Once the camp was over…..I bought a car and got ready to head down to Peru. Before heading down I took some time to reflect on where I had been and what I had done in the last several months. Hiking volcano's in both Bali and Hawaii, crossing the Charles Bridge in Prague and the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia, touring the Taj Mahal, swimming in the Dead Sea, visiting the 12 Apostles in Oz & Dracula's castle in Transylvania. I strolled through Red Square in Moscow past Lenin's Tomb then into the Kremlin and Tiananmen Square in Beijing where a once upon a time student went head to head with a tank as the international community watched. I hiked for a few hours over the Great Wall of China and took the 6 plus day journey on the Trans Siberian Railroad. I also went to the top or just saw some of the highest communication towers in the world including Sydney, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur and Moscow. It's really hard to sum up a journey like that in a few sentences, but when I looked back I realized that I packed what would be for some a life time of holidays in just 4 months. Yet my journey wasn't over. The Sevich Tsunami was meeting in Lima and I needed to be there. There were 10 of us in all, and everyone made their own contribution to the trip in some way, shape or form……
From my seat left, there was Kelly (Nancy's sister) who is currently in the Peace Corp in Costa Rica, Leah (Kelly's life long friend from Boston) currently hunting for a job, Brian (Jeff's buddy from ages ago….skier and hiker extraordinaire) who is from NJ (and yes….we did hold that against him), Jeff and Nancy (co-founders of the Sevich Tsunami) organizers of the whole trip, Gina and Brian (Yes….another Brian….there were 3 of us) Gina is Nancy's friend from high school and her soon to be husband, Brandy (from the ATL) who contributed countless Lama dances, Cathy (from Boston) was our sacrificial lamb. She accepted everyone's hiking boot blisters for us, and of course there was yours truly, I'm just a vagabond looking for a home in Peru. The crew had gotten together and we found our way to Cusco. The trip had begun!
When signing up for a hike on the Inca Trail, responsible tour operators require you to arrive in Cusco at least 48 hours prior to the hike in order for your body to acclimatize. We had arrived 72 hours ahead of time leaving us plenty of time to rest and explore the city. Cusco is located at about 11,500 feet above sea level, so walking up a flight of stairs will have you breathing heavy and spending a day hiking on the Inca Trail would leave sitting on the side of the trail sucking wind. So what did we do? Well, the first day we caught a bus over to Pisaq which is situated east of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. There is a pretty well known market there as well as a few trails to hike up to old ruins. We figured why listen to all the advice we were given and why not push out bodies a little?
After the markets and some local food, off we went to hike the side of the mountain. Most of us….myself included didn't want to push it too much and decided that getting to the first ruin was enough……Brandy and Gaynor went further and found some more, even better ruins that we missed out on. Those two were our rouges. One minute they were standing right next to you and the next they'd be on top of the hill you were standing next to yelling down at you.
After wiping ourselves out that night we got back to our hotel and had pizza and beer delivered to the room. We were all surprised when the pizza box came with a Ron Jeremy look alike on the cover…..it was either that or Super Mario…..none of us are sure, but most were hoping for the latter.
Cusco is a city in southeastern Peru near the Sacred Valley (Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountains). The next day, our second in Cusco, our rest and relaxation as we were acclimatizing to the conditions included a several hour hike up to Sacsayhuaman, which was commonly reffered to as Sexy Woman for obvious reasons, Tambomachay and Pukapukara. This is a group of ruins that is located just to the north of the main square on your way to see Jesus. Just walking through town and up the side of the hill we were able to see some amazing sites and we weren't even on the trail yet.
Our last day in town before beginning our adventure we decided to truly take it easy and make our way over to the markets. These were not your every day markets you might be used to in the states. Sure they had socks and underwear and hats and gloves, but they also had fresh squeezed juices, fruits, packaged foods, petrified alpacas, pigs feet, headless plucked chickens, pigs heads, full sides of beef and of course flowers. You can really pretty a place up with some nice flowers. Yes, it was a true Peruvian Market that was not located in the tourist area. For me that was a huge relief as the tourist scene was really beginning to wear on me. It was a nice reprieve to see how the locals lived and shopped. That's something that I had looked for in all of the countries I had visited…..find somewhere there are no tourist and TONS of locals…..this was that place.
