Inca Trail Trek – Day 1!!!!!!

After a rough night with very little sleep I decided that I’d regret it if I didn’t at least try to do the trek, so I took some more Pepto and tried to mentally prepare myself for hiking while not feeling well.

We were given an hour window when Peru Treks would pick us up, and it seems we were the second stop – they were there right at 5:20.  We weren’t prepared for such an early arrival, but we managed to get our stuff together and get going anyways.  We grabbed a couple bananas for the bus ride since we were at least 2 hours away from breakfast – and we were off.

We stopped for breakfast in Ollantaytambo.  It was a buffet with scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, toast and jam.  I was still feeling nauseous, so I ate a very light breakfast and had some coffee.  Downstairs was a small general store where we could purchase any last minute items.  I bought a walking stick and some spare batteries for my GPS.

The rest of the bus ride was an adventure.  We still had an hour remaining, and most was on a very narrow dirt road that was barely wide enough for one bus, with a huge drop-off on one side.  The bus came within inches of the edge multiple times, it was almost as scary as the motorcycle trip!  This is the route that all tour buses take though, so we had to move over to let oncoming buses pass.  At one point we were stopped for what seemed like forever because a vehicle ahead was broken down.  There were buses lined up in each direction waiting to pass.  Eventually we made it to the end, and started getting our gear ready.

Group photo at the beginning of the hike

We all posed for a group photo and then headed down to the trail where we waited in line to go through the checkpoint.

Weighing the porters bags
Heading towards the checkpoint

At the checkpoint they checked our passports and our Inca Trail passes and gave us a cool passport stamp.  There was a second checkpoint where the porters had their gear weighed to make sure it wasn’t too heavy.Then, once we all made it through the checkpoint, we crossed the Urumbamba river and we started on our way!

The first day is advertised as the easiest day.  It was around 8 miles of gradual uphill hiking.  Although my stomach was still iffy, it was a pretty easy day.  The weather was beautiful; the sun was out and it was very warm.  The guides stopped us for breaks very frequently – much more frequently than I would have stopped myself – which made it that much easier.  The number of rest stops were something I found surprising.  The Inca Trail is supposed to be this strenuous hike, even the easiest first day, but at this point in the trip I was feeling pretty good about my (lack of) fitness level and ability to finish the 4 day trek.

Ruins

Along the way we stopped to look at 2 sets of ruins, each in the distance.  We also walked past several farms and houses where people were still living.  This section of the Inca Trail is the only road that leads to these homes.  We passed many locals leading their donkeys loaded with supplies heading in both directions.  There were several places where we could stop and buy snacks, water or Gatorade and use the bathroom.  This is when I discovered that the toilets on the trail were squat toilets, and they were horrible.

Ew

Ew (Yes they were all this dirty - this is actually a picture of one of the nicer ones...)

After a couple of hours we stopped for lunch.  The porters run ahead of the tour group and by the time we reached the lunch spot they  had set up two big tents, one for the “kitchen” and one for the “dining room”, complete with table and chairs.  This was our first meal on the trek and it didn’t disappoint!  First course was an avocado half stuffed with fresh veggies with some kind of vinaigrette over the top.  Second course was mushroom soup.  Third was trout with rice and steamed veggies, and for dessert some kind of rice pudding with chicha syrup.  Turns out, every meal on the trek was a full four courses.

After lunch, we continued.  Since we had gotten such a late start, it was looking like we wouldn’t make it to camp with much daylight to spare.  The rest of the hike was pretty uneventful, but after eating lunch I started feeling a little sick again.  When we arrived at camp it wasn’t long before I decided to skip the evening festivities (several locals were selling beer, Gatorade and water so of course that meant it was time happy hour!) and dinner and just go to bed early.  I was seriously disappointed in missing out on happy hour!  The tour guides and chefs were very nice and tried to bring food to the tent for me, but I declined, the thought of food was not sitting well with me that night.

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Last day in Cusco before the trek!!!

