A Travellerspoint blog

Inca Trail

Four days and three nights of endurance, exhaustion and excitement

sunny 18 °C

In one of my earlier posts I was wondering about how different it was going to be, being able to get on internet and keep people up to date on what we're doing and experiencing as we travel. My first impression is that it's a more time-consuming activity than I had expected. Part of it is learning how to work with this blog on ancient computers in dinky little internet cafes. I've been sitting here for an hour trying to upload photos, and am only now ready to start writing. I may eventually decide to revert to carrier pigeons, but for now will press on!

So... the Inca Trail! Obviously, we survived, and it definitely lived up to expectations. When we went to the tour organizer to pay the balance, we got a briefing to give us a clear idea what to expect. The gal there broke the trek down into three sections (the 'training' day, the hard day, and the beautiful day) and it's as good a way as any to describe it!

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The training day
We were picked up at the ungodly hour of 5am at our hotel and, in the minibus, made the acquaintance of the other people who would be in our trekking group over the next days. There were 14 of us in total - a mixture of Brits, Canadians and Australians besides me and G. It took a few hours to get to the starting point, stopping for breakfast on the way, and once there it also took a while to get our permits checked - but finally, we were ready to start. And it started to drizzle. Not an auspicious beginning, but we trotted merrily on up the valley into the mountains. They call it the 'training' day because the route isn't terribly strenuous - there's a bit of climbing, but also lots of level bits in between - just enough effort, in short, to get you stretched and ready for what's to come. We spent a lot of the first part of it pulling our rain gear on and off again, but finally it decided to stay dry. We had two guides, Juan and Jeanette, and along the way they stopped now and then to tell us something about the flora and fauna we were seeing, or about the Incan culture or history. We also passed a couple of really neat archeological sites. At a certain point we stopped for lunch - along with all the other groups who'd started hiking today (200 people are allowed to every day). The government has a system set up to to maximize both comfort and the ecology. En route, there are clusters of designated spots where people are allowed to stop and eat, and/or camp, each with its maximum number of occupants. Each group has its own specific spots designated in advance. The porters get there ahead of the walking groups (it is AMAZING how fast those guys can cover the trail, even with the loads they're carrying) and set things up for their own groups. That first lunch spot was really idyllic, in a valley next to a river, and the food was great.
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I was thinking the whole trek was going to be one big piece of cake until the last couple hours or so when we really started climbing. By the time we got to our campground I was more than beat, and - especially after they pointed out the pass we had to go over WAAAY up in the distance - kind of dreading the next day.

The hard day
With good reason. This may well have been the most demanding hiking day I've ever had in my life. The climbing started with the very first step, and it did not let up at all. It was non-stop 3,600 feet uphill to Dead Woman's Pass, with only a 1/2 hour break for a snack in between.
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Despite the coca leaves I was chewing (Nah... they don't really help all that much) I was almost whimpering by thge time I reached the top. And once up there, it was 1,500 frustrating feet back down - frustrating because although you could see the campground down in the valley, it seemed to take AGES for it to come any closer. To compensate, the views going up and down were awesome, it was also a relatively short day (we hit camp by mid-afternoon), and the weather goddess (Pachamama?) was smiling. After the first day, we had gloriously clear skies and cool (COLD at night!) temperatures, which at least made the walking somewhat easier.
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The beautiful day
Also with good reason. This may well have been one of the most gorgeous hiking days I've ever had in my life! It was somewhat strenuous - especially at the beginning - but there were enough level bits in between to catch your breath, and the paths were stupendous, winding down through cloud forests and then up around mountainsides with breathtaking drops at your feet, and ice-capped Andes on the other sides of the valleys. We had to go over two passes today, but they were nowhere near as ball-breaking as Dead Woman.
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We also hit a couple more amazing archeological sites (they get better and better the closer you get to Machu Pichu), and had a particularly exciting lunch break as a couple of romantically inclined llamas kept trotting around trying to get it on with each other. The last bit of the day after the second pass was the hardest - a series of steps that take you 3,000 feet down (they call it the Gringo Killers). A bloody BITCH on the knees, but I much prefer downhill to uphill. Obviously, the porters do too, as they take it a RUN!

