Monday, January 6, 2014

Inca Trail 2013

Last year October, I completed an adventure of a lifetime:  The Inca Trail.  When I first signed up for it (a few months beforehand) with my friends, I had already some doubts in managing it and even had a little thought of backing out.  First it was my runners knees acting up, and then once that was better, I somehow pulled a ligament in my knee that left me pretty out of commission for a good 3 weeks of training.  Aside from the slight injuries that scattered throughout my training timeline, there was the trouble with heights. A nagging thought of being too petrified to move forward somewhere along the inca trail after looking down at the mountain side troubled me a bit.  And of course this concern only increased the closer the trip date became.  Despite it all I was still very excited.

My last real adventure trip was a few years back when I hiked 9 hours, from one small town (Paleochora) to another (Sougia) on the small Greek island Crete (The E4 trail - Sougia - Lissos - Paleochora).  If you ask why it would take us 9 hours to hike 13 km, I really couldn't tell you except that we really took our time at the beginning not realizing we would get a little lost along the way.  Granted, it was along the coastline, and the worse that could happen is having to backtrack the same way we came.  Same idea with the Inca Trail :) Worse case, if one couldn't do it, just hike back the same way you came.


Overview of the amazon forest as we fly overhead

Our lodge at Rufugio Amazonas, the sign

We started the trip first by flying to Lima, then taking domestic flight to Puerto Maldonado.  From there we were greeted by our guide, Oscar, took a bus and a boat to get to our first lodge in the Amazon forest; Rufugio Amazonas.

We arrived there for the evening, were treated to refreshments as we were told of the facilities and rules (mainly don't touch the gas lamps) at the lodge.  We were given our room numbers and told that dinner was promptly at 7.   Dinner was buffet style, the food was very good there and for the first time in a while I felt really at peace.  The place was very serene.  The sounds of the forest all around you and the air smelled kinda nice.

A popular palm tree drink

Fermented purple corn pudding dessert

That evening we packed our bags in preparation to leave to our next lodge, the Tampobata reserve.  The next morning, we went on our first hike, donning our raingear and boots that they provided for us, we headed out for a short hike before we were leaving.

the Cicada bug

dining area of the lodge

 the Cicada nest

me in my hiking boots provided by them

hallucinogenic mushrooms

Watson bird

On our hike we were shown many interesting things, particular ones that interested me are shown in the above:  The Cicada.  Apparently they live 17 years underground and come up only one year after that to mate.  Interesting thing here is that that 17 year cycle is ending soon, so there are going to be a lot of Cicada's popping up soon... *shudder*.  The nest looks like a little tower.  The Hallucigenitic muschrooms. When the guide pressed on it, it actually puffed out white powdery smoke.  The Watson bird, very rare, and also known as the "stinky" bird.

On the boat, on our way to the Tampobata reserve lodge

(a short stop at the claylick to see the macaws)

After we returned from our short hike, we went back to the lodge, changed to our own hiking shoes and made our way to the boat port.  There we spent pretty much most of the day travelling.  In between it, we stopped by the claylick and saw beautiful macaws.  Finally, we boarded back on the boat and after an hour later, we arrived finally at our destination:  The Tampobata Reserve.  







(Quick tour of the Tampobata Reserve Lodge:  dining area, bar, hall, resting lounge area, giftshop, rooms, staff area up ahead, bathrooms)

When we arrived there, we were given a quick tour of the facilities, and then also the rules; hours of electricity, lights out, wearing long sleeves in the late afternoon (deadly mosquitos), usage of their shampoo and soap, etc.

After that, we were given some free time to relax   We spent that time relaxing on hammocks, chatting and freshening up before heading out for a short evening hike.

The next few days at the amazon rainforest were pretty much like the first day; free time to relax, hikes throughout the day.  We saw a few wild animals, the Howling Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, frogs, spiders, ants, moths, vultures, different species of birds, wild pigs, macaws, caimans, the world's largest rodent (Capybara), and the bird eating spider.

When time came to packing our bags, I was sad to leave.  The place was so nice, I would have liked to stay longer.

Our next destination was the flight to Cusco, Peru.  The night before, while still at the rainforest lodge I had started to take my Diamox to help me acclimatize for the higher altitude.

When we arrived in Cusco, a driver - Caeser - from our hotel picked us up.  We were very thankful that he was kind enough to wait for us because our flight was actually delayed.  We drove through the downtown part of Cusco and as we neared where we would be staying, I saw how everything started to become more narrow and more cobblestoned.  We later learned it was because in the past, the area we were staying in had the cobblestones so that it was easier for horses to travel on.  A more slated implementation on some of the roads was added so that it would be easier for pedestrians to walk on.
Our driver guided us to our hotel and we had to walk up a few steps (about 55 I think).  I remember realizing that the air was quite different.  I felt it already when I arrived at the airport, but only after walking, I saw that I was a bit out of breath.  Of course at that point, I chalked it up to more along the lines of being tired from the travelling.



