Monday, July 24, 2006

Fri 7/7 - Macchu Pichu

It was another early morning but actually, we got to sleep in a little bit because instead of trekking up (only a 45 minute trek), we rode the bus up which was a blessing because everyone's feet hurt. Instead of 4, we got to sleep until 5:30a, we ate breakfast and then walked towards the bus station. It was a long windy road to get to the top and the ride made us even feel a bit queasy. But we finally made it to the top, before the sunrise and got to watch the sun illuminate this amazing structure.

Machu Picchu was built by the Incans and its called the lost city because it was built in the 1400s and when the Spaniards took over, the city of Machu Picchu was never found since it is hidden high in the Andes and is between a block of highlands. It wasn't until 1911 when an American actually discovered it, Hiram Bignham. This is a picture of what it looked like and the massive door in the front is the main entrance, actually the only entrance. It was amazing to be there to see how they built this city where about 1,200 people lived and to see how solid these buildings were made and how the blocks fit perfectly without mortar, although none of the blocks are the same size and have as many as 30 corners.

This is a picture of their sun dial or astronomical clock. As the winer solstice approached, when the sun seemed to disappear more each day, a priest would hold a ceremony to tie the sune to the stone to help prevent the sun from disappearing all together. They would pray and pray for more sun and when it was approaching summer and the sun stayed out longer, they believed that this was a miracle and that the Sun God listened to their prayers.
Llamas were sacred and white llamas were then sacrificed to the sun, which was their God. There was a massive rock where the Incas would go to meditate and re-energize themselves and pray to the Gods. Here we are trying to re-energize and pray good things come our way. It was such a site to see and I hear that on the weekends sometimes, they have moonlight tours that would be really cool- but its usually not announced and you have to ask. It was a physically exhausting trip but it was worth the experience for sure. After we left there, we headed back to Aguas Calientes to grab our things and get on the train back to Cuzco. Another long day.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Thurs 7/6- Salkantay Trail Day 4

Playa 2,250 meters/Santa Teresa
Well by now, our bodies hurt like you wouldn't believe and I woke up more sore than I have ever been since I can't remember when. I could barely walk and the balls of my feet still hurt from the massive blisters I got. We woke up and had breakfast at 6:30am near the family owned store where we ate our dinner and met some of the family the night before. The most notable one was Alexander, who around 2 years old and loved Fred. All the kids were so adorable and the family was so nice and gracious to have us there to socialize and of course, spend some money in their store.Luckily, after breakfast (yogurt, granola, bread with butter and jam, eggs and either nescafe' -not exactly coffee but it worked- hot chocolate or coca tea), it was time to leave our campsite at Playa. Our group had a bus waiting for us to take us to another "bus"- actually, more like a big wagon with bars around the sides and the top where we all stood with our backpacks while they took us through the mountains where we were dropped off and had to take a cable car across this massive rapid river. But this wasn't just any cable car-- it was manually pulled across, back and forth--- and if there was no one to pull you, you had to pull yourself across the river. We watched the locals do it first and then we all had a chance to do it. It was a lot of fun, except at the last minute Cyndy slings her back pack to me to hold since Ceasar told her that she was going to have to pull her legs up before we got to the other side or it would slam against the rock. But it was all good.... The terrain this day was beautiful-- lots of brooks and rivers and rolling hills, big blue skies with white clouds so white they looked like cotton in the sky. Finally, we got our bags and made it to Santa Teresa where we had to wait for a train to take us to Aguas Calientes-- the city at the foot of Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, here we had to wait about 4 hours until the train arrived. So to kill time, Cyndy and some of the others washed some clothes, others read and wrote in their journals and some of us played cards. Ben taught us how to play Egyptian rat screw and this kept us entertained for hours. Then we taught Ceasar how to play Go Fish! He loved it and it was hilarious- we played this forever and it was getting pretty fierce. I know, we're dorks. We also enjoyed the sounds of Roxette and Heart with a little old school Madonna thrown in. Go Fish, cool tunes and Cusquena (the local beer)- a heavenly afternoon.Finally our train arrived and we enjoyed a 2-hour ride to Aguas Calientes. On the way, we passed the old railway that was destroyed by El Nino in '85 by an avalanche which was pretty wild. We also saw some really cool waterfalls.
We also passed through some local villages where you could see how these homes were made with metal tin roofs and big stones on top to keep it in place. We got to Aguas Calientes before dinner time and the city was really neat. Very small, just a couple of main streets and the railway runs through it like this. There are some really great markets here and we got to go check them out on our way back. We stayed at the Presidente Hostal which was really great and the view from our balcony was amazing. These pictures don't do it justice- we had about a 1/2 hour photo shoot trying to get the background to really come through and think we finally got it in these solo shots. We were only in our rooms long enough for the laundry service to get done washing our clothes since no one had any clean ones left and then we headed to dinner with our group. It was really nice and even got to listen to real Peruvian music with their signature pipe flutes, acoustic guitar and drums. This was the last day we would see all the cooks so we said our good-byes after dinner and then a few of us decided to go get a drink.... or two. We went to a place called Cuzi-Cuzi, a karayoke bar, for some Pisco Sours and some dancing. Claudia and I only stayed for a drink and some dancing but left to get some sleep. The next day, we heard everyone got on the mic and again, enjoyed the sounds of Roxette, old school Madonna and a bunch of other 80's hits! What a long, long day and tomorrow was going to be just as long...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Wed 7/5- Salkantay Trail Day 3