The day we did it all for....
We were rolled out of our sleeping bags at 03:45, and the porters started breaking down before we were barely out of our tents. The walk itself was relatively easy and level, curving way around the back side of the mountain that shelters Machu Pichu. You could feel the excitement in the air as everyone strode on, exotic bird songs cutting through the pre-dawn air, until we reached the 50 almost vertical steps you have to climb to reach the Gate of the Sun.
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Once you passed through, there it suddenly was in the distance, looking just like every picture of it I'd ever seen. I almost couldn't believe it was real.
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We waited there patiently at the gate to see the sun rise over the mountains behind us and illuminate the site (SO beautiful, I have to confess I actually got tears in my eyes), before hiking the last hour to get down to the site itself.
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Once we were at the entrance we were caught up in the MOBS of tourists who'd arrived by bus, but luckily, the site was more than large enough to absorb them all. It didn't feel crowded at all once you were walking around in there. We got a great 2-hour tour from our hiking guide, and were then free to wander around as we wanted. What surprised Gerard and I the most was how much bigger and more well preserved it was than we had expected. When we had seen all we wanted to, we caught one of the many busses heading down to the village of Aguas Calientes (25 minute ride) where we met the others for lunch. Riding the bus back down, I felt like I was coming out of a dream. The trek - and Machu Pichu itself - had been one of those rare instances when reality really DID live up to the imagination!
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Posted by Karenlee 13:00 Archived in Peru Tagged peru machu pichu inca Comments (5)

Now we're really "off"....

...and really here!

sunny 21 °C

First off - I would love to include some pictures here, but this computer is giving me major problems with uploading them. Hopefully I'll have more success in the coming weeks if I can get access to a faster one. If so, I will definitely add them later.

Going from the land of Budweiser, hamburgers and strip malls to the country of Pisco Sours, roast guinea pigs and Inca temples in one day is quite a change, but we've gotten acclimated pretty darn fast. Aside from some slight headachy symptoms, we haven't even had much problem with the altitude. And we ARE way up high here - almost 10,000 feet above sea level. The flight approach into Cuzco was really something. After leaving Lima and flying up, up, up over the Andes, we descended over a huge "bowl" that the city is located in way up in the mountains. The airport is practically right in the middle of the city, and there was a mini-mountain in the bowl we had to curve around as we were descending to reach the landing strip. Very dramatic!

The weather here is really something, too. Yes, we're WAY up in the mountains, but we're also very much in the tropics, just 12 degrees south of the equator. The air is incredibly clear and - in the morning and evenings - very cold! I'd somehow forgotten that it's actually WINTER here! With close to freezing temperatures, I've been sleeping in my long underwear. But as the day progresses, it gets blazingly hot and you're stripping down to shorts and and tank tops. Then, when you step out of the sun and into a church or museum, it's freezing cold again. It's very funny and somewhat schizophrenic having to pack factor 50 sunblock AND caps, shawls and mittens in the small backpack we take with us when we're out and about.

And out and about we've certainly been in the last six days. Cuzco today is a lovely little city, but it was once the central powerhouse of the Incan empire, and many buildings are built on top of the foundations of Inca palaces. Talk about amazing architects! You wouldn't believe how perfectly those stones still fit together. Centuries have passed since they were built, but you still can't even get a knife in between them. We've seen some marvelous churches and great little museums. The Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas was particularly impressive, and there was an audio tour with great music that really added to the experience of seeing the paintings and relics there, including the original cross that Pizarro's bishop dragged all over Peru with him when they were fighting to conquer the native population. Although, from what I've seen, heard and experienced here so far, I'm not sure they completely succeeded. Even though Spain DID hijack their society and civilization, you get the feeling that Peruvians only absorbed as much as the Spanish forced upon them, while stubbornly (and somewhat subversively) holding on to as much of their own culture as they could.

Statues of the Virgin Mary here look nothing like the ones I'm used to - the clothes she wears directly reflect those of 'Pachamamma' - the ancient Incan Earth Mother - which symbolize the mountains and rivers. In paintings of the Last Supper, Christ and the disciples are feasting on roast guinea pig and other local delicacies. All the guides and locals we've talked to so far certainly have some Spanish blood in them by now, but when talking about the great Inca battles and defeats, they will invariably say "we" lost, and one man told us that although Peruvians go to church every Sunday and speak Spanish in schools and other official circumstances, at home, many of them still speak the old Quechua language and also observe many of the little rituals associated with the Inca culture (although not, one would hope, human sacrifice).

Actually, I learned at the regional history museum that they never completely gave up fighting. The 'Last Inca' (Inca actually refers to the ruling emperor of the people, not just the culture) Tupac Amaru started a rebellion in the 1700s against the ongoing Spanish oppression that roused the populations not only in Peru, but many surrounding countries. Although he was eventually caught and horribly executed right around the corner from here, within just a few decades, the first South American countries started declaring their independence. I really like the people here and their attitude - they're much warmer, more forthright, and less subtle than those in Asia (where I've done most of my travelling until now). Oh, and what else I like - they are SHORT! I can see over the top of people's HEADS! Here in Peru, I am actually almost a TALL PERSON!!

