Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wednesday, December 5 – trying to get back to Boston!

This is the reminder that one must always be patient with travel, and getting there and back is always half of the adventure:

-4A cab to airport for our confirmed 7A flight to Miami

-5A arrive at check in to find out.....

-Flight delayed until 11A

- A Long Breakfast – I remember French fries and lots of espresso

-Wandering aimlessly through airport shops

-10A go through security and head to gate

-11A Run into Sue who is on her way to her noon flight back to Quito;

-She lets me use her iPhone to call home, a definite high point to the day's journey;

-I take 800 mg Ibuprofen for the shooting pains in my knees
-Larry is very patient through all of it.

-1130A we board our flight; I think I immediately fall asleep

Naturally we have missed out conveniently timed connection in Miami, but we have been resceduled and in fact between customs and security and getting from one terminal to another there really isn't time to spare. We board, starved, but by the time the flight attendants get to us the food is all gone (oh except for pringles and chocolate bars which we pass on)

-930pm we land in Boston but one of my bags is missing (though it does show up the next day) How does that happen?? It's cold, a harsh end to a great vacation

- 11p arrive home, really late to bed, really early up for carpool and work and life.....

Tuesday December 4 – on to Lima

This morning there was time to visit the Spanish Cathedral in Cusco – an amazing place – before our ride to the airport. An easy flight to Lima, followed by a cab ride to our hotel in the Miraflores section of the city. The Hotel Antigua Miraflores is a cute place (this is a photo of it), but a far cry from the 5Star treatment we have gotten used to. I think the 3 floor walk up was the hardest part – oh my knees!
We find delicious ceviche for a late lunch, and get a cab to the market area which is overwhelming in size and scope. Every type of Peruvian product and souvenir one could imagine, and we spend hours inspecting all of it. My legs are tired and my knees are beginning to hurt. Larry discovers he left his Amex card back at the lunch restaurant; they are closed by the time we return to get it. He remains cheerful! Later, a light dinner at a nice restaurant close to the hotel, and fun conversation with the bartender over nightcaps, refills free. Early to bed, wake up call at 3:30AM!

Machu Picchu stonework

Monday December 3 – Machu Picchu

How sad to check out of such a fantastic hotel so soon! We meet up with our MP guide (Fernando?) who is dramatic and theatrical and lots of fun to discover Machu Picchu with. We ride the bus up the mountain, and enter the site well after sunrise, but before the crowds have taken over. It is just beautiful and amazing, and once again we have perfect weather to enjoy it. The llamas are snoozing in pools of sun on the green grass and the sky is clear so we can see how some of the surrounding mountains line up with the silhouettes of rocks carved on the site. We can even look across to where we were yesterday at Patallacta Pass. The stonework is incredible, though it seems so obvious to keep saying so. We meet up later with Javier for a farewell lunch in town and then say our goodbyes as we all begin to go our separate ways. Larry, Eduardo and I are all on the same train back to Cusco; Larry and I are back where we began, at the Libertador Inca Palacio in time for a late, light supper and re-packing time.

Sunday December 2 – day 6 of the Trek

Today is the last day of this trekking adventure. Note the mis-buttoned shirt in this photo - I must be losing brain cells!

After breakfast we climb a few hours to Patallacta Pass, still steeped in lush cloud forest, and ending in a beautiful clearing with a breathtaking view (as the clouds conveniently parted for our pleasure) of the back side of Machu Picchu. This is our gift – not a crowded march into the ruins themselves, but a remote and solitary vision of this amazing site. This is what our efforts were meant for, and it is worth every step we took. I think I have 30 photos of just this spot, hoping one will sufficiently remind me of the moment.

With our picnic lunch we sip cold beer bought from a woman with a little camp ground along this trail; so interesting to contemplate how the goods are brought to this remote spot, and how the beer is kept ice cold a day’s walk from anywhere…
Then it is all downhill through farmland and my slow pace is about trying to stay upright on steep slippery rocky muddy paths. At the bottom we cross the river, and walk along the road to the hydroelectric plant and the train station. We have time for celebratory beer and French fries – the best French fries I think any of us have ever eaten – before climbing on board the train for the 30 minute ride to Aguas Caliente. It’s a fun, bustling, touristy town with shops pressed right up along the train tracks and trekkers of all shapes sizes and colors roaming the narrow streets. Our five star hotel is amazing, and has the best shower in the world. There are complimentary Pisco Sours in the bar, a delicious dinner in the dining room, and a night of cigars and grappa while we tell our stories and debrief from the trek. What an amazing thing we all did!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Saturday December 1 – day 5 of the Trek

