Feb 20, 2005
Flying anywhere from Montana is always a treat - I left my house at 4:30 am and flying from Missoula-Salt Lake-Atlanta-Lima, I finally arrived in Lima, Peru, by 11:30 pm. I was doing a slightly modified version of our Incas and Rainforest trip, and was extremely excited to finally arrive in the country and begin my Peru travel. After 6 months of coordinating Adventure Life trips to Peru, it felt dream-like to finally arrive in the place that I had talked about so much every day! Boris, our Lima transfer person, met me at the airport - there was certainly a mass throng of people that had converged at the international arrival gate. In true Peruvian style, it seems that entire extended families had shown up to greet one traveler. It took me a few minutes of searching before I finally spotted Boris with his Adventure Life sign - a welcoming sight!
Feb 21, 2005
This morning I was able to have a bit of a sleep-in and a nice breakfast at the hotel, before Boris met me again to take me to the airport for my flight to Juliaca. My destination was Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,000ft. I arrived at the airport in the early afternoon, and local guide Manuel met me at the airport. There was also a spirited little band playing Andean wood instruments to greet me in lively, Peruvian fashion. I was in Peru in the middle of the rainy season, so it had been spitting rain as the plane flew in, but as the plane landed, the sun came out, and I was greeted by a beautiful rainbow. I drove with Manuel about a half an hour to the town of Puno, which is on Lake Titicaca.
Feb 22, 2005
Manuel met me at the hotel early this morning and we took a local limousine - a man-powered tricycle cart - down to the dock. There were lots of stands set up selling goods, so you could buy things there to take as gifts if you were doing a homestay. I had brought some colored pencils and sunscreen from home, and bought some bananas there to share. We set out in a motorboat for the Uros Islands, which are the man-made "floating" islands. There are about 30 in total, and tours visit only a couple of these. We visited two separate islands. We learned about how the islands are built, and were even given a reed to eat! It tasted a lot like . . . reed. A boy and his sister then gave us a ride in a reed boat to the next floating island.
From the Uros Islands, we set out in our motorboat for a 3-hour ride to the land island of Amantani. Amantani is known as the female island, in part because most men leave to work in Puno or Cusco at a young age, while females stay on and run the homes and farms. Amantani Island was beautifully green and terraced - a mountainous peak rising from the waters of Lake Titicaca. The women in full traditional dress met us at the dock and took each of us to their homes for the nights. The wonderful thing about Amantani is that they have control over the tourism allowed on their island. Each family in the 8 different communities takes a turn accepting people into their homes, and I was overwhelmed by their graciousness and hospitality. My hostess was Velma, who I learned was 20. Amantani is a Quechua-speaking island, but some members of the younger generations have learned a bit of Spanish. It is really amazing how much can be communicated even when you don't speak the same language. The homes are very, very rustic - they are made of mud brick with thatched roofs and earthen floors, but it is certainly an amazing cultural experience. We all met up on the local soccer field for a locals vs. tourists soccer game. Surprisingly, the tourist ranks were bolstered by the arrival of about 5 strapping young lads from the UK who were all talented soccer players, and the tourist team scratched out a narrow victory. I then went with Manuel up the mountain to the ceremonial site of Pachamama, and learned about the three-tiered system of the Andean religion and philosophy. We stayed on the very top for sunset, but headed down as it started to spit a bit of rain. That night Velma dressed me up in full traditional regalia - wool pantaloons, a brightly colored red wool skirt, beautifully embroidered shirt, woven belt and embroidered shawl. My hiking pants and boots looked kind of out of place sticking out of the beautiful clothes they had lent me! We then headed to a cement building for our pena showdown! Two local woodwind bands had a play-off from the opposite corners of the little building, and the locals all took to the floor, dragging one of us along with them. We soon learned the dance steps and were whirling around at a dizzying pace. Much to the amusement of all of the locals, my belt kept coming undone and my skirt falling off - good thing for those hiking pants on underneath! Although I had done surprisingly well with the elevation change, the festivities soon had us all exhausted.
