Tag Archives: South America

Cusco and the Sacred Valley



Cusco, the Navel of the Earth, is an important city in the history of Peru. It is at 3,400 metres and is on a hillside.

The Plaza de Armas (main square) has two gorgeous cathedrals on it, as well as many shops and restaurants. The city has millions of tiny, narrow and steep cobbled streets, which makes exploring just fantastic.


There are many women wandering the streets dressed in traditional clothing trying to sell their bracelets, beanies or get a picture of you with their baby llama. They wear the traditional clothing, so that if you take pictures of them they can ask you for money.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe older part of town, behind the Plaza de Armas, shows off many older buildings that use traditional Incan construction. The base of the building is stone and the upper part of the walls and rendered. There is one important temple, and one of its important features is a large stone in the construction of the base that has twelve angles. I’m not quite sure why this is such a big deal though, I am sure it must have some religious significance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAway from the Plaza de Armas in the opposite direction is a local market with some fantastic fresh fruit juice stalls, fresh fruit, cheese, bread, meat, grains etc. It’s always interesting to wander local markets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe city’s layout is supposedly in the shape of a Puma – an animal sacred to the Peruvians. Once I had wandered to the top of the hill and found a great lookout point, I can assure you it’s a stretch of the imagination to see the puma shape. At the lookout point was a great hostel with a café/bar called Limbo that had comfy couches and an amazing view of the city.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was in Cusco that I had the chance to learn how to make a good Pisco Sour. I also had the opportunity to eat guinea pig and alpaca. While the guinea pig was served whole, teeth and all, I gave it my best shot but didn’t like it. The alpaca however is delicious! I have tried Alpaca in three different dishes and every time it has been amazing. Worth a try!

The Sacred Valley


The Sacred Valley is a valley with a river flowing through it, the villages in the low and high lands of the valley were mostly agricultural communities.

There were four places we visited in the Sacred Valley: a Llama farm, Pisac, Amaru and Ollantaytambo.

Llama Farm

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI cannot recall the name of the Llama farm, but it was a site set up to teach people the difference between Llamas, Alpacas, Vicuñas and the other kinds of Llama type animals. Llamas have longer necks, pointier noses and ears and their tails point upwards. Alpacas are shorter in height and neck length, their ears and faces and less pointed and their tails point downwards.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe site also gave up the opportunity to learn about how the alpaca wool is spun, dyed and used. We got to see demonstrations of all parts of the process. The weaving was particularly impressive!



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmaru (the name means Snake, another important animal in the Peruvian culture) is a local village in the hills that is supported by Intrepid. We were invited into the homes of the local community to meet the women and to enjoy a home cooked traditional meal made from foods they had grown themselves. The food was absolutely delicious!

The women also dressed us up in their traditional clothing and we took photos.

They were the most welcoming and friendly people, and we were all invited back to visit again soon.



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPisac is a town in the lowlands, where we stopped to see how the silversmith’s create their intricate pieces of jewellery. Silver is a metal found in the area. We also had the opportunity to explore the local markets for souvenirs.

The town itself was snugly nestled in the lowlands, and everywhere you looked there were mountains setting a beautiful scene.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOllantaytambo was the starting point for the Inca Trail, so the visit was very brief. The city was very cute, with tiny cobbled streets and little houses, nestled amongst the mountains.

For all my Cusco & Sacred Valley photos, check out my album on Flickr.


The Amazon Jungle, Puerto Maldonado, Peru

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPuerto Maldonado is roughly a two hour flight from Lima, stopping in Cusco along the way to drop off and pick up passengers. Transport around Puerto Maldonado is quite slow as the road conditions are pretty bad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen heading into the Amazon, you first re-pack just the necessary items into a small duffle bag before catching a boat ride up river for an hour or so to the lodge. There are many lodges each used by different companies. The lodge that Intrepid took us to was called Cayman Lodge Amazon, where we all slept in our own bungalows. We had two guides, Kristian and Jessie, who were both brilliant; they spoke English well, and were very friendly and knowledgeable about the area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPuerto Maldonado is in a region of Peru called Madre de Dios, down a section of river called Rio Tambopata. While in the Amazon we enjoyed several activities, all of which centred around looking for wildlife; a river cruise, a short night cruise looking for caymans, a jungle walk, a lake boat trip and a night walk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Amazon has so many amazing weird and wonderful creatures and which ones you see is just up to luck. Our group was lucky enough to see a number of Capybara’s (giant guinea pigs), Turtles, two different kinds of monkeys (at a great distance), a Tarantula, a tree snake, a tiny snake, and a yellow-headed Vulture during the day. When crossing a lake in the, unsuccessful, hunt for an anaconda we did a spot of fishing and caught some yellow piranhas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking through the muddy jungle, we heard wild pigs and red howler monkeys. Listening to the howler monkeys was very eerie and calming at the same time. It sounded almost like wind rushing through a tunnel. I thought it was pretty cool.

Our night walk mostly allowed us to see insects, including another tarantula, a giant spider, frogs, praying mantis’ and a wild chicken sleeping in a tree.

IMG_0339The jungle is really full of bugs, so to make the most of it you really need to wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt despite the heat, as well as coat yourself in both sunscreen and bug spray.

The time in the jungle was pretty chilled; there isn’t much to do aside from soak up the atmosphere and keep your eyes peeled for whatever creature crosses your path.

For all my Amazon photos, check out my album on Flickr


Lima, Peru

Santiago Airport

The flight to Lima went via Santiago, Chile. While this is not a particularly noteworthy event, it’s an airport worth discussing. It’s quite small, but in a sense quite chaotic. The short version is that flights don’t appear on the departure screens until the very last minute. To assist passengers find the right gate there are no information desks, airline desks or staff with knowledge of such things. Santiago airport is simply a waiting game. Not recommended for the anxious traveller.



Lima has several suburbs, I stayed in Miraflores, which is a more affluent suburb. It is coastal, a cliff top suburb looking out over a pebble beach and the ocean. I felt that the city planning was done well as there are gorgeous wide avenues, many green parks and the city is wonderfully clean. It also feels incredibly safe and the people are friendly.

There are a few main streets worth mentioning. Avenue Jose Pardo is a main street, while it doesn’t seem to offer a lot to see or do, it feels a bit like one of the backbone roads of Miraflores.

For shopping and restaurants Malecon Balta and Avenue Larco are great. The two streets meet at Kennedy Park which is a great location, lots of people and a gorgeous park which has night stalls. It is also around the Kennedy Park area where you will find lots of restaurants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you head all the way down Avenue Larco it ends at a cliff top shopping mall called Larco Mar. Larco Mar is very cleverly designed, open air and to make the most of the views. While they are probably more expensive, there are a number of restaurants and bars here too.

If you follow the coastline in a northerly-ish direction (I’m bad with compass directions) a walkway continues for kilometers, and passes through numerous parks. The park of Love is quite fascinating and I would say reminiscent of Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona. Lovely mosaic sculptures and walls. These cliff tops provide the most stunning backdrop for sunsets. And it is at sunset that you can go paragliding (for an obscene about of money – approx. USD$100 for 10 minutes)


My day of exploring Miraflores was a Sunday, so not much was open. One place worth a mention is the ruins of Huaca Puccllana. About a ten minute walk up from Avenue Jose Pardo. Randomly in the middle of all the houses is a partially excavated site. I found the guide a little hard to hear, so I will provide my best version of what I understood.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs it had previously been private property the site looked like a big pile of rubble, until it was discovered to be a buried historic site in 1981. The site was a basically a town, the area that had been restored was the temple and plazas. The pyramid at the back of the complex was used for religious purposes and was a tiered construction. A new tier was built every twenty years. For each new tier, human sacrifices were made and the bodies were buried in the tier. It was also later used as a giant cemetery.

The buildings were all constructed from bricks that were quite narrow, they were laid vertically on a slight angle, with gaps between them, the next row would be angled in the opposite direction. This is called the bookshelf technique; it is thought that this design would allow for movement without damaging the structural integrity of the buildings. It was suspected this technique was used because of the earthquakes that are known to occur in the region. I also wonder if the technique was used for insulation purposes.

Downtown Lima

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADowntown Lima is way more hectic than Miraflores and traffic is completely nuts. While I felt quite OK, I read and heard a few warnings about safety. Just make sure you are careful with your personal belonging.

The Moorish influence can be seen in the architecture in downtown Lima with many building having old timber balconies extending beyond their walls. Many of the buildings are painted bright colours and have elaborate doors and windows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few main sites in downtown Lima are Plaza San Martin, Plaza de Armas and the Monastery of San Francisco. It’s nice to wander between these sites, and they are all fairly close to each other.