Day 1. The bus arrived at our hotel around 5:20 am. There would be 16 of us in our group, 21 porters (2 of which were cooks), a lead guide and an assistant guide (she was the one that followed the group and kept kicking the slackers last in line and making sure they kept moving.) The bus brought us to kilometer 82 which was the trail head and where the Peruvian government had setup a control point, passports were checked and stamped and matched up with tickets that had been purchased back in October. While we would be on the trail a total of 4 days, the government had limited the number of tourists to 500 per day anywhere on the trail. So 125 new hikers showed up each day to take their turn.
To start the day Brandy and Cathy were showing us their new stretch….I think they called it the upward dog, their twist on yoga above the ground. The hike started and within 30 minutes we were donning our rain gear. Fortunately it was just a sprinkle and the worst we had the entire trip. After constant bombardment from our guides about making sure we stay hydrated and to keep drinking water, we past an America who was on the back of a donkey being lead by a Peruvian guide. The only problem was that he was heading down. He had a big smile and said, "Inca Ambulance….drink lots of water and stay hydrated……I didn't". It was almost as if our guides had paid these characters to set up this elaborate illustration to help drive the point home. Obviously they didn't, but we got the hint anyway. Altitude sickness was serious business and not to be taken lightly. That night we made camp and the moon was bright. We needed a good nights sleep because the infamous day 2 was in front of us as was the 5 ish wake up call….
Day 2. Everyone that we had talked to about this hike had warned us about Day 2. It was the most vertical and the roughest of the days. Day 3 was cake to Day 2. Having to out do everyone in my group, I won the heaviest pack award and went from leading the group the first day to trailing towards the end as my pack seemed to be pulling me backwards down the mountain. I attempted to make the pack lighter by eating all the snacks that I had and drinking tons of the water as quickly as possible. For some reason it was still the heaviest pack out of all of us. Even the porters laughed at me as they were sprinting by wearing nothing but sandals, shorts and a t-shirt.
Having only two functional batteries for my camera, I kept the shooting to a minimum the second day as I was fearful that I would run out before the prize at the end that was Machu Piccu. We started the day with a group shot of everyone including the porters. Then I had to get one of Brandy taking out Cathy. Not sure what was going on there but our theory is they were working on a new yoga technique yet again.
Day 3. We hiked, we smiled, we felt good. The hell of Day 2 was behind us and we had crossed dead woman's pass. Our camp site was at 11,900 feet and a few of us were having some altitude issues, but with a little hydration, some food…..and puking a few times……we got past it and carried on. The weather was perfect, the sun was out…not too hot and not too cold we scaled the side of the mountain crossing pass after pass and ruin after ruin.
The trail was as interesting as the ruins were. One moment we were walking in what seemed to be a rain forest and the next we were on the side of a sheer cliff with nothing to catch us if we fell. It traversed the mountain side weaving and winding and sometimes going through caves and back again. Some steps were stones put in place while others were simply carved from the stones that made up the mountainside itself. Walking sticks would have been a good idea this day and the there was a lot of downward steps to be had and you could feel it in the knees. Lots of it was very steep as well, both up and down.
While going around the side of the mountain during a rather flat section of the trail, I was caught off guard by screaming and our tail guide running past yelling at the porters that had just passed us. Something seemed to be up and in a bad way. When the front runners stopped and headed back to check on the rest of the group, we quickly realized that someone had taken a spill off the trail. Once we got to the rest of the group, our porters were blazing around the corner having jettisoned their packs and sprinted full speed to the rescue of some unlucky hiker. It was Rick from Canada. There he was standing about 20 feet below us looking up. Apparently he had stepped on the outside edge of a rock about a foot and a half square and it gave way sending him tumbling backwards and head first down the side of the mountain into tons of vegetation. He had fallen head first on his back, his backpack taking the brunt of it, he slide down about 20 feet until the undergrowth stopped his fall. Later that day all he had on him were a few scratches on his head and a little limp. Not bad for falling off the Inca trail……they sure don't build em like the used to….
We passed more ruins and then more terraces in our journey finally ending at our last camp site for the trip. This was the end of our third day of hiking and those who were quick enough rewarded themselves with a hot shower while the rest of us, myself included went yet another day without and just enjoyed the final dinner. It was an early night as the next day we would make a run for Machu Piccu. We wanted to be first in line and first to the Sun Gate……so our wake up time was 3:40am. Ouch….that's all I have to say about that one….
