Tambopata, Day One

We were up early to leave for the bird blind at 5:30AM.  We woke up and shined our flashlights through our mosquito nets onto the floor to make sure there were no ants or spiders or scorpions awaiting an inadvertent misstep.  It was still dark outside while we dressed, but the day was already starting to brighten.  We met Leon and the others at the boat.  We motored upriver 20 minutes to an anchored, floating bird blind.  It was a big one-room cabin floating on the water with windows open towards the bank 50 feet away across the water.  Leon (our guide), Sheri and I were dropped off, and the boat headed back to the lodge.

It was silent until 6:30AM, when the birds started arriving.  It got very noisy as there were at least 100 birds in the trees above the far banks.  It was very busy as the birds moved from tree to tree.  Suddenly, the macaws were startled and they flew away.  There were still parrots and parakeets that slowly  descended lower and lower in the trees.  Finally, the birds landed in the clay, and started eating the dirt–the clay has some mineral  they don’t normally get in their diet.  At 7:30, the birds were startled and they all flew away.  Now there were NO birds in the bank across from the bird blind (and we weren’t going to leave until 8:30 or 9AM); silence permeated the jungle in stark contrast to what we had heard before.  We could hear birds upriver and downriver, but we were stranded in our little room.

We unpacked a breakfast that the lodge had pre-made for us.  The cold pancakes with a hint of orange were really good.  There were also hard boiled eggs, fruit, tea, and sandwiches.  Bees started showing up attracted by the food.  After sitting in relative silence for half an hour the macaws came back at 8AM.  They were vibrant reds and blues and yellows against the green canopy of the jungle.  Finally, they also alighted on the clay riverbank. It was an amazing sight as they intermixed with more parrots and parakeets feeding on the clay.  As we watched, we also saw a Laughing Falcon, a toucan, and numerous other types of birds.

Finally at 8:45 the boat came back.  It took us five minutes downstream where we would have a morning hike back to the lodge.  We headed off on the path.  Leon took us off-trail to stalk some wild pigs and monkeys.  We saw a large wild boar with big tusks cross the pass far ahead of us.  We were doubtful as Leon told us to set down our packs as we stalked them, “they’re agressive, and it’s better in case we need to run away from them”.  Leon had a machete, and we had cameras.  Something was wrong with this picture.  We got closer to the boars, and they ran away scared–too bad :)

We passed by a leaf covered with small red bugs.  We asked Leon what kind of bugs they were.  He answered, “They are B-U-G-S… Bugs.”  Sheri and I looked at each other and almost broke out laughing.  Well… that’s really useful. We realized yet again that we were on a Disneyland ride, Leon’s English was good as long as he stayed on script, but don’t ask any questions or you’ll probably get no response to your question :)

Ultimately, after looking for some monkeys, we realized that we were lost–LOST IN THE JUNGLE.  We had been off the trail for a while, and Leon was needing to constantly use the machete to keep forward progress.  We had to balance beam our way across two logs to cross two separate streams.  We we came to a third stream (without a log nearby), and after Leon tried to cut down a tree to make another bridge, he gave up and headed in a new direction.  We kept changing direction, trying to find a real path or at least the river, but had no success.  After an hour of searching, in the mud and occasional rain, we finally made it to a trail.  After starting in one direction, he then turned us around as he realized the right direction.  At noon we finally made it back to the lodge; our 2 hour trip took more than 3 hours.  We were exhausted.  We showered and rested before lunch.

We had lunch in the lodge, and there were only three of us there to eat.  It was beef in an Asian style sauce with fried sweet potatoes.  It was very good after our tiring morning hike.  We let Leon pick what our next activity was going to be–going to a small town in the afternoon.  We went back and relaxed in our cabana.

At 3:30, Leon came by to take us to the village.  A light drizzle was happening, and we had hoped that he was going to cancel the afternoon outing.  We dressed and rushed down to the boat.  It was an hour downriver to the small village.  We exited the boat and immediately 10 kids met us (we were the novelty for the day).  We climbed a long set of stairs up the embankment to the community.  The village was merely about twenty buildings surrounding a big field, a big soccer field.  Leon toured us around telling us about the 200 people that lived here.  The community looked like it was mainly comprised of kids, and he confirmed that having big families was very common.  We visited the school where the children were taught Spanish, Esau (local language) and some English.  We saw an animal jawbone in the mud as we wondered around the community.  The tourists were a big attraction for the day.  It was interesting to see more solar panels (for their lights and radios) in yet another part of the country; it’s amazing how many solar panels we saw in our Peruvian travels.  They showed us some handmade jewelry, mainly made out of seeds and pigs teeth.  We bought a necklace and then left.

It was dark on our return trip.  The boatmen shone lights on the banks as we passed.  We saw the glowing eyes of several caiman lurking in the murky waters.  Fishing bats erratically flew past our boat.  We saw two tapirs swimming at the river’s edge, and then they rushed out of the water and into the brush.  We continued to see more families of copibaris (the world’s largest rodent); there are lots at the end of the rainy season, not so many after the jaguar and anaconda have their way during the dry season.  Leon said he saw an ocelot, but no one else saw it, as he stopped the boat and scanned the bank with his flashlight.

We got back to the lodge, and it was still only the two of us.  We had a chicken and potatoes for dinner.  We then headed to bed early, since we would be getting up early again tomorrow for a lake tour–leaving at 5AM :(

Arequipa, Day Two

Now that both Edith and Jay had departed back to the US, Sheri and Larry decided to sleep in.  We had done all of the major Arequipa touristy things the previous day, so we decided that this would be a day of lounging–eating, shopping, blogging :).  We had breakfast at the rooftop restaurant, and it was only us and one other couple from San Deigo at the hotel.  Then we did some internet blogging, and caught up on our e-mail.

For lunch we headed by taxi to  Tradición Arequipeña.  It was another beautiful day, and the view of the volcanoes was wonderful.  The restaurant had just opened and a kids part was going on in one section.  The day was getting warm, so we decided to sit inside.  As an appetizer, we had a Corn and Andean Cheese–the cooked corn was fresh and much less starchy than we had tried previously.  For a main course, Sheri again had stuffed peppers and scalloped potatoes; Larry had another Palta de Rellena (stuffed avocado with chicken) and Papas Fritas.  The restaurant slowly filled up with locals, and they were doing a soundcheck for music which sounded like it was a great place to spend the afternoon.  However, we wanted to see a little more of the city and do some shopping.

We gabbed a taxi and headed back to Plaza de Armas.  We passed through the bustling market area, seeing another portion of the city.  We did some final shopping (since Arequipa is known for its shopping).  After a while, we decided to grab a dessert.  We looked for a while and finally found Crepismo, a creperie related to ZigZag (where we had had a wonderful dinner previously in Arequipa).  It was a two story cafe with a great atmosphere.  We grabbed a comfy couch upstairs in the loft area, and ordered our snack.  The aroma of the crepes being made was wonderful.  Sheri had a chocolate crepe, and Larry had a crepe of butter, cinnamon and sugar.  They were fabulous.  We relaxed for a while, and soaked in the atmosphere.  Before we left, Larry went to the rooftop and took some photos overlooking the Monastery and city itself.

We got some money and walked back to the hotel.  We spent a little more time on the hotel laptop, and finally were caught up with the blogging up to that point in the trip.  We were heading to the Amazon tomorrow, so we repacked our bags to focus on what we needed for the jungle (only 1 duffel and our daypacks).  We paid our hotel bill, since we would be leaving early for a 6:45AM flight.  Larry realized that he had left the ATM card at the machine when he got money previously; Sheri quickly canceled it online before someone could use it as a credit card.

We decided to have a light meal in Arequipa, and we grabbed a taxi to go back to Crepismo.  Normally we don’t go back to the same restaurant again, but we didn’t want to risk a bad meal.  A lot of locals were enjoying Saturday night there–a table of older ladies seemed to be the community matrons as a lot of people came up and talked to them and wished them well.  Sheri ordered a salad of lettuce, egg, avocado and tomato; while Larry had the Marinera sandwich (warm bread, tuna, tomato, and capers)–both were wonderful.  Dessert was vanilla ice cream and a raspberry crepe.  Yet another great meal.  We sat in the window and watched people go by on the Saturday night.  Double decker buses passed by with the 2nd floor filled with kids dressed up (and screaming and making noise) for the Quincineros celebration for some girl (as her father sat in silence amongst all the teenagers).

We walked back to the Plaza de Armas square, and it was bustling for people out for a walk for the temperate evening.  We had a last look around at the European square.   We saw one ambulance come for a car that had been in an accident which was really amazing since the never seemed to be any general right-of-way defined.  Whoever got to an intersection first wins; and there were very few traffic lights.  There were lots of sudden stops as some taxi or bus would take the right of way.  Surprisingly there were few accidents or even dented cards.  We did see one deadlock scenario where a large four-way intersection was gridlocked with cars unable to move, unable to yield.  Luckily we were able to skate around it in our taxi.

We headed back to the hotel.  We felt safe in the neighborhood, seeing numerous cops walking their beat.  However, we had been stopped two separate times in the last few days (once by an old woman and once by an old man) and warned to be careful and watch for thieves.  But we always felt safe.  We reached Hotel Arequipal, and we did our final preparations for our early morning flight to the Amazon jungle.

Colca Canyon to Arequipa

We got up early, because we wanted one last look at the condors this morning.  It had rained overnight, but the sky was only party cloudy.  We met for breakfast at 6:45 at the hotel restaurant, but they weren’t ready for us.  We finally brought out bread, juice, coffee and matte de coca.  We finished and went down to check out.  Kuntar Wassi only took cash, but they had almost no change.  Ultimately, the payment took almost all of our available money. We loaded our bags into the tourist van and rushed off to Cruz de Condor at 7:20.  On the way we saw a young condor already winging its way along the canyon rim.

We got to Cruz de Condor at 7:45 and quickly staked out a great spot (after scoping out the area the day before).  There weren’t many tourists yet, and we got good spots overlooking the canyon.  Immediately we started seeing condors.  It was amazing, as they glided by, and circled in the updrafts gathering height.  It was incredible to see their wingspan as they passed by us.  As we waited between condor appearances, we saw a chinchilla, as well as falcons and hawks.  A condor even landed near us, and spread its wings, while the tourists snapped numerous photos.  At 9:30 there were no more condors, but lots of tourists–we decided to leave.  Edith and Jay did some final shopping, and we headed back to the van.  We continued to Chivay along the wet and potholed road.  Colca Canyon looked lush after last night’s rains.