(Our hotel that we stayed in while we were in Cusco:  La Morada Hotel)

Complimentary cocoa tea

Map of Cusco provided for us by the hotel

Room 1

 Room 2

Washroom

Once we entered the hotel, we were given the keys to our room.  Cocoa tea (to help with acclimatizing to the altitude) was also given to us.  The view from our room was spectacular.  So very pretty.  Though even from the distance we could see that it looked like rain was coming.  We drank the cocoa tea, all happy and smiley because we also saw we had now a place with electricity and could also use our own shampoos and conditioners :)  The small things in life that bring us joy!
We all quickly took turns to shower and freshen up and then we went to dinner at Pacha Papas, a local restaurant that was recommended by our driver.


Pacha Papas restaurant meal (pizza, rice, soup, meats)

Once we returned, it was dark.  While some of us stayed in, two volunteered to go out to stroll around the area and pick up some more bottled water.


The next morning, we woke up early so that we could catch continental breakfast.  The view was very nice, the food was standard :) but we all really liked the bananas and the fact that we could order eggs done to our choice (scrambled, easy over, sunny side, omelette)



We wandered around the town and searched out the Starbucks (yes, we like familiarity).

(view taken from the starbucks patio)


Along the way we also purchased a few souvenirs, to which we brought back and arranged it as a little city of Llamas :P  We used the starbucks bag and the logo as a "sun god" emblem.

We rested back at the hotel for a little bit and then headed out to grab lunch... at McDonald's!  Our first night, we felt we overspent on our dinner, so we decided to budget down a little :)




Regretfully we all thought that the food was a little too greasy and though it was quite a good deal for the cost (underneath that mound of french fries are 10 giant pieces of chicken), it was too much.
We finished as much as we could and decided to save the rest for dinner - the plan was instant noodles and chicken.
We wandered about and finally found the supermarket (via the map from the hotel).  Pleased, there we bought the fruits that we wanted to try.  And also the instant noodles.


We also found San Pedro market place!  This immediately brought to mind the St. Lawrence Market here we have in Toronto.



(Inside San Pedro market place)

After browsing through the San Pedro market, we made our way back to our hotel, narrowly missing the hail storm that hit us suddenly.

This same time, we also got back our laundry!! Yay, fresh clean clothes!!

That night, as planned, we had instant noodles with our leftover mcdonald's chicken from lunch.

The next day, we had booked to have a private tour to see the sacred valley, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo.


Pisac





We had the chance to do some photo taking with a lady and her alpaca and llama (tips required!) and then later we to Pisac, hiking it to the ruins.  Had a little adventure returning from the hike ... (took the wrong route).


After Pisac, we had a buffet lunch before heading to Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo

(Ollantaytambo - Ollantaytambo is a town and an Incaarchaeological site in southern Perusome 60 kilometers northwest of the city of Cusco. It is located at an altitude of 2,792 meters (9,160 feet) above sea level in the district of Ollantaytambo,province of UrubambaCusco region. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of EmperorPachacuti who conquered the region, built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance. source:  wikipedia)




It was during these small tours to Pisac and Ollantaytambo that I saw that I was a bit affected by heights.  I was starting to get very worried that the Inca Trail would be just as hard, but 4 days worth.
I, thankfully, was not the only one.  Cecilia, too, was worried.  But we both told ourselves that we would just try it, and if anything, the height got too bad, we would head back...


(what a beautiful sight, the ice capped mountains at the top!)

Our last stop was Chinchero, a quaint little town where I did a lot of souvineer shopping.







After buying some souvineers, we headed to see a church,






After the church visit, we headed back to Cusco, to our hotel.  On the way, we placed a pickup order at a restaurant near our hotel (sad to say, it was not very good pizza).  We learned from our private tour guide that the church at the square would be open that night because it was a celebration (I think it's a Light Celebration?).  So we wanted to freshen up quickly and head out for the night.  We went inside the church for a little bit and then as we walked further down, we stumbled upon a parade!  It was so very festive and we watched it for a while until we got a bit too cold standing outside in the rain.


After we left the parade, did some quick shopping for hats, we returned to our hotel.  Two of our friends went to pick up the pizzas while the rest of us freshened up.  That night we had pizza, mangos and sour sop from the marketplace.

It was also that night, I discovered haha my stomach was not keen on the cheese used on the pizza.