I love my hiking boots – not a single blister!
I am getting tired of wearing the same smelly clothes
I still sometimes feel bad about being last in line – just can’t keep up with the crowd and even though Javier says slowly, slowly, his definition of slowly doesn’t seem to be as slow as what I am doing….
Today we leave at 8A for the Santa Teresa Valley. It is mostly downhill though in Peru if you want to go down you also have to go up a lot. This is our only day of rain – a drizzle requiring some rain gear but not a big deal. We leave Colpa Lodge and go back down to the river then up the steep hill again the way we came in yesterday. We trek across a field and over a stream. We walk and walk and then look across at the very same lodge we slept in, across a gorge from where we are. Maybe someday a bridge will be built, but then how sad to lose the time hiking! The views of the hills, the rushing waters of the river, the sky clearing to blue – this is becoming a beautiful day. The scenery is lush and there are banana and coffee trees, and lots of orchids and bamboo – but still no humming birds or parrots. Our cook has come up from behind and forged ahead so lunch is waiting when we meet up at the clearing around 1230P. The toilet tent is a real luxury, and the grass seems so soft I begin to take off my boots – but Javier scolds me back into them with warnings of round worm or some such parasite– ew!

Other high points today - there are some scary bridges I need help crossing. Once Javier almost goes over the edge trying to help me and I see our lives flash before my eyes. Yikes.

There is a bull being tugged to market along our same path by two men who frequently stop to rest and drink some sort of alcohol they have along, which then requires a bit of sleep before proceeding. They have to pass us several times, and that bull is not kidding around!

This afternoon we reach an actual road where a real van meets us (it seems strange!). There is a lot of interesting maneuvering as our gear is switched from horse to van, and then a little ceremony (always involving coca leaves) to say goodbye to our horsemen who have been terrific hauling our gear around. The van is a bit rundown – the back windows are all cracked and held together with some kind of tape. We can’t believe they can fit everything on the roof rack but indeed they pile it all on (as the van sinks lower to the ground). Then we all climb in, Augusto (the cook) too – and one of the horsemen climbs to the roof to hitch a ride… I can’t believe this vehicle can withstand all the weight but it does. After a short drive we are dropped at the trail head leading to our final lodge. Many porters appear to take our bags It is a humbling experience to struggle with walking uphill while sandal clad men and women are hauling our 30 pound duffels and tearing up the path, leaving us in the dust. Along the way there are banana trees and coffee plants, and some Inka steps for us to climb. After about 30 minutes we arrive at Lucma Lodge where our bags are already placed in our rooms waiting for us. No hot tub here, but it is warmer so we do not need it to take the chill off. This lodge is lovely, maybe our favorite. We are down to 2185 meters altitude, about 7,000 ft. Tonight everyone has wine or beer and even pisco and grappa…

Friday Nov 30 – day 4 of the Trek

Last night the little elves came and cleaned all of our hiking boots – they look better than brand new! It was exciting, but a futile effort as we headed out into the muddy day. It has been pouring rain overnight, and so our days are clear (just as I intended of course) but the trail is muddy in parts. Today we leave at 830 (I think this is described as the day we begin at leisure!) and head down through cloud forest with bamboo and orchids – we hear the humming birds but never actually see them. Javier tells us about the bugs called ‘Puma Huacachi’ which translates to ‘that which makes the puma cry’… by the end of this trek my arms and legs will be covered with these red welts (I hate deet and evidently am willing to pay the price) which itch mercilessly. It reminds me of the days when Leo would use the red marker to pretend he had chicken pox – it is exactly what I look like! But I am getting ahead of myself…Today is a pleasant downhill slog to Colpa Lodge at 2886 meters.

This lodge is beautifully situated above a rushing river, the Santa Teresa River I think – though it requires a steep downhill, cross the river, then steep UPhill to the lodge. We arrive in time for a late lunch and nap, followed by a meeting in the hot tub which is set in the bank in front of the lodge with several lovely wooden deck chairs lined up behind. The ‘Club Deck Chair’ has been formed and we discuss the secret handshake we might invent, and take pictures of us in the hot tub as well as in the luscious white robes the lodges provide us. Altitude is wearing us down for sure, leaving us sillier than any of us would usually want to admit to. There is a sweet boy here playing with his ball – he scares the bejeezers out of us by running after the ball right up to the edge of a cliff that would surely kill anyone who went over the side. This boy thought it was very funny. Show off.

My stomach still feeling overwrought I head to bed without supper for a good 10 hours sleep, drifting off to the sounds of laughter from my fellow club members having a good time in the dining room – but I don’t think anyone stays up past 930. Sleep comes easily here!

Thursday November 29 – Day 3 of Trek

We have to leave the comfy confines of Salkantay Lodge for our big trek today which will end at the next lodge, Wayra. The gang sends us off at the door with packs of snacks and plenty of water at 7am. This is the short story:

We depart at 3880 meters altitude and hike for 5 hours to get to the Salkantayccasa, the pass of Salkantay and Humantay Glaciers, sitting at 4655 meters. I can’t believe I made it!!! There are many cairns up here – piles of rocks- and we build one ourselves. Peter pulls out a plastic coke bottle with some scotch in it and we pass it around in a ritualized way making sure to pour drops onto the ground in honor of the mountain before slugging back a few drops for ourselves. At this point (on Diamox) I am huffing and puffing pretty well. The fog is rolling in so we head off for about another hour’s trek down the mountain to our lunch stop – Oh yes, Augusto, the chef, comes with us on this trek and will make us lunch during the day as well as dinners and breakfasts in the lodges. We arrive at our lunch stop, complete with a dining tent and even a toilet tent!! Hot soup and something else I can’t quite remember but it was delicious and too much as is the Peruvian way (and of course I have no self control to limit my intake).

