Sunday, October 4, 2009

Peru - The Pics!

We sorted through our 1000+ pictures, and whittled it down to the best of the best. Enjoy!

2009.09.11 - Vacation in Peru
Sep 5, 2009
by Nicole

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lazy Dog Days in Huaraz

On Tuesday, we arrived at the Anta airport, after flying in a small prop plane (only twenty passengers!) over the Andes Mountains. It was an amazing flight, a great start to the second half of our Peruvian vacation: we were headed to Huaraz, for some killer trekking.

But first, before trekking, we were scheduled to spend a few days relaxing at The Lazy Dog Inn. We weren't sure what to expect of this mountain lodge, as the Lonely Planet recomendations can be hit or miss. However, this one was a major hit! Top 40!

We were greeted at the airport by a friendly taxi driver. Much to Jeremy's dismay, he was not holding a sign that said, "Bolton" on it. No worries, though. Within an hour we were driving along a rocky road past ruins and small pueblo towns (in a Toyota Corolla wagon that could go toe to toe with any Jeep Rubicon).

The sky was blue and the sun was shining. Upon arrival at the Inn, we practically skipped to our personal cabin, the place was so perfect... The entire property was built by hand, without machinery or electricity. The walls of the lodge and cabins were constructed with adobe bricks, made from the mud and nearby land. The bathrooms include dry compost toilets. The ceilings have skylights to promote natural light. Our cabin also had its own fireplace.

We dropped off our bags to head to the lodge for lunch, walking past gardens of fresh vegetables that were incorporated into all of our meals. We stayed in the best cabin at the inn, we were served breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day we stayed here, and we spent less than $100 per day. In addition, as this place is 100% sustainable, we made no negative impact on the environment. :)

We spent most of our time just relaxing. However one morning, we rode the inn keepers' personal horses around the local country side. Neither one of us had been on a horse in many years prior to this ride. I was absolutely terrified at first, while Jeremy, who grew up with horses, was a regular cowboy. I got the hang of things soon enough, and for the next two hours, I couldn't stop smiling. Jeremy was all grins, as well.

And when we finished our ride, I asked, "Can we move to Colorado and have our own horses?" I don't think I have ever seen Jeremy happier...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Inka Jungle Trail Day 4: Machu Picchu

We woke up at 3:30 AM and set out on foot from Plaza de Armas in Aguas Calientes down the main road (which doubles as train tracks) to the base entry of Machu Picchu. About 300 other trekkers joined us at this hour. We were all eager to be one of the first 400 to enter for the day, securing one of the limited spots to hike up Wayna Picchu, one of the mountains overlooking the lost city.

Honestly, the climb to the Main Gate of Machu Picchu was a real bitch. 300 people with flashlights and headlamps scrambling up ~1000 meters all trying to get there before everyone else to secure that Wayna Picchu entry slot. While completing this ascent, Jeremy and I noticed we were probably some of the oldest people making the climb. I'm not joking - everyone was 23 and touring the world after college. The only thing that sucked more than feeling our age was getting passed by these "children" while we huffed and puffed up the mountain. (Sigh.)

About three quarters of the way to the top, we started to hear the busses making their way up the fourteen switchbacks in the road to the Main Gate. Yes we were completing this bitch of a climb by choice! But we had to reach the gate before the busses, otherwise those lazy, non trekking folks who did not wake up at 3:30 AM would get our tickets for Wayna Picchu! With this motivation, we continued our climbing and made it to the top. We were persons 264 and 265 on the list of 400 to climb Wayna Picchu.

At 6:00 AM, the gate opened and we took our first steps into the lost city. There isn't much to say about Machu Picchu, really. Few words can adequately describe how amazing of a place it is, so just wait for the pics we will post when we get home, and you'll see why we wanted to take this trip so badly. We took a two hour tour of the ruins, and then at 8:30 AM, had "lunch" as we had already been awake for five hours!

