Tag Archives: Peru

We Made it to Machu Picchu!

10 Mar

After 4 days of strenuous hiking in sun, rain, fog, and high altitude, we made it to Machu Picchu!

Machu Picchu is one of the seven modern wonders of the world and was used as a wintertime resort for the king and royalty of the Inca (the Andean people call it Inka) civilization. Due to its high altitude and remote location, it was never discovered during the Spanish conquest of Peru and subsequently remains in great condition. Machu Picchu is one of the few sites considered an Inca site, not an Inca ruin because of that reason.

There are two main ways to get to Machu Picchu: take the train/bus combo from Cusco and arrive refreshed and in style, or hike the 28 miles from Ollantaytambo over 3 mountain passes (the highest at 13779 ft), up and down thousands and thousands of granite steps, through blistering heat, pouring rain, and fog, and with no showers for 4 days.

We chose the latter. Hikers on the Inca trail are limited to 500 per day. Because the trail is 4 days long and the are no facilities other than bathrooms, each group must be completely self-sufficient. For this, porters are employed who carry food, tents, personal gear, propane, sleeping bags, chairs, etc. Our team consisted of 11 hikers, and 17 porters, each of whom carried 30 kilos! The porters march ahead of you on the trail, get to the designated lunch spot, set up the dining tent, and cook the food. When you arrive, you just sit down and eat your 3 course meal. When you leave to go hiking again, the porters break down the tent, wash dishes, pack up everything, and hike the same trail, passing you and eventually setting up and doing the same thing for dinner. It’s a lot of hard work! Simply put, these guys are as tough as they come.

20120310-213432.jpg
Us and the “red army.”

We booked our hike through Llamapath. I’d recommend them without reservations. Llamapath is an excellent company with all the qualities you look for: organization, informative tour leaders, excellent food cooked in sanitary conditions, and experience to know how to guide a team through a long and arduous trek and to form team unity. Other companies are cheaper, but you end up getting what you pay for essentially.

20120310-211958.jpg

Here’s a quick breakdown of the hike day-by-day:

Day 1: Meet at 430am to board the bus to the starting point (“km 82”) on the Inca Trail. Start hiking at 9am after all our gear is settled and organized. We go through the first checkpoint on the Inca trail where our passports are checked, and then we’re off! The first day’s hike is supposed to be an easy day, but both Jeannie and I struggled at the pace and hiking at altitude. We got into lunch tired and wet from the intermittent rain showers. After lunch, the trail went upwards and we gained several thousand feet in altitude. Jeannie managed her pace and breathing better and became a rockstar climber, several times leaving me and half of the party in the dust. We arrived at camp around 4pm and had dinner and prepared for day 2.

Inca Trail start

The start of the Inca Trail at km82.

Jeannie overlooking some old Inca ruins on Day 1.

Our campsite on Day 1.

Day 2: The big climbing day that we were all preparing for. We got up at 530am, had breakfast and then were off again for the big hike. The trail went straight up without any breaks for 4 hours, culminating at “Dead Woman’s Pass” at 13779 feet. Jeannie again found her groove and made it up the mountain without much trouble. Going down was difficult and made much more dangerous due to the rain on the other side of the mountain. Jeannie fell 3 times on the descent (no harm, no foul) and I slipped once. We made it into lunch tired and with sore necks from concentrating down at the rocks for hours at a time. After lunch we climbed again, this time to the 2nd pass– this time not as high. On the descent it rained the heaviest it would for the entire trip. We arrived to camp with everything soaked– clothes, gear, backpack, phones, passports, everything. Quite a miserable afternoon, but we accomplished a lot.

20120310-210123.jpg

Day 3: Supposedly an easier day after the ups and downs of the previous day, but we found this day just as challenging because of the 3000+ stairs going downhill and the downhill switchbacks leading into camp. We took a shortcut and skipped seeing the Inca terraces in order to get into camp before rainfall in the late afternoon.

20120310-210110.jpg

20120310-210132.jpg

20120310-210140.jpg

20120310-210145.jpg

Day 4: Machu Picchu Day. The day we had all been waiting for and working so hard to get to finally arrived. We woke up at 3:30 am to have breakfast and line up at the entry gate. We were about the 5th group in line, and thanks to our tour leader Santiago’s experience, he knew this would be the latest we could line up and still have some shelter over our heads in case it rained. Once the gates opened at 5:30 am, it was a double time march for an hour to the Sun Gate and then another hour to Machu Picchu itself. We stuck together as a team and avoided the crowds on the trail by staying in front of them. The trail can get very dangerous on the last day because of hoards of hikers all trying to get to the Sun Gate first. There are hundred foot cliffs to the right side and one could easily fall off and die due to the stupidness of another hiker in a hurry. We finally made it to the Sun Gate to see…lots of fog. Santiago knew there was no point in sticking around, so we continued down the trail and arrived at Machu Picchu. What a beautiful sight! It was nice to have Machu Picchu relatively tourist free in the morning, but then the crowds arrived by train at 10 am and loads of tourists started jamming up the stairways. There’s a little bit of satisfaction knowing that you can complain all you want when walking the stairs of Machu Picchu–only you and a couple hundred other hikers that day know of all the suffering and perseverance it took to get where we were that day. The rest of them, well, they will enjoy the site, and enjoy the train ride back down and take a nice hot shower in the evening. But I think for those of who hiked the Inca Trail, we formed a special bond and a certain respect for the Inca people that can’t be appreciated from a one day hike.