We decided to take it easy on Tuesday, the day before our trek.  I had started feeling a little sick and a nice day to relax sounded perfect.  I really didn’t want to miss out on the trek.

The first thing we did was attempt to find a yarn store that I read about on Ravelry.  We stopped at the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, but the people working there couldn’t help us find the yarn store.  The Center had a small museum and weaving demonstrations so we stayed for about an hour to see everything.  Afterward, we ended up walking to a sketchy looking part of town, and despite our best efforts to find someone that could give us directions we completely struck out.  Nobody seemed to know where this address was.  Rather than waste a whole day looking for yarn, we decided to visit some of the local museums. 

Our first museum stop was Coricancha.  This temple was the Inca “Temple of the Sun” before the Spanish built a church around it.  It is now also known as the Church of Santo Domingo.  Inside of the Spanish exterior, many Inca structures still stand.  Underneath there is also a small museum that shows some of the artifacts found here and elsewhere in the Inca empire.

Coricancha from outside
Inca room inside Coricancha

Next we visited the Museo Inka.  Here there were a lot more artifacts and information about Inca civilization.  I was still feeling quite sick, so I didn’t take in as much as I could have.  On the ground level of this museum was a small gift shop with many of the handmade items from the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco.  I wasn’t going to go home without yarn, so I picked up a large ball of undyed hand-spun alpaca yarn.  Now I just need to find a worthy project for all of this yarn!

Unfortunately, this was my most un-memorable day.  I was feeling nauseous the whole day and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed by the time we were done.  Although nauseated, I never actually got sick.  When we got back to the hotel I was feeling worse, so I threw together my backpack and duffel bag for the trek as fast as I could.  I had chills by the time I crawled into bed, and Amanda was kind enough to go to the pharmacy and buy me some Pepto.  I barely slept all night, and Peru Treks was due to pick us up at 5:20am.  I was seriously worried I wouldn’t be well enough to do the trek.

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hike to Sacsayhuaman and birthday dinner.

On our third day in Cusco we went for a short hike to Sacsayhuaman.  It was only about a half mile up the hill from Cusco.  Cusco sits at over 11,000 feet in elevation, so it’s the ideal place to get acclimated before the Inca Trail trek.  The short hike from Cusco to Sacsayhuaman is also helpful for mild training for the trek.  Plus, I needed a test hike in my new Vibram Five Fingers Treksports.  The walk to the ruins was pretty easy and the uphill grade was gradual.  My feet felt great in my new shoes all day.

Llama Looking down at Cusco

We stopped at a church about halfway up the hill to look at the Llamas and back down at the city below.

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire and Sacsayhuaman is a large fortress that sits on the hill overlooking the city.  The walls were constructed using giant boulders, each carved to fit one another so precisely that mortar is not needed.  The construction of the walls is impressive, especially when standing right next to a 10+ foot boulder that has been so expertly carved.

What remains of Sacsayhuaman are the rocks that were too big for the Spanish invaders to relocate to Cusco.  The Spanish invaders took the rocks from Sacsayhuaman and used them to build and expand Cusco during their occupation of the city.  What’s left is just a shell of the original fortress, but you can still see the zig-zag pattern of the walls, said to represent the jaws of a puma – one of the animals sacred to the Inca.

Chez Maggy

Afterwards we had lunch at one of the oldest pizzerias in Cusco, Chez Maggy, where we ate sandwiches and drank our first Pisco sour.  I wasn’t a fan of the drink, though it wasn’t really bad, just kind of bland.

After lunch we did some shopping for souvenirs and got massages.  In Cusco, you can’t walk 10 feet without being offered a massage.  For s./25.00 for an hour, it’s also quite affordable.

Dessert

It was Amanda’s birthday so we planned on having dinner at a fancy restaurant, Cicciolina.  The food there didn’t disappoint.  I ate a duck dish with chile cheese rice, and Amanda had a gnocchi dish.  For dessert, we had a tart with crisp chocolate and basil ice cream.  The ice cream was the highlight of the meal.