OK, enough history and sociology - I have about 10 minutes left on my clock in this Internet Cafe. Aside from exploring Cuzco, we've done a day tour of the Sacred Valley, in which we saw some fantastic Inca ruins and handicraft demonstrations. Par for the course (just to get used to 'travelling' again) the bus broke down at a certain point, and we had to wait more than an hour and half for replacement transportation to arrive. But you really can't get fussed when things like that happen. Everyone just piled out of the bus, one gal started playing her guitar, and everyone just hung loose and sang along until we could get going again. We also visited a quaint little planetarium run by a professor and his family up on the outskirst of the city. We learned some cool things about Incan astrology and got amazing looks at the moon, Southern Cross and Saturn (you could actually see its rings and moons) through the telescopes. Last, but not least, we're setting up plans for the coming weeks, including heading into the Amazon for five days or so. But first up - the Inca Trail! We start on that tomorrow morning, pickup at 05:30am! Hope all the stories I come back with next time are enthusiastic ones. Until then!

Posted by Karenlee 13:40 Archived in Peru Tagged inca cuzco Comments (4)

Confucious say....

...always double-check airplane ticket

semi-overcast 27 °C

...because you might be flying a day later than you thought you were. Really! We were bustling about this morning doing last loads of laundry and starting to pack up, when Gerard was double-checking our departure time and realised our flight to Peru is on the 22nd, not the 21st! VERY odd that both of us were so utterly convinced it was today. But no worries. We just grabbed some towels and suntan lotion, jumped in the car with my sister, put the top down and the radio on, and drove out to Daytona Beach singing along with the radio all the way at the top of our lungs. Had a great lunch at a beachside restaurant, sunned and swam, and just had a generally fantastic day. Try again tomorrow!

Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach

Posted by Karenlee 02:56 Archived in USA Comments (0)

A funny thing happened on the way to Florida....

(Or - what else do you REALLY need besides a passport, bank card and St Christopher's medal?)

semi-overcast 32 °C

The last couple days in Holland were such a whirlwind, that it was something of a shock to find myself – officially ‘On My Way’ – in the train to Schiphol with my friend Annette. And as we got closer to the airport, I was (if possible) even more increasingly fretting over what I might have forgotten to do or bring than I had been in the weeks before. But a funny thing happened on the way to Florida. Somehow, during the 9+ hours over the Atlantic, that all feel completely away. I realised that I’ve got my passport and bank card. And – when push comes to shove – those are the only essentials you really need (oh - and the St Christopher's medal Annette gave me!) to make it through any surprises and setbacks you may be faced with when you're out there in the world. It's been so long I'd kind of forgotten that one simple fact. The theory’s already been tested in the days I’ve been here. Susan and Dave have already had their own small problems with the phone, garbage and a leak in the house. And I've had an unexpected medical adventure here. I may have to have surgery sometime during our travels. But if you take things one step at a time, you can sort almost anything out. And so far, we have.

Now I’m finally finding the mental space to start looking into the guidebooks, picking out things and places I want to see, and really starting to look forward to South America. But that's only been in between all the visiting and other things we've been doing. Had a wonderful reunion last Sunday with all the extended family, and Monday Gerard and I went with mom, my great-nephew Jaylin and old college roommate Carolyn to Islands of Adventure at Universal Studio.

The main thing I wanted to see was the Harry Potter Experience that opened there a couple years ago, but we ended up going through pretty much the whole park. It was fun – but MAN, they sure do try to wring every last cent out of you they can! It was also really hot and the lines were SO l-o-o-o-n-g! Thank god mom’s scooter entitled us to line-skipping everywhere. It was even better than an Express pass – they just took us around the back and directly up to the loading bay for every ride. I even convinced her to go on a couple with us - including (to my astonishment) the Jurassic Park River Adventure! Universal_..ndo__1_.jpg

She thought the RIDE was great fun but - unfortunately - she had a hell of a time getting out of the boat because of her stiff knees. It took six of us to hoist her out!