We decided not to stop for lunch in Chivay since it was only 10:45 and our driver said it was only 3 hours to Arequipa.  He rushed past the entrance and headed back to the big city.  We were no longer site-seeing, but zooming through the mountains back to the hotel.  We saw the chinchilla family (that we had missed coming in) as they rushed for cover as we sped by.  We saw blanketed peaks that had been clear days before.  We saw more vicunas, alpacas and llamas grazing in the grasslands.  It was amazing how quickly we went from snowy mountains to the arid plateaus.  Evos brought us back to Casa Arequipa without incident.  We said goodbye, tipped him, and wished him the best.

Jay, Sheri and Larry checked back in to the hotel, then we all went for lunch at Sol de Mayo.  Edith’s flight wasn’t for a while, so we had time for lunch. The restaurant was crowded in its open courtayard, and it was nosiy with the late lunch crowd.  Larry had the chicarron de chancho (fried pork) which was good.  Sheri and Edith had a stuffed pepper with scalloped potatoes.  Jay had ceviche which took forever to arrive.  We split some water and a pitcher of Chica Morada, blue corn, juice which was tasty.  We did a little more shopping and got churros from a street cart.  Edith tried to take a photo of the cart, but the lady didn’t want her photo taken.  We went back to the hotel.  Sheri decided she needed a nap after the rough and fast drive from Cabanaconde.  Larry and Jay accompanied Edith to the airport in a taxi, and then they went back to the hotel.  Edith headed to her flight back to Lima, and ultimately back to the United States–we were going to miss her.

After relaxing for a while, we went out to El Vineda for dinner.  It was a little touristy, and it had a VERY loud Andean band playing music soon after we arrived.  We switched to another table just to be able to have a conversation.  Larry had the stuffed avocado which was good.  Jay had ostrich meat on skewers.  Sheri had a stuffed pepper and scallops.  After dinner, we walked around the square and finally went back to the hotel.  We crashed for the night after a long and busy day.

Arequipa to Colca Canyon

After warm showers at Casa Arequipa, we met for breakfast at our rooftop restaurant.  They served bread, juice, fruit, coffee, tea, and scrambled eggs.  Larry, Sheri and Jay put part of the the luggage in storage, taking only necessary stuff to Colca Canyon (since we would be back in a few days, and Edith would be heading back to the US after visiting Colca Canyon).

Our driver/guide, Evos, arrived at 8AM.  Our bags were loaded on the tourist van, and off we went.  We retraced part of our Puno-to-Arequipa route.  We left Arequipa behind, with the snowcapped mountains overlooking the city.  Our guide spoke only Spanish, so Larry moved to the front seat to translate.  Evos knew all of the mountains, flora and fauna.  We passed through the Camelid Preserve, where there were 6000 alpaca, vicuna and llamas.

We had a rest break at Pata Wasai (High Place), where there were bathrooms and matte de coca.  The canyon walls looked like an Arizona landscape.  There was even a sheep roaming around the reststop wanting to be petted.  We got back in the van, and saw flamingoes in small ponds, and more camelids.  We paused at Mirador de Volcanos/Mirador de Andes at 15500 feet, the highest point of our trip.  Snow covered the rocks around.  Apachetas (stacked pyramids of rocks) littered the landscape; there were stacked as offerings to the mountains.  Evos stopped the van near a family of chinchillas, but they hid away.  After leaving the super high altitude, we descended to Chivay, the entrance to Colca Canyon.

We paid the Colca Canyon Entrance fee, but decided not to stop for lunch in Chivay.  So… our driver drove on.  He pointed out the mountains and the cities we saw in the distance.  We stopped at Yanque which had a pretty church and a nice square (although it was empty; no dancers like all of the stock photos).  We continued along the canyon rim, looking down at the farmland below).  We passed through a long, dusty tunnel.

We saw our first condor, drifting high in the sky.  However, we moved on and finally reached the town of Cabanaconde.  The main square had a condor statue in it, the main reason to bring people to the area.  We checked in to our hotel, Kuntur Wassi.  It was rustic but comfortable.  Sheri was exhausted and decided she needed to nap.  Edit, Jay and Larry went to lunch at the hotel restaurant (one of the best places to eat in town).  Larry and Jay had the trout, while Edith had chicken and fried potatoes.  The hotel provided us Pisco Sours as a welcome, which were strong at altitude.  We went back tot he rooms, and after resting up Larry, Jay and Edith went out to see the condors returning in the afternoon.  We wondered through the city in the general direction pointed out by the hotel staff, and finally found our way to the appropriate point (after almost being misdirected by a young kid trying to trick us).  We staked out our point on an outcropping, and saw 3 condors over the next hour.

We went back to town and looked for a place for dinner, but didn’t see anywhere appetizing.  Ultimately, we went back to the hotel and rested before dinner.  Larry, Edith and Jay met for a light dinner, while Sheri continued to sleep.  We met in the hotel restaurant and set near the wood burning oven to keep warm in the chilly evening.  We split fried potatoes, cheese soup, and vegetables.  A loud, large french group arrived at another table disturbing the quiet evening.  For dessert, we split 2 tres leches cakes and a warm brownie–all of which were very tasty.  We went to bed early, since we were going to be up early to see the condors tomorrow.

