Inca Trail Day 3 (Peru)

Our third day on the hike was my favorite because it was an easy (relatively) day…

On Day 3 (September 3), we didn’t have to wake up until 6am, woo!! You probably can guess what happens after breakfast, right? Elvis told us it was going to be a short day today, only hiking before lunch, and then rest in the afternoon and an Inca site before dinner. And the hiking we would have to do would be mostly downhill too.

We saw our first llamas on the hike today! I think we were all way more excited than we should’ve been over llamas, but considering we are all Americans, maybe that’s normal…

We took a snack break at this gorgeous cliff top, where we applauded our porters efforts as they came throught the forests and over the hill. We also got to snap some group photos with those guys.

We walked on for about three hours more, until we reached Phuyupatamarca (about 12,000ft above sea level), which was used for worship and other religious ceremonies. We were lucky in that it wasn’t cloudy that day, so we got to see pretty far.

We also visited these terraces, where the Incans experimented growing different crops on different levels (which varied in temperature depending on the the terrace level).

Then we hiked to the campsite, ate lunch, and napped. Greatest siesta ever… Although it was slightly more warm because we were in the cloud forest/rainforest. But still, to not have to rush and to be able to lie down and sleep in the middle of the day was amazing.

Then, around 430p, we walked maybe 5 minutes over to another ruin near our campsite (Winay Waya), consisting of ruins, terraces, and llamas, all in front of a most gorgeous sunset made all the prettier with the knowledge that we were 75% done with one of the hardest hikes ever. Perf.

Dinner that night was a feast! The chef even carved cool things out of the ingredients, like our cucumber condor! The chef also made this delish cake and Jello pudding to end our trip. Amaze. After dinner, Elvis introduced all of our porters to us (we were suppose to have met them earlier, but it was impossible with all the delays). I must admit, I teared up a little. I was feeling very grateful and appreciative of their help, and I think with all of my pent up anxiety with the hike and the relief of finishing the hard part, I was just happy with tears. We learned all their names and ages (two young guys at 19, and the oldest guy at 48.. Or was he 50-something?). The chef was only 28, but he has been cooking on the trail for 18 years! A few of the men had been working on the trail for 20+ years, which is insane!! Maybe I am a really sentimental person, but I really enjoyed learning their names and brief histories, and I wished we had introduced everyone earlier so we could’ve interacted with them more. They were so nice to us/me. They always greeted me with an enthusiastic “Hola, senorita!” whenever they passed me on the trail, and they always made sure I had everything I needed once I arrived at camp (juice, hand washing water, towels, etc.).

That night, we went to sleep (Winay Waya, 9000ft) asap after dinner in order to make sure we would be well-rested for our home stretch to Machu Picchu!…

Santiago (Chile)

We only spent about 2.5 days in Santiago, but I think that was more than enough for me…

Santiago is an interesting Latin American city, don’t get me wrong. It sharply contrasts with Cusco in technological advancement and fashion sense and in general, the attitude of the people. Cusco is interesting in that it revels in its antiquity–tourists come to Cusco for that reason; they want to see the traditional outfits and the ancient ruins and the llamas, while Santiago is more of a bustling city of international business transactions and universities.

The Lion and I went to the “rich neighborhood” where all the high-rises and business buildings are (Los Dominicos), and there was this HUGE mall. Six stories including a theater on top and a food court on the fifth floor. The food court spanned the entire width of the mall- it wasn’t just a steak, Chinese, sandwich, and pizza place, it had all those and maybe 10-12 more food stands to choose from. The mall has a bunch of stores that I recognized, like Zara, Free People, Steve Madden, North Face, Mountain Hard Wear, Gap, H&M, and even Top Shop (totally jeal, I wish TS would open back home..). Of course, as big as the mall was, it was slammed with people (and that’s an understatement!).

The day before, we climbed Santa Lucia Hill, which was a volcano turned lookout point, cemetery, and park. It was kind of cloudy that day, so we didn’t get to see much of the city, but it was still a cool view nonetheless! At the top of the hill was a maze of steps and bridges that led up, down, and around the hill.

We stayed in Plaza Italia, which is surrounded by one of the coolest neighborhoods I’ve seen: the bohemian Bellavista neighborhood. Bellavista is very hipster; it has a lot of really old but neat-looking buildings, some really cool dive-looking bars, and a variety of restaurants, all of which look really unique atmosphere and decor. Pablo Neruda, a Nobel prizewinning poet, has a house in this ‘hood that he had purchased for one of his mistresses. Bellavista reminded me a bit of Deep Ellum in Dallas, Texas, but with more street art and graffiti.

