Archive for December, 2011


Inca Trail – Day 3.5 (of 3.5)

Used: 2011

After the worst day of my life, I had to get up on day 4 for the final day. The camp site was buzzing at 3:30am, so we could rush to the check point and so the porters could pack up camp and get on the first train back to Cusco. I got lost on my way back to the campsite from the bathroom and again broke down crying. Thankfully even in my non-existent Spanish and tears I could communicate with the porters from another group and they pointed the way back to my campsite. After arriving at the check point, we waited in the dark for about an hour before we are allowed into the “park”. We had a quick 6km “run” to the Sun Gate, so we could watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu.

First sight of Machu Picchu. Very very hazy. Apparently this is typical.

The last 6km was just as hellish as the day before. I lagged it as usual, but at the same time, since I was last, I had to keep the groups behind us from running ahead of us. I was actually pretty good at it and only 2 people squeaked past me. But seriously, there is like no reason at all to run as everyone arrives at the Sun gate pretty much at the same time. All the tours arrange it so you have enough time to arrive when the sun comes up. But whatever. There is no changing the mind of crazy people. The last little bit was pretty painful that included something that I like to call the “monkey” wall because you are pretty much climbing up a 90degree angle wall. And then there is a quick perch to rest for a moment. And then the Sun Gate is right around the corner.

Fake it till I make it.

By the time I arrived at the Sun Gate, I was so tired. The view was so hazy, I didn’t even care. We stayed at the Sun Gate for a while before taking a slow hike down to the ruins, stopping to take tons and tons of pictures. But I was so tired, I could barely appreciate it at all. We moseyed on through the park, which was now open to the public and day visitors and exited to use proper bathrooms (hallelujah!!! Don’t forget to take the paper offered to you after you pay), grab some real food and store our backpacks (Tip: store your bags near the entrance, NOT near the bathrooms. It’s cheaper near the entrance). Anyone can also stamp there passport at the entrance. After cleaning our selves up a little bit, we reentered the park and our guide gave us an hour tour of the place. It was interesting, but I was so so tired, that I didn’t care as much as I should have.

We made it!

This is how you pictured it, right?

After the sun came out and we were walking around, it got really hot, which didn’t help with the tiredness. Plus, once the day visitors arrived, the place got really crowded really fast. Between the heat and the crowds and there being so much stuff to see, it totally reminded me of Disneyland. After the tour, our guide gave us our bus tickets down to Aguas Calientes, the town where the train picks everyone up and told us to stop by a certain pizza place in town to pick up our luggage and make the afternoon train back to Ollantaytambo. The group dispersed and wondered around but apparently we all were on the same page as we all wondered our own way back to the entrance of the park and onto the bus down to town. We were all just too hot, too tired and too dirty to really appreciate everything.

Machu Picchu, Peru

After the bus ride back to town (US$8, but included in the price of the tour), we met up at a pizza place in town to get our bags and to eat lunch. I don’t know if it was just compared to what we had been eating for the last few days (not that it was bad) or I was just so tired, but it was seriously one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten. We had a while before the train was going to leave, so I wondered around town with some of the other people on the tour to check out the shops. The town was super cute. It’s like a one street, very touristy town. Every store is the same, so I got board after like 3 minutes since I didn’t really have an idea on what I wanted to buy yet. I went back to the restaurant and just hung out with the rest of the group until we made our way to the train station. That place was a tourist clusterfuck (watch your stuff!) but we got settled into the 1st class car in time. The train was really really nice with huge windows and a glass roof. It only takes you as far as Ollantaytambo and then we transferred to a minibus to get back to Cusco.

Train from Machu Picchu, first class baby!

Moral: Since the end of the tour, I have told everyone, if you care about Machu Picchu and the ruins, don’t do the hike. By the time I got to the end of the hike, I didn’t care about the ruins at all, I just wanted to get back to civilization and eat normal, pee normal and shower. I know I didn’t take advantage of it all like I should have. I was also sort of ruine’d out between everything in the Sacred Valley and all the ruins we saw along the way. I am very glad I did the hike and so proud of myself for finishing in one piece, but when I talked to those who didn’t hike, I can see why they didn’t and now recommend not hiking to those that care about the end result because I did not.

Personal Update

I am usually not one for personal updates because this is a travel blog and what does my personal life have to do with how I travel? More in this upcoming year due to some changes. I know, I slacked on this weeks posts as well, also due to these personal changes.

