amazon. The Peruvian Amazon jungle is so well protected these days, that not even scientists or biologists are allowed into most of it, unless they have some exceptional level of clearance and authority. They want to keep the Amazon untouched and untainted, even if that means keeping the countless amount of plants, animals, and tribes forever shrouded in mystery. In a world where we have to know everything, it’s quite humbling to have the Amazon protected from trampling feet — scientist or no scientist.

The Peruvian Amazon, for this reason, really is a mystery. Only two weeks before we arrived, a group of campers like us went into an area we were supposed to go in. Out of nowhere, in the middle of the night they were attacked by “wild people” with bows and arrows, many of them shot and injured. We aren’t sure if people were killed or not, but you’d figure being shot with a bow and arrow wouldn’t leave you in the best condition. All of this went unreported in the media (just like most of the deaths at Machu Picchu), but we were told that from now on, nobody should cross this part of the river, or the tribes would come back to fight for their territory. The issue, we found out, was that there are still many wild tribes in the Amazon that nobody knows about, that have never had contact with civilisation. On occasion, when they do encounter outsiders, they attack and sometimes kill them. We were told that if we see “wild people” that we should never, under any circumstances, establish communication with them, and should get out of there as soon as possible.

We were fortunate, however, to meet a native tribe that had very small contact with the outside world, so our presence wasn’t a shock to them. They taught us to shoot bows and arrows, and told us their views on gringos coming to Peru for ayahuasca ceremonies. They told us via our translator, that the so-called “ayahuasca” ceremonies that people from all over the world come to Peru for, are fake. Fake ingredients. Fake shamans. At the very best, the drink might contain only part of the Spirit Vine, but the rest is filler for the hallucinogenic experience, and therefore in no way genuine. Besides, the only time native Peruvians partake in ayahuasca ceremonies is between November and February, when the Spirit Vine is strongest.

To participate in an actual genuine ceremony, you would need to go deep into the Amazon jungle and find a native tribe who:

A) Won’t kill you
B) Will understand you (they don’t speak Spanish, but native dialects)
C) Would actually want to share this ancient practice with you, since you’re an outsider

This is presuming you don’t get torn to pieces by a jaguar, dragged into the river and feasted on by caiman, poisoned by one of a million creatures that could kill you, and somehow find a native tribe to begin with. Simply put, the gringo trend for ayahuasca ceremonies is a scam. The ceremonies are spreading as far as Indonesia, further diluting their cultural and spiritual significance, transforming them into big business for posers who are ready to snap up self-journeying gringos. Logic should prevail though: Why on earth would you be able to do an ayahuasca ceremony with anybody other than a native tribe? Comfortable lodges, hundreds of dollars (sometimes thousands), and websites promoting the business don’t exactly sound like genuine Peruvian practices now, do they? :)

The Amazon was a once in a lifetime experience, although we do hope to return. The people we spent our days with were amazing, and our guide, Alex, the coolest guy going around. As a side note, I ate live termites. For the record, they taste like wood but are high in protein, so should I ever find myself lost some day, on the lookout for the Lost City Of Gold, I may survive just past five minutes before something kills me….

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Inka Jungle Trek To Machu Picchu!

Virtually a backpacker’s rite of passage, the Inka trail (“Inka” is the traditional spelling, not “Inca”) is difficult, exhausting, exhilerating, fun, wondersome, dangerous, and for those who aren’t fond of heights, scary. It’s the best thing we have ever done, and ever been apart of.

The Inka trail to Machu Picchu takes on many forms — it isn’t just the highly marketed “Classic Inka” trail that gringos often read about. In reality, there are several secret Inka trails leading to the ruins of Machu Picchu that people can choose to do. In fact, these secret Inka trails are still being discovered today. Only a few months ago, archaeologists discovered a new trail that is viewable from the peak of Machu Picchu — it seems they keep popping up, the more archaeologists get to explore the area.

We chose to traverse through the deep jungle and scale dodgy cliffs. It was physically challenging and mentally rewarding, although our knees were ready to break by the time we made it to Machu Picchu. Our Inka trail was known as the extreme one, and involved starting at the summit of snow capped mountains, and speeding down on off road bikes to the bottom of the jungle. It involved stopping off to spend nights in remote villages where one evening, a huge party was thrown to celebrate the local football team winning the league, which coincided with a local politician leading the polls to become mayor. A red truck filled with people blasting music and drinking beer drove into our small driveway in Santa Maria. The mayor and the local villagers were here to party, and we were invited!

