Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day 4: Martes – Hiking through the forest

It rained all Monday night and I slept fitfully and then we were woken up at 5:45 on Tuesday. It snowed in the higher up in the mountains which made our valley even more beautiful. After a small breakfast we packed up to begin the day’s hike.

Today was downhill 16 kilometers through the woods/forest. It was amazing scenery. In the valley where we were hiking we were dominated by mountains on either side with little waterfalls coming down from the glaciers. We heard them falling a few times. The waterfalls fed into the river we were walking by which is a tributary of the Amazon River.

The scenery was spectacular.

The only problem of the hike was that it was rocky, windy and downhill so we had to watch our footing. A lot of the trail was muddy or covered with water which made it harder to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. But Tom took pictures of some of the flora we saw along the way.

Along the way we passed a little village.

We also passed a house with a traditional roof. It doesn’t have a chimney, but the smoke can leave through the roof.

We then stopped at a little place called Wiñaypocco. There were chickens running around, including one at my feet as we ate fried chicken for lunch, among other things. It was a lot of hiking and we were beat.

We then continued the hike until we reached the small town of La Playa at 2,000 meters. But don’t let the name fool you, it’s not really a beach, it’s just a little village with a river passing through it. The town has one dirt road going through it. We started called La Playa the hoyo, or the hole. We wanted to camp out, but instead set up our tents in the front yard of a store. But we started playing cards and invited two of the girls that lived there to play spoons with us. They then taught us how to play a game called nervioso which was fun.

Along the hike Jesus was carrying a gunny sack with a live guinea pig inside. When we got to La Playa they killed, skinned and gutted it and cooked him up for dinner.

Jenny – who had a pet guinea pig – and Destiny – who hadn’t eat meat in a month or so – were not so keen on the idea of eating it.

But we all tried some. It was kind of like greasy dark chicken meat. I didn’t think it was worth the effort of eating it though, not a lot of meat for a lot of bones to pick through. Despite it being a delicacy of sorts in Peru, I didn’t think it was that great.

Our horsemen didn’t go with us the next day, so we took a last picture of all of us together.

Despite the fun playing cards and eating the guinea pig, we were glad to leave the next day. Here’s Bandito Tom’s opinion of La Playa:

Here is Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 Part 1, Part 2, Day 7, Day 8


Day 3: Lunes – Salkantay Trek

Monday we were up at 5:00 am for the start of our hike. We did the Salkantay Trek with Apus Peru. We piled into a van and met up with the other people in our group, Paul and Corah, a couple from Ireland. We drove for more than an hour or two to the tiny town Mollepata to eat. We ate breakfast in a little area that had guinea pigs, cats, chickens and dogs walking around. They gave us some tea from coco leaves that the natives use. I tried it but didn’t like the taste.

We then got back in the van and drove to the beginning of the trail at a place called Soray Pampa. The road we took was a dirt/gravel switchback. On the one side of the road was the mountain, and on the other side a drop that was upwards of hundreds of feet down at times. We listened to Quechua music along the way. Part way up we were crossing a creek and bottomed out, so some of us hopped out and I took these pictures:

This was a long drive, hours long. When the Quechua tapes were over the driver put on – what else – Bob Marley, thus getting reggae songs stuck in our heads for the next few days. We finally reached the end of the road and we piled out to begin the hike. Before we began I moved to the front seat to put in my contact lenses. The driver was fascinated and asked questions about them, I don’t think he had ever seen contacts before.

Our group consisted of our guide Willy, our cook Victoriano, two horsemen Jesus and Alejandro and the six of us.

The hike began at 3,900 meters.

It was straight up hill to the Salkantay pass. Salkantay is a mountain over 20,500 feet (higher than Mt. McKinley, but only the 12th highest peak in Peru) that can be seen in the background of the above pictures. It means Savage Mountain and completely dominates the surrounding area despite everything else. The hike up was slow going with many switchbacks.

After a while of going up it started to rain a little and got colder. We made it to a tent that the horsemen and cook had pitched for lunch. They started the hike a bit after us and blew by us like they were strolling through the park. Here’s the view from the lunch tent.

We gathered in as it rained harder and began to hail. I was expecting something small for lunch, but they went all out. We had some soup to start off, then rice, French fries, grilled chicken and vegetables. The potato originated in Peru, and they know how to cook with it. The food was amazing.

We hiked up to 4,600 meters (15,200+) feet to pass Salkantay. The view was spectacular.

At the high point there is a sign giving the altitude 4600 meters or 15,253 feet. There are only 18 mountains with a higher altitude in North America, and we were higher than Mt. Whitney (the tallest point in the continental 48 states). And this was the pass to get around the mountains on either side of us.

This was the highest I have ever successfully used a pointer, and I was left to wonder if anyone had ever used a pointer at a higher elevation.

When we were further down Willy told us to pick up some rocks and carry up the mountain, so we all had some small stones. At the top it is tradition to stack the stones up to resemble a mountain as a sort of offering to the mountain gods.