Feb 23, 2005
This morning after breakfast (more potatoes!), we bade a sad farewell to our hosts. I had really enjoyed my time with Velma, and I think she also enjoyed hosting a young woman. We continued on our little boat ride to the land island of Taquile - which is equally beautiful and serene. On Taquile the women are very shy and quiet, while the men are in charge of the homes and of civic life, including the important tradition of knitting. Everywhere we went, you would see men, from the very elderly to the young boys, knitting and wearing the distinctive knitted Taquile hats, which are a symbol of marital status. We headed down the 530 steps to the dock at the bottom of the island and motored off to Puno, with a quick stop for the adventurous that wanted to dive in to the lake for an exhilarating swim. I can't swim, so I decided to pass and not drown in Lake Titicaca.
Feb 24, 2005
Today is the long bus trip to Cusco. The buses are quite nice - nicer than anything I have been on in the US, and come with a guide who gave us brief explanations of the various sites that we stopped at. I actually really enjoyed this day. It was nice to have some time to chill and watch the beautiful scenery of Peru unfold before us. We made several stops at a museum at Pukara, La Raya pass at 14,600 ft, and the neat Inca ruins of Raqchi. My excitement built as we neared Cusco and the scenery became even more stunning. I checked into our hotel in Cusco, El Balcon, and was delighted with the 3 green parrots that live in the flowered courtyard. I spent the afternoon with Adventure Life guide Ayul. I spent each day in Cusco with a different guide, and was so impressed with each one that I met. Ayul has 3 degrees, and a master's in archaeology. He has written a book on the area, which is being published, and has discovered a new species of Andean finch on the Inca Trail. I knew before I went that our guides were top of the line in Peru, this was reinforced with every single one that I met!
Feb 25, 2005
Early this morning I flew out from Cusco very early to the jungle town of Puerto Maldonado. My friend Corbin met me on the flight and we set off together to Sandoval Lake Lodge in the Tambopata Reserve of the Amazon. Our guide, Klaus, met us at the airport and took us to the office in Puerto Maldonado, where we left the majority of our luggage and found our size of fashionable rubber mud boots - an important accessory for the next few days! Once on the river, it took about 25 minutes to reach the take-out for Sandoval. From there, we hiked over a mile through some mud and light rain on a trail to reach Sandoval Lake. Our guide put us in a canoe and rowed us to the opposite side of the lake to the lodge. The area was so serene - we could hear macaws calling overhead as they headed to the nesting area at one end of the lake. The lodge was quite nice with its high thatched roofs, hammocks, and a separate lounge and dining area. The rooms have a private bath with shower and hot water - a real luxury in the Amazon.
For our first outing, we went on a canoe ride around the edge of the lake to a tower that we climbed up into for awesome views of the lake at sunset. Klaus also took Corbin and me on a night hike with flashlights.
Feb 26, 2005
This morning Klaus, assistant-guide-in-training Ronald, Corbin and I took off in a canoe together. We saw a caiman, a relative of the crocodile, along the banks, and an abundance of bird life. We were nearing the macaw nesting area and I was watching the macaws feeding on date palms, when all of a sudden Ronald spotted the giant otters! These creatures are about 6 feet in length and extremely endangered. Sandoval Lake is lucky enough to play host to a family of 7, and they are tremendous creatures to behold. We saw all 7 of them thrashing around near the banks for fish; they are ferocious hunters. Some people who had been at the lodge for 5 days hadn't gotten to see them yet, so I was thrilled. This was a real trip highlight for me.
In the late morning, the 4 of us went on a hike around the lodge - we saw an agouti, several groups of spider and brown capuchin monkeys, a porcupine, two species of toucans, and lots of birds and interesting insects. I was amazed at the diversity that we saw in such a short hike.
After a shower, lunch, and a siesta, we did an afternoon hike that looped around to the macaw nesting area where we had gotten into the canoes on the first afternoon. This hike is usually done the morning of the third day, but Klaus took us as I wasn't able to do spend the extra day and I wanted to know as much as I could about what our clients normally experience. We didn't see many nesting macaws as it was the afternoon, but we did see several more groups of monkeys and lots of other birds. We then got into one of the canoes and we were paddled around the lake - when we saw the giant otters again!! We couldn't believe our good luck - twice in one day! Klaus motioned some other guides on the lake over with groups, but they all missed the otters. We told Klaus and Ronald they were the star guides; they said we were good luck. We also got to see a young spider monkey that was very close to our canoe trying to crack a nut on a tree, and he stayed there for a long time performing acrobatic tricks for us. Again, we were able to experience a gorgeous sunset while out on the water.
