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Month: September 2013

Inca Trail Day 4 & Machu Picchu (Peru)

Inca Trail Day 4 & Machu Picchu (Peru)

We’d dunnit!! We finally reached the last day (9/4) of our four-day journey and was going to see the revered Machu Picchu…

The night before, our tour guide, Elvis, explained the itinerary for Day 4: we were to go to sleep early after dinner that night with no coca tea, and then we will get our wake up call at 3 am and be ready for breakfast at 330 and hit the trail as soon as possible bc the porters need to catch the 500a train back to the city. I don’t know about our fellow hiking mates, but I was definitely holding my breath as I listened to Elvis, both from nervousness and excitement!

Our dinner that night was wonderful, as always. The chef even carved pretty things out of vegetables that he had brought, including a condor from a cucumber and pretty lily flowers from bell peppers! The best part was dessert, of course, where we had some jello with fruit and a cake! After dinner, the porters gathered around the meal tent and introduced themselves to us. It was so sweet to finally get a chance to meet them, albeit for only one night. Ideally, we would’ve met them the first night, but due to time constraints, we had to wait. Many of our porters weren’t a part of our tour company, Llamapath, but were actually hired from Ollantaytambo, when our guides realized we were short on help. A representative of our group thanked the porters, and we headed off to bed (read: sleeping bags) shortly after.

The next morning was a mad rush to get ready. Not to mention, we were trying to get dressed and ready in the dark, literally two or three feet away from a sheer drop (we camped on a cliff ledge…). Somehow we all managed to get up and ready for breakfast. We anticipated a simple breakfast of carbs, but the chef and his sous chef actually prepared quite a spread, including fritatas!

After brekkers, we head off. The porters stayed behind, scrambling to clean up after us and head to the trains. We bid them farewell, and walked for literally five minutes to the entrance of the last part of the trail. When we arrived, we found that we were the first ones in line, hooray!! With that in mind, I decided to stumble back in the dark with another hiker to use the restrooms… Thank goodness for his amazing flashlight. We ended up waiting in line (aka sitting in the dark, freezing our butts off) for a couple hours, umtil the gate opened up at 530am…

…And then we were off! It was a mad dash to The Sun Gate, with the hope that we would make it to the gate to see the sun rise and shine through the gate to Machu Picchu. Needless to say, I didn’t make it, but of course, Elvis did, as did a couple of other people in our group. The trail to the Sun Gate was not any less intimidating or difficult. We were still walking thru the rainforest, and the early morning dew and the birds and butterflies made me feel like I was in a jungle! …with a lot of tree roots sticking out waiting to trip you, random rocks and mounds of dirt for you to climb over, and and all kinds of bugs swooping into your face. There was one set of steps that was particularly intimidating; it towered over me andΒ  literally went straight up. I’d learned to just keep my head down and step up without looking up to see how much I had left… Seeing that you had 4647392 more steps to go was just too depressing, it was easier to just keep pushing up and forward. But we finally made it to the Sun Gate! And Machu Picchu was just a large speck in the distance… We stayed for a bit, catching our breaths and taking some pictures, and then we were off again, more steep steps with no railings:

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After another hour (?) of hiking (why doesn’t the government fix up these rocky trails?!?!), we had finally reached Machu Picchu… And it was such. A. Relief. We made it!!!

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And man, was it crowded! There were tons of people who had taken the train up to the site and other hikers who took different trails than us, and it was so odd to see so many people when we had just spent the last few days with only our fellow hikers and tour guides… I suddenly became self-conscious of how I must have looked to these people who had showered in the last day, didn’t smell bad, and were free of aches and pains and not hobbling around…but I got over that quick–“I just hiked the GD Inca Trail for the last four days and survived!!!”–but I was still looking forward to my next shower πŸ˜‰ There were also a lot of alpacas at the site, as you can see. Part of me wonders whether the alpacas were there or if the park directors had alpacas moved there to liven up the park a little…

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We left the park to use the restrooms and eat our snacks, and then we all went back inside for a tour with Elvis and David. Apparently, the Incans did not know about the wheel, so all the rocks used to build Machu Picchu were moved by people. We saw the rock quarry that they had broken stones from; the Incans would do so by pouring water into rock crevices, wait for the water to freeze, and then break the huge stones into smaller pieces with force. They also drilled holes into rocks (and probably used this method of cutting stones, as well) by pouring some water and sand onto the site where they want to drill and then vigorously rubbing a bamboo stick between their hands (the end result is pictured below).