After lunch, it was time to decide which mountain to climb. Get this, Machu Picchu mountain, for which the lost city is named, is a higher climb than Wayna Picchu, is less crowded, and offers better views. It takes longer to complete, but the lack of crowds and better views sounded so appealing, that we decided to skip Wayna Picchu entirely to climb Machu Picchu instead. (All that early morning climbing in the dark for nothing! Other than pride, I guess...)

By now, Jeremy and I had been trekking about ten miles a day with lots of climbing for five days. Our legs were tired and in general, we were pretty much spent. Still, we trudged the ~1500 more meters to the top of the mountain, stopping to rest as much as we needed. It took us almost two hours to reach the summit, but the view from that point was amazing. Pictures to come, of course!

Exhausted but satisfied, we climbed down the mountain after resting at the top and talking with the other Trekkers for a bit. Trekking to and visiting Machu Picchu was everything we were hoping it would be, and much more. We are so grateful for this trip.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Inka Jungle Trail Day 3: Tracks and Ladders

To preface our third day on the trail to Machu Picchu, we were given an "option" by Pablo to skip the first half of today's trek and bus from Santa Teresa to the hydroelectric plant. In turn, we'd get into Aguas Caliente early enough to have lunch and get a glimpse of Machu Picchu by climbing a nearby mountain. Eager to get out of the jungle (cicadas and biting flies who'd left welts all over our bodies) and closer to our goal, we agreed to pay the 10 soles each for the shortcut and we weren't too disappointed to lose some hiking time as the trail was pretty drab.

We had no problems waking up early on day 3. A swarm of huge turkeys ruffling feathers and picking a fight with our tent had us up scared at dawn. We had a quick warm shower worth mentioning only because Nicole was attacked again by a huge cicada while lathering - scary, gross. We were off!

Our trekking group jumped in a van to head to the hydroelectric plant. The van was not empty. It consisted of a family of four, who after 5 minutes of driving - get this - jumped out of the van, walked into the jungle and returned with loads of fallen trees and branches, loaded them onto the roof of the van, and then hauled them to the next town. Please note, while sitting on top of the van with the logs. Yep, we paid 10 soles each (60 in total) for this family to run errands. Quite cheeky, as the South Africans put it! At least the ride allowed us to get into Aguas Calientes earlier in the day, albeit after a couple of uneventful hours hiking on railroad tracks.

After a meal and checking into our hostel, we met the team in Plaza de Armas to begin our trek up Putucusi - a mountain that overlooks the ruins of the Machu Picchu citadel. In Quechua, Putacusi translates to steps and ladders. (OK, probably not, but it was a hard slog. And interestingly enough, Juan Pablo did not lead us on this outting...)

Basically, we scrambled up stone stairs and wooden ladders that were bolted to the mountain in order to gain 1000 meters, and reach the peak of the mountain. Nicole gasped with what air she had left when we reached the top because the view was incredible. Our first sighting of Machu Picchu. It was unforgettable.

And now, ee can't wait for tomorrow, when we finally reach out goal. (Bring on the 3:30 AM wake up!).

-- Posted from my iPhone

Friday, September 18, 2009

Inka Jungle Trail Day 2: The Real Deal

After an early wake-up call and a quick breakfast, we began our first real day of trekking to Machu Picchu. The early part of the trek was mostly uphill, so thank goodness we had our trekking poles, which The Aussie referred to as sticks. It was grueling at times, but Juan Pablo stopped for breaks plus nature and history lessons whenever he saw us doubled over, gasping for air.

We viewed Coca bushes, mango trees, papaya trees, coffee trees (yes it grows on trees!), banana trees, cacao trees, and Inka war paint trees. I can't remember what those trees are called, but the berries make for excellent neon orange face paint.

The day's trek put the "Jungle" in the Inka Jungle Trail, as we even stopped to rest at local homes with monkeys and huge beaver-guinea pig creatures that seriously look as if they are charcters from Narnia, about to smoke a pipe and tell a story.

We climbed over mountains, ascending nearly 2000 meters, then dropping 1500 or so, arriving just outside the town of Santa Teresa in the late afternoon, after 8 hours and 18 km of hiking. To rest, and much to our liking, we took oroyas (zip lines) across the river and rested our tired bodies in the hot springs of Cocalmayo. Amazing.