While I enjoyed Santiago, I can’t really say it did much for me as a tourist destination. It was too… Similar to daily life. In a way, that speaks volumes for how developed this city is. It was certainly a nice change from the ruggedness of camping along the Inca Trail! I just had trouble figuring out exactly what tourists DID in Santiago. Which, I think, is enjoy a home away from home ­čÖé

EDIT: I forgot to mention, on one of the nights we were in Santiago, Chile won a futbol match against Venezuela and the whole city went nuts! We were actually staying right near the plaza where futbol celebrations are always held (Plaza Italia), so we went over to check it out. Holy mackerel, the streets were filled with people screaming and chanting and drivers honking and vuvuzuelas (sp) blowing and stray dogs yelling and the policia whistling and teen girls humping the policemen… People were climbing on statues, pissing on the streets, and literally all police forces were on duty with their tank vans posted all along the streets. It was insane!! It got to be a little too much for us and we headed back to the hostel for some r&r, but I found it hard not to get excited when there’s so much energy going on around you! “CHI CHI CHI, LE LE LE, CHI-LE, CHI-LE!”

Inca Trail Day 2 (Peru)

Our second day of hiking was the most intense, but also the most rewarding…

The night before, after we had finished Day 1, the tour guide told us that Day 2 would be easier than Day 1. Of course, everyone scoffed at him and told him that was a total lie… But I think he gave us a little bit of hope that an “easy” second day would be possible.

On Day 2, we woke up at 5am, ate breakfast, and hit the trail around 630am. We hiked for at least six hours straight until lunchtime and ten miles total. Dead Woman’s Pass was the highest pass of the day, almost 14000ft above sea level. Holy mackerel, that was tough. It was pure uphill, and steep too. By the time the Lion and I reached DWP, the sun was blazing above us, making the trek all the more difficult. I was barely breathing by the time we reached the top, though miraculously, I didn’t have a headache or feel nauseous; my chest was just extremely tight, and my little heart was beating hard and fast to keep up. The views were equally nice as we were climbing, but the trail was so narrow that between plastering myself to the mountainside to avoid being knocked off by porters running up the trail and trying to maintain my balance and not fall off the cliff from wooziness, I didn’t even bother taking any pictures. From below, DWP was simply a flat part of the mountain. It’s not as impressive from up top… At least, I didn’t think so. Nonetheless, the last of us were extremely relieved to have made it. The hardest part of the day/whole hike was over… Or so we thought. The only comfort that I had was that 1) every step took me closer, and if I could take at least 20 steps at a time before resting, I was already doing phenomenal, and 2) at least I didn’t have to carry all my stuff and more AND run the trail, like the porters were doing. An extra $70 to rent a porter for the hike was worth every penny, and then some. I also developed some undeserved hatred for our tour guide during this part. I remember thinking that I was “going to pummel him with my walking stick when I [got] up there,” because somehow he was responsible for my suffering (of course, he wasn’t, not like he designed the trail or something… Those darn Incans…!).

Going down from DWP was equally difficult, if not more. The way down was extremely steep as well. I’m so glad the Lion rented a walking stick for me. That $8 was another example of money well spent on this hike. I relied heavily on that piece of plastic with a rubber tip!! The steps were not only steep, they were also not very wide, extremely deep, and completely unpaved, so that I had to watch where I was placing my feet so I didn’t roll my ankle. It was treacherous, to say the least. Falling and hitting any part of your body on those rocks would do more than bruise you. There were definitely times when I had to take it one step at a time instead of skipping down the steps like those crazy porters. Additionally, I didn’t know better at the time and would drop all my body weight onto my foot that was on the bottom step (in other words, falling onto the next step instead of gently stepping down), and within a few hundred steps, I developed a massive headache and knee pain. It’s not really beneficial to develop knee pain when you’re less than halfway done with a 26 mile hike…

Lunch again was fantastic. I had more of an appetite today because I knew the hardest part of the day (and the hike) was over, and I felt competent that I had made DWP in one piece and without any altitude sickness medicine. I was also slightly more social, but not anymore than my headache allowed, unfortunately.

After lunch, we continued hiking down, down, down, with more of those steep, deep, crazy rocky steps. I don’t think I had an expectation for how the trail was going to look or what it would be paved with (if at all), but I was certainly not expecting all those GD rocks. It literally look like they took a bunch of rocks and just scattered them all over the trail in a pool of concrete. I kept thinking it was like a giant vomited a bunch of rocks all over and it became the trail (although we learned that the Inca trail used by the Inca kings was always treacherous and tiring because they believed that you were only able to “connect” with the spiritual world through suffering…).

