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This is the second of three instalments of the pictorial adventure of Brian White as he explores the Amazon Basin and the Andes in Peru and Bolivia. This adventure starts in the city of Cusco in Peru, which was the main city of the Inca Kingdom. Set high in the Andes at 10,912 feet (3326m) above sea level, the Spanish conquistadors sacked it for gold and the colonials later built churches. Walking and any form of exercise is more strenuous here than at lower altitudes due to the thinner air, and altitude sickness is serious, and occasionally fatal.



Cusco Fountain


Legend has it that in the 12th Century the Sun God Inti created the first Inca, Manco Capa and his sister-wife Mama Ocllo, on the Isla del Sol (Sun Island) on Lake Titicaca. Inti gave Manco Capa a golden rod and told him to live wherever the rod plunged into the ground until it disappeared. This place would be the navel of the Earth (“qosq’o” in the Quechua language) and so Cusco was founded and so named.




Iglesia de Jesus and Maria


Local Lady in Headress

Cusco became the main city at the centre of one of the Americas greatest empires, and is the oldest continually inhabited city in South America, and the undisputed archaeological capital. It is now one of the most tourism dominated towns in the world – in the main square locals hawk everything from cd’s, tattoos, and massages to paintings and puppets.



Market Stall

Wild Poinsettia

Travelling north by bus for 60 miles (96.5km), Brian arrived in the old town of Ollantaytambo, at “only” 9186 feet (2800m) above sea level. This is the best surviving example of Inca city planning, with its narrow cobbled streets, and has been inhabited since the 13th Century. It is one of the few places where the Spanish Conquistadors lost a battle. Unable to climb up to the fortress, the Spanish were showered with arrows, spears and boulders from the top of steep terraces. The Incas also flooded the plain below the fortress through prepared channels, causing the Spanish horses to be bogged down. The Inca victory was short lived as the Spanish soon returned with four times as many men and overcame the Incas. The fortress remains as a temple as it was half built at the time of the conquest and never finished. To build the fortress the Incas moves huge blocks of rock across the river by leaving the blocks on the side of the river then diverting the river around them.




Bull Effigy on a Rooftop        

Ollantaytambo Fortress

Houses up in the Andes have effigies of two bulls on the roof to ward off evil spirits and protect the inhabitants. From Ollantaytambo Brian set off firstly by train to Aguas Calientes, then on foot for the long and steep 5 mile (8km) climb up to Machu Picchu. This is now the best known archaeological site on the continent, but it was never found by the conquering Spanish, and was virtually forgotten until the start of the 20th Century. Only local Quechua people knew of its existence until American historian Hiram Bingham was guided there by the locals in 1911. He was actually looking for the lost city of Vilcabamba, and Machu Picchu was overgrown with thick vegetation. Bingham returned in 1912 and 1915 to clear the thick forest, discovering the remains of the so-called Inca Trail as he did so.




Machu Picchu  

Machu Picchu in Clouds

Despite many recent studies archaeologists are still in some doubt as to the function of Machu Picchu, but it is likely is was an important city that was a political, religious and administrative centre. At least eight access routes have been found, suggesting it was a key place on the trade routes between Amazonia and the highlands for gold and rubber. There is still an abundance of high quality stonework which may suggest it was also a ceremonial centre, and it still is, as Peru’s first indigenous Andean president staged his inauguration here in 2001.




River Urumamba at Aguas Calientes

Brian at a mountain lake

Returning to Cusco by foot and bus, Brian caught yet another bus to Lake Titicaca, the next stop on his journey, some 170 miles (275 km) south east of Cusco. At an altitude of 12,507 feet (3812m) above sea level it is the world’s highest commercially navigable lake, and with a water volume of 214 cubic miles (893 cubic km) it is the largest lake in South America. It is 118 miles (190km) long and 50 miles (80km) wide, and some of the 699 miles (1125km) of shoreline form the border between Peru and Bolivia. The deepest point is 922 feet (281m) and it is home to over 42 islands, some of which are inhabited by farmers and locals dependant on the tourist trade. “Campesinas” (peasant women) wear bowler hats and sandals made from recycled truck tyres while they tend to their llamas.




"Campesinas" in Bowler hats


In 1862 two steamships were built in Birmingham, England, the Yavari and her sister ship  the Yapura, using over 2766 iron parts for their construction. These were shipped from Birmingham around Cape Horn to northern Chile, and then moved by train to Tacna, and then hauled by mules over the Andes to Puno. This incredible undertaking took over six years to complete, and the Yavari was assembled in the lakeside port of Puno and launched on Christmas Day 1870. Both ships were coal powered, but when coal became scarce the locals used dried llama dung for the fuel! The Yavari became a Peruvian Navy medical ship and after many years in service was decommissioned and left to rust on the shore of Lake Titicaca. In 1982 Merial Larkin, an English woman, visited the forgotten boat and started a restoration project, and in 1999 the Yavari left port under her own steam for over 50 years, and now sails the lake seven times a year.




Lake Titicaca

Sun Isle, Lake Titicaca

Brian travelled across Lake Titicaca by ferry, and boarded a bus to cross the border from Peru into Bolivia. However that very day the locals had staged a political protest and the road through the border post was closed. Brian had to walk for 1½ miles into Bolivia to another bus to continue his journey, eventually arriving at the town of Copacabana on the south of Lake Titicaca. It is not “the hottest place north of Havana” in any sense, but is home to some 15,900 people at an altitude of 12,600 feet (3841m). Of the many places Brian has visited over the years, this is one of the few places where the local people do not like to be photographed.




La Paz


Mount Illimani from La Paz

Brian travelled on to Bolivia’s “de facto” capital La Paz, which is the highest capital in the world at an elevation of 11,975 feet (3650m). Founded in 1548 by the Spanish conquistadors at the site of a native American settlement, La Paz is overlooked by the triple-peaked Illimani, which at a height of 21,122 feet (6438m) is always covered in snow. In the summer months of November to April the weather is often harsh, with heavy rain most afternoons, and the canyon fills up with clouds and the steep streets become torrents of run off water. It is cooler in the winter (May to October) but the suns rays are very strong at this altitude with temperatures in the high 60 degrees in the day and at freezing point at night. Amongst many interesting sights in La Paz Brian saw a “wall of remembrance,” which is actually several long walls showing portraits. These are photos of the deceased, whose cremated remains are in urns in alcoves behind the photos. Flowers adorn the wall and relatives come to pay their respects, sometimes opening up the alcoves.



Cemetery Wall, La Paz


One of many buses used by Brian

From La Paz Brian rode a mountain bike along the North Yungas Road to Coroico, a journey of some 43 miles (69km). This road is known as “Death Road” due to its extreme danger and it has been christened as the "world's most dangerous road". Approximately 200 to 300 travellers died every year along the road, emphasized by dozens of crosses marking many of the spots where vehicles have fallen. It is one of the few routes that connect the Amazon rainforest with the Yungas region in northern Bolivia.




Cloud Forest Flora

Cloud Forest Orchid

The road rests on the edge of the mountains, and the extreme sheer drops of at least 1,830feet (600 m) test the nerve of drivers as they drive on a  single-lane 10 feet (3m) wide surface of mud and loose rocks with a complete lack of guard rails. Add to this the local weather conditions of driving into thick clouds, the road is extremely dangerous. The nature of this road means there are local rules for drivers, one being that the downhill driver never has the right of way and must move to the outer edge of the road forcing fast vehicles to stop so that passing can be negotiated safely. Also, vehicles drive on the left, as opposed to the right like the rest of Bolivia, to give a left hand drive vehicle's driver a better view over his outside wheel, and of the sheer drop, in an attempt to make passing safer.




One of many crosses on the roadside

Brian ready to set off!

Despite only a couple of hours sleep the previous night due to effects of altitude sickness, Brian successfully negotiated the hazardous road by mountain bike, stopping safely to admire the stunning views. Nevertheless, the Yungas Road remains dangerous and at least 18 cyclists have died on the ride since 1998. A new road on a different route now replaces this road for most traffic, featuring modern construction, to enlarge the carriageway to two lanes, guardrails and a pavement to make it much safer.




  Stopping for a rest on Death Road                                                                                  Death Road in the Clouds

The third and final final part of Brian’s adventures will be published here shortly, when he is bitten by a poisonous Bullet Ant, visits the Madidi National Park and sees condors in the Colca Canyon. All this, and more stunning images coming soon to this website.

Brian is currently planning to work on a photo book containing many images from his Amazon and Andes travels. He is available to give an illustrated talk on this remarkable journey.

More images from this Amazon Adventure will be on his website soon, but in the mean time his contact details and images from his previous travels can be found at

A photograph taken by one of our members

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