Day 4. It started earlier than all the days before. 3:40 am was our call to wake and get some breakfast so that we could get in line and get to the check point first. The check point opened just before 5:30 am and by that time there were about 10 groups behind us. Of course we were first in line and once we cleared that point it was like we were in the Amazing Race. We grabbed our ticket and made a run for it. Headlamps blazing we were going at a steady clip…….then, slowly but surely the headlamps started to turn off one by one. Not because it was getting light out, but because we had a full moon and the lamps were limiting us. With some hesitation I switched mine off……and after about 30 seconds of running just waiting for that ankle to give out I could start to see the uneven rocks that I was running on, only this time I could see much more and our speed had increased. We were on a tear as we ripped over the mountain passes and onward towards the Sun Gate. I've got to be honest….it was one of the most fun hours of the entire trek, going at a good pace with a full pack on your back and racing the masses that crowd Machu Piccu each and every day.
The Sun Gate…..we made it. The sun had yet to hit Machu Piccu, but we could already see the lines queuing in the distance as it would be another 40 minutes before we got down to the site itself. No rest in site, we were off…..
On that tear down the mountain toward the site, we past a few people walking the wrong way towards the sun gate. One asked….where did you come from? 'Cusco' we replied with big grins. Knowing full well that they had taken a train and then a bus to see the remains of the Incan empire. By the time we got there we started to see the flood of tourists that took the easy route and by no means earned the glory of being first on the mountain that day. They had their shiny hiking boots ready for the worst, yet they had all taken a bus up the hill and a train from town. It was a bit sad, but it made us feel that much better about walking around the site as we had come the way the Incas would have come back in the day.
We shared those first few rays of sunlight with the Lamas that called Machu Piccu home and stood in awe of what past civilizations had built at the top of a remote mountainside in the middle of the Andes. It was impressive to say the least. Something that I won't be forgetting any time soon….
The stone work was amazing. Seeing how the Inca's built everything and finished it while it was in place was impressive. It was a bit sad to see how the archeologists who "restored" Machu Piccu a few decades ago did so. While the foundations of most of the buildings were intact, the structures had all been knocked over. So instead of replicating the stonework that the Inca's had done once upon a time, they simply stacked stones to complete the structure. While this gives you a better representation of what the buildings would have looked like in their original state, in my opinion, it was more an insult to the past cultures that worked tirelessly in order to shape the stones the way they were. You'll see a shot below with a round building….in the base you'll see the Inca stones….and at the top you'll see the restorer's version. It's hard to even compare the two…
Finally we made our way back down the mountain and grabbed some food. Guinea Pig anyone? Then since you are only allowed to travel in one direction on the Inca Trail, we took the train back to Cusco.
A flight to Lima the next morning allowed us to spend the day running around Lima exploring what more Peru had to offer. We found a great little lunch place that served ceviche. The tuna was so tender you just sat your fork on it and it was cut in two. Then a night flight back to Miami then Boston and we were home. There has been a bit of culture shock during all of this…..not in the countries I have visited but coming home to America. I see things that I used to do and buy that I can't even think about buying any more. Don't worry…I'm not all save the earth, I'm going green or anything. Just being a little bit more aware of what the American machine feeds the masses. Literally and figuratively. Anywhoo……all in all I'm glad to be home…..even though I don't actually have a home…… I've got a full summer of driving across the country and visiting with friends and family….oh yeah, and skydiving! I drove straight to Chicago the day after I was back for Project Horizon then down to Florida via ATL and am now in SC. In the next few days I'll be bombing up the east coast Boston bound for another camp, then out to Montana. Fun summer indeed!
Well….that's it with the blogs for a while. I'm stoked so many people followed along and enjoyed the pics! They'll be more later on in the summer when I have something to write about. In the mean time now I have to start figuring out what I'm going to do when I grow up and where I'm going to live! Any ideas, I'm all ears……
BTW…..Brandy, your landlord Pearl called……something about the dancing Lamas were eating all of the quinoa. What the hell is quinoa anyways? And where did you get dancing Lamas?!?!?!