Challway 2600 meters/Playa 2250 meters-terrain today was mostly downhill and killed my knees. Very rocky with lots of cliffs. We woke up at 4am today and started trekking at 430am to make up for lost time on day 2. We carried flashlights and followed on a single file line in the dark. It was pretty nerve racking because Rog and Rose's flashlights went dead so we were sharing light which made it even harder. Finally, our eyes adjusted and around 5:45am we were able to turn our flashlights off and continue trekking. The terrain changed from seeing snow peaked mountain tops and being really cold, to entering the jungle and seeing huge mountains covered with greenery and the temperature was definitely rising. We were shredding layers every 10 minutes it seemed.We got to a bridge and it was closed off and we werent sure if we could cross it or if we had to go around and Rodrigo, who was guiding us told us that we should go around the bridge, so we had to make our own path and cross all these little rivers to get back to the main path.
Since we needed to make up for yesterday, we had to go fast (it seemed like we were literally racing) and I had a blister I felt coming on. Finally, I had to stop to but some mold skin on, which really didn't help too much. At 9AM we made it to Collyapampa (2400 meters) hot springs owned by Ceasar's friend Atermistanio, who we actually ran into on the trek and met. In this picture you can see the springs with a little water fall coming down into the spring and we had to cross that little bridge to get to it and then climb down some big rocks which you can't really see in the picture. It was beautiful and we all got in our bathing suits and went for a dip in the hot spring. This was the first time in 3 days that I got to wash my hair... it was really refreshing. After our dip and almost 5 hours of trekking, it was reaching 10am and we finally sat down for breakast.. I was starving. We got to rest for a little while after and we all had a chance to take care of our blisters, etc... before trekking on. We left there and trekked for another 3 hours until we finally made it to a break. Ceasar checked our time and we were ahead of schedule at this point! We stopped at our place where we were supposed to eat lunch but Ben and Ed trekked further ahead and didn't know they were supposed to stop here. So we trekked for another 2 hours- and although it was long..he told us we would be done for the day so we agreed to continue on. On the trek, Ceasar pointed out trees where it looked like there were red berries but it was actually coffee beans. You have to peel back 2 layers to get to the bean. Then we came upon a house where a woman was drying the beans out to sell. She was also selling advocados (and the best advocados ever are in South America!) for 1 sole, which is about 30 cents. He also pointed out these huge rocks of silver that were really cool.
When we got there, Ceasar said some of us could go swimming in the river but it didn't look too enticing and it was really cold. My feet were killing me so I opted to take a nap before dinner. There was another trekking group there at our camp site so it was a bit loud crowded and it was kind of a bummer. Claudia and I shared a tent and this was the first night in 3 nights that I actually got a little bit of sleep.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tues, 7/4: Salkantay Trek Day 2

Soryapampa 3900 meters / Huarachmachay 3600 meters Michelle still felt bad on day 2 and now Claudia was feeling bad as well. We woke up at 6am today which is actually really late compared to some mornings we have been getting up. We had our breakfast all together in the tent before hitting the trail. We started off the trek trying to go a different way to avoid the 120 soles entrance fee to the trail but one of the guards saw us so we had to go back down and around to the main part. They ended up only charging us 4 student rates (for all 10 of us!) so it was only 24 soles each... much better. Because of all of this we lost 2 hours and didnt really start trekking until 8:30. The terrain on this day was again really steep and tough. It was a consistent incline for the first 3 hours of the trek. This doesn't do it justice but here is a shot of the first part up.. About an hour on the trail, Claudia couldn't go much further and needed the horse to come get her this time. Shay lost her "Queen" title to Claudia. But before long, Michelle reclaimed her title. She started feeling bad again, so they traded places, one rested while the other one hiked- then switched. Before reaching the top, we decide to stop for a little break... to stretch and catch our breath! We were moving slow this day because everyone felt so bad from the 10 hours of trekking the day before but we finally reached the peak-- 3900 meters or about 15,000 feet. We took Ceasar's meter reading, converted it to feet and took pictures with it! While at the peak, Ceasar did a ceremonial offering to the Inca Gods and this is where you offer coca leaves and some pure sugar cane liquor to the mother earth (pour some on the ground) and then take a shot of it. Women first and then men. Before doing this, you take the coca leaves and blow above them in each direction N,S,E and W, a sign of respect. It was really cool and here are some shots from it. We took a group shot and then took a rock, placed it on any of the other huge piles of rocks around and made a wish. This is part of the tradition as well. We stayed a bit longer at the top than expected and didn't get to the campsite for lunch until 3pm. Because we had a couple of set backs and were behind schedule, we had to set up camp there and were not able to finish our hike for that day. We only made it about 1/2 way and were supposed to finish closer to Challway 2,600. Since we didn't go the entire way, we had another cold night ahead of us (same altitude as the day before). Also, this meant we had to get up at 4:30am and start trekking to make up some time. Claudia and I couldn't even get out of our tents to go to dinner this night and the cooks ended up serving us at our tent! This was by far the worst night for me- I didn't get any sleep... not sure if it was the cold or just wayyyy too much thinking.