The smaller change that has effected me actually since this summer is the lack of free internet floating around my apartment complex. For the first 18 months of living in my current apartment, someone had their wireless unblocked, which I used on the weekend to catch up and update my blog. I came back from Hawaii to find it gone and all the other connections in my area blocked. So I started writing all my posts at home, making notes on details to look up and links to add later, so I could update quickly at work, when I got online. This worked okay for a few months. I was actually considering getting internet for myself, but never got up the motivation. And now I definitely can’t afford it.

Say hello to Poppy!

Then the biggest change last month. I got a dog. I know this isn’t a big deal to a lot of people. But this is for me for a variety of reasons. I did not grow up with animals. My parents couldn’t stand anything that didn’t live in a cage, so at the ripe old age of 30, this is the first real pet I have ever had. I also live alone, so I have no one to help at all with it. Since my parents have an aversion to animals, even though they live nearby, they are of little help to me. I can bring the dog to their house, but can’t leave it there without me being there to supervise. Also, Poppy is pretty much a puppy. The vet aged her at a year, but since she came from a city shelter and no one knows her history, she is extremely timid, has the worst separation anxiety and still has the occasional accident when not being watched very closely. All these features have added up to way less time to do what I used to. No more swimming, if I still read one book a week, it’s a miracle (I used to plow through at least 3). And my blog. When I have tried to write the past few weekends, the dog just climbs all over me, she is entranced by the computer screen. I can’t post my blogs at work because I used to do it during lunch and now my lunch times are filled with running home to walk the dog for an hour (hence no more reading either). Which all adds up to less time to keep up my blog.

Highlight of my weekends now!

I still have so many topics on Peru to write about (the first thing I did when I got home was write out a list of topics and came up with over 40, which is about 6 months worth of content!) so they’ll be churned out slow and steady. But that means, there won’t be much of a regular posting schedule for the next few months. I am going to try to get at least ONE post out at week, if only so I don’t loose any personal traction and motivation, but if I skip a week, you’ll know why. I have one last post for Thursday (Did I make it to Machu Picchu?? Tune in to find out!!) and then I am taking next week off (as always, hopefully to churn some content out!) and I hope everyone has a great holiday and New Year!

Cheers!

Out and about and keeping busy and active

A guy hitch hiking across Japan from bottom to top and his adventures. I think I would have liked this book more if I had been to Japan, but having never been I couldn’t relate too much to it. There were plenty of maps at the start of the book and at the start of each section which was greatly appreciated as I can picture it slightly better. The names of the people and the towns didn’t mean anything to me as they all sounded the same, but even worse than usual. This was before “technology” which I always like more as the story felt more in the present and events that were happening now.

The funny thing was is everyone who picked him up asked him why he didn’t just take the bus or the train and then said that no one would pick him up (after they themselves picked him up) but he made it and hitchhiked the whole way! A decent read, but you’ll probably like more if you have been before.

Unlike the previous two books, this book was the quickest read. It was written in list and details format, which is always easy for me to read. A how-to book, tips on how to “be” Canadian. Can’t remember details, though I sure they mentioned to “be nice” about 12 times. I do remember it was a very quick read and I easily finished it in one day. And so can you!

Inca Trail – Day 3 (of 3.5)

Used: 2011

This is the day I wanted to throw myself off the side of the mountain more times then I can count. I woke up in bitter pain, thanks to my lack of exercise in my everyday life and walking down a steep hill for 2 hours and deathly tired thanks to my never getting comfortable in the solo tent and barely sleeping a wink.

This was also the longest day, walking for about 11 hours with minimal breaks. We saw lots of Inca ruins, some which we could get close to and some I had to pass on because I was lagging it so bad. I was the last person by far today. I also spent most of the day crying because I was in such pain and I was so tired. Lunch was a hazy affair that I barely remember and napped after for about 30 minutes. The afternoon was awful. It was pretty much all downhill, of which I was sick of at this point and taking each step very very slowly, for fear I was trip over my tired feet. The guide stayed behind me, which stressed me out even more. I hate when people walk or swim too close behind me and I freak out that I am holding people up and therefore have a bad habit of slowing down, so they could pass. But that couldn’t happen here, so that put me into tears as well.

Before hell sunk in, Inca Trail, Peru

The last bit of the hike are like a million small switchbacks. The guide grabbed my arm at this point and dragged me down the hill for the last 20 minutes of the hike. I spent the whole time in tears as I kept thinking how long it would have taken me if he hadn’t done that. At least an additional hour, which brought me to tears AGAIN every time I would think that thought. When I got to camp, the group who got there before me, said they only beat me by like 20 minutes, which made me cry AGAIN when I thought about how far behind I would have been if the guide hadn’t dragged me. I asked the Canadian boy (who was our MVP and was the first to arrive every single time, we joked later it was because he was very quite and didn’t waste energy talking on the trail) when he arrived compared to me and he said 2 hours. Tears, tears, tears.