Feb 27, 2005
We got up very early this morning and spent some peaceful reflection time drinking coca tea on the benches overlooking the lake. I really had pretty low expectations for the amount of wildlife that I would see in just a 2-night trip in the middle of the rainy season, but I was amazed! I had gotten to see so many different species in such a short amount of time. After breakfast, we loaded up the canoes for our journey back to Puerto Maldonado. Our flights back to Cusco were delayed by several hours, but we eventually made it back to our home - El Balcon. This afternoon and evening was spent with star guide Marco Palomino. Everyone who has taken a trip with Marco raves about the experience, and I can understand why. He has a very magnetic and vivacious personality, and we were swept up with his infectious love for Peru. We went to a vegetable market and had fresh squeezed juice (I had Marco's favorite of pineapple and apple), went to the witch's market with herbal remedies for every affliction. He took us on a whirlwind scenic tour of Cusco, and wrapped up the evening watching the sun set over the Plaza de Armas of Cusco with a military flag procession.
Feb 28, 2005
This morning we met with Boris, a prospective new guide for Adventure Life. Boris is young and very tall for a Peruvian, but we quickly learned how much he knew about the history and culture. We decided to walk up to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman above Cusco, which was good aerobic exercise to get those red blood cells pumped up before the Inca Trail hike. Sacsayhuaman is nothing short of incredible. I have seen countless photographs and heard descriptions of the site, and nothing was able to prepare me for the scale - rocks that are 25 ft high, weighing 12,000 lbs, and so perfectly carved that you can't even fit a razor blade between that and its neighboring stone. And this stretched out over acres and acres, and after the Spanish had dismantled much of it!
That afternoon, I asked Boris if he would come along to visit the Mantay house in Cusco. The Mantay house is a new project for Adventure Life's non-profit - the Earth Family Fund. Mantay is a home for really young girls that have become pregnant due to rape or sexual abuse. Their families are not able to support them, their communities have shunned them, and they are left with no place to go. Girls are then brought to Mantay, where they are taught to care for themselves and their babies. They are able to live in the house until they are 18. Most importantly, they are taught fine artisan skills to support themselves after they leave the house (or some stay on to teach and help run the house). I had asked Milagros, our coordinator in Peru, to let them know that I might be coming, and then I called ahead to Lourdes, one of the women running the house, to let her know that I would be able to make it that afternoon.
Mantay is about a 30-minute taxi ride from the Plaza de Armas. Lourdes met us at the end of a gravel road to take us to the house. The girls are in a brand-new, very bright and colorful house that was just finished in 2004. There are currently 10 girls living at the house. The youngest that I met was 12 years old and 5 months pregnant. Lourdes was so excited to have us, and gave us a wonderful tour of Mantay. We saw the leather workshop where the girls were making beautiful purses, shoes, and photo album covers. I bought several coin purses, and other leatherwork from them there, and it was so neat to see how excited they were to have us purchase things from them and to see the great pride they took in their work.
Visiting Mantay was one of the most moving experiences that I had in Peru. Each of these girls had gone through so much in their life before arriving at Mantay, and every one of them seemed so incredibly happy. The babies were so cute and well cared for. Some of the stories broke my heart, but it was also so uplifting to see these girls becoming more empowered and able to take care of themselves and their babies. Mantay is much more than a shelter -- it becomes their family and that was really evident to me. Even after the girls leave when the turn 18, this is where they come back for holidays and fiestas. It was so good to find a place that was really making a difference for a couple of girls at a time - not just giving them a hand-out, but teaching them how to respect and care for themselves. Eventually, the goal is for the house to become fully self-functioning and for alumni of the house to take over its operation completely. I think it is an incredibly worthy project for the Earth Family Fund. You can read more on the EFF website about how to make a monetary donation to the Earth Family Fund or about what items are needed for you to bring down to donate on your trip to Peru. (http://www.earthfamilyfund.org)
Mar 1, 2005
Today was our day in the Sacred Valley, which we spent with guide Wilbur. The drive is just astonishingly beautiful - vividly green, jagged mountains rising far above us, and ancient terraces still in operation in every direction. Along the way, we stopped at a station with llamas, vicuņas, and alpaca. We fed them alfalfa hay, and then learned the ancient process of dying wool, and watched women making weavings on wooden looms.