Not a bad way to spend the second to last day in town before starting the trek!

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Cusco, The Motorcycle Adventure

A motorcycle tour!  What a fun way to see Sacred Valley!  What a scary way also, I’m a complete beginner on a motorcycle.  I did have the added benefit to having a dual-sport bike at home though, and at least a little bit of experience with dirt roads.

When we met with our tour guide, our itinerary was to be as follows:

  1. Pisac
  2. Urubamba
  3. Ollantaytambo
  4. Moray and Maras Salt mines if we have time  (these required riding on dirt roads)
  5. Chinchero

We didn’t quite get everywhere though.

Our motorcycles

My Motorcycle

 

The day started out well enough.  We tried on helmets, and received our jackets and gloves.  We checked out our motorcycles and then we were off.  These were definitely more dirt bike style than I am used to – taller with a higher center of gravity.  Once we got moving, it wasn’t very tough to adjust though.

Pisac terraces

 

Our first stop was Pisac.  On the way there, a roadblock was set up and the police were stopping everyone going by for some reason or another.  They stopped us, and got into a heated discussion with our guide.  I don’t know Spanish well enough to understand everything, but I understood that our guide was attempting to explain just that – he’s our guide and taking us on a tour.  One policeman came over to check our drivers licenses, and seemed satisfied with them when we showed them.  The other policeman and our guide crossed the street and continued their discussion by the police car.  After about 10 minutes, our guide, flustered, returned and said all was ok and let’s go.

In Pisac there is a huge market, and some pretty impressive ruins and terraces.  We first rode up the winding road to the ruins.  When we parked, the guide told us to try to be quick, the stop set us back for time.  Since we both really wanted to see the Moray and Maras the most, we did a very fast tour of the entrance, and only climbed up a few terraces before deciding we’d rather move on than climb all the way to the top.  When we returned, about 30 minutes later, our guide was very surprised.  He expected us to be no less than an hour and a half.  I guess that’s what they mean by hurry in Peru.

We hopped back on our motorcycles and headed back out.  The roadblock was still there when we rode back through and we were stopped again.  This time the guide was visibly angry (he told us once we got to Pisac he had to bribe the cops to let us keep going because he had no license plate on his bike.).  After another long discussion with the police, we were told that we needed to follow them back to Pisac’s police station so they could impound his bike.  Once we got there, he phoned the motorcycle rental place for another bike, which didn’t show up for nearly 2 hours.  Talk about a setback.

Pisac Market

 

So, while we waited around, we went to the Pisac market.  This market was HUGE and full of every possible tourist trap, along with an extensive local market including food, vegetables, fruits, dyes, etc.  2 hours was WAY more time than we really wanted to spend shopping, but we had no choice.  We also learned that cameras are great if you are discreet.  If someone catches you taking a photo that they might be in, they’ll ask you to pay them for it!

When the new bike finally showed up we took off for Urubamba.  The only thing we did there was stop for lunch at a touristy buffet.  Lunch was included in our tour, which was nice.  The buffet had a nice sampling of Peruvian foods.  Here, I ate ceviche, tomatoes stuffed with potatoes, a potato casserole thingy, rice, maize.  Amanda tried a rice putting with a purple sauce that tasted just like bubble gum.  We learned later that the sauce is chicha syrup, which is also used in a (non acoholic) drink called chica morada.  Who knew that bubble gum is a naturally occuring flavor?!

Once we were done eating, we were back on the road to Ollantaytambo, a small town with an impressive fort built into the mountain.  The ride to Ollantaytambo was uneventful until we turned onto the street leading us in. This street was made entirely of cobblestones!  Nerve wracking doesn’t begin to describe the feeling of riding a motorcycle on a cobblestone road.  When we finally stopped to park the bikes we were relieved.  Talk about adrenaline rush!  We climbed to the top of the ruins and took loads of photos before we headed back down to the bikes.