Puno and Lake Titicaca

We got up early and battled with the lack of hot water, at yet another hotel (as we all tried to take showers around the same time).  We then met down in the Colon Inn restaurant for their continental breakfast (toast, juice, yogurt, fruit, scrambled eggs, bread, tea); it was actually very good.  The tour van picked us up at 7:20 to take us out onto Lake Titicaca.

We quickly met our guide, Miguel, and we headed for the docks.  It was slightly raining, but luckily it was clearing.  As we went down the dock to our boat, we bought pens and paper (as the guidebooks suggested gifts for the island children) which we couldn’t find the night before.  We boarded our “fast boat” the Suasi.  Looking out the window, the harbor was full of green algae.  After getting settled (and our boat finally manuveuring our the congested boat area), it was a 15 minute ride to the reed islands–Uros Islands.  The skies cleared as we got farther away from Puno.

We stopped at Isla Suma Kili.  Miguel gave a description of life on the reed island, and how the islands were made.  When there are disputes among the community, a “bad” family can be given a piece of the reed island which is then cut off from the island itself.  The reed floor was all squishy to walk on as we walked around.  Antonia, one of the island inhabitants, showed us the hut where she, her husband, and 2 children lived.  It was small, but it even had solar panels to power the radio and lights.

We all bought some of the hand stitched items made by the Uros islanders.  After doing some shopping, Sheri and larry climbed the tower to look at the other 40 reed islands in the area.  Jay and Larry then took a reed boat to the next island, Isla Winay Totoro. Edith and Sheri waved from the tower, and then waited for the Suasi to transfer them between islands.  The next island was a lot more commercial, with a lot more things being sold.  There was a demonstration of cooking, and flamingos were feeding in a small pool.  We all got back the boat for the 1 hour trip to Taquile.

As we exited the harbor area near Puno and the Uros Islands, we finally went on the main portion of Lake Titicaca.  We could see Bolivia in the distance.  After dropping off part of the group at one part of the island, we were dropped off with our guide at another point on Taquile (a fairly large island; 5.5km by 1.5km).

We climbed from dock through fields up to a clearing.  Miguel then told us about the community and the history of the island.  How they dow farming without horses or cattle, but by manpower.  They grow many crops (potatoes, quinoa, corn) and make many textiles.  The family and community looked on.  Miguel told us how before marriage the villagers live 2-3 years together, to make sure they are compatible, before having a big weeklong ceremony/party.  He explained the hat colors and what they mean (single vs. married), and the hat is also where the men keep their coca leaves :).  The wonders of the local pants were talked about; and an islander proceeded to ground up a plant and adding water, made a soapy mixture perfect for cleaning out alpaca wool–amazing!  Miguel then let us shop through the locals handmade items, and we went up to a house for lunch.  We were served great bread, trout (REALLY fresh), and potatoes.  There was also a minty tea (Muna) which Edith and Sheri liked a lot.  The community then played music and tried to get us to join in.  After they were done, we passed out the notebooks and pens to the kids who were very thankful.  We said our goodbyes and walked over the island to where we would be picked up for home.

We waited for a long while, but finally our boat returned.  While waiting we learned from Miguel that the Peruvian trains were now on strike–luckily we had arrived yesterday without incident on the train (the Jersey girl that we met was bummed that she would need to take the bus back from Puno, and worried she would never get her train fair back).  We were taken back to Puno–all of us tired from being in the sun and on the water all day.  We got back to Puno and it immediately started raining.  We were taken back to our hotel, and then we went back out and took a taxi to the Bus Station to book our bus to Arequipa.  After visiting multiple places, we finally chose one (Sur Oriente) that was supposed to leave around 10AM (as opposed to 3PM) for the 5-6 hour journey, since we didn’t want to arrive too late.  After booking our bus (only 7 dollars per person), we took a taxi to Plaza de Armas.  It was nothing compared to the amazing square in Cusco.  We visited one of the fair trade shops before it closed, where Sheri got a pair of underwear embossed with a llama.  We then went back to the hotel to rest before dinner.

We had dinner reservations at La Casona.  Larry was FINALLY able to try Cuy (guinea pig, a specialty in Peru) since they had a half-cuy on the menu.  When the cuy arrived it still had the head on it.  Larry immediately sent it back to have the head removed (which the waitress snickered at).  It tasted a similar to rabbit, but it was too much work for the meat that was provided.  Sheri had an avocado stuffed with shrimp; Jay had ceviche, and Edith had an avocado salad.  No one tried the Cuy, but Larry :)  We didn’t have dessert and headed back to the hotel.  On the way, we looked at Rico’s where we would by snacks for tomorrow’s bus ride.

Aguas Calientes to Cusco

At 4AM, the bells rang and woke up everyone (except Sheri) up.  Things finally quieted down after the Easter week reveling.  Larry got up to check on our washed clothes and train tickets.  The tickets had arrived, but the clothes still hadn’t been dried.  Larry and Sheri’s room had no hot water; it had been turned off, and after about 20 minutes the hotel staff figured out what had happened.  Everyone met for the Gringo Bill’s buffet breakfast (scrambled eggs, bread, yogurt, granola, fruit, tea, juice).  We took our bags to storage, and checked out, since we had a while before our train back to Cusco.

We went shopping, although lots of stores were still closed (early on Good Friday).  Jay and Edith went to the market to shop, while Larry and Sheri did postcards (and then a little InternetCafe).  We met back up, and while Larry took the bags to the train, Sheri and Edith went shopping.  There was a last minut rush to buy something at the rather expansive market.  As we waited, a lot of people got off for their day trip to Machu Picchu (LAZY people :).

We got on the Vista Dome train with glassed cuved ceilings to view the scenery better.  They gave out snack boxes (ham and cheese sandwich, apple pastry and soda (Coke Zero and Inka Cola).  We saw amazing rapids as we parallelled the river.  We stopped several times for the lineman to get off the train and manually switch the track to allow Machu Picchu trains to pass.

It was interetesting to see the same areas we had treked previously.  In an hour and half, we travelled by train back to Allantaytambo; what had taken four days of strenuous effort on foot. We were met by a taximan with our names on a placard.  We went had a quick trip through town, and then rushed back to Cusco.  We rechecked into the same hotel, Ninos 2.  We went to our room and then back to town.  We searched for the Chcia Morada (blue corn) candy that was free at the hotel.  We shopped for more gifts.  We realized we hadn’t had lunch, so we went to Cafe Ayllu overlooking Las Armas Plaza.  Sheri and Edith had quinoa soup.  Larry hada a chicken, avocado, tomato sandwich and fries.  Jay had fried dough around cheese and avocado dip.  We tried the Lengua Pastry, and Edith ordered a dulce de leche crumbly cooking-wonderful!

Then we went on to search for the South American Explorer’s Club (which we had joined before leaving the US).  The address we had was wrong; the clubhouse had moved.  We made it to the new address only 15 minutes before closing.  We used the internet, and searched through info on Puno and Lake Titicaca.  We then did some more shopping at Chocolate, where Sheri and Edith had some thick, hot chocolate. 

We went back to the square and there was a Good Friday Processional going on.  The square was packed with people.  A Jesus statue in a glass casket and a Mary statue were hoisted on the shoulders of numerous people.  After watching the festivities, we made our way back to dinner at ‘A Mi Manera’.  We had a light dinner because of the late lunch.  We had an ‘Orgia de papas’ (Orgy of Potatoes) for an appetizer [different potatoes and cheese].  Jay had an avocado salad and pineapple shrimp; Sheri had ‘Dieta’ soup (chicken, angel hair pasta, and ginger); Edith had an avocado salad.  Larry had the Andean Stew.  The Chicha Morada (blue corn) drink was really good.  We didn’t have dessert, and we headed back to the hotel.

We saw that the Mary procession was still in progress, heading back to the main square.  As we neared our hotel, we saw that the streets were closed to cars.  People were creating colored sand and leaf paintings in the street.  As we rounded the final corner to our hote, we saw the Jesus procession in the distance coming towards us.  We waited in the street outside our hotel and watched the procession pass.  People were throwing flowers from the 2nd story onto the crowd and coffin as it passed.  We took photos as the long conga line of people walked down the street, trailing along after the initial group.

We dropped off our shopping items, and then we went looking for a cab to check on the train station for tomorrow.  We walked, and saw the remanants of the processions which had finally broke up.  We found a taxi to the train station, however, it was closed.  We went back to the hotel and packed for tomorrow’s Andean Explorer trip to Puno.

Inca Trail, Day Three

The day started on a bad note as Sheri woke up in the middle of the night congested, having finally caught Larry’s cold.  Rain had stopped and ever was up early.  The clouds were clearing and the views of the mountains were amazing.

Alvaro and Francisco brought out tea and coffee to everyone, and then we went for breakfast which was porridge with popped big corn and amaranth, toast and jam.  It was very tasty.  They also provided snackbags for the trail (fruit, candy bar, candy, crackers), and we traded like kids in the lunchroom for what we really liked.  Every pakced up for the most difficult day of hiking. 

We left at 7:35AM.  It started out warm with Jay and Edith in shorts.  But the mist quickly moved up the valley, and soon we were enveloped in the cool, white clouds.  Sheri started having breathing problems (throat seemed constricted) and was wheezing.  Alvaro helped out with some camphor which seemed to open her breathing a little.  We slowly made our way to the top of the pass.  It was a VERY difficult 2000 feet of climbing.

At 10AM, Edith, Jay, Larry and Sheri finally made it to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, our first pass of the day, at 13776 feet!  A rude group wouldn’t get away from the elevation sign, although there were some nice Australians.  Finally we were able to take the photo of reaching our major (first) accomplishment of the day.  Sheri was still having trouble breathing, but she quickly changed into raingear to start her descent into the canyon in her quest for more oxygen.  The rest of the group changed us into rainjackets as the mist became a light drizzle.  We finally left the highest point of the trek.

We started down the trail in light rain.  There were stairs, but Sheri rushed ahead as the rest of the crew followed.  We hiked down about 2000 feet and then started back up to the second pass.  The rain was intermittent and then it got downright heavy.  The Inca Trail was amazing.  Stairs and interlaced rock path created a brick road through the mountains.  It was amazing to consider the age of the path that we were travelled.  We hiked passed several ruins (Qochapata) and two large lakes to the Second Pass at 12916 feet.  The rain got even harder.  Sheri and Jay changed to rain pants; and Edith put on her poncho.  After a quick stop at the second pass, we started heading down to our lunch.

Sheri again rushed ahead down the stairs, chasing increased oxygen.  Larry, Jay and Edith trailed behind.  Clouds hid waht would have been amazing views.  There would be breaks in the whiteness, and we would attempt to take photos before the views closed.  After almost two more hours of hiking, we were met by one of our porters by another Incan Ruin about 15 miutes from our lunch camp.  We had Matte de Coca and tried to warm up from the cold day.  The rain had stopped, and we lounged around for a bit. 

We then made our way to the lunchsite at around 2PM.  The lunchsite was a common lunch area for numerous travelers.  The porters set up the lunch tent, and we got out of the chill air.  The sun came out, and it became slightly humid.  Lunch was bread, strawberry drink, potato/broccoli soup, fried rice, and cucumber and tomatoes.  It was great after 6 and ahlf hours of of hiking on the trail.  We rested for a while.  Sheri, Jay, Edith and Larry left before the camp was torn down trying to made an end to a rough day. 

We hiked up and down the Inca Trail for another hour.  We passed through a Incan Tunnel, and went through the Third (‘turd’ :) Pass at 12000 feet.  We arrived at the camp and two porters had just got there.  They started unpacking as a light drizzle continued.  We waited for the porters to figure out the site to put out the tents.  We sat around and waited–no one talking; exhausted from the LONG day.  Finally the tents were up and we unpacked.  Sheri crashed for the night (after eating some turkey jerkey), as the rain continued to pour.

The porters sat up a portable bathroom; while there were other campsites near ours (although this was supposedly a worse area with tons of people), there were no bathroom facilities.  Dinner was finally served:  chicken soup (tasting like Lipton’s reconstituted powder), spaghetti with tomato sauce, and chocolate ‘flan’ (more like pudding with the skins left in).  We turned down the box of wine and gave it to the porters.  Larry, Jay, and Edith returned to the tents to sleep after the long day on the trail.  Tomorrow we would see Machu Picchu!

Cusco to the Inca Trail

After a much quieter night at the hotel, we all met downstairs for breakfast.  Larry and Jay had the Middle Breakfast (eggs, bread, fruit, juice), while Sheri and Edith had yogurt with fruit, granola and honey.  We finished and went back to the rooms to take our spare bags to storage.  After paying for the room, the group hung out in the courtyard waiting for Alvaro and the transportation to arrive.

 The van arrived after a 20 minute wait, and we quickly loaded our items.  We were off, and heading into a different area of Cusco.  It was much dirtier (while the city center was clean).  There were LOTS of dogs (all smart enough to stay away from cars); there were even two dogs standing on top of these big metal trash containers watching the world pass by.  As we wound through the streets, going higher above Cusco, Alvaro kept up a constant dialogue.  He was currently working on a thesis on recycling and environmentalism to improve Cusco and Peru.

We stopped for bread, and Luis (our cook) hopped out of the van.  The van was loaded with supplies for the four days on the trail to Macchu Picchu as well as our stuff.

We descended away from the city and entered back into the Sacred Valley.  The van passed many farmlands and started to head to towards the mountains–with snow capped peaks in the distance.  We stopped the van intermittently, so that Alvaro (who continued his travelogue commentary) could tell us about specific sites.  We saw ruins of an old food storage area, a cementary in a cliffside where each grave was a hole and people were buried with their items, as well as many flora and fauna.  We saw Incan steppes for farming and an Incan bridge base still used today (where we also saw a Peruvian Hummingbird–the largest hummingbird in the world, about the size of a robin).

After 3 hours of driving, we finally stopped in the city of Ollantaytambo.  We met a few more of our porters.  Alvaro gave us a quick tour of the city which was bounded by more Incan ruins.  There were lots of tour buses and backpackers as the city is a quick daytrip from Cusco.  We wandered around the city taking photos; there were pens of guinea pigs waiting to be someone´s dinner.  We walked around town, bought some water and coca candy, and headed on our way. 

Another hour of driving down dirt roads, and we got to the point where we would start our trek.  Our porters were already waiting–true Incans who wore simple sandals on their feet (shoes made from tire rubber).  There were 6 porters, the chef, and our guide Alvaro supporting our trek.  They offloaded the van and started to rearrange the suppplies for the trek).

The wind had picked up and the clouds were shrouding the tops of the peaks.  They set up a table and brought out lunch–cold shredded chicken and vegetables, with avaocado.  We also had our first taste of Ina Cola–which taseted like creme soda.  After lunch, the porters tore down the talbe and chairs and packed up.  We were finally ready for the trek to begin!

We started at KM-82 (where most of the 4 day hikes start).  We hiked from the dropoff point to the park entrance.  We showed our passports and got our tickets to enter the park.  The weather was good hiking weather–partly cloudy, although we got a few light sprinkles.  In some areas it was clear, and the temperature rose.

The five of us (Alvaro and our group of four) wound through the valley.  We left the river, which Alvaro says is the source of the Amazon and headed into the mountains.  We passed through numerous farms which had been tended for generations.  Our porters passed us and headed to the spot that we would meet for dinner. 

We stopped at Patallaqta.  We first visited a round building for ceremonial religious activities and burials.  We then went to the main steps of a small city.  It reminded me of the steep steps in the Mexican Mayan ruins.  We got to the top and saw the orderly layout of the community (four building with a courtyard).  There were workers restoring the ruins.  They invited us to ceremoniously place a stone in place, and Alvara and Edith each set a stone in mortar.  The stones were all numbered and were being replaced with mortor to better weather the elements.

