Thursday, January 31, 2008

Heavy Lifting

Took this video in Aguas Calientes - the little town close to MachuPicchu. There are quite a few powerful little streams in this area. They all dump into the Amazon at some point and end up in the Atlantic. For whatever reason, this earth mover was in the middle of the stream shifting rocks around. I figure the stream will find a way to get down the hillside one way or the other without any help, but what do I know? I couldn´t realize make any sense of Miguel´s explanation....

Sun Gate

Don´t have much information on the Sun Gate either, but I suppose it had something to do with the solstices. This hike took me up another 400 meters from MP (MP is at 2400 above seal level). The photo shows you the windy road leading up to MP...and MP is a bit obscured by the clouds as it often is this time of year.


I had been at MP for maybe 6 hours when I decided to go ahead and hike up HuaynaPicchu, which is the big hill behind the city. It´s obviously pretty steep and was not an easy climb. Took me about an 75 minutes to get up there and back. I did not delay long at the top to enjoy the view as I couldn´t seem to find a comfortable spot to sit...I just really don´t like heights all that much, and the rain that began as I got to the top didn´t help make me any more comfortable. This climb helped fill me in on why many of the native Peruvians are so short...I believe the tall ones were naturally-selected out as they went tumbling down the mountainside after losing their balance. These trails are narrow and steep.

Inca Bridge

This was one of the short hikes to the outskirts of MP. Don´t have any information on how they built this bridge or where it was supposed to go but it was pretty crazy to see a big stack of rocks next to a sheer wall that drops off for hundreds of meters.

and finally MacchuPicchu

5th day finally got to see MP. Went ahead and hiked up there rather than taking the bus, getting up at 4 to begin the hour and a half hike that went up probably a good 1000 meters, covering 5km or so. Wasn´t easy but after having had a fairly easy day the day before I was ready for it.

Hmm, what is there to say about it? It is one of the ´New 7 Wonders of the World´. Seems well deserving of the honor. I wondered why the Incas built the city up there in the middle of one really knows for sure. Seems incredible that it was ´lost´for so long, being rediscovered in the early part of the last century. And some of the architecture was quite impressive...the way they fit the stone blocks together without any type of mortar and slightly leaned the walls inward to make them more resistant to earthquakes. Most of the little temples inside the city had to so with the seasons and solstices since the Incas worshiped the sun.

MP is a fairly big place so you can tramp around in there all day. Also, there are several little hikes to areas on the outskirts of MP that you can do to see a Sun Gate, Inca Bridge, or HuaynaPicchu (the steep hill in the background of the classic MP photo.


My guide Miguel turned out to be a really good dude. He´d been a guide for the past 10 years so he knew his stuff and took it pretty seriously. On the final day he went on about how it was a great achievement to make it thru the Salkantay Trail during the rainy season...I then asked him how many people have turned back without completing it in his 10 years and he said 3. Sometimes I wonder how much gets lost with my so so Spanish...if nearly everyone can do it then....

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Shortly after the start of day 3 we came across a man who asked us to stop for awhile so that he could get one of his bulls (the wild one) lassoed and sent down the path ahead of us on its way to market. This man´s little farm was at the top of a fairly high plateau and the plan was to run the bull down the narrow path. Basically, one of the man´s kids was to follow the bull down the path and make sure that it kept moving. But obviously the bull could get out of control and hurt anyone in its way so we waited for them to leave ahead of us. Some other more docile bulls followed shortly after us. Hmm, perhaps now is a good time to speak of the trails themselves...the trail was very narrow in places. Maybe two feet across in many areas...and after that two feet there was nothing but a long way down to the bottom. And the trail was very rocky and unlevel in many places...although the rocks came in handy given how muddy things were in the non-rocky areas. Anway, these bulls aren´t the same size bulls you´d see in the States but still pretty good size. I don´t really know how they stay on these paths but they do it somehow. Miguel did mention to me that it´s not unheard of for a horse or mule to fall and die.

At any rate, it was amusing to see the way the bull kind of dragged the kid down the mountainside. At one point, Miguel and I had finished tiptoeing our way across a stream/waterfall when the wild bull came up behind us. I didn´t realize we had passed him, but we didn´t waste any time taking off running for about 200 meters until we found a clearing where we could get out of the way. My own little ´Running of the Bulls´. Pretty exciting but no real danger I don´t think...but then you never know I guess.

Monday, January 28, 2008


I´m not actually doing the Inca Trail. The Inca Trail needs to be reserved well in advance. I had heard from someone at some point that the Salkantay Trail was better anyway, so I decided to do it. The main differences are that Salkantay is a day longer (5 days as opposed to 4) and goes about 400 meters higher than the Inca Trail (4600 meters above sea level being the high point for the Salkantay).

I will say that 4600 meters is a pretty good ways up. We got up to the pass about halfway through the second day. We had started at about 3500 meters that morning. We finished that day at 2500 meters above sea level. Altitude affects everything around here...from the temperature to the vegetation to number of bug bites you can expect to get and, of course, your breathing.

