Blatantly disregarding my responsibility for the oppressed common folk of the TL, I disappeared to Peru for the last month. And what the month that was! From trekking around frozen six-thousanders through watching wildlife in the mountain jungle on the very edge of Amazonia to a 42-hour bus ride to a remote volcanic valley - and much more inbetween all of that.
We did not really prepare much for the journey - some friends of ours picked some destinations that sounded fun and safe (Peru sadly still has some zones that are not very advisable for independent travel, so we had to know at least where those are) and we went along with that. Only during the free time on the road I caught up on reading the Lonely Planet guide, and discovered that Peru has a pretty much established "Gringo trail" where most of the foreigners head to. With much relief, I also assesed that this trail goes in a completely different direction from ours. Indeed during much of the trip we were pretty much the only gringos in sight -- baring the slightly touristy trek at the beginning in the Cordillera and one necessarry stop at the end in a very gringo location - Islas Ballestas - that also happens to be the best sea birding place we have ever been to and thus quite worth it. They even had hundreds of Inca Terns in there - look at them!
Later on, when looking up some stuff online in one of the many internet cafes that can be found even in the most improbable corners of the country, I slowly found out that not only this trail is pretty well-known, but that it is purposefully followed by most of the "independent" visitors, who even acknowledge the "Gringo trail" label as something positive. Why would someone deliberately expose himself to such suffering in a country that offers so much peace and solutide is completely beyond my congitive abilities ... Well, Machu Picchu and the Sacred valley are probably nice, the Nazca plain seems interestingly mysterious and even Titicaca sounds cool in theory, but none of these places makes me care enough to go there in a country that is basically made of wilderness waiting to be explored.
Of course, we watched birds along the way. While the choice of destinations was not really optimised for birding and we completely skipped Amazonas (it being a destination for a month itself), it was pretty good and Peru turned to be our most productive trip ever - so far we have identified photos of 156 bird species (of which 88 we have never seen before) and there are still over 2000 pictures (one fifth from the overall 65 Gb) to be solved which will probably yield a couple dozen species more. And it's not just "some birds" - many of them among the most colourful and exotic we have ever seen, as evidenced by the very narrow selection above.
However from all of the birds, the unmistakeably absurd (both in appearance and in name) Andean Cock-of-the-rock was the one I really wanted to see. Surprisingly, the orange monstrosity turned to be one of the easier ones to spot, as a regular lekking site of theirs was located only a couple hundred meters from a fantastic campstite in the Yanachaga Chemillen National Park. There we have spend two nights complete surrounded by jungle, sleeping just under a mosquito net and a wooden roof of a sort of a rustic open-air gazebo, with Cocks-of-the-rock sometimes flying through right next to our belongings.
When signing the visitor's logbook here, we noted that we were the first tourists to arrive in a week and one from just a handful of gringo groups that reached this remote corner during the year. Yet there were two friendly and informed rangers waiting for us to give us any infomations and help possible, all of that for an entrance ticked worth $7 per person and three days. Honestly, I could have spent here much more than that (and probably will at some point, as we learned from the rangers that the park has other equally fascinating sectors for us to visit).
Finally, for the last week of the trip, when two of our firends left us for home and we remianed just three, we headed off through Arequipa, missing further sights along the way and finally reaching the remote Valle de los Volcanoes at 4 a.m. after two days in cramped buses. Here, in the very edge of civilisation amidst completely abandoned mountain ranges, where people do not even comprehend the idea of a taxi or a menu in a restaurant and the only means of transport to some places is on the bed of a truck tucked in between sacks of fertiliser and shiny metal sheets for the construction of new roofs, we found a landscape offering endless unexplored trekking opportunities - gosh, another place to come back to, where can one get enough time for this!