Willy did a more formal offering where he scattered coco leaves on a pillar of rocks. He did it on three levels, representing different gods in the Incan deity. The first represented the snake or god of what’s below the ground, the second represented the puma or god of what’s on the ground, and the third the condor or god of what’s above the ground. Willy also briefly explained Pachamama, who’s roughly Mother Earth. Before eating or drinking those who follow the tradition pour some of the liquid or take some of the food and put it on the ground as an offering to Pachamama, since everything comes from the earth you give some back.

It was cold at the top of the pass, but going up and back down it was warm enough to wear just a short sleeved shirt and be fine. As we were getting towards the summit my fingers got a little tingly and it was harder to breath, but other than that the altitude didn’t bother me. My fingers felt fine after a few minutes. We then hiked downhill to our campsite for the night.

Towards the end we were in a green valley with a creek running through it covered in mist. Except for the mountains, this part of the hike reminded Paul and Corah of Ireland.

After 12 kilometers of hiking up and down we arrived at the campsite. It was 4,000 meters above sea level and located by some dwellings where some people live.

I can’t imagine living so far out. To get anywhere these people have to trek I don’t know how many miles by horse/foot. And yet they had bottles of water and other things ready for sale for us hikers. We had trout for dinner with rice and potatoes. Dessert was purple corn pudding, which tasted like a purple Jolly Rancher. We went to bed early as there really wasn’t anything to do, we were all beat and we had 16 kilometers of hiking to look forward to the next day.

Here is Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 Part 1, Part 2, Day 7, Day 8


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Day 2: Domingo – Sacred Valley

There are many Incan ruins in the general area around Cusco in the region called the Sacred Valley.

We were up at 6:00 to meet with our guide for the day who would take us around that we had arranged for the day before. Except when we met him, he didn’t speak English, so he was a driver and not a guide. We felt a bit cheated, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. So we started driving to Pisac.

As we were driving we stopped to take some pictures, and there was a little girl that came by with some llamas. She picked up the baby llama and moved it around like it was nothing. We all decided she was a much tougher nine year old than we were.

We stopped again along the way at a little zoo with llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas. They were in little fenced off areas and we could walk around and pet them.

Next to the zoo was a traditional textile shop. They took the wool from the alpacas and dyed the yarn there and made the cloths and blankets. The people there were dressed up in old Incan garb.

After these brief stops we got to Pisac, or partridge in Quechua. The town is supposed to be in a partridge shape. It is an hour or so outside of Cusco and has a bustling market and impressive ruins. We first went to the market. There were all sorts of touristy things there, but also regular goods that Peruvians would buy. They have more than 100 different kinds of potatoes and twenty kinds of corn.

I bought a chess set with the pieces being the Incas and conquistadores, some animal finger puppets for the nephews and a niece and some old coins. The girl I bought the finger puppets from had to be less than ten years old. There were a bunch of kids there making money selling things and charging tourists to take pictures with them. Possibly they learned the rudiments of capitalism at the school located on the premise, naturally named after Albert Einstein.

We then drove to the ruins. They were huge. The Incans did not mess around in building stone edifices. The terraces that go up from the river are shaped like a female breast which was a tribute to Pachamama, or Mother Earth (which we learned more about on Monday)

After we got to the first site Tom and Jenny walked back to the beginning, while Destiny and I walked up around the mountain to some more ruins higher up.

There were some more ruins further up, but we headed down since we had already been there for a couple of hours. We missed this statue which I had wanted to see, but forgot about when we were there.

It is said that the cacique Huayllapuma had a daughter called Inquill; who had to get married with the man that could be able to build, just in one night, the bridge over the Vilacmayo River (a very significant bridge for the defense of the place). In spite of the hard work, Asto Rimac, a handsome prince, decided to take the challenge and ask for the hand of the princess. The authorities of the place arranged everything so Asto Rimac could start the work; meanwhile, the princess had to climb a hill without turning round; because, otherwise, she and her fiancé would turn into rock. Almost at dawn, the prince finished the work but Inquill could not stand any longer and turned round thus becoming a stone figure up to now.

Our next stop was lunch at Urubamba which we all thought was included, but it wasn’t, so after a mini-fiasco trying to figure out what was going on we went to eat in Ollantaytambo instead. It was a good choice. Here’s the view from our seats:

Ollantaytambo was an agricultural, administrative, religious, military and social complex. It is a gigantic place, but unfortunately we were short on time and couldn’t climb up to explore the town. Nor could we climb to the ruins we could see from where we ate lunch were separate from the rest of the Ollantaytambo ruins. All we could do was climb a little up the massive, massive staircase and take some pictures. It was one of the few places where the Incans were victorious against the Spanish. When the Spanish charged tens of thousands of Incan warriors rained arrows, stones and boulders at them from above. They then flooded the area via a local river where they had built a cannel. The Incans themselves were not very populous. They comprised about 100,000 out of the population of ten million in the empire. The rest were other natives the Incans conquered. The Incans did not use the bow and arrow, but rather the Amazonian tribes that they brought in. The Spaniards used various tribes to fight with them against the Incan uprising.