Then on to the lodge – we see caracaras (mountain birds) and Andean flickers (like woodpeckers but there is no wood for them to peck) and even a pair of Andean geese. There is a long lous sound of a distant avalanche. We peer down at the Rio Blanco. We trek through landscape that makes me think of Scottish moors – lush, with rocks and boulders covered with a lichen that makes them look painted. Finally, Wayra Lodge where all materials were brought in by horse, donkey, or man. This is the lodge where 5,000 adobe bricks were destroyed in a storm and so building plans were changed to stone and mortar. It is 4P and we are mighty tired and ready for the Jacuzzi which feels fantastic. We are at 3960 meters altitude. Unfortunately Larry and I both get slammed tonight with the intestinal thing; we make the decision to go right to the Cipro since we have many hours ahead of us on the trail..........

Wed Nov 28 = Day 2- altitude 3880 meters

We meet for breakfast at 815, and plan to leave at 9A for another one of these ‘optional’ treks, this one up to the glacier lake. Javier promises we do not want to miss it, and this also is very important for getting acclimatized (the documents all describe this day as one to ‘relax and acclimatize’). So this is what it looks like:

These are really steep up-hills, and in some places there isn’t even pathway and we need to envision our own switchback trail to follow because you can’t go straight up. The mountain and glacier views are outstanding, I have never been in such a beautiful place. We even see condors flying overhead, a highlight of this entire trip (which also leads to many conversations about how we should be carrying dead baby lambs with us to attract more condors…this is an example of what happens to our brains at altitude). It takes about two hours to reach the top, and the lake. It is gorgeous, turquoise blue and a wonderful worthwhile sight. Some decide to walk around the edge to a smaller lake in the back that has some icebergs floating in it – seems like a good idea though about 10 minutes into it I realize even though it looks easy, the rocky path is not so simple. It’s a 45 minute detour during which it begins to spit rain.

We head down hill to the lodge, a bit hard on the knees and toes with the steep down hill. Thunder cracking towards the end, but we are back at Salkantay Lodge before the down pour. We have time to shower before a late lunch and then watch the hail come down as we dine on quinoa salad and a spicy beef stir fry. The afternoon is scooped up by local weavers showing their wares, a fortune teller reading coca leaves, a lesson in making pisco sours, and napping. Tomorrow is our big trek, and I am in bed early to be fully rested….

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Trek begins...

We are picked up in our Cuzco hotel at 730a. Since we are returning here (we assume we'll make it back) in a week we’re leaving a suitcase full of stuff. I am not quite sure how the contents of our duffles have expanded so much. Anyway, the pick up van goes from hotel to hotel getting us all – Larry and I, Eduardo (Peru, but originally from Argentina) a travel writer / tourism marketer; Judy (Washington DC) a cardiologist (yahoo!); Susan (upstate NY) an architect; and Peter (Watertown MA!) who I know from work because he is our operator in Peru. There are also two Peruvians who are joining us just for the first two nights in the first lodge – then they are getting a ride back to Cusco.. Javier and Jose are our guides.
I am making an excellent first impression by wearing an orange-ish pink shirt with my yellow-ish green pants. My legs are already sore from all of the walking we have done the last few days. I'm sure I look *really* professional.

We drive about 3.5 hours, making one stop in a cool little town for water. The last part of the drive is on winding dirt road – in the States it would not even be called road I don’t think. Then the van stops and we pile out. This is the beginning of the ‘optional’ hike to the first lodge. Javier says it is great for getting ready for the trek. It’s pretty clear this is not very optional. Well the views are beautiful, I am out of breath in no time, the path is steep and my greatest fear has come to be – I am last in the pack. Oh well, it is what it is. This is what it looks like:

2.5 hours hiking hiking hiking. Up hills, down hills. Beautiful breathtaking views. Break for our box lunch which is delicious once you catch your breath enough to swallow. Then hike hike hike up and down and up and down some more – after another two hours we are at the lodge. There is quite a large staff (local Quechua women) waiting for us, greeting us with hugs and steaming mugs of hot coca tea. And the hot tub! Ah it never felt so good, with heavy white terry robes to wrap up in afterwards. The lodge is lovely though still working out some kinks. And chilly – propane heaters abound. But the beds are fantastic. Dinner is cream of potato soup. local trout, snow peas and peppers, carrot puree, and passion fruit mousse for dessert. The food is excellent. And then we go to bed!