20120310-210151.jpg

20120310-210200.jpg

20120310-210208.jpg
Us at Sungate.

The girls looking over Machu Picchu in the fog.

Promotional picture for Llamapath.

Us jumping on Machu Picchu. We got in trouble for this because apparently you're not allowed to jump because of the sensitivity of the soils.

20120310-211415.jpg
One of these guys hikes the Inca Trail every week. The other does not.

Some people may ask– why go through all this when you can take the train/bus combo conveniently to the site? My answer: because the journey is just as rewarding as the destination itself. We got a chance to put both our minds and bodies to the test, and met some people from around the world who struggled with us, pushed us, and shared so many laughs in our dinner tent. We will definitely stay in touch in the future.

The Best Water Show Ever

10 Mar

We attended the most awesome water show ever in Lima.

Tons of people, pretty much all locals.  There were different types of water shows and fountains.  We loved going through the people tunnel!

20120309-114336.jpg

20120310-174755.jpg

Cheesy but pretty neat.

Peru Grocery Markets

9 Mar

Our local supermarket in Miraflores sold some interesting stuff. The grocery market items were clean and well presented.

20120309-104606.jpg

20120309-104655.jpg

20120309-104714.jpg

20120309-104726.jpg

20120309-104738.jpg

20120309-104756.jpg

Aside from the usual grocery stuff, our local market sold some unusual things like…

20120310-002416.jpg
Washing machines and other large appliances

20120309-104625.jpg
Next to the breads, you can buy…tires.
Behind the tires, you can find…beds.

La Mar Cebicheria

7 Mar

I love ceviche (or as it’s called here, cebiche), but it’s a pain to make and not as easily accessible in restaurants in the states. Peru is famous for its ceviche, so I was very excited to try a local version.
20120306-191414.jpg
There are other La Mar locations throughout South, Central, and North America.

20120306-192156.jpg
This cebicheria was on the fancier end. We didn’t want to risk getting sick, so it was worth it to pay a bit more.

20120306-191219.jpg
Complimentary sweet potato and plantain chips with various dipping sauces. Super tasty!

20120306-191241.jpg
Complimentary corn nuts. Peruvian corn nuts > American corn nuts.

20120306-191202.jpg
Chicha morada, a local drink made with purple corn, cinnamon, sugar, etc. I’ve had this in the states and loved it! If you haven’t had it, think of a spicier version of jamaica.

20120306-192940.jpg
We got the sampler, ceviche 5 different ways. Forgot what they were, but each delicious in its own way.

20120306-193003.jpg
We also got a full order of a different type of ceviche. Yes that is uni, so fresh and creamy!

20120306-191330.jpg
Complimentary dulce de leche (milk caramel) helado (a cross between ice cream and gelato).

All in all, a very fresh and delicious lunch. Can’t wait for the next time I get to eat ceviche!

Engaging People: Peru

6 Mar

In our everyday lives we typically keep to ourselves and rarely engage strangers in conversation. This trip is another story however! While we aren’t brazen enough to chat with each person that crosses our path, we’ve been giving it a shot every now and then.

Couple behind us at looooong customs line at Lima airport: American, medical student (him)/nurse (her) spending 5 weeks in the outskirts of Cusco volunteering at a hospital.

Charles: college student majoring in hotel management, working part time at our hostel in Lima. Though he didn’t look like it, he told us that he is part Irish and Japanese. Really sweet guy, and we have the same taste in TV shows. See earlier post about me accidentally spoiling a plot line for the show Revenge.

Us being silly in the patio of our hostel.

20120306-174202.jpg

Solo traveler at our hostel in Lima: British, talked our ears off. Must be the longest conversation in English he’s had in a while! He is a seasoned traveler (why are companies outside of the US so generous with PTO??) and for his 40th birthday he went on a 3 month trip around South America.

Matt: Australian born owner of a restaurant in Cusco called Two Nations. He was quite a chatty Cathy as well! See blurb about British traveler above. Lived in Indonesia and Thailand before marrying a local, and opened up his restaurant in Cusco 5 years ago. Waxed poetic about the Asian food in Melbourne.