After spending only about 15 minutes here, we headed off to Moray. Along the way we had spectacular scenery.

Moray has gigantic circular terraces that the Incas built. When I say gigantic, I mean gigantic. Going down the terraces there are slightly different climates and so this is where (supposedly) Incans experimented with which crops grow better where. It is roughly 150 meters deep and almost in a perfect circle. It’s not certain where the name Moray derives from, but it is probably from a word for corn harvesting or dehydrated potato. We arrived after it had closed as it was getting dark, but the guy in charge let us in for a little bit. We only got to see one of the terracings of the four. It is impossible to understand the size of this from the picture, but the top to the bottom is roughly 500 feet.

As we were leaving there was a mother and two kids who had a couple hour walk to their destination and wanted to know if we would give them a ride. Since we had room we let them in and drove them back to Cusco. I was talking to the woman and she said there was a church in the area they went to in Quechua. She had seen a puma in the area, but they were rare in those parts though.

Here’s the four of us, our driver and a random dog (which are everywhere) before we left. We asked the lady to take the picture, but I don’t think she had used a camera before. Her cell phone toting daughter took it for us.

When got back to Cusco we ate dinner at a place called Chez Maggie. It was tasty and we had a crazy (in a good kind of way) waiter.

We then headed off for bed to get ready for our trek.

My only disappointment in the Sacred Valley was we didn’t have enough time. We barely saw anything in Ollantaytambo, were in Moray only briefly and skipped Chinchero all together. We easily could have spent another day, and probably two exploring just these areas. If you ever go to Cusco, I’d recommend (at least) one day for the city and two for the sacred valley.

Here is Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 Part 1, Part 2, Day 7, Day 8


Day 1: Sabado – Cusco

For Thanksgiving three friends (Jenny, Tom and Destiny) and I went to Peru. We were going to spend some time in Cusco, go on a three day hike through the Andes, spend a day at Machu Picchu, then end in Lima. After the trip was over we traded pictures and had more than 3,200. The pictures in the following come from all of us. I'm going to blog each day separately.

We had a Friday afternoon flight, flew through Bogota, and landed in Lima around 12:30 Saturday morning. Our flight to Cusco left Lima at 5:40 am, so we stayed in the airport. We couldn’t find seats and couldn’t check in and so we slept on the airport floor as best we could.

We then hopped on a little plane and made it to Cusco, the capital of the Incan Empire before the Spanish conquered it. The hotel where we stayed sent someone to pick us up. The hotel was a nice little place. Our hotel door was shorter than me (I’m 5’11’’) but the showerhead was almost seven feet high. Nearby was a restaurant named Jack’s where we had an amazing breakfast. We then walked down to the Plaza de Armas, which was about a five minute walk total from our hotel.

Along the way we passed all sorts of people trying to sell us paintings, massages, shirts and random knick-knacks. We got to the Plaza and sat down in front of the Cathedral by some elementary school kids from the Lake Titicaca area and started talking to them. We chatted for five to ten minutes, and then when they had to leave they all wanted pictures of us.

After walking around for awhile at the Plaza we decided to go to two archeological sites by Cusco. We walked to them to try to get acclimated to walking at high altitudes. We all live in DC and Cusco is more than 11,000 above sea level. It was slow going up hill. Along the way we saw some women washing their clothes in a creek.

The first site we visited was Sacsayhuaman (pronounced sexy woman). It’s 3,600 meters above sea level and means satisfied falcon. It has massive stone walls, and foundations of some buildings that the Spanish tore down to build the churches in the Plaza de Armas. The Incas built Cusco and the surrounding area to be in the shape of a puma, and Sacsayhuaman was the teeth.

Here you can kind of see the zigzagging of the walls for the teeth. The wall is a thousand feet long with three levels. The largest stone is 28 feet high and weighs 360 tons. At the top there were temples and storehouses that the Spanish dismantled. After the Spaniards overran the Incan empire they occupied Cusco. Manco Inca, the puppet emperor who escaped, led a revolt. There was a massive battle here and the Spaniards overran the natives with their horses and superior armor, securing Cusco.

There is a plant called muña or mint that the natives use to help them breath better at the higher elevations. This is what I’m smelling in the first picture. I used it some more later in the trip, and I feel it helped some. It smelled good at any rate.

We then went to Q’enko, a short walk from Sacsayhuaman. Q’enko means maize with lots of returns is much smaller than Sacsayhuaman. Supposedly it was a ceremonial center and place for rituals. There is an amphitheater at the top that has 19 windows that were used to worship. There was a group of Peruvian high schoolers who wanted to take their pictures with us, so we took at least 20 pictures with them.

There were two stone walls next to each other that Tom and I tried to climb The Emperor’s New Groove style, but it didn’t work as well as it did in the movie.

On our walk back to Cusco we saw these people were playing soccer next to some other ruins.

We made our way back to Cusco, huffing and puffing due from the elevation. We ate dinner at a little place that wasn’t bad, although their avocado salad was basically an avocado with a few pieces of lettuce thrown in.

Here is Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 Part 1, Part 2, Day 7, Day 8