One Inca ruin we stopped at is called Runcuraccay. Elvis theorizes that the remains of a round building suggests that this place was a prayer spot or a temple. It’s difficult to tell from my pictures that the structure is round; you’d get a better idea if you search the ruin name ­čśë The last picture with the little square ruin was probably a relay messenger’s quarters. Elvis explained that sometimes the kings would need messages relayed between the mountains and Cusco, and so messengers would relay messages within a short amount of time. These served as resting spots where the message would get passed on to the next runner.

We were a little behind schedule towards the end of Day 2. Or rather, the Lion and I were because I was taking my time, being careful I didn’t injure myself any further, and the Lion being patient and waiting for me. We completely passed up an Incan ruin (Sayacmarca?) and went straight to camp because we didn’t want to be hiking treacherous terrain with the risk of falling over a cliff into the rainforest abyss. My knees were also in a lot of pain, and my legs had turned into jelly right about then. But we pushed on and made it to camp before sunset, woo!

 

Dinner was delicious, especially because we had all made it! We camped at Chaquicocha, about 11000ft high. Again, I was extremely relieved we had arrived and was ready to fall into the sleeping bag, but first, an amazing dinner, as usual. I enjoyed this camping site a lot because the bathrooms were right next to our tents; I’m not sure my legs/knees would have made it much further. And as you can probably imagine, jelly legs and sore knee joints make squatting to relieve yourself pretty difficult…

Inca Trail Day 1 (Peru)

Our four days (9/1-9/4) with the Machu Picchu tour group, Llamapath was one of the most unique experiences I have ever had…

As you may have read from the previous post from the night before our departure, I was feeling pretty apprehensive. This apprehension carried over to the next day, the beginning of our hike, but I carried on anyway, perhaps in an attempt to convince myself that I would be okay.

The night before the hike, all participants of the four day trek attended a briefing by our two guides at their office. During the briefing, our leader, Elvis, explained what we would be doing over the next four days. He confirmed that the second day of the hike will be the most difficult because we would be hiking 14000ft above sea level, and then hiking back down to 12000ft . The third day was going to be pretty relaxed, as we would only hike the first half the day and then take it easy. And then of course, the fourth day is when we will see Machu Picchu. I discussed my fears with Elvis and our second guide, David, after the briefing, and both patiently listened to me voice my fears and offered encouragement that they have never had anyone fail to complete the trail.  Armed with hope (but still carrying doubt), we went home to try to get some rest before our 430am rendezvous the next morning.

I slept fitfully, and soon 3am came and we woke up to begin preparing to walk over to Recodijio Square (sp) where we were going to meet our guides and hiking mates to take a bus over to Ollantaytambo. We were greeted with some hot coca tea from our guides and porters, and at 430 am we all piled into the charter bus to head over. The drive took a couple hours, and we drove through the bumpy countryside in the dark, on and on and on. Eventually we arrived at our breakfast place, where the 13 of us hiking buddies introduced ourselves over a buffet of eggs, pancakes, bread, and hot beverages. After breakfast, we all piled back into the bus and went over to what was the square. Unfortunately, Llamapath had run out of porters for our group, and so they had to emergency hire men to help us. We waited there for a long time, I had fallen in and out of sleep, but by the time we were all ready to go, the town was already bustling with activity, so it must have been about 9am then. The bus dropped us off near our starting point and we all piled out to put on sunscreen, change jackets, buy any last minute items, and watched the porters pack and prepare everything they would be carrying for us over the next four days.

After ensuring that everyone was coated in SPF 30+, we walked over to the entrance where the park rangers checked our passports and tickets. Our porters passed by us on the way, and it wasn’t until then that I realized how much they would be carrying these next few days. Our clothing items, sleeping bags and sleeping mats were distributed amongst the 19 porters, but in addition, they were also carrying metal poles and the plastic covers for our sleeping tents, their own tents, our dining tent, eating utensils, plastic stools, foldable dinner tables, table cloths, buckets and towels, cookware including pots, pans, and a two-stove burner, AND all of the food ingredients the 35 of us (13 hikers, 2 guides, 19 porters, and 1 chef) would be eating over the next four days. It was a humbling and inspiring sight to see these men carry 80-90lbs on their back and know that they would be enduring the trail just like us. I remember thinking that this is why all the TripAdvisor reviews say to tip your porters well.

