Monday, September 27, 2010

Machu Picchu: Awe & Beauty after a 5 Day Feat

Perhaps the prayers to the mountain gods and Weeragocha worked, because we were blessed with the best weather possible at 6 am Sunday morning. Leaving at 3:30 am to climb 1874 Inca steep steps in pitch black, flashlight aided darkness was the best idea the guides had. Had it been light, we may have turned around, seeing the huge rocks to climb in front of us. Carrying 8 litres of water on my back and a few snacks (water atop Machu Picchu is $8 a bottle; the same San Luis bottle costs $0.30 at the bottom) made for an arduous climb, taking me 42 minutes rather than the 31 it took everyone else. We got our stamps for Wayna Picchu, the "small" mountain at the top of Machu Picchu, a handful of only 400 people per day that are allowed to climb. Although only an hour and a half round trip, Wayna Picchu was like climbing a mountain with no steps, straight up, in blistering heat.

Rene and Jose Luis made amazing guides, taking us through the rooms and rooms of the ruins, explaining the main temples, uses for the Inca ruins and cultural tidbits like the "demo" carving University of Cuzco students placed on the ruins, which many guides claim is a real Inca ruin (it's not). We also saw the rock that chipped for cerveza, beer, when a local company had permission to film on the ruins, but dropped a camera equipment bag onto the rock and chipped it.

After the tour, Stephanie and I spent the next four hours touring the ruins, guessing which rooms belonged to who in the Inca city, finding the tiny rooms that were likely meant for children. It was really like we were there, transformed into Inca people for a moment, breathing in the air. As my battery charger was left in the hostel in Cuzco(argh!) we had to carefully select our poses. I was impressed though, by the 5 day length of my Canon Rebel T1i's lithium battery. So, here is a slideshow of the best pictures I can take. Breathtaking beauty - the pictures will have to do the rest of the talking; words escape me!

Facebook users, click here to view the slideshow- it's worth the click!!

We spent the night in Agules Calientes with our newfound friends, scoffing at the touristy town whose inhabitants try to scam you for money with no service (Stephanie and I walked away from breakfast the next morning, leaving a few soles on the table). Tomorrow is a travel day and we'll enjoy a few last days in Peru's capital city.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

4 Days of Ardous Trekking and an "Easy Day" in the Jungle

Inca people must have been tougher than cavemen, stronger than oxes and more spiritual than devotees on a pilgrimmage. To climb the 3 DAYS of Inca stairs, "Inca flat" passages (giant hills) and humid, hot, jungle was a sweltering feat. Never have I had to take the word's "not for the fainthearted" more seriously. Lorenzo Expeditions' Inca Jungle Trek makes Banff's Sulpher Mountain look like a flat treadmill walk.

In loincloths and sandlas, carrying intricately carved and sewn offerings to the mountain gods, they trekked more than we did. Our first two hours was a downhill bike ride in foggy weather that I normally wouldn't have dared driving a vehicle in! Biting cold surprised us all - Stephanie and I were in a group with wonderful people - Germans, Richard & Nicola, Brits Sophie and Dave and Christoff, another German. Little did we know that our windbreakers would be of minute help the next hour and its extra weight would be extraneous for the next three days. We biked almost blind, through foggy, twisty mountain roads, fearing for our lives as we turned corners inches away from passing, honking, trucks.


Finally, 2 1/2 hours later, we arrived at the hamlet of San Luis, of the same name as Coca Cola's Dasani brand in Peru, to take off our helmets and padding. The weather had changed to a near tropical climate, with moist heat that made us glad we had layers and hiing boots.

Five more hours we trekked, fighting off the jungle's swarms of invisible sandflies; you never see them bite you but they itch and turn red for a week afterwards as you see the bumpy, unbearable marks on your skin.