We saw the Inca king’s bedroom (pictured below), and his closet, which was 2x the size of his bedroom because he never wore the same outfit twice in his lifetime (Elvis told us that one Incan king had a cape made completely of bat wings…!). I don’t think this is pictured below, but the Incan builders had left these niches in the walls of the buildings to serve as shelves, as they didn’t use shelves that stuck out of the walls like we do. Also, the reason why these Incan ruins are still intact today is because they employed a “Lego” method of building, where they would carve a niche in the bottom of every rock and a nubbin on the top of every rock that would fit perfectly into the niche so that the blocks would stay tightly together. Elvis claims that there are some walls where not even a knife can get in between two rocks because the rocks are so tightly put together.

And I don’t know if the pictures I included here can help clarify this distinction, but the builders of Machu Picchu distinguished between “sacred” buildings for gods and the king versus housing for servants, civilians, etc. by using different materials (…much like we do today, I suppose!). You will see in some pictures that some terraces, the steps, and some buildings have more “shoddy” handiwork, where stones of different sizes are kind of “jammed” together to form the wall or object. In contrast, some buildings (like the Inca king’s bedroom) have more rectangular blocks of rock that are smoother and more “put together.” The picture of the ruin that’s falling apart is presumed to have been the beginnings of a temple that the Incans were working on before the Spaniards came (note the niches for god statues, the texture of the stones, and the uniformity of the blocks).

 

We spent a few hours exploring the ruins and teasing the llamas, and then took a charter shuttle bus down to Agues Calientes, a town adjacent to Machu Picchu, for lunch. There was a cool-looking statue (below) where they let us off the shuttle. I’m not sure exactly who the guy is, but I presume he is suppose to represent an Incan king. As you can see, he’s flanked by a a condor, a panther, and a snake. This is because the Incans believed that there was three religious realms, the heavens, the earth, and the underworld, which were represented by the condor, the panther, and the snake, who the Incans believed lived among these respective places. These three types of animals were considered sacred by the Incans and thus were not hunted or eaten (at least, you weren’t suppose to). In one picture above (the one just below the temple that’s falling apart), you can see three tiers, thought to represent the three realms or worlds.

Soon we had to say goodbye to David and Elvis and our 11 other hiking buddies, though we vowed to keep in touch. I felt sad–we had just gone thru a lot together!–but I think we were all ready for some privacy too… This was definitely a trip of a lifetime, and I’m so happy that I have a blog to document it all. I hope to write more posts on Machu Picchu, perhaps a reflection and/or a “tips & tricks” entry!…

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The “Ideal” Ethnic Type

The “Ideal” Ethnic Type

In philosophy there exists something of a mind puzzle or dilemma surrounding the identification and definition of an ideal type or the “normal” for a concept, that is, what is the “essence” of something like a chair? When we think of a chair, we almost always have in our mind the mental image of a chair, a certain, distinct iteration of the categorical concept “chair”, yet there are other chairs that are variously dissimilar to this image which nonetheless we can easily identify as a member of the “chair” category as well.

Not only is it hard to identify precisely what qualities make something a chair, it is hard to identify what attributes a thing could possess that would make it decidedly not a chair but instead something else. Is a chair without a seat, still a chair? (And by the way, what does the ideal type of the category “seat” look like?) Is a chair with a wavy back still a chair? We might decide that this is a chair, yet hardly anyone would imagine such a chair when they think of the conceptual ideal in their mind.

A friend shared with me the following today: “World of Averages

If I understand what I am looking at correctly, the composer of the set of images contained in the link took a number of photographs of women of various ethnicity from all around the world and overlaid similar national/ethnic portraits with various transparency levels until he arrived at an average assimilated, symmetric image for each nation/ethnicity. The result is a series of portraits of (spectacularly beautiful!) women from all around the world that may be said to approximate something of a categorical ideal type for their ethnicity, ie, when we think of a “Serbian woman” perhaps that portrait is what comes into our mind as capturing the essence of “Serbian womanness”.

Now, what I think would be extremely fascinating is to take this idea to its logical extreme– overlay each of these resultant portraits over one another and create the “human woman” archetype. What does SHE look like? And do we all think of her when we think of “woman”?

I find this particular piece of art absolutely brilliant. It is not only a philosophical experiment but a biological, historical and genetic one. The pictures we are looking at represent thousands upon millions of years of human migration, habit and variance all frozen at a particular moment in time. Aside from many of these ethnicities/nationalities not existing in years prior (and likely in years hence), they undoubtedly looked different then and will continue to change in the future.

There appear to be many more fascinating “average” portraits at the original source blog.

Concerns of Meaningless Peons (#poverty, #inadequacy, #values)

Concerns of Meaningless Peons (#poverty, #inadequacy, #values)

The following is a running list of observed concerns and conditions of individuals which would suggest they may be living the lives of meaningless peons, updated as observational faculties permit:

  1. Owning less than an acre of land
  2. Not contemplating life from an Eames chair
  3. Emotionally invested in professional sports
  4. Arguing economics on the internet with idiots trying to vouchsafe wanton criminality in sophistry
  5. Leasing everything, owning nothing
  6. Primary pastimes revolves around drinking with your friends and Facebooking your exploits
  7. Fretting about how to get your child into a “good” public school

Note: the composer of the above list may be guilty of some or even all of the infractions mentioned.