Once it was made known to the Peruvian government that we would be inside the park and responsible for any damage to the trail over the next few days, we crossed the bridge hanging over the huge Urubamba river and began our hike. I was seriously freaking out at this point, but there was no turning back now!

The trail started off pretty harmless (the first ruin we saw was Llactapata), but there were many uphill treks too. I remember a particularly bad part, where I had lagged far behind the others as the sun and the altitude was making it very hard for me to breathe as we pushed uphill. I had to stop often, but luckily the Lion and Elvis stayed behind to encourage me. We saw the snow-capped peak of Mt Veronica, which was absolutely gorgeous.

I made it eventually somehow and we stopped at a village for lunch. The porters had laid out bowls of cold water for us to wash our hands and a towel-line draped with towels for us to wipe up or dry our hands (no pix here because I was practically dead at this point and too relieved to break out the camera). We all sat down inside the dining tent, and I noticed that the table was covered with a red tablecloth and on the tables were a place setting for each of us complete with an origami napkin. And then the food started coming. I didn’t keep a record of what we had eaten, but every lunch and dinner consisted of at three courses: a cold appetizer (guacamole, ceviche, egg salad) or a hot soup (pumpkin, vegetable, congee), main entrees which we all shared family-style, and some warm, nonalcoholic chicha.

After lunch, we set off again to hike to our campsite. I don’t remember too much from this day, other than that the hike was fairly difficult for me, though not as bad for the others. I was feeling pretty sick still, maybe from the altitude but also from the fear of Day 2, so I hadn’t eaten much during lunch at all, which didn’t help me climb those hills at all. I was also slow to socialize with the people we were hiking with because I felt so miserable from anxiety… Needless to say, Day 1 was unpleasant for me when it didn’t have to be. We hiked a total of six hours on Day 1, and about 9 miles. The views were nothing short of spectacular though, and we were very fortunate to have gorgeous weather (when it had just been sleeting and snowing a few days before we arrived!).

When we laid down to sleep that night on Day 1 at Ayapata (11000ft) I felt a mixture of emotions (and a really hard and rocky ground). I felt relieved that the day was over, appreciation for the generosity of the Lion’s family for lending us clean sleeping bags, pillows, and rain jackets, happy that I made it thru the day, a little sad that I didn’t feel up to socializing with my hiking mates, and of course, fear about the next day. The good thing was, Day 2 was coming whether I wanted it to or not…

Short Post: Machu Picchu Day 0

We are starting our hike tomorrow!…

Going to orientation in 15 minutes, eek!!

My headache has gone away, but I still have trouble walking uphill, so I’m definitely nervous for this hike. Hopefully I am overreacting and I will actually be fine, but hope has failed to quell my anxiety…

The Lion has been feeling good so far. Perhaps still out of breath with extreme exercise, but handling it better than me!

Short post: Cusco, Peru

First impressions of Cusco so far (we’ve been here less than 24h):

It is pretty chilly here! Not as cold as the middle of winter, probably, but without the type of American heating system like we’re used to, it’s a bit colder than we expected. The afternoons are warmer, about mid-60s or so, but nights and mornings are better spent inside and under the covers!

The hotel we are staying at has been really great so far. The rooms are clean and spacious (though probably cramped if you had a huge suitcase), shower is hot, toilet functions (we only had one explosion this morning; we were sleeping when all of a sudden we heard a loud noise like ceramic falling and hitting things and then water spraying… Apparently a pipe inside the toilet reservoir thing broke and sent up a jet of water that blew the toilet reservoir lid right off!! Wtf!), breakfast is decent, and free coca leaf tea.

I’m having a tough time adjusting to the high altitude, despite drinking the coca tea and chewing the leaves often. This makes me worried about our Machu Picchu hike, but hopefully my body will have acclimated more by then… Yesterday the Lion said that my lips were blue, and this morning I got all out of breath getting dressed because we were rushing to get down to breakfast. Phew!

Oh, and I had some alpaca ham yesterday! Was pretty dece, hopefully going to try guinea pig sometime soon!

Cefal├╣, Erice, Segesta, and Rome (Sicily/Italy)

Our last few days in Italy were spent in Cefal├╣, Sicily…

We had anticipated staying a little bit closer to Palermo, but it turned out we were about an hour away from the big city. Cefal├╣ is located in northern Sicily, next to the Tyrrhenian Sea. I think we ran into less American tourists, but the city was still crowded with a lot of European tourists!