Wilbur took us up to the Pisac ruins, and we did about an hour hike to the ruins and back. At one point we could see thousands of burial sites/holes in the side of a mountain from pre-Incan peoples. I was amazed that the water channels were still in use, and water was still running into ceremonial fountains. It was a beautiful walk and good to get out and stretch our legs. From there we went down into the village of Pisac and visited the local markets.
After a couple of other stops, we made our way into the town and ruins of Ollantaytambo - which is known as the living Inca city. The foundations of all the buildings are still the original Inca stonework. The ruins are amazing - important sites in the ruins all line up astronomically on the solstices and with the huge carving of a man's face on a mountain across the valley. You could see miles across the valley and across a huge river where the stones were quarried. I also loved the hotel - El Sauce - our room had a perfectly framed view of the Ollantaytambo ruins.
The Sacred Valley is one of my favorite areas of Peru!
Mar 2, 2005
This morning we left Ollantaytambo via bus to the famous Km 82 where we started our journey on El Camino Inca - the Inca Trail. Day 1 is an easy day of the hike. It was described as the "flat" day. Although nothing in this area of Peru is exactly flat, by comparison to the other days, it was definitely about as flat as it gets. Day 1 is about 12 km or a little over 7 miles, and took us about 3 hours. We also passed by the ruins of Llactapata, discovered by Hiram Bingham after Machu Picchu, and spent the night at the Wayllabamba campsite. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the area. Going in the rainy season definitely has its perks - everything is so stunning and verdantly green. That night the sky was clear, and I have never seen stars like that in my life. I grew up in rural Montana, and am used to being able to see vast expanses of stars without light pollution, but being at almost 10,000 ft, I was able to see thousands more stars in the strip of sky between the jagged mountain valley. It was mind-blowing.
Mar 3, 2005
This was the day I was a little worried about on the hike. I had been so busy at work before I left that I hadn't really had time to prepare, and everyone warned me that this was the killer day. It's about the same length as the first day, but is straight up and then a little down at the end. We started hiking at about 7:00 am and immediately the trail started going steeply uphill. The first hour felt the worst, and I was beginning to wonder how much I was going to hate myself by the end of the day as the trail had just started, but after we had been going for a while, I got into a rhythm. This day is approximately a 5 hour hike all uphill, and then about an hour down hill (depending on your speed). The pass of Warmiwanusca - or Dead Woman's Pass - is the highest point of the Inca Trail at 14,000 ft, which is a 4,000 ft elevation gain. Although going up stair after stair after stair begins to wear on the muscles, it was nice because we could go at our own pace. The people that I saw who were really having a hard time were those that were trying to go to fast, or "race" their neighbors. I also recommend taking short breaks - don't stop for long or it makes it harder to start again!
Even though I felt completely acclimatized before we began, by the time we were nearing the 14,000 ft point, I could really tell a difference in my lungs. We reached the top of the pass, and sat for a moment - it was really cold and windy up there, but the feeling of satisfaction was tremendous. Our starting point that morning was so far down the mountain, that we couldn't even see where we had begun! It certainly was humbling, however, to see the porters carrying their heavy bags sprint past you up the hill.
From there, it was an hour hike straight down stairs - a little sad after all that hard-earned elevation gain. We camped that night at Pacamayu, which is at the base of a beautiful waterfall. The mists set in that afternoon, and I got quite chilly after being so hot and sweaty while hiking. I was glad I had brought that long underwear.
Surprisingly today wasn't as hard as I had psyched myself up for. It was still a challenging hike, and being young and fit certainly helps, but it is definitely do-able for those that are in good shape.