Yeah, so 4600 meters...wasn´t easy to get up there. I would say I´m in fairly decent physical condition these days but it´s hard to prepare for that kind of altitude. Luckily, I had been at 3000 meters or more for three days prior so I had some preparation. And I wasn´t carrying all my gear, only a small day pack. We had an old man with a mule carrying most of our stuff. When we woke up that morning it was raining fairly heavily, of course. This was a big fear for me since I was to do the entire trail wearing running shoes. Boots would have been nice, but I don´t have any with me and refused to buy any since I literally have about 10 pairs at home. Running shoes are fantastic if it doesn´t rain since they´re lighter and more comfortable than boots. Of course, it has rained quite a bit every day though. So the rain was not what I wanted to see...but after seeing our muleman wearing sandals I felt a little better.

The higher we got...the less rain there it turned to ice and then snow. This was a little unexpected and Miguel acted like it is rare to see snow during the summer even at the top of the pass. But with the help of my trusty walking stick (which after 3 days I have learned to use quite effectively for balance and propulsion) I got up there with energy to spare. Good thing I felt good too because we still had about 10 km to cover that day...and the downhill parts tend to be a little painful on the old knees.

Andean villages

Since it was just Miguel and I doing the trek we didn´t have our own cook and horses. Instead we stopped for the night at different farms and pitched our tent in the yard and had meals with them. This was pretty cool...probably one of the best parts about the trip. Now that I can converse fairly well in the language it´s always nice to get to talk to different people a little bit. The meals were always the same...start out with a soup of some kind, followed by the entree which would likely be a lot of rice with some veggies and potatoes, and finish up with a cup of hot tea. The tea never came with the meal - only after. All the meals had this format during the trek. There was no power or anything of the sort out there and the huts were dirtfloor shacks. Quite authentic...and they owners were always nice enough to let me dry my shoes next to the cooking fire....

The land out here is very mountainous as you can imagine...hopefully the pictures I add later will get this point across. But the people still manage to do some farming...often on land that is on the side of a mountain with an angle of 45 degrees or more.

A little late but got going

So I spent the morning on Friday calling and arguing with travel agencies. It took awhile just to figure out how to contact the agency through which I was doing the tour. I had bought the trip through a different agency in Lima. Next time I will definitely ask more questions and get better info before I head off to a different city to use a different agency. At any rate, after much complaining and demanding of my money back, the agency offered me a private tour to Machu Picchu...just me and the tour guide together for 5 days. This sounded good to me so I accepted the offer and off we went. I especially liked this arrangement since I would get the whole tour in Spanish this way...which wouldn´t likely be the case if we had 8 other people with us.

And so we left about 8 hours later than expected and ended up taking motor transport to cover the 18 km we were supposed to have hiked during the first day. I felt a little like we had cheated to do this, but then the roads and trails were extremely muddy so I didn´t feel too bad about it. We had to take an old Datsun 4x4 for most of the way that first day. The ´roads´ certainly weren´t very easy to get through, nor were they very wide. This being the rainy season, everything is muddy. At one point I pushed on the floorboard a little too hard and nearly put my foot through the floormat...the floor had rusted straight through...Datsun always did build engines that could outlast the cars their housed in. The old Datsun did great though and we made it to our destination before the picture the guys are standing on the ´road´.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Yeah, so got up at 4 this morning to await my guide to pick me up to start the hike to MP. Never showed up though so now I´m waiting outside the office to discuss the matter. They don´t open till 9 and couldn´t get in touch with anyone that could help. I had booked the trip in Lima with a different organization who contracted the people here to do the actual tour. This morning has pointed out very well my limitations with Spanish as I just wasn´t communicating effectively on the phone this morning as I tried to get things solved. Never have spoken Spanish well in the morning.

At any rate, we´ll see what happens when I demand my money back. The bad thing is I now don´t have time to do the hike I wanted to do so I´ll have to take a shorter, less interesting route to MP. Oh well, I try to stay positive. I´m sure there are some lessons to be learned here but haven´t worked out what they are yet.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mountain biking

Decided to take a little mountain bike tour around the Cuzco area today. Wasn´t too bad. Not nearly as good as the mountain biking I did in Ecuador, but had a decent enough time since it was just me and the guide, who turned out to be really cool. Good opportunity to talk Spanish all day. I was wondering why I was understanding him so well when he told me his native language is Quechua (still spoken by the native Peruvians), and didn´t start speaking Spanish until a few years ago. Non-native speakers tend to be easier to understand it seems.

Anyway, thankfully, weren´t too many uphill stretches on the ride today as I still have not gotten used to the altitude up here and I´m not in that great of shape to begin with. But I would say that I´m breathing easier today than yesterday anyway, meaning that I can walk up small inclines at a normal pace instead of taking it slow like I´ve got all