The first thing we saw in Cefal├╣ was The Cathedral. I didn’t go into the cathedral (the Lion did), but what I’ve read about it is that the cathedral was built around the 1100s in the Norman style, as the Normans came and conquered Sicily in the early 1090s. We noticed that the two towers flanking the front/sides of the church were asymmetrical: one tower had a pyramid on top and merlons (the little “window” between posts on castle walls), modeled after the hats of bishops, and the other tower had a rounder “cone” on top (Wikipedia says it’s “octagonal”) and another type of merlon (Ghibelline). …I don’t really understand all the architectural terms myself, but the point is, this cathedral had two different towers, one to represent the Papal authority and the other to represent the Royal authority.

The next day, our driver/tour guide drove us over to Segesta, an ancient city that was once occupied by indigenous Sicilians (Elymians?), Romans, and Muslims. According to our guide, the people of this ancient city were a peaceful folk and relied heavily on their sea port for trade and sustenance. Eventually, of course, Segesta was targeted because of their prime location to the port, and Greek forces began to move in to conquer the area. The people of this ancient city knew they couldn’t handle the conflict themselves, so they sought the help of Carthaginians. Carthage came to their aid and destroyed the Greek city who was looking to conquer Segesta, but instead of eliminating Segesta’s enemy, this victory had the opposite effect. Other Greek cities, angered at this outcome, came to the aid of Selinus, and they all fell on Segesta at once, virtually wiping out all inhabitants of the area. What’s left today are remnants of a sort of “marketplace,” a Greek theater, a Muslim mosque indicating that Muslims inhabited the area at one time, and an unfinished Doric temple.

The 5th century temple is quite an impressive sight, despite it being unfinished. You can see it as you’re driving up to this ancient city and from the ancient city. Located on an adjacent hill from the city ruins, it has six by fourteen stone columns and is raised on a platform with at least three steps. We know that the temple is unfinished because there is no roof, and the columns are still rough and have yet to be “fluted” (the shallow grooves that are commonly found on columns of this style). Additionally, the tabs that were carved into the blocks to make transporting the stones easier have yet to be filed away for the smooth, finished look.

Our next stop was Erice, where I think we had the best meal during the entire trip. I ordered a pasta dish from Ristorante Donte S. Giuliano, and it was perfect. Pasta is always perfectly al dente in Italy, but something about the pasta, sauce, and cheese really made this dish a home run. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the dish or the restaurant except for this entrance picture, but that is a cliff-top restaurant I won’t forget about anytime soon!

We walked around Erice without much of an agenda, just enjoying being there and learning about whatever we came across. We eventually made it to the Castle of Venus, a Norman-period castle that was built on top of a temple of Venus. The castle/temple was partially covered with scaffolding and tourists, but the views up there were amazing. I only wish we had a knowledgeable guide to tell us more about this castle as were walking around it…

On our last day in Cefal├╣, the Lion and I went to walk the main streets and ate lunch at a restaurant who had a dock that extended far out into the sea (well, “far out” relative to the coast and other restaurants). It was pretty nice to be so far away from the hustle and bustle and enjoying delicious Sicilian cuisine!

The next morning, we boarded an early flight to head over to Rome for the day before flying home to the US. We only had about 12 hours in Rome, so we hit up some tourist destinations without the intent of going in to learn about its history. We walked through the Piazza Navona to see the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelias (one of the Lion’s idols), a replica of the Romulus and Remus statue, the Typewriter (Altare della Patria or Altar of the Fatherland), and the Roman Forum ruins. I won’t try to summarize the history of it all because I don’t think I spent enough time at each of those places, but it was a really neat experience and a trip I’d love to do again so that I can see it all again without a time limit.

We stopped by this really neat gastropub in Rome, at the recommendation of the Lion’s sister who had studied abroad in Rome earlier in the summer. I only sipped some of the Lion’s beers, but the food was really unique. We had cheese wrapped in pumpkin flowers drizzled with balsamic, a variety of cheeses with honey or hot sauce, caprese salad, bruschetta with eggplant, figs with a slice of cheese and a dot of balsamic, salami-wrapped toast, liver sausage, a sweet sausage (tasted like Chinese sausage, “lap cheung”), more bruschetta with either red peppers, cabbage, or green peppers, and delicious homemade Italian “ginger snap-doodles” (that’s just what I’m calling them because they reminded me of ginger snaps with the texture of snickerdoodles). Uh-maze.

And that concludes our Italy trip! I would like to do a sort of “reflections” post on our time in Italy, but that might not be until the Lion and I have a breather from travelling/TSA/jetlag/cramped seating/hotel beds/living out of a suitcase…