Plaza san Martin and Plaza de Armas are both public squares. Plaza San Martin has a statue of San Martin and Plaza de Armas has a fountain. Bother have fantastic buildings surrounding them and it is great to just wander and take in the atmosphere and the architecture. Plaza de Armas has a large cathedral on one side and adjacent is the presidential palace (I heard there is a changing of the guard once per day, at midday).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Monastery of San Francisco is quite fascinating. The church was closed when I went, but the monastery had a guided tour throughout, including the catacombs. No photos can be taken inside, so I am unable to share, but it certainly was stunning. The old architecture, carved cedar ceilings, the art work, ornate doorways and furniture. The catacombs of course were fascinating, crypts housing hundred upon hundred of bones, I think we only saw femurs and skulls.

A piece of artwork that was particularly interesting was a Flemish painters version of the last supper. It was created with a Peruvian flair, where the main meal being shared was guinea pig and wine was being drunk from golden Inca goblets.

Food to try:

Two local dishes worth trying are Pollo a la brassa, some form of roasted chicken; and Ceviche, raw fish cured in lime juice and onion. Lomo Saltado is also quite a common Peruvian dish and is a fairly basic, but very tasty, beef stir fry.
The traditional drink is a cocktail called a Pisco Sour.

Many dishes are served with rice and chuclo. Chuclo are large white corn kernels. They don’t seem to have a whole lot of flavour.

The average cost of a meal is about 40 soles.

Where I stayed:

Prior to my tour starting I stayed at Backpacker’s Family House, only about a block from the coastline. I thought it was good value for money, good location. It was a clean hostel with friendly staff, free wifi and breakfast included.

Getting around:

Around Miraflores I found walking was easy, and the distances between places aren’t too far.
To get to downtown Lima you can catch the metropolitan (bus) or take a taxi. When you take a taxi, be sure to get the price before getting in – it should not cost more than 20 soles. (I paid between 15 and 17 soles).


In every building are ‘S’ signs, indicating where you should gather in the event of seismic activity (earthquakes).

Check out my album on Flickr, to see all my Lima photos


Project Beans is taking shape and the countdown is on!

Today is exactly 3 months from my departure date… eep, excitement!!

At this point, stage two of Project Beans is well under way and as you may expect the plans have morphed a little and now has three phases.

Travel Phase 1

All booked, paid and locked in!!

I felt like I wasn’t quite ok to travel South America solo, so I booked two tours. The first tour explores the West Coast (Peru and Bolivia) and the other the East Coast (Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil). Some of the highlights of these tours include: The Amazon, hiking the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, visiting the Salt Flats of Bolivia, mountain biking Death Road in Bolivia (not yet included but I will find a way to make it fit), staying on a ranch in Uruguay, visiting the Iguassu Falls and visiting Rio de Janeiro!!!
My friend CD and his friend Jen will also be coming along for the ride, which will be pretty awesome.

From South America I will hightail it to Istanbul, Turkey. I have a few days to myself before I will be joined by my mum and together we will do a quick whip around Turkey, the highlights of which will be Istanbul, Cappadocia and Pamukkale.

From there, we need to head straight to The Netherlands, to the beautiful little town of Sliedrecht for the wedding of my cousin. Apart from the obvious wedding excitement, it will be a great, but short, time to just chill out and enjoy my family’s company.

Travel Phase 2

P1080240 (Large)Together with a group of four others from the Department of Education Tasmania, I have been awarded a Hardie Fellowship to investigate best practices in STEM education. This means that we are paid to go on a study tour of the US. This includes visits to schools who are leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), a tour of Silicon Valley (OMG – nerd heaven!!!), a technology in education conference and then we each need to actually study at a university. I have to wait for the dates and course costs to be released, but at this stage I am hoping to do a course at MIT and another one at Stanford (double OMG – more nerd heaven!!!!)

The study tour is about 5-6 weeks, after which I hope to bump out my return dates so I can explore New York and Chicago; maybe even squish in a quick trip to Central America, before heading back to Europe. There’s also a few people I hope to catch up with while in the US.

Travel Phase 3

Once I am back in Europe my plan still includes exploring as much of Spain as humanly possible, walking El Camino de Santiago, learning Spanish, exploring Portugal and also Morocco. Lately I have also been thinking about throwing in a trip to Iceland, as I have heard great stories and seen amazing pictures.

Despite having some ideas of what I would like to do, phase 3 is currently completely unplanned and this is exciting!!!