 

 

From there, we went to Moray (yay!!).  Another nerve wracking dirt road ride, but nowhere near as scary as cobblestones.  The guide took my camera and would ride ahead of us, stop and take our picture as we drove by.  Very cool!  Moray was fascinating.  It’s a ruin of terraces, but instead of going up the side of the mountain, they go in a circular funnel shape down into a valley.  Historians guess that this might be an Inca experimental agricultural site.  The temperature of each level of the terrace varies, and each terrace has it’s own unique microclimate.  Way cool.  We climbed down into the site, and up the other side.

After that it was dusk.  We were more than an hours ride away from Cusco so we called it a day.  We missed out on seeing the salt mines, which was a huge bummer, but had a wonderful time!!  The ride back to Cusco was scary in the dark, and cold.  Peruvian roads are pretty treacherous,  The people there drive where they want, pass when they want, and they have their own horn-honking language.  I never figured out what all the honking meant, but it was clear most of it was to communicate what you were doing, and not to express anger that someone did something wrong.  The highways are full of speedbumps too.  Usually close to residential areas or city limits.

The second scariest part of the motorcycle trip was at the end, after we returned our gear and bikes.  Instead of giving us a taxi ride back to our hotel, we had to ride on the back of their motorcycles, without gear, on cobblestone roads.  I think given the choice, I’d rather be in control of the motorcycle and not a passenger when riding on cobblestones.  Luckily it was a short ride and we made it to the hotel in one piece.

By the time we made it back to the hotel we were cold, tired, and exhausted from the adrenaline we spent so we ordered pizza for delivery.  It was a delicious way to end our most exciting day in Peru!

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Lima to Cusco

(While there, I attempted to blog some notes from my phone, this lasted a whole day.  The original notes are below, with more added after.)

 

image

I’m in Cusco!

Things to remember to blog about:

Flight Delays and Getting to the Lima Hotel

So, Amanda’s flight turned out to be over 2 hours late.  I arrived in Lima slightly early, and was through customs by 11:30pm.  When I retrieved my luggage and walked to the main area of the airport I saw the taxi driver holding a sign with my name on it.  Amanda and I had talked previously about what to do if one of our flights were delayed and we agreed that the early person would wait and we would ride together to the hotel.  Unfortunately, my taxi driver did not speak English so he had the hotel call me to talk to me instead.  The Hotel told me that they had heard from Amanda and that since her flight was so late she wanted me to go ahead without her (this turned out to be incorrect, they did not actually talk to Amanda at all), so I followed the Taxi driver to his car.

His car was a beat up 4 door sedan.  I don’t remember what now, but it was rusted, dented, scratched, and looked nothing like a taxi cab (it did have the stickers/markings of a cab, but I’ve never seen one in such rough shape).  He put my suitcase in the trunk and we were on our way.  On the ride, I tried to figure out how to send text messages on my phone, to let Amanda know where I was – I had made sure that my phone could do International roaming but I never did figure out text messaging.  The hotel was a short drive from the airport.  Once I checked in, I used Skype to call and leave Amanda a voice mail, and then waited for her to arrive.  She arrived, via the same taxi, at about 1:30am.  Good thing our next flight wasn’t until 12:30!!

Currency exchange

I assume that I wanted to write a little bit about our fiasco with paying for our trek.  The trek was cash only, in either American Dollars or Peruvian Soles.  We learned that when we have the option to pay with American Dollars then we should.  The exchange rate was 2.78 soles per dollar.  But the bank exchange rate, or the money exchangers at airports were only giving us between 2.33 and 2.50.  That meant that when we paid for part of the Trek in soles, we lost a lot of money.

Alpaca steaks yum (kababs with mango sauce.)
Cuy not so yum (tandoori guinea pig pictured above)

Not sure what else to say about this.  We ate a lot of alpaca while we were there, it was fabulous!

Motorcycle guy

No clue here.  We had quite the motorcycle adventure, but that hadn’t happened yet when I wrote this note..  Hmm..

crazy warm bed sheet

The beds in our hotel in Cusco were equipped with wool blankets and sheets.  They were crazy warm, I would have been comfortable in freezing temperatures.

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