We continued on our trek and came to the Windy Gate–a outcropping that overlooked the valley that we had just climbed.  We crawled up to the top on our hands and knees, and had an amazing view below.  You could see the ruins of the irrigation canals that the Incas had used to water the crops.  There were llamas grazing in the fields.  Parakeets squawked as they flew around the valley, which sounded remarkably similar to the wild parrots back home in Sunnyvale.

Finally, we made it to our camp at 8800 feet.  The tents were set up and our duffels were waiting for us.  We had hiked about 4.5 miles, but it was a good first day.  The area was secluded with restrooms nearby. 

After some quick unpacking (and blowing up our air matresses), hot tea and snacks were set out for us.  The matte de coca helped warm us and the assisted with the altitude, but the hot popcorn was delicious. 

We chatted about the day, and Alvaro related philosophy and the 2012 end of the world prediction.  He pointed out the constellations as it got dark and the almost full moon rose.  Alvaro kept trying to get Larry to use Vicks Vapor Rub on his chest to clear up his lingering cold.  Larry finally relented to try chewing some fresh ginger which would supposedly help his throat–it did clear his sinuses, if nothing else.

We had dinner.  There was some warming quinoa soup (as the temperature started to fall outside) and then some chicken cooked in a tomatoe sauce and mashed potatoes).  Finally for dessert there was some warm, starchy chicha morada (Peruvian blue corn) sauce and some fruit.  After the five of us finished, we decided to call it a night.  We headed to the restrooms to brush our teeth, wash up, and use the restrooms, so we wouldn´t have to make the journey in the middle of the night.

The moon was bright, but it would be intermittently blocked by clouds and hard to see.  When it was out, we could walk around the campsite without a flashlight.  It was an amazing evening to soak in the beauty of our mountain surroundings.

Lima to Cusco

Everyone was up at 4:15AM, since we had a 6AM flight to Cusco.  So after the drinks from the night before, we only got about 3 hours of sleep.  Every was a little tired, but we met in the lobby at 4:45.  We had a free breakfast in the Ramada Restaurant.  It was just the basics continental breakfast–juice, coffee, tea, ham and toasts (with the crusts cut off of the toasts, maybe they thought americans couldn´t stomach the crusts :).  We walked across the bridgeway to the airport, checked in for our Star Peru flight.  We then headed through security (which kept these large plastic bins of confiscated knives, scissors).  After a short wait, we boarded and were on our way to Cusco.

The food on the flight was actually better than Delta´s.  It was only a cheese sandwich and cookies.  But very tasty.  The flight over the Andes was amazing.  There were clouds and snow and it looked beautiful from our vantage on high.

Only an hour later, we were landing in Cusco.  It was a rush as the plane sped up as it headed into a landing on the inclined runway.  We quickly found our bags and headed to find a taxi.  We definitely felt the altitude difference being at 11 thousand feet.   There were even kiosks offering Oxygen in the airport.  We found a taxi (after passing the normal herd of taxi drivers offering us rides).  We headed off to our hotel, Los Niños 2.  The streets were similar to a lot of Latin countries that we´ve been to.  Lots of dogs roaming around, lots of people, we even passed the bustling central market.

The hotel didn´t have rooms available yet, but they allowed us to drop off our bags.   They even gave us some Matte de Coca to drink (which supposedly helps you acclimatize to the elevation) as we lounged in the hotel courtyard.  We picked up our stuff and then headed to find some breakfast.  We treked across the city to the main square, Plaza de Armas, which was the big city center.  It was reminicient of many of the European city squares that we had visited before.  We kept going, and finally ended up at Granja Heidi in the San Blas area.  It was a Frommer´s ´find´as usual, so the food was wonderful just as expected.  The Farmer´s Breakfast that Jay and Larry had was good, but Sheri´s quark  (creamy like yogurt) and fruit were really good.  The restaurant had some nice looking desserts, but it was the beginning of the day, so everyone decided to hold off.

We then went on a walking tour of Cusco.  We stopped at numerous shops and bought some Alpaca items as well as some jewelry.  We headed all around the city.  We saw the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, and the Qorincancha (built on foundations of Incan stonework).  After more shopping, several were feeling tired and headache-y, and headed to the Central Market to see what we could find to eat.  On the way we found a place that only sells Picadores–fried dough with a drizzling of orange/honey.  It seemed to help the headache (or was it finally sitting down for a while? :).  We made it to the market late in the day.  It was starting to slow down, and the smells from some of the stalls was a little overpowering.  We saw alpaca meat, heads of lamb/pigs/alpaca, and many slaughtered animals.  The restaurant stalls were mainly serving rice dishes and soup, so we decided not to eat there.  There was probably more selection earlier in the day.  So we picked a restaurant and headed there (back to the north part of the city).  We were all a little tired, and realized that we hadn´t eaten for 6+ hours.

Kusiky served Andean food.  Larry tried to order the Cuy (guinea pig), but it would take at least an hour (do they have to go and clean it first?).  We had more Coca Tea to drink (to hopefully help with the altitude).  Jay and Sheri ordered soups (quinoa, creamy corn), while Larry and Edith had grilled alpaca (it was a little tough, like strip steak, but it tasted really well) along with a creamy quinoa (made like a creamy polenta that was really good).  Edith forced us to have Fried Yucca that was pretty good.  Not sure if it was the lack of food/water or the altitude, but stopping for the late lunch seemed to help everyone a little.