Santa Maria, the collections of run down slums called a town, was where we spent our first night. Unexpectedly, the beds were more comfortable than any we'd stayed in so far (or maybe we were just exhausted). Touring the town in a whopping ten minutes, Richard, Nicola, Stephanie and I played a game of Rummy. At dinner, which consisted of Papas de la Huaincana, omelettes and rice, our guides Jose Luis and Rene said "Buon Appetito!" "Bon Appetit!" "Guten Appetit" - and "What do you say in English?"

Stephanie and I paused. "We don't really, 'Have a nice meal'?...We just kinda start eating."

"Ok," said Jose Louise, "Just start eating. Attack!" And after that, "Attack!" it was at every meal!

The next morning's trek was grueling and brutal, though the hourly rest points were welcomed. Breakfast was an amazing spread, including their local coffee, which is an intense concentrate that must be mixed with hot water. We stopped outside Santa Maria to drink Chicah, a fermented corn drink that is important to the Quechua culture. First, you must say a prayer to the Sun and raise your glass to him; then, you must spill a drop on the ground, to respect Mother Earth. Then, a quarter turn back to where you were, and you may drin the delicious beverage

We proceeded to the jungle and up giant, steep cliffs and mountains near the river Urubamba. As Jose Luise and Rene talked, we learned of the Inca culture, of the Inca trilogy - Snake for the lowerworld, Puma for the mid level and Condor for the heavens. We learned of the Inca star, the Andean cross, shaped like steps to represent the trilogy, and the distance between youth and elders in the culture. At the "Monkey House", a steep climb to lunch (the sign claimed it was 20 m, but perhaps it was 20 "Inca" meters to the top. Mid-afternoon, we stood atop a mountain to pray to the mountain gods and Pacha Mamma (Mother Earth) for our safety rock climbing the cliffs. Holding 3 leaves of Coca, the plant that mixed with chemics, makes cocaine (and mixed with water makes Coca-Cola's original blend( - we said our prayers to the various gods and thrust the leaves into a fire that Rene made to sacrifice for and respect the gods.

Today, our "easy" day was a slighly less inclined hike through what used to be a river bed, surrounded by mountains. As the bridges were destroyed in January's massive mudslide, we had to use cardboard-box like crates to cross the river, which they call "cable cars". Finally, after six hours of uphill trekking, Stephanie's smashed camera screen and various bug bites, we arrived at the hot pools, the clearest, cleanest, most natural springs in the country. Wiped away in January, only 2 pools remain amidst construction crews trying to repair the damage, but the beauty of relaxing after ten hours of trekking was still there.

It was so great to get to know Sophie, Dave, Nicola, Richard and Christoff and share our cultural and travel stories. Stay tuned for my next post, the highlight of the trip, trek to Machu Picchu!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dogs, Birds & Llamas: Wildlife in Peru

After a week in Peru, we've seen bugs (including the cicada that was in Stephanie's shower), llamas, alpacas, birds and a plethora of lonely, stray dogs, begging for companionship and food. Just yesterday I saw a lonely black lab puppy wandering the streets - quite resemblant of Kiara as a baby - and a Peruvian child just kicked him to get him to move - and he wasn't even in her way! Some dogs lay without limbs on the floor in front of stores and bus stations, restaurantsa nd train depots, their sad eyes waiting for a master.

Ok, the first picture is borrowed - the llamas moved too quickly for my amateur, basic, lens but the rest are my depiction of Peru's stray wildlife.

Sorry to put a damper on my upbeat travel blog, but I have to share this cruel, inhumane news a local tour guide, who seemed immersed in the culture, shared with me. The Peruvian government, not having the money to spay and neuter dogs and cats (really, I ask you, with all the millions of dollars coming from Machu Picchu tourists each year?) - lure them with poisoned bread and dig their grave. Such beautiful anmials of every breed imaginable; even the "pack" we saw near the Scotiabank yesterday was an assortment of different dogs. Like Sophie, a British girl I met, said "I can't stand it. Can't stand to look at the run over puppies. I wat to open an animal shelter here".

I feed them all; parts of my trail mix, mostly the oatmeal.

Kiara, baby girl, I miss you! Here's to all your fellow species; a tribute for the puppies of Peru.