The next day was our last day in Cusco before we were going to set out on our Inca Trail adventure.  It was time to shop!



After shopping, it was time to eat; we decided to have mexican food this time around.



The food was really good.  After eating, we walked around again and dropped by Starbucks for coffee and then headed to the Alpca Expeditions for our briefing.

There we met our guide Sabino, and the remaining three members of our hiking group:  Minnie, Poorab, and Norman (really wonderful people).  We did some quick introductions, our guide cracked some jokes to break the ice (one of them was about Pumas eating hearts - and he couldn't stop laughing about it lol), and we signed the waivers.  Now it was set.  We were really going to do it.  There was no turning back!

That evening we went and had Italian food; we had to load up on carbs!  It was unfortunate to say, but the spaghetti was not very good.



We returned to our hotel and we started packing.  We were given a green duffle bag and told to keep it within 5kg (keeping in mind that the porters had to carry the sleeping bag/airmatress which was about 3kg already).  We set up our hydration packs as well, packed our electrolytes and protein bars and IT bands if needed.

DAY 1 - INCA TRAIL



Morning came around.  It was still so dark outside.  And cold too.  We were dressed warmly, in multiple layers.

Morning of day 1 - Inca Trail

We quickly entered the van and we picked up the remaining three from the group and off we went to Ollantaytambo, to our start of the inca trail:  km82 (82 kilometeres along th erailway from Cusco to Aguas Calientes).  Before arriving to that point, we had breakfast (for champions) outside.





Llactapata Ruins

We hiked for a bit and we took a brief historical break as we reached the ruins of Llactapata, a site that was thought to have been used primarily for crop production.  Here at this ruin we also can see the three symbols of peru:  The snake, puma and condor.

We then hiked for a little bit, and eventually set up camp for our lunch.  This was also as I would call it:  my last full appetite lunch for the next two days.




My last real meal

It was after this lunch hour when I started to feel symptoms of altitude sickness :-(  By evening, I was terribly out of breath, tired, and nauseous.  I couldn't even stomach the smell of food.   I vaguely remember saying that I wanted to skip dinner and just rest. My guide was very quick to get me settled in, drink some medicine (I think it was a combination of diamox and something else?) and I literally crashed to sleep.

DAY 2 - INCA TRAIL

The next morning, I was feeling a bit better, but my appetite had not returned at all.  I did manage to eat a quarter of an omelette.  I was worried though, since Day 2 was the most challenging of the entire trail:  we were hiking up dead woman's pass; aptly named looking back.  Endless uphill.  Okie dokie! *grin*  If I was feeling that poorly on the first day, I was concerned that this 9 hour day hike would take me down; especially since I had little to no food in my system.  Stubborn me, I still went on.  My guide though, concerned, stayed along side me.  At this point, of course, I did not realize how serious altitude sickness could be.  Despite it all, I was still very awed at the beauty of the landscape.



Map


That's where we're going!  Dead woman's pass...




Finally, we all reached the top, dead woman's pass.  Still alive :)  And still no appetite :(  We eventually made camp, and at this dinner, I did go to it, I didn't want to rest like the day before.  I think my body wouldn't have minded the rest, because at dinner time, I was not exactly eager to eat either.  But I wanted to be there.  I managed to have a few bites of dinner and settled to just have a lot of cocoa tea and hot water.  I even passed on chocolate pudding!  Very sad.  The chef and the assistant made amazing good food, especially in all considerations we were on top of a mountain.

Like I



DAY 3 - INCA TRAIL

We were doing a lot more descending on this day and although it was harder on the knees (the hiking sticks really helped), it was a relief because that meant the altitude was also going to go lower.  My guide promised me at this point that everything was going to get better once we reach our camp for the evening.

He was right on the mark.



Descending

First real meal in 2.5 days


Lunch time, I was able to eat a bit more, however, I still took it easy because I was worried too much food at once would upset me.



Winaywayna Ruins


That evening we also went to visit the ruins (Wiñaywayna); stunning to look at

Dinner time, we were all surprised to have a cake for dessert!  How they managed to bake a cake on top of a mountain was a surprise.  It was quite delicious too :)

The impressive "green machine" (the porters) team!  

Cake..baked atop a mountain - wow!

Dinner


DAY 4 - INCA TRAIL


For our last day of our hike we had to wake up for 2:30am and make a mad hike to the entry point to machu picchu.  There we had wait for it to open.  If we arrived late, we would have no seat.  Little did we know were a bit late, but because there were a set of really nice people in front of us willing to let us have seat, we were able to rest.  Once the gate was open for us, we started hiking at a very good pace.  I was actually with the group again, and how much I liked having normal air again.  It felt good to not need to rest every 5 or so steps!  No more waves of nauseousness.  It was like regular hiking back home.