Mendoza (Argentina)

Mendoza (Argentina)

Mendoza turned out to be quite different than what the Lion and I had expected it to be like…

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We left Valparaiso around 8a (Sept 8) for a 7h bus ride with Cata Internaccional. Armed with snacks, fully charged electronics, and the expectation of first class seats that cost $4USD more than coach, we set off for what we were told would be a gorgeous ride through the Andes and into Mendoza. The ride was indeed nice, with clear skies and huge snow-capped mountains flanking both sides and; We actually passed some skiers who were trying to get their last run in before the snow melted. As we drove through, I reminisced about our Inca Trail hike the whole time we drove through the mountains. It was interesting to see such different “sides” of the Andes.

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About three quarters of the way to Mendoza, we had to stop at the border for inspection and such. We stopped at this huge building, though it was more of a former military outpost with a round roof and windowless than a rectangular storied building. We waited around for probably 30 minutes, at least, before we actually lined up for something. Then after everyone on the bus were filed into a single file, we waited for another 30 minutes because the border patrol was dealing with a potential runaway (18yo boy was allowed to leave Chile but may or may not have had his parents’ permission, so border patrol was unsure of whether to let him go or not, despite the fact that he was of age). Finally, it was our group’s turn to move up to the booth to have our documents stamped. But we weren’t done just yet. After stamping our documents, they had to unload all of our bags from the bus and run them through an xray scanner that was in a car (portable metal detector?!). Finally, the process was over, and after some more paperwork with the driver, we were on the road again. As other travelers have warned, the border crossing took us about 2h. What a process.

After about two more hours on the road, we arrived at the omnibus station in Mendoza! Initially, we thought we had to take a cab to our lodging, so we searched for a currency chance center and waited in line at a Western Union (which doesn’t even change money), but it turned out we were already on the street our Mendoza apartment is on, so we headed off on foot towards what we hoped was the right direction. We started off at 500 Alem St and walked all the way to 41 Alem St… The worst part was, we were tired, semi-lost, and hot, which makes for a cranky and unpleasant 20-30 minute walk. And that’s not even the worst part. When we got to the apartment, I realized that I had left my cell phone on the bus…! I was in and out of sleep the whole ride over, and my phone must’ve just fallen out of my jacket pocket onto the seat, so that when I put my jacket in my backpack to leave the bus, I assumed my phone was there too. Of course, this was also the one time I didn’t turn around to scan my seat before stepping into the aisle. I haven’t stopped kicking myself for that yet… Fortunately, many of my photos from this trip are on my point-and-shoot camera, and I have backed up photos of my phone pictures from before this trip, but it still frustrates me that I was so careless. Smh.

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Anyway, after arriving in Mendoza, we walked around the city a bit and realized that there’s way more to Mendoza than we thought!! The city actually has a really nice central park with fountains, and there are plenty of nice restaurants and cafes (not [yet] pictured). The city is also relatively clean, in comparison to some of the other countries we visited. There were definitely less stray dogs in the city too. I wish we had spent more time in this city than in Santiago, I think it would have been worth it to spend a relaxing day here enjoying the cafes and people-watching. The nightlife looked interesting as well, though we were still pretty tired from the hike for that.

On our full day in Mendoza, we had decided to do a winery bike tour. We had heard that Mr Hugo’s winery bike tour was the best, so we took a bus and headed out to Maipu, the city right next to Mendoza. As we left the city, I noticed that the area was becoming more dilapidated and dirty… The buildings were older in style, one-storied, and they were mostly housing small businesses (eg, supermarkets, auto repair, vs insurance agency, bank, etc.). There were also more open spaces that were like dumps, full of trash or broken building materials, and there was an increase in stray dogs… In other words, it didn’t look like we were approaching the idyllic, peaceful, wine country that I was expecting…

And indeed, at the stop where we got off for Mr Hugo’s, it was like we had traveled back in time to a simpler place. We went ahead with the rental anyway. This also differed from our expectations. I think the Lion and I both were expecting it to be something like Mr Hugo (or at least an employee of his) to take us in a group with other people around to different vineyards and explain to us the history/culture of the city and the wines, but instead a lady just gave us some old bikes, a paper map, and a cup of lemonade made with pineapple juice bc they were out of bottled water and let us on our way…

We first went to an olive farm that also made chocolates and alcohol mixes. We had a short guided tour and learned a little bit of how they make olive oil. Turns out you need quite a bit of olives, 10kg of olives, in order to make just 1L of evoo! And for the first few years of an olive tree’s life, it can only produce 4-5kg of olives. Then, around 7 years, the tree can produce significantly more as it has matured (please correct me if these numbers wrong, it’s been awhile since the tour…). The best part of course, was the tasting, where we sampled a couple of oils, acids, olive pastes, jams, and alcohols. The Lion got to try absinthe for the first time, but he didn’t hallucinate Tinkerbell, like the guide had warned.