The way to Machu Picchu via the dense Peruvian jungle also involved white water rafting and zip lining 300 metres above the ground over the forest. Since on the mountain bike ride from the mountains to the jungle, I flipped over my bike and sprained my wrist and knocked my head and neck, we missed out on white water rafting since you know, my wrist stopped working, since it was swollen black. Sam did the incredible zip lining while I continued walking with a group of really great Americans we became friends with. While Sam was superwomaning over incalculable heights and overcoming her fear of heights, Drew, Tom, Rose, and I were swimming in icy rivers and making our way over shoddy wooden bridges toward the train tracks. A dog followed us on the trek for about six hours that day, and we felt bad since we have no idea how he would find his way home.

Trekking through the jungle was one of the coolest things we have ever done. I’ve probably used that phrase a lot on this blog, but if anything, it’s testament to how much South America continues to impress, just when you think you’ve reached the peak of great impressions. South America is certainly the place for outdoor adventures, and when it comes to diversity, history, and the cultural experiences one receives from encountering indigenous tribes, it can’t be beaten. Machu Picchu is at the top of pretty much everyone’s travel list, and it doesn’t disappoint!

After our third day, when we hiked to the Inka oasis of Aguas Calientes, our legs were ready to snap. We started trekking at 6am and didn’t arrive until 7pm in town. Here, the group went on the hunt for food to bring with us the following morning, when we would scale up toward Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is a beautiful, small town with a fast flowing river intersecting it, magnificent Inka statues, and treasure-trove markets selling alpaca clothes, chess sets, and Inka relics. We saw a giant dog here, which none of us managed to get a proper photo of, but it was larger than a Great Dane and the talk of the town! It was an absolute beast, and I wish I had a better photo of it so everybody could understand just how abnormally large it was. It fumbled around, playfully stomping on a much smaller dog, who was probably frightened to the bone of the steroid beast chasing it.

On the final morning, we woke up at 4.30am to start the trek to Machu Picchu. There was a bus option, instead of taking the stairs (which are right beside the most awesome little Inka museum, which nobody seems to know exists), and our guide told us that the stairs were pointless since it’s pitch black and hard to get up. I really wanted to take the stairs anyway, but by now my feet were covered in blisters, my ankles, knees, and hamstrings twisted, and I was having trouble simply walking in a straight line, so we had to get on the short bus to the top. My body had failed at just the right time, although this meant that I had to forego the extra trek to the top of Machu Picchu mountain. Still though, I was happy to have made it through a four day Inka jungle trek to the main event — the Machu Picchu ruins. Many people we spoke to had experienced the same ordeal — by the last day, their legs or injuries just didn’t allow them to climb the mountains.

Our memories of Machu Picchu will last a lifetime! Our group was perfect, and we all became fast friends. On one of the nights, we headed out in Santa Theresa for a few Cuba Libres and beers, which turned into some late night fun with the guides Hugo and Dorian. Hugo had just opened up a new bar and restaurant two days before we arrived, so we all decided to stay for a drink. That drink turned into a 3.30am home arrival. Drew and I had a great night with the guides, which blurred into arm wrestling the locals and trialling Drew’s waterproof iPhone case in a jug of water (and almost a jug of beer)!

I wish we could do this all over again. As hard as some of the trek was, especially with its sheer cliff drops as you had but a foot and a half of space to walk while grappling the side of the mountain (there’s no margin for error, given the certain death at some points), we had the time of our lives and implore everybody to come here and do it! People die every year, and dozens are critically injured, but if you focus hard enough and are careful around the dicey bits (there’s a part where you practically rock climb unassisted around a bend, and somehow you’re expected not to fall all the way down to a river), you’ll get a real thrill out of it. There’s no way parts of this trail would be accessible or legal back home, but that’s all part of the fun. It wasn’t supposed to be easy or safe, after all, since it’s the Inka trail, which was designed to keep the Spanish away from Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu was breathtaking. I don’t think it’s even worth trying to describe what it was like, with all its ruins, llamas, gardens, and views. I’ll just show you the photos instead:

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Inspired Travel!

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