Above the clouds, Inca Traila, Peru

The campsite on the last night is a clusterfuck. It’s very narrow and layered and so easy to get lost in and campsites seem like they are on top of each other. Everyone can hear everyone all night long. When I got to my tent, I immediately washed up and changed and slept through tea, I didn’t care. I made it to dinner and for the porters tip presentation which was quite funny. The oldest porter was in his 60’s and the youngest was 19, which is how old one of the other single girls was and we all had a laugh over hooking them up, but something about “high five” got lost in translation. I debated taking a sleeping pill that night as I was so tired but gearing up for another uncomfortable sleep considering we had to get up at 3:30am the next morning. I popped one since we were in bed by 7:30pm, so that gave me a solid 8 hours of sleep, more then enough for one pill. The night was a little better because I was sharing a tent, but I was still in and out of my sleeping bag a million times. But the pill was very very helpful.

Ruins, ruins, everywhere, Inca Trail, Peru

Moral: If you couldn’t tell, this was my hardest day. It was one of the hardest days of my life and I can’t even count how many times I wanted to throw myself off the side of the mountain. I am not exactly sure what would have helped. If I had shared a tent the day before? If I had brought my own sleeping bag? If I had rented the extra mattress? If I had taken a sleeping pill on Night 2? Who knows. I survived, but barely. Another thing that made me cry when I would think about it is if I was this slow on the first day, I would have had to turn around and go back, which made me so sad to think about that hypothetical, I would burst into tears again. It was just a very emotional and tiring hike. I don’t even remember much about the 3rd day. It was painful.

Inca Trail – Day 2 (of 3.5)

Used: 2011

Day two is notoriously the hardest day of the trek. You reach the highest peak of the trail at Dead Woman’s Pass as the mountain kind of looks like a women’s upper half (hehe) from a distance. The fact is if you mentally prepare for this day, once again, it affects everyone differently.

The first bit is all up in the jungle until you reach the first of two last stores on the entire trail until Macchu Picchu. I was lagging it a bit as it was hot at first until we reached the last store, where everyone took a nice long break before the approximately 4 hour hike to the summit. Then came the hard part. I kept up with the other Americans for a while and we boomeranged around each other for a while, until I got on a good pace going for myself. It involved counting and taking 80 steps and then taking a 45second break. This went on for a while before I was tiring out and lowered it to 60 steps. At this point, I passed the British couple and the Canadian girl and wasn’t too far ahead of the American couple. I was almost at the top but tiring out even more, so lowered my steps to 50 and taking a 45 second break. This pattern worked well and I made it to the top, feeling pretty good! The part of the group that was already at the top was cheering me on as this was the first time on the trail that the groups started piling up against each other and each group would cheer their mates on.

Day 2, Inca Trail, Peru

Oh! I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it yet, but this is a good day to mention them, but the porters were amazing! All the groups provided their porters with different color cover-ups or outfits, so you always knew who was part of what group. I would cheer them all on, but an especially loud cheer for the purple guys (they were with Gap). Those guys freakin’ hauled ass up the hill, it was kind of nuts how fast they can go. I liked that a common yell along the trail would be “porter” as they flew past us weaklings.

Top of the summit, Inca Trail, Peru

The second half of the day was the complete opposite, it was 2 hours of straight downhill, flying down Inca steps. This is where the porters flew and pretty much ran down the entire hill to beat us all to the next campsite to set. The steps were massive and it took me a while to get down them, but it was nice to be walking down after so long of walking up. At one point the guide linked arms with me and literally had me flying down the stairs, which was scarey but very fun. The campsite where all the groups stay is at the bottom of the hill and instead of stopping for lunch half way down, we just went all the way to the bottom and called it a day around 2pm. The porters had set up our campsite by the time we arrived and we all inhaled our lunch before retreating to our tents for an afternoon nap. Since there were three single girls on our tour, we each got the solo tent one night and shared with someone else the other two. I requested the solo tent for the second night, so I got to nap alone. It was funny hearing the shrikes from other campsites from the other groups, playing games and chatting while we all just crashed out. We had tea and then dinner and then back to bed before 8pm, same as before.

So high up, we are in the clouds (so not the best view), Inca Trail, Peru

At this campsite, they had permanent barracks with squat toilets which is an adventure in itself, but proper sinks. But I still would highly recommend “toilet shoes” as the place is pretty much a mess, thanks to the amount of people that come through on a daily basis. And don’t EVER forget your toilet paper.