Hello Machu Picchu!  I hiked 4 days to get to you - and you did not disappoint; simply breathtaking to behold!

The amazing group of people that I hiked with

My friends and our awesome guide Sabino!


Finally, we made it to the city of Machu Picchu.  There, our guide took us on a tour and gave us some historical background on the city.
It was also after this, we had to part with our new friends, Minnie, Poorab and Norman.  Minnie and Poorab though, some amazing coincidence, were also flying to lima and staying at the exact same hotel (the Hilton) as we were!  So we had an opportunity to meet up again.  Norman was still going to be in around Peru for a bit, so we would not have the chance to meet with him.
At the end of this trek, however, it was not exactly the end. We had actually booked to do another hike up a mountain; specifically:  Huayna Picchu.  Cecilia and I opted out, whilest our three friends and Norman went for it.

Finally, when they returned down from the mountain, we all boarded a bus to take us down from the mountain and to where we could get to the train station that would take us back to Cusco.  We were fortunate that our guide decided to stay with us and guide us all the way back.

Finally, we settled in at the train station, we had complimentary drinks and snacks.

Complimentary free plantain chips

Complimentary free Inka Cola (tastes like creme soda!)

On the train (yaayyyy! My feet love me)
Once we arrived at the Cusco trainstation, we were picked up by our guide and a bus took us back to our hotel.  Along the way we talked about what to have for dinner... and it was decided on having KFC and instant noodles :P Comfort food.

The next day, we were packed and ready to leave Cusco to Lima.  We had a quick breakfast and were headed to the airport.  With the song "hotel california" ringing in the background as we left behind the beautiful quaint town of Cusco, I despite how much I loved my stay, was looking forward to Lima, where the altitude was not so high.  Already once I returned to Cusco, I felt the change and weariness had crept over me.  Fortunately, I still could eat :)  Only couldn't rush things, and could only "stroll" along.

And then... we didn't leave.  Our flight was cancelled due to weather conditions.  Mind you, there was not a spec of rain in Cusco, and nor was the weather in Lima poor.  But it may have been because the way Taka Airlines was just not built to fly under certain conditions? We weren't sure.  All that we were told was, our flight was cancelled.
For the next few hours we fought to get a flight out of Cusco to Lima.  Finally, 6 hours later, we got a flight:  the next day early morning.

We called back to our hotel and booked for another day and also for a taxi to return there.  That evening, we decided to have Pacha Papa's again as our last dinner; it would be more memorable than KFC and instant noodles :)

The next day, thankfully, our flight to Lima was not cancelled.  It was not the smoothest however since suddenly as we were checking in, two of our friends were not confirmed for the flight despite that we had booked it all together.  After some discussions with the clerk, that issue was resolved.
We didn't want to count our luck until we were literally on the plane and had landed in Lima.


Arrival at Lima was smooth.  Approximately an hour or so flight.  We had a taxi take us to the hilton hotel. And we couldn't all help but chuckle how out of place the five of us were.  Still in our hiking gear, we looked terribly grungy stepping into such a high end hotel.
Once we had checked in, the first thing we did was to freshen up and then prepare for lunch.  Susan had a place that a colleague of hers recommended.

The food turned out to be delicious; the seafood was all very fresh.  After lunch we walked towards the huge shopping center and did a lot of browsing.
Finally, we decided to head back to the hotel and try out the facilities.  We went up to the top floor, took our sweet time using the Jacuzzi and then later, headed out to dinner at a local fast food place in Peru.
That last evening, the five of us chatted about how great the trip was, how glad we all had made it, and also how great it was that we had hiked with such a nice group of people.  Everything had worked out really well. 10982 stairs!  Craziness.  And all of us made it; that was what really mattered.  No one gave up (actually my guide had been concerned about my health - as was I - at one point.  Note to readers, be aware that altitude sickness is a serious thing.  Always alert your guide or those you are hiking with, if you are not feeling well - they will help determine the necessary steps needed ~ descend or continue).
Overall, all of us were sitting there, and in one piece.  No injuries, just a bit sore.  I felt very fortunate, to have hiked with such a wonderful group, have had such a great guide (Sabino from Alpaca Expeditions), and for mother nature in giving us very pleasant weather conditions to walk in.  Excluding any of those three would have made the journey more difficult; and really, the journey is the destination.

With the Inca Trail done, it was one more thing to cross of our adventures list! :)  Though, also at this dinner we agreed, the next trip we planned, we would be taking things easier; city tours or an all-inclusive!

The next day, we were flying out from Lima to home.  Back to good old Toronto, where it was very cold but very humbly speaking, home sweet home :)

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