Thursday, April 26, 2012

Inca Trail - Day 4, Machu Picchu!

It was the end of the trail and the day of days! Our morning started early: 3:30am!!! The hike would only be a little over 3 miles. The highlights of the morning include going up the "Gringo Killers" which were a set of very steep, large steps that required using both hands and feet. After the last 3 days, they were nothing. Shortly after that, I arrived at the Stone Gate which is where you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu.

I honestly thought it looked pretty small, but that must have been due to the distance. When we arrived in Machu Picchu, it was anything but small. There was initially quite a bit of fog in the area which made it almost impossible to see just how many stone buildings were in the place. 

There were tourists in the area who had been bussed over, and I have to say we were all feeling proud of the trek we accomplished. It probably helped that they were all asking us about it. I was also very happy thrilled to be able to get to a clean restroom! Sure, it cost to go in, but I just did not care. I went in and washed my hands and face, and it was lovely. After that little celebration, it was time to celebrate with some food. 
Ice Cream! Matt, Ines, and Mary
And for those of you keeping track of my no more concentrated sweets journey, I did not, in fact, eat any ice cream. I did, however, have a nice bold brew.

Despite the short hike, this would be the longest day of the trip! Who knew? We spent hours walking around Machu Picchu while Gerson gave us all the details. 

I cannot begin to describe how impressive all those buildings were that the Incas created. Firstly, it was all built on a rather large mountain that would make plenty of people feel a little woozy. Secondly, the stone work was amazing. Thirdly, they created terraces for growing food and had small channels all over the pace for running water! If I had been around in the 1400s (the time of the Incas), I would have been all about living in such as nicely engineered and beautifully constructed place! (Just don't go sleep walking because that would make for one very bad night.)

Amazing Inca stone work - look 'Ma,
no power tools!
Running water channels all over the mountain

Nothing like a beautiful common area on top of
How does your garden grow?

It is a loooong way down.
The Incas were beyond amazing when it came to engineering and architecture. I had no idea I would be so impressed or that Machu Picchu was so incredibly large.

After hiking around for hours in the rain up and down many, many steps (I know I mentioned that the Incas love steps), it was time for a yummy dinner and then a long bus ride back to Cusco. Saturday would be a rest day. (Yes, I had a day off on my vacation, is that so wrong?) :-) On Sunday, we began our journey to the Amazon Rainforest. How cool does that sound?! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Inca Trail - Day 3, The Longest Day

I think it is safe to say that most of us felt a bit of relief after completing day 2. If there was any day to be worried about, that was the day. Gerson, our Inca Trail guide, said day 3 was considered more difficult by some because it was the longest mileage day on the trail. The first part of the day would take us up and down two more passes there were not as high as Dead Woman's Pass. The first part of the day would once again be uphill.

Stephanie with another inspiring lady we met along the trail who had major surgery just 7 months previously. Since multiple groups had the same timeline, we would often see the same folks many times along the trail and get to know them.

Just an idea of what the porters carried
while hiking  up and down the mountains
Team Loco: Mary, Me, Gerson, Jo, Zeo,
Stephanie, Matt, Marg, (Ines taking the pic)
During the morning portion, Gerson would give us stopping points so we could regroup, and he could give us more info on the Incas.  

Mary at some Inca Ruins
I spent much of the morning hiking along on my own and waiting for the group at the meetup point.  Unfortunately my Garmin also ran out of juice shortly after the hiking began. I started out the day feeling less than stellar. My day began with a headache, and "altitude anorexia" was taking its toll. Even though we were hiking for hours, I would feel completely full after only a little bit of food. It was nice to get out on my own for a bit. After all, I did grow up as an only child. :-) After a lunch that I mostly fed to Matt, Jo gave me some migraine medication which really did the trick.

Mary and Marg on the trail - lunch ahead!

Right about this time, the downhill began. Marg and I are both downhill types. When I am running trails, I fly by folks on the downhills. Often times, they catch up to me on the uphills. With no more headache, I was feeling great! Marg and I flew down that mountain. I have no idea how many folks we passed, but we went by quite a few. It felt really great to stretch the legs.

One little fella we passed on the trail.

Look!  More downhill!
Marg and I were enjoying the downhill so much, we opted for the long route when we came to the fork in the trail where we could choose a shortcut or more ruins.We arrived at the next campsite very late in the day after a 10 mile journey. Once the rest of the clan arrived, it was time for dinner and prep for the next day. My day started out really rough, but it wound up being one of my best days on the trail. The next morning would bring a 3:30am wake up and the the final day on the trail ending at Machu Picchu!

What it looked like before the Garmin died.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Inca Trail - Day 2, Dead Woman's Pass

Every night we were on the trail it rained off and on while we slept. We had good tents that kept the water out, and I stayed nice and cozy in my bag. Unfortunately this is where the bathrooms along the trail started getting pretty disgusting. Mary burst out of one the bathrooms (the one with an actual commode rather than the hole in the ground) because a huge spider had decided to call it home. As our time on the trail continued, spiders became the least of our worries. The bathrooms became more and more disgusting because of the large number of people using them.  (And by bathrooms, I mean holes in the ground.) You see in Peru you are not to flush the toilet paper. You are to put it in a trash can.  If someone doesn't have a trash can in the loo, all bets are off.  Now, back to day 2...

The morning started with the porters coming to the tents saying, "Coca tea?" That sure beats an alarm clock. Around 7am, we had a good breakfast and then were formally introduced to our awesome porter team. It is amazing to watch these guys carry huge backpacks and move up and down the mountains.