View from the top, looking back, Inca Trail, Peru

Also, I didn’t realize it the night before, but having two people in a tent was super helpful when it came to keeping warm. Since I am a light sleeper and knew day 2 was the hardest and day 3 was the longest, I specifically requested the solo tent on night two, thinking I would get a better night sleep. This was not the case at all. The sleeping bags Gap provided kind of sucked as they could not be unzipped all the way down the side, like I am used to and only had an open flap at the top. I spent most of the night alternating between too cold or too hot and as far as I know, didn’t get a wink of sleep. Also, when I woke up the next morning, I was in so much pain, thanks to the quick run down the steps for 2 hours. I was going to be in for a world of hurt for Day 3.

We made it!

Moral: Once again, every day effects people differently, thanks to different factors. While I didn’t think day 2 was the easiest, I didn’t find it that bad, thanks to how I did the walk up hill in making lots of stops to rest. This is where my swimming training came in really helpful in taking “breathes” and breaks. It also helped that this was the shortest day as the walking started around 6am, but was finished by 2pm and included lots of breaks.

Why did making fun of Canucks become so popular? Maybe this book? It was written back in 1995 and I feel like in the last 5 years making fun of Canada is super cool. This book was a little making fun and from an American point of view, a lot of history. Actually more like a history of why we make fun of Canada, like the stuff they do that makes them just so easy to make fun of! And for some reason, being nice seems to be the number one reason! And so easy to make fun of them because they are too nice. My favorite parts of the book were the parts of Canada I was unfamiliar with, such as some young persons volunteer program that the country had but cancelled because the Mounties needed new hats or something. So unCanadian-like!

A must read for anyone that loves Canada in any way.

Inca Trail – Day 1 (of 3.5)

Used: 2011

So the day has finally arrived! After not the earliest morning of the trip and a 40 minute bus ride to the start of the trail, our group arrived for last minute items. We got to watch the porters load up everything for the first time and weigh our bags. After some last minute bathroom breaks with real latrines for the last time for a few days, we hiked down to the infamous hut to check in and stamp our passports. And we wait and wait and wait. We are all jazzed up with nowhere to go. Finally, after 10am, we take our last minute pictures with the start sign and we get moving. We all take so many pictures at the start, everyone is stopping every few minutes to stop and enjoy the scenery and capture the moment.

Entry hut to Inca Trail

Along the first day of the hike, there are lots of little shops that the locals have set up for people to buy stuff. Food, drinks and souvenirs are available at a premium and the prices go up the farther up the mountain you go. Before we set off everyday, the porter provided us with a snack for our packs and got to fill our bottles up with boiled water, so I never bought anything along the route. But I always asked how much did people pay for small cans of Pringles (s/9 = USD$3) or water (I think the most was s/12 = USD$4 for a large bottle, when they go for about s/2 = USD$0.66 in city markets). I didn’t expect there to be that much to buy along the route.

Day 1, still have the energy to pose!

Another thing along the route that there was plenty of were various animals especially an abundance of dogs. Wild dogs are everywhere in Peru and even at this high altitude where less people live, there were still tons of dogs begging for food, which is was surprised to see. Of course, burros, donkeys and llamas are everywhere, being used as pack animals. The funniest (and maybe saddest) scene I saw on the trail was a donkey carrying just tons and tons of plastic bottles of trash down the mountain, going to opposite direction we were coming from. It was just crazy how much trash is up there and just goes to show how much work going into maintaining the trail.

Inca Trail, Day 1 - So Pretty!

The first day hike was hard. Lots of up and down and I was just not used to that type of daily activity. Every day effected people differently and I didn’t think the first day of the hike was the hardest, but some did. I kept up a good pace even though I am not in the best shape and while the other American couple and I lagged it pretty bad and were technically the last group to show up (the older Canadian couple lagged it the worst, about 90 minutes behind us and turned around and went back the following day), we weren’t that far behind everyone else. I was pretty pooped out by the time we arrived and only had enough energy to “wash up”, change into my pajama’s for dinner, eat and then headed to bed before 8pm. It was how everyone was!

Moral: Every day affected everyone differently. I powered through the first day and while super tired at the end of it, I was feeling pretty good. The food served was perfect and delicious. Since we were doing so much exercise and at such a high altitude that none of us were used to, ideally you should eat everything on your plate at every meal and it would be enough. I ate most of my meals and felt pretty good. The first day was varied in terms of scenery and the trail. And having all the stores, locals and animals around helped a lot.