Ecuador y Peru

{This was an email I sent out to my contacts when I returned from South America in 2003}

Most of you don’t actually know that I was gone in the first place. I’ve just arrived home from a three week expedition to South America, and got a chance to see both Ecuador and Peru.

My father was doing business in Ecuador, so I was lucky enough to accompany him, providing companionship, photography and inadequate translation services. We spent a week in Ecuador and then flew to Peru and met Pippin at the airport. The three of us then checked out Cusco (the center of the Incan empire) and Machu Picchu. After a week, Dad went home and Pippin and I went on to the Amazon rainforest.

A few things we learned: The Incans were far more advanced architecturally than the Spanish. Their structures have survived numerous earthquakes, while the Spanish churches have been rebuilt many times. And all this without the use of any sort of bonding material like concrete. Their rocks were stacked, and shaped in such a way to fit together like puzzle pieces, with nothing but fine sand in between to allow for movement during a quake.

Their celestial skills impressed me, and they were keen enough to know that there are two norths — true north and magnetic north! They leveled tops of mountains and brought rocks the size of our apartment from valleys away — using their own strength. They didn’t have access to large animals like cows and horses until the Spanish brought them.

While the Spanish were greatly inferior architects, they did have superior firepower. They managed to ruin almost everything Incan and convert everyone to Christianity, losing all previous knowledge. The Incans did not have a written language, so there is nothing left to learn from, other than their structures and the writings of the Spanish. The language itself did survive hundreds of years of being banned under Spanish rule, and people in rural areas still do speak Quechua.

I got a chance to cross the Equator again. I actually got the chance to stand on a painted line directly on latitude zero. I played on it a bit, jumping from the northern hemisphere to the southern, and putting one foot on one side, and the other on the other side.

We went to many outside markets, and bought a few local crafts. The weaving is exceptional, using mainly llama and alpaca wool.

We saw many volcanoes. My dad and I stayed in a town called Baños at the base of one which was active. It was strange to go to sleep, knowing that any day now the town may be covered in lava and ash like Pompeii. note: the volcano erupted in August of 2006. not sure if Baños is even there anymore.

Another thing I learned: If you are lost in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, there is no way you’re getting out. There is a reason why they call it ‘The Green Inferno’. It’s huge, it’s hot, and if you got lost, kiss your mosquito bitten ass goodbye.

The rainforest is the harshest place to be alive that I’ve seen. If you’re a plant, good luck trying to get what you need. The soil’s not very deep, and prone to complete flooding. The light is limited, due to the sheer amount of leaves that have beat you to the light overhead. The nutrients are scarce because the other plants are already making use of them to create their leaves and other bits. And, if that’s not enough, everything else either wants to eat you or make a nest out of you.

It’s great to see the adaptations that various living things have made in the jungle. There were leaves which were brown while young, possibly to resemble dead leaves, so bugs would leave them alone. There were trees which have a paper thin outer bark, which sheds frequently, so vines and creeping plants don’t climb and choke it. There are other trees with spikes 3-4″ long coming out, so animals don’t climb or push over the tree for it’s fruit. There are trees which ‘walk’ by moving their roots and leaning towards the light. There are others which grow entirely around another tree, using it as an easy quick way to get to the source of light, and cover it completely.

The bugs are insane, really neat looking. I saw butterflies with clear wings, strange shiny green beetles, stick bugs, and so many different ants that I can’t even tell you how many species. They have ants who not only bite you, but also sting you at the same time! They are called ‘bullet ants’ because apparently when they do this, it feels like you’ve been shot.

There are so many different sounds in the jungle. It seems as though everything has it’s own noise. Each bird and bug and monkey and whatever else has a distinct sound, and they all seem to be making it the whole time. We woke up to howler monkeys. They have that name for a reason. The sound is similar to wind whipping through cracks, that spooky oooooooohhh sound of ‘ghosts’. Really weird way to get up in the morning. There was this really strange bird that sounds like someone was playing an xylophone. The macaws and parrots were very loud.

We got a chance to see the largest eagle in the world, the Harpey Eagle with a wingspan of 7-8 feet. We also got to see the largest otters, the Giant River Otters (6 feet long), and the largest rodent, the Capyberra. Have you noticed a pattern? *Everything* is bigger there, the trees, the bugs and the animals.

The air was thick, and smelled very musty and earthy. Pippin commented that it smelled like, “somebody threw a bunch of plants into a blender.”

I have four separate pages of photos, about 100 photos in total.
Here they are:

Cusco, Peru
The Sacred Valley of the Incas & Machu Picchu, Peru
Rio Tambopata, Amazon Basin, Peru


PS: Many people have asked about the anti-American sentiments overseas, so I will answer your questions.

The South Americans, like the rest of the world, are upset about the war and the current state of United States politics. People everywhere were friendly, but as soon as we told people we were from the States, many found a way to quickly, (and politely) finish the conversation. The graffiti painted everywhere, and the protests in the streets told of people’s opinions.

Every traveler we met from other parts of the world were wary of us. Only after we explained that we were, in fact, against the war, did they warm up and ask us what was going on. I had heard reports from other travelers about going abroad (Mexico, Europe and even Canada) and the anti-American sentiments overseas, but I was a bit unprepared for it. When we were in Asia, people were still very warm due to 9/11, but now there is no more sympathy. I am fearful now to be back in the country, knowing that so many people around the world hate us, more than ever before.

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