After this tour, we went to lunch at Casa de Campo, a restaurant that was recommended by many Argentinians that we had talked to. I didn’t think the food was that excellent, so I won’t write much about it, but maybe the Lion thought it was excellent πŸ˜› After lunch, we biked a long way out to another winery. Keep on mind, we were biking on our own and through a dirt city, not along rolling hills of vineyards here. We encountered gas exhaust from cars and trucks, dust and debris from construction projects in process and abandoned, and small rocks flying at us from the road as cars and trucks drove by! The Lion theorized that the vineyards were probably farther out into the country, and this was just the “storefront” of the wineries for easy access for tourists.

The winery we went to was a “modern winery,” so the style of the building and the design of their winery had a very different look to it than the more traditional winery you’d imagine. It reminded me more of a loft apartment in a big city than a winery! They had a self-guided tour, and we finished with a tasting upstairs.

We didn’t get to visit any more wineries after this one; we had started later in the day, and the bike-riding took more time and energy out off us than we had remaining, so we called it a day and went back to Mr Hugo’s to return the bikes. After another cup of pineapple “lemonade,” we hopped on the bus and left “wine country.” I was definitely ready to head over to “the Paris of South America,” Buenos Aires, the next day!

Valparaiso (Chile)

Valparaiso (Chile)

I was definitely ready to see Valpo after what was, to me, a less exciting than expected time in Santiago…

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We were in Valpo for about a day and a half (arrived Sept 8, left the morning of Sept 10), but we really didn’t understand how to appreciate the city until the next day when we had our tour with The German Pirate!

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Our first half day in Valpo was not bad. We arrived in the afternoon after a 2 h bus ride from Santiago and checked into The Yellow House, a cute b&b on the hills overlooking the port and the city. We took one of the infamous ascensors (kind of like an outdoor elevator?) down to the city after checking, ate lunch at a seafood restaurant (not worthy of mentioning), and got lost in the city for a few hours until dinner. The streets were very charming with the colorful houses, and the street art created a pleasant surprise every time we turned a corner. As dirty and dusty as the downtown was, the hills were beautiful (but also still kinda dirty…) and full of color.

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The next day, we took a tour with the German Pirate, Michael Arnold. We picked up another couple to join us on the tour, and we set off. We walked around on the hills, and Michael described the culture, history, and life of Valpo to us. He also showed us the highlights of Valpo’s street art. Wow, these artists are talented with a spray can!! We also visited some of the more colorful streets of Valpo. I loved seeing all the houses in different colors. It made the foggy morning a bit more cheery πŸ™‚ We even picked up a few stray dogs who followed us around for the duration of the tour!

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Michael had a really special treat for us: we got to see inside the home of an elderly Chilean couple. It was a really unbelievably unique experience. The old man is a magician who used to perform regularly but is now retired and only perform occasionally. He showed us a few tricks, and it was obvious that he as quite the performer in his day. His wife was in the kitchen, cooking away. Their house was decorated with a variety of knick knacks, but what made it interesting was all the pictures off Marilyn Monroe scattered around! Senor was so cute!! I thought it was a really unique experience to get to see inside a native Chilean’s home; that’s definitely something I wish I could do in every foreign city. I didn’t take any pictures of inside his home just in case that was rude.. After lunch, we wandered along more streets and took a ton more pictures of beautifully done street art!

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Oh, we also tried our first “completo” in Valpo. A complete is basically a hot dog covered with sauerkraut (not as flavorful as the German sauerkraut though), tomatoes, avocado, and mayo. A lot of mayo. So much that even Anthony Bourdain was overwhelmed when he had the completo. I was pretty excited to try this thing because I like hot dogs, but unfortunately this one was underwhelming πŸ™ Even with all those toppings on it, the hot dog didn’t have much taste… Sad. I don’t have any pictures on this because the ones I took were on my phone, which I’d lost πŸ™

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Inca Trail Day 3 (Peru)

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.).

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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)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 πŸ™‚

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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!”

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Inca Trail Day 2 (Peru)

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…!).

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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 πŸ˜‰ 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.

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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!

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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)

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.Β  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!

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The trail started off pretty harmless (the first ruin we saw was Llactapata, see pic), 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.img_20130903_061323_250

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…