Mar 4, 2005
Today was the third day of the hike and involved 2 more passes, but after yesterday, they felt like nothing. You start off climbing straight up to the top of the next pass to the ruins of Runkuraqay. Today is the day that you start to transition into the cloudforest zone, and I think it is the most beautiful day of the Inca Trail. We saw lots of wildflowers and birds and heard hundreds of little frogs ribbetting along the path. By midday we made it to the ruins of Sayacmarca, which I loved. I hadn't realized how cool these other ruins would be that you get to see along the way, and learning about the Inca culture and customs really sets you up for a greater understanding and appreciation of Machu Picchu. After lunch, we went over the next minor pass to Phuyupatamarca. Oftentimes, our guides will camp here and some will continue on to Winay Wayna, depending on weather conditions and group size. We continued onto Winay Wayna that night, but I would definitely recommend staying at Phuyuptamarca if it works out. From Phuyuptamarca, you start going down, down, down and down more stairs. Corbin has bad ankles, and he had the hardest time with this day, but since I am not in as good of shape as he is (and my ankles and knees are fine), for me the uphill was the hardest!
By mid-afternoon, we finally came onto a clearing and could see Machu Picchu mountain -- what a feeling knowing Machu Picchu was just down the mountain and around the corner! After days of hiking it was so rewarding to see the end in sight. I was so excited! We went down a couple of more hours and located our campsite at Winay Wayna, which is only a couple of hours from Machu Picchu. Our cook made us a special dinner, and we celebrated with our porters and guides. Tonight was pretty loud in the campsite, so I could definitely see why our guides prefer to stay further back. Winay Wayna does have a place where you can buy beer or soda, and you can also pay a couple of dollars for a hot water shower (if there is hot water left).
Mar 5, 2005
Today was the day we would finally arrive at Machu Picchu. We got up really early and started hiking so that we could be at the Intipata, or Sun Gate, for "sunrise". Everyone was all geared up to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu and was in such a hurry - it was kind of annoying to have people pushing past and, again, I could see the wisdom of being a bit further behind the pack. We hiked two hours to Intipata to be greeted by a solid bank of white clouds - Machu Picchu somewhere below. This is fairly common in both the rainy season and dry season. We began the final descent into Machu Picchu and gradually through the mist, I was able to make out the faintest outlines of the ruins of Machu Picchu - my heart was thumping! Gradually, the sun began to burn off the mist, and we were able to see the ruins more and more clearly. It ended up being a beautifully sunny day - postcard perfect!
We did a tour of the ruins with our guide, and I was amazed at how few people were actually at Machu Picchu in low season. There were maybe a couple of hundred in the huge expanse of ruins, which felt empty, compared to the thousands that will flock there during the summer high season months.
I have dreamed about coming to Machu Picchu since I learned about it in social studies class in grade school and actually being there felt magical. I had been a little worried that Machu Picchu wouldn't live up to my expectations or that I would feel a little disappointed when I finally got there, but it for surpassed anything I could have imagined. There is such a mystical feeling to the ruins that just has to be experienced.
As if Corbin and I weren't gluttons for punishment enough, after our tour, we decided to hike up to the top of Huayna Picchu - the mountain behind the ruins. There is a narrow and very steep trail that goes all the way to the top. There are actually some very interesting ruins at the very top that were used for grain storage, and the views looking down onto Machu Picchu and the river below is out of this world. It was well worth the climb, but I wouldn't do it if you were scared of heights!
I spent another hour soaking in the ruins, before we had to head down to meet the train. Because I was on such a tight schedule, I wasn't able to do the overnight in Aguas Calientes like we do on all of our trips, and I really think that is necessary. I wouldn't recommend doing what I did and leaving the same day - you really want to have more time to take in the experience.
We took the train back to Cusco, took a much needed, glorious, glorious shower, and had dinner before collapsing into bed.
Mar 6, 2005
Our last day of the trip - I felt so sad! Corbin and I flew back to Lima this morning, and took a taxi to the house of Milagros Polo - Adventure Life Peruvian coordinator extraordinaire! After working with Milagros so closely for so many months it was great to meet her and her exuberant son Bruno, who introduced us to their pets and his surfboard!
We had lunch, and then Milagros took us into Lima to see the sites. We visited the main plaza, and took a tour of the church and catacombs of San Francisco. We went to the beach of Miraflores so that I could see the surfers riding the waves right off the coast. We also ambled along the bohemian neighborhood of Barranco. We had Pisco sours at the famous restaurant La Rosa Nautica, which is on the end of a pier on the Miraflores beach - it was great! We had a fabulous dinner and talked a lot with Milagros and got to know her better before heading back to the airport for a late night flight home.
My Travel Summaries