Yesterday, she, Gerard and I drove down to Clearwater to meet up with old college roommate and her husband Doug. Together with their son Winn and friend Mary (who had also visited us in Holland before), we had an absolutely idyllic dinner on the beach which has long been the location for many family getaways over the year. Unfortunately, they'd just torn down the lovely old Hadden House hotel (oldest building in Clearwater!) where we always used to stay there. Clearwater_beach.jpg

We stayed at Caroline and Doug's and, this morning, went to Tarpon Springs, a little seaside city that sprang up in the early 1900s with the discovery of huge natural sponge reserves offshore. Back then, it drew thousands of Greek immigrants (experts in sponge gathering) to Florida, and even today, it’s a little ‘slice of Greece’ on the seacoast. I'd heard of Tarpon Springs all my life, but I'd never been there. Which just goes to show you don't HAVE to travel to a different continent to discover something completely new.
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It feels both very funny and very familiar being back in Florida. I was born and raised here, so everything about it - from the humid weather and tropical scenery to the tacky strip malls are part of my DNA. But being gone from it so long, I look at it something through the eyes of an outsider too. I love being back here, but I don’t think I could live here anymore. If only because it’s TOO DAMN HOT :)! Anyway, the US ‘prelude’ to our trip is now almost over. Tomorrow evening we board the plane for Peru, and 36 hours from now we'll be in Cuzco - I can hardly imagine it! Will we be feeling like dogs from altitude sickness? Time will tell...

Posted by Karenlee 17:54 Archived in USA Tagged florida Comments (4)

“De Laatste Loodjes”

… are always the heaviest.

semi-overcast 15 °C

They have a saying in Dutch; “De laatste loodjes wegen het zwaarst”. “Loodje”, literally, means a little piece of lead. And what it more or less means is that finalising the last little bit of a task or something you need to do, asks the most of your stamina and perseverance. And I am finding this to be true. I am LOVING spending this time with Susan and Dave, and it’s so good (and comforting to me) to see how they are starting to understand how different things work in the house, make real friends with the cats, and settle in. But it’s been a much more busier 6 days than I expected so far, what with registering them at City Hall and the local doctor, hosting the friends and neighbours party on Sunday, helping to coordinate the opening of their local bank account, welcoming Dave’s stepdaughter and her boyfriend who came to stay for two days, and slowly but surely walking them through the house to get personally acquainted (while I am still here!) with all the things I wrote about in the House Book. Thank GOD I took this whole last week off!

And there have also been some unexpectedly stressful things on top of that. At the City Hall, the clerk spent five minutes explaining why the type of copy they had of their birth certificates was not the right, official one (with me immediately going into overdrive trying to formulate plan B and plan C in my head), before he finished off by saying that since they were only going to be here for 6 months, it didn’t matter – and went ahead and registered them anyway. JESUS! Couldn’t you have said that right off the bat? He also said, when I asked him, that the IND (Immigration Department – the last big hurdle on Thursday) would also make no problem about it, but it’s sent my adrenaline back up again anyway.

Then, last night, when Susan was carrying dinner dishes from the table down into the kitchen, she mis-stepped on the stairs and went crashing down. This morning she couldn’t put any weight on her foot whatsoever, and we eventually decided it would be wise to go to the doctor (thank goodness we’d registered them there just the day before). His opinion was that it was just a bone contusion, but it would be good to have an X-ray to be on the safe side. So off we went this afternoon to the hospital where, thankfully, they saw no signs of a fracture. But it will take a couple weeks for the contusion to heal, and our plans for going to The Hague tomorrow have to be scuppered.

Which, maybe, is not a bad thing. Because we have still only worked through one floor of the house book. And I have not – as yet – even made a start in getting the “pile” I started weeks ago into my backpack, which I really need to get going on. As I am typing this, it is one of the first completely quiet moments I’ve had in the last few days. Susan is snoozing on the couch after watching a couple episodes of Pride & Prejudice, and Dave is (I guess) chilling downstairs in the Hobbithole. Both of them have been having a bit of trouble sleeping, so I will let them go as long as they want. All the preparations for dinner have been made (Spinach Spaghetti) so I only have to warm and stir it all together when they’re ready to eat.

A couple hours later: The Spinach Spaghetti was VERY well received. The injuries seem to be OK.

Something very nice which helps me keep these kinds of things in perspective: today, when we came out of the museum Van Speelklok tot Pierrement’ in Utrecht, I heard someone cry out, “Karen!!” It was my old colleague Pauline who emigrated to New Zealand a number of years ago! How amazing is it that we would bump into each other outside of the same attraction – it really is serendipity!

I must say that as the moment for my departure approaches I find it a bit more intimidating than I had anticipated. My feeling at the moment is "Op hoop van zegen" (hoping for blessings), that everything will go well.

Posted by Karenlee 15:17 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

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