I didn't know this at the time, but the day would start at a little under 10000 feet and reach almost 14000 feet. All I knew was that we were going to be walking uphill for hours until we were above that clouds. After we reached the clouds, we would keep going up. After reaching Dead Woman's Pass, we would then go back down until we reached the camp. I can safely say that I have never walked uphill for so long.

Not the top. A "heart stop" as Marg would call it.  A bit after this, it would once again start to rain.

                  Ines and Matt ascending
                              in the rain

After many, many hours and a pretty convincing false peak about which we had been forewarned, we reached the top of Dead Woman's Pass. Our celebration was very short lived because...
1. It was extremely windy.
2. It was extremely cold.
3. It started to hail.
4. There were people at the top freaking out because they didn't know which way to go.  (When in doubt on the Inca Trail, take the stairs.)  In their defense, it was very hard to see due to the hail and fog.

I took a few seconds to put a jacket on under my poncho and get a picture of Marg and Mary at the top.

There's Camp! Looooong way down.
As soon as that was done, it was time to get the heck off of that mountain. That meant going from 14000 feet to 11000 feet on steep steps in hail and rain. I was cold, soaked to the bone, and ready for this day to be done. You cannot imagine how happy I was to see our camp flag...

At camp it continued to rain, but life was a lot better after getting some dry clothes and some food since we had not eaten since breakfast. It was now around 3 pm. After a little bit of rest, the group met in the tent for dinner and to prepare for the next day. Day 3 would include two more smaller ascents, the longest distance traveled in a day on the trail and the most awesome downhill.... ever.

Lost some GPS signal. Closer to 7 miles, but here is the gist.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Inca Trail - Day 1

The morning before the Inca Trail we boarded a bus and met our Inca Trail guide, Gerson. After a 40 minute bus ride that included a very scary looking drop off very close to our two left wheels, we arrived at "Kilometer 82" where our journey began. 

Team Loco: Mary, me, Marg, Stephanie, Zeo, Ines, Matt, Jo

The beginning of the trail was lovely. The sky was blue and the mountains were green. The first day, there were a number of places along the trail where you can purchase something to drink or use the restroom (for a price just like almost everywhere in Peru). 

The Beginning of the Trail - Uphill

Mary and Gerson
Marg on the Trail

A few miles into the hike, it began to rain. During the next four days, my poncho would be my best friend. As we hiked along, Gerson told us all about the Inca Trail and the Inca.
Mary Enjoying the View

Our first lunch was a big surprise. I really had no idea what to expect. As soon as we walked up, we were shown the bowls for hand washing and then handed some juice. The porters had the tent all setup, and I would call it down right fancy considering we were out hiking!
Mary, Marg, and Matt: Time for lunch!
Approximately 7.5 mile later, we arrived at camp for our first night out on the trail. Our tents were set and ready to go, and the porters had made tea and coffee and little snack. I have to say, we were seriously spoiled when it came to food and care by the porters. The bathrooms on the trail, however, were another matter. (More complaining about that later.) During dinner, the group sat around chatting and getting to know each other. It was nice to be away from the city and enjoying the great outdoors.

Day 2 would be a completely different story and one of the toughest days on the trail: ascending Dead Woman's Pass

Day 2: 2.5 Miles after Lunch

Day 1: First 5 Miles

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Welcome to Peru!

After walking up two flights of stairs, I was huffin' and puffin'. The elevation stuff was rough. Luckily we decided to arrive a day early to at least get a head start on acclimatization. The Inca Trail portion of the journey didn't begin until Tuesday. As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted with coca tea which is often given to help with the high elevation. Does it help? No clue, but it was nice to be given some tea.

Since we had an extra day to look around Cusco, we spent some time finding a place to exchange dollars for soles and going to a few markets. Unfortunately at one of the markets, we chose the wrong door. As soon as I entered, I smelled the worst smell ever. This is what I saw...

We had managed to walk right into the meat section of the market which had all sorts of fun things (intestines, for example). Mary tried to stop for a picture, and I told her I had to keep walking before I tossed my cookies. The second time through, it wasn't as bad so we managed to get a few photos. That isn't to say there weren't some nice things at the market, but I was in no mood for eating after that.

We once again found ourselves in the same market after meeting up with our group. This time we had Arturo from Active as our guide. The meat section barely fazed me the third time, but I still wasn't about to partake. Arturo spent some time introducing the group to different fruits, vegetables, breads, spices, etc. After lunch (NOT at the market), it was time for a hike straight uphill to Sacsayhuaman which sounds a lot like sexy woman when pronounced. On our way up, it began raining. Since the tour was taking place during the rainy season, we would get used to be rained on multiple times a day.

Looking back on the way up to Sacsayhuaman   
Mary making friends on the hike

Yep, it's raining

This is what it looks like when it is not raining at Sacsayhuaman (obviously, I did not take this picture....)
After an 8 mile day of hiking around Cusco and Sacsayhuaman, the next morning we were in for a real treat. It was time for a bike ride. This bike ride was downhill the whole way (not kidding, 12 miles of downhill awesomeness) through the Sacred Valley. It was the most beautiful bike ride I've ever been on in my life.  I have the pictures to prove it....

             Team Loco (L to R, T to B): Jo, Matt, Ines,
                    Zeo, Stephanie, me, Marg, Mary

The afternoon was another trip to a very nice market in Pisac and then a straight uphill hike to the Pisac Ruins (elevation gain: over 1000 feet, distance 2.5 miles).

The rain was so worth it once we managed to get to the top. We were greeted with a beautiful double rainbow.

With the day's (straight uphill) hiking practice and our bodies getting used to functioning with less oxygen in the air, the next day we would begin our four day journey along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu! Day 1 on the Inca Trail...