In Iquitos on the way back to Lima

Just wanted to let you know that I am back in Iquitos after being in the jungle for a little over 2 days and it was a long 2 days... no electricity, obviously no connectivity of any kind.... the days were long and hot and the nights started early and were quiet.. only the sounds of the jungle could be heard. I felt like I was listening to one of those cds. Anyways, its been really hard to write these days because I have been exhausted and because its been hard to connect on, but I will be back in Lima tonight and will hopefully catch up the next few days as we travel back to the states.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mon, 7/3- Salkantay Trail Day 1

The bus picked us up at the Hotel Royal Inka at 4:30am- ouch. It was dark, we were cold and still half asleep, the bus took us to another place where we waited and picked up more trekkers and headed to Molepatta where we started our trek. The ride was about 2-3 hours long, I can't quite remember.

We got there about 8:30am and Ceasar and Rodrigo (our guides that we met the night before at the briefing at the hotel) introduced our team we will be spending the next 5 days with. There was Ben and Ed, two guys from England who just met 2 weeks before the trek in Quito- Ben going to law school after the trek and Ed still traveling for a few more months and doing odd jobs to get money. He got robbed right before the trek- someone pick pocketed him on the bus but he was still in high spirits and was the entire trek. Fredrico was from France and couldn't understand anyone except Roger who spoke a bit of French and he could speak a bit of Spanish but was exceptionally nice- even carried our bags when we needed help. Rodolfo was a local from Lima and used to be a track star although had some trouble with his knee and he was also super nice. Then there was the 6 of us- Cynthia, Claudia, Rose, Roger, Shay and me.Before the trek- Ceasar buys some coca leaves from one of the locals and cheese (which is actually a hard substance, black in color, made up of water, sugar, coca leaves, etc.. and in the form of a ball- you break off a tiny piece of it and fold it in the coca leaf and stick in your mouth.) We all took turns with the leaves and cheese and you would stick about 6-8 of them in your mouth, like chew, and just suck on the juice that came out of the leaves. This would help with altitude sickness and back in the day, the Inkas would suck on these leaves to help them from getting hungry. After about 20 minutes, you would spit the leaves out and put new ones in.
In the first hour of trekking, Michelle started to get cramping and her head was hurting and had to stop. Rodrigo stayed back with her and they slowly walked, then would stop, etc... It got to the point where the altitude must have gotten to her because she just couldn't go on anymore. They made the decision to get the horse to come pick her up and take her the rest of the way for day 1. Finally- the trek begins and they take us through the town of Molepatta where the trail started. Right off, the trek was tough. Partly because we were still trying to acclimate to the altitude and also because the terrain immediately started steep and the terrain really tough. I didn't even take my camera out until the path was a bit wider and not so steep. This trail was 10 times harder than all of us thought- rocky paths, sometimes no paths and you would have to cross rivers, avoid muddy, mushy patches and practically rock climb some parts because there was no path. We finally get to a brook of fresh water so we could all fill up our water bottles... thank god we bought these Katadyne bottles with filters so that we could fill our water bottles up anywhere- highly recommended!
After over 5 hours of straight trekking, we finally get to our lunch site- it was nearly 2pm. We were starving and the cooks had lunch prepared for us. Normally, we would always have coca tea to start, some delicious soup, our main course and a little treat at the end- either yogurt or fruit or something. Yes, we ate VERY well on our trek. We ate, got a little rest before we had to face the next 3 or so hours.
It started to get cold after our lunch so we had to stop and change and add layers... Everyone was getting tired towards the end and since Ed and Ben were very fast trekkers (they were just in the Andes before this), the group had split up so there were only a few of us in our group. They kept saying 20 more minutes but that was like a couple hours ago. We stopped at a stand to get some snacks and there was the cutest Peruvian girl so I gave her one of my chocolates and tried taking a picture with her. We rested a bit and started again. It was growing dark and we still couldn't even see our campsite. We passed about 10 different ones but none of them ours-- turns out that ours was the furthest campsite away, in a middle of a field and we had to cross 2 rivers at the end which freaked me out because I was so tired I could hardly see. At one point, Claudia's foot went straight into the mud and Ceasar had to pull her out. Finally we reached our campsite- Soraypampa and it was freezing by this time. It was nearly 6pm and when we arrived, our tents were up and the cooks were starting on dinner. The bell always would ring about 6:30p for tea time (coca tea of course) and then our dinner would start after that. We crashed right after dinner- well, tried to anyway- it was hard for me to sleep at night. At last, we could see Salkantay much better because we were getting closer! By noon tomorrow, we should reach the peak.