As we headed back to the hotel we saw storm clouds east of the city.  There was even a rainbow in the distance; we had a few sprinkles, but made it back to our hotel relatively dry.  When we got there, we found that the whole block didn´t have water, so no showers were possible.  We relaxed until 7PM, when Alvaro from the Macchu Piccu trail tour company arrived.  He was a jovial guy, and he wanted to make sure our trek on the trail would be as nice as possible, giving us several options of where to stop and how to spend our days near Macchu Piccu.  After half an hour, he headed out, saying that he would see us Monday morning.  The hotel staff said our water should be fixed by 9 or 10PM, so we still had several hours to wait before showers. 

We weren´t hungry and everyone decided to head back to our rooms–no dinner tonight, after a long day of walking, and no sleep the previous night, and a late lunch.  We decided to just hang out at the hotel for the evening.   Sheri had a bad headache and Larry´s cold was still bothering him, so they just headed for an early night´s sleep.  Jay got to know the hotel staff (one who was named Nelson Mandela) while hanging out in the hotel restaurant.  Edith mainly read in her room.  At 10:30 a large group of kids checked into the hotel making lots of noise.  The gibbous moon shone through the skylight in our hotel rooms.  As the night progressed, train whistles could be heard echoing through the mountains as the trains came through every few hours.  Thus ended our first day in Cusco.

Bled to London

[googleMap width=”400″ height=”300″ directions_to=”false”]London[/googleMap]

We got up early and headed out for out planned run around Lake Bled. It was really nice weather for a run; a very slight mist to the air, but nice weather. We headed through nice sylvan surroundings-each lap around the lake was four miles.

I didn’t have a good run. The food from yesterday [maybe the goulash?] was bothering my stomach. However, Sheri had a GREAT run. She ran for twelve miles (three laps around the lake)–which would be her longest run before the San Jose Rock-and-Roll Half Marathon in October. At the end, she went and did a cold soak in the lake at a set of the steps. The people looked on in amazement as Sheri took off her shoes and socks and then soaked her legs in the lake as a slight drizzle started.

She came back to the hotel (after getting lost for a little bit). We showered, took our bags out to the car, and checked out of the hotel.

We headed to Lake Bled to find one of the boats that go to the island in the center. Only man-powered boats are allowed on the lake; it’s actually an Olympic lake for rowing competitions. We were the first at the “pletna” boat (a wooden boat, with an awning and a standing rower), and we had to wait for the boat to “fill-up” before we headed to the island. Finally a large tour group showed up (mainly Germans), and we headed off. The “captain” was rather portly, but had no problems with the oars as he rowed the boat with about 16 people in it to the island. He had a running commentary in German going, but I was only to catch parts of his discussion. Even with all of the rowing that he did, he was still breathing hard as he paddled us to the island.

We arrived at the island. The island basically was a small tree covered hill with a path around it. At the top, was a church, Church of St. Mary, with an accessory building. We climbed up the path to the top of the hill. We entered the church and looked around. In the middle of the church was a rope hanging down. People took turns pulling the rope and ringing the bell (now we finally knew why the bell on the island was always randomly ringing throughout the day). In the floor, there was a plexiglass covering looking down on a skeleton of someone who had been buried beneath the church centuries ago.

We left the church and walked around the hill. We walked down a long set of stone stairs that went down the other side of the hill. From videos we had watched before heading to Europe, these were stairs that grooms would carry their brides up after a wedding on the island. I refused to carry Sheri up the stairs :)

Our thirty minutes on the island were up, and we headed back to the boat. We got in and the “captain” started rowing us back to shore. The rain started picking up as we headed back, luckily we were under the awning. The “captain” seemed to have problems with rowing us; Sheri and I were really worried that he was going to have a heart attack before we got back. Luckily, we finally made it back.

We rushed off into the rain and went to the market, Mercatur, to buy our lunch (sandwiches and chips) to enjoy at the castle. We picked up our car and headed up to Bled Castle which is perched high above the lake. We paid the entrance fee and found a place to enjoy our lunch. We had our last taste of their famous cake–wonderful as always. The rain had lessened; the view overlooking the lake was wonderful.

We took photos, and wondered around the castle grounds. We visited the wine cellar which had wines made by local monks. We decided that our luggage couldn’t handle another bottle of wine, and left the castle grounds.

We left Bled, and headed to the airport in Lubljana. It was an uneventful wait, and then we took the flight to back to London.

We took the train from Stanwick to Liverpool. Then we took the Undergound to our station at Marble Arch. We got to our hotel, Number Sixteen. It was the most upscale hotel that we had been in the entire trip. It was understated luxury. There were fluffy beds and LCD TVs on the walls. There was a fire blazing away in the fireplace of the drawing room with walls lined with books. We unpacked, showered, checked our e-mail (as always), and went out for dinner.

We walked around the town, but most things were closed. We were surprised with the number Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants which seemed to line the streets.

We were back in London, so we had to have Fish and Chips. We found a small pub, and enjoyed our last dinner in Europe. It was a satisfying dinner of flaky fish [how is all of the fist in London so good], fries, and more tasty beer.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel for a good nights sleep, before our long flight tomorrow back to the US.