We had a nice dinner while listening to one minute excerpts from our favorite Spanish discotecha versions of 90s rap songs (would have made for an awesome Power Hour / Centurion playlist...). We probably would have stayed longer at the dinner table, talking with our trekking friends, except that the dive bombing cicadas the size of baseballs kept interrupting our conversations. So we retreated to our tents and again, passed out quite early.

Closer to Machu Picchu every day!

-- Posted from my iPhone

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Inka Jungle Trail Day 1: Bicicletas!

The famous Lorenzo of Lorenzo Expeditions met us at our hotel at 7:40 AM to begin our four day trek to Machu Picchu. He informed that the family of four who was to join us on the trek had bailed, due to "stomach issues" from which the mother was suffering. I guess some of us (Jeremy) are pretty strong, as no dysentery could prevent us from making it to Machu Picchu.

Lorenzo brought is to meet our guide for the trek, Juan Pablo, who discussed with us logistics for the trip. We'd be by ourselves with Juan Pablo. Yep, that's right - a romantic four day trek alone. We were both pretty nervous about this turn of events, since we already to pretty much everything together; secretly and not so secretly, we were both seeking some variety in this excursion.

Well, that variety showed up 15 minutes later, in the form of an Australian and two South Africans. A bit more after that, an Argentine who now lives in Hawaii also joined the mix. After a rather confusing shuffling of guides, bikes, and souvenir T-shirts, We were whisked away from Cusco in a van.

While listening to a mix of Bob Marley and 80s one hit wonders ("In the back seat of my Cadillac...") we traveled through the towns of Chinchero, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo. (Note: Ollantaytambo is the scene of Misadventure #4, on which we will elaborate further at a later time.)

After four hours of driving, and upon reaching the summib of the mountain Abra Malagra, 4350 meters above sea level, Juan Pablo yelled, "Vamos, chicos!" we hopped out of the van and into the chilly high altitude air. We were literally in the clouds.

We donned our cycling gear, which we lovingly referred to as body armor: knee pads, elbow pads, gloves, helmet, and neon yellow reflective vests. We hopped on our bikes and began our descent to the town of Santa Maria, a distance of 60 km and an elevation drop of over 3000 meters. The riding was both on and off road, and really fun.

Exhausted from the day's activities as well as the general excitement of being on the road, we fell asleep that night before 8 PM. Our trek Machu Picchu had begun!

-- Posted from my iPhone

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Misadventure Numero Tres: Dysentery

Let´s just say that Nicole and I reached a new level in our relationship during our first night in Cusco. To start, we had a great - but expensive - lunch at the organic restaurant Greens, on Plaza de Armas, for our first meal in Cusco. Soup, sandwiches, and a pear baked with goat cheese inside and drizzled with a wine-chocolate sauce on top. Very tasty. Muy bueno

Nicole was so excited after this meal that she turned to me and said, "Let´s get wasted and stay out all night!" We tried our hardest. After walking around the city for a few hours, we ended up at Norton´s Pub on Plaza de Armas. While watching an Andean sunset, we downed a few Cusqueña´s and hung out with the bartender. Hungry for pizza, we solicited recomendations for the best place in town, and promised to return to the bar after dinner for the back-packer / frat-party scene that was sure to get started at Norton´s later in the evening.

Chez Maggie was the restuarant we chose for pizza at the suggestion of multiple locals, inlcuding the bartender at Norton´s. The food was great, but our waiter was a total dickhead. He hit on mi novia (Nicole) while winking at me like I was in on it the entire time. He also said, to my face, that I must be gay, since I live in San Francisco. Since he was such a douche, we didn´t leave him a tip. And I´m pretty sure that as a result of our behavior, he poisoned me...

Long story short, we didn´t get wasted and go out to bars. Instead, I wasted the bathroom and Nicole heard everything. And she still loves me.

Needless to say, the next day I woke up with a massive headache, and my stomach hasn´t been the same. Writing this blog three days later, and all I´ve managed to kick is the headache.

Misadventure Numero Tres.