Llama Path buddies: group of awesome folks from Norway, Germany, Australia, and Canada that we bonded with during our Inka Trail to Machu Picchu hike, put on by the tour company Llama Path. A 4 day/3 night hike covering 28 miles with a 13779 ft. pass and camping with no showers allowed the 11 of us to get to know each other reaaaaally well, and we bonded quite nicely. Luckily we all spoke English pretty much fluently so communication was a breeze. They are all seasoned travelers so we were able to exchange travel stories and advice. It is refreshing to chat with non-Americans!

20120306-174218.jpg

Looking forward to meeting more folks along the way! So far we have met people from 6 different countries! It will be hard to top our Llama Path group though!

First Impressions: Cusco

29 Feb

First impressions from Cusco, Peru. In one word:
Nancy: winded
Mike: rainy
Jerry: headache
Jeannie: alpaca

We arrived in Cusco yesterday morning and immediately felt the effects of going from sea level (Lima) to 11000 feet in an hour. That is, everyone except Jeannie who happens to be immune to the affects of high altitude. We slept and rested for most of the day and didn’t do much. We were also advised to drink lots of coca tea and to chew on the leaves to offset the high altitude effects.

20120229-151321.jpg
Our hostel, El Triunfo, provided us with tea. So soothing!

An hour’s flight from Lima, the city of Cusco is what we envisioned Lima to be (we will talk more about Lima in a new post). Cusco’s main square Plaza de Armas is the central point where all things converge: cobblestone streets, restaurants, souvenir shops, tourism outfitters, old-world churches, stray dogs, local citizenry, and an alpaca or two. It’s a great place to sit on the steps and take in the whole scene. A half hour walk into the hill brings beautiful lush vegetation and outstanding views of the city. The weather in March is best described as rainy. You can pretty much count on rain every day, although it comes in spurts throughout the day and night. We’ve found the best hiking weather is before noon.

20120229-145006.jpg
Plaza de Armas

20120229-150224.jpg
Cobblestone streets

Local kids up in the hill own some of these animals. The white llama is a random llama that came over to eat their greenery. The kid in the yellow actually threw rocks and did a flying karate jump-kick to the side of the llama to get it to move on somewhere else. He had textbook form on his kick — it looked like something out of a Bruce Lee movie. We would have captured it on camera, but we were too shocked and could only watch!

20120229-150449.jpg

20120229-150521.jpg

Lima, Day 2

26 Feb

20120227-002001.jpg

20120227-002009.jpg

20120227-002019.jpg

20120227-002029.jpg

20120227-002036.jpg

20120227-002044.jpg

20120227-002107.jpg

20120227-002117.jpg

First Impressions: Lima

26 Feb

20120226-033519g.jpg
Our first “meal” in Lima- pit stop at a 24 hour gas station.

We’ve arrived in Lima with our friends the Tongs after a relatively fast and easy flight.

Some first impressions (we’ve been here 6 hours):

KFCs are a big deal here. Some of them are two stories tall and have kiddie play gyms!
Casinos galore, at least along our route from the airport to our hostel.
Folks stay out late! At 2am people still were out and about.
The traffic lights have countdowns for red and green lights for both cars and pedestrians. Downside: doesn’t seem like there are sensors underneath so we were waiting at intersections for a loooong while with no other cars in sight.

Funny story of the night — Jeannie and the hostel host were talking about the tv show Revenge. Jeannie — ” Ooh who do you think shot Tyler?”
Peruvian hostel host Charles — “Tyler got shot?!?!”
Jeannie — “Oops.”

Apparently Peru is behind the US on TV episode showings.

To Tour or Not To Tour

15 Feb

image via Cafepress

Many of the vacations I took as a kid were tour-based (6am wake-up call, only 1 hour in a museum that usually takes a solid afternoon to explore, 10 minute pee break or the bus leaves without you, buffets and chains galore).  Tours are a great option for those who like to just show up and leave the planning and itinerary up to someone else.  It’s not really our style to go on such tours, we find many tours to not be at a pace that we like (either way too slow or rushed).  But I know there will be days where I will just want to wake up and let someone show me around for the day.

So in the spirit of trying new things (or giving old things a chance), I’ve researched some tours for South America that I’m pretty excited about!

For Machu Picchu, we booked with Llama Path based on our friends N+M’s recs.
In Santiago, I’m leaning towards the Spicy Chile walking tours, and in Buenos Aires, the Buenos Aires Free Tour has rave reviews.
Hielo y Aventura is a must for Patagonia.

Other places we’ll probably forgo tours are Easter Island and Iguazu Falls.  We’re undecided on whether we’ll go on a favela tour in Rio.  Would you do a favela tour?

So what’s the verdict folks?  Do you love tours for its convenience and ease, stay away cus it’s not your cup of tea, or are you like us and somewhere in between?  Share in the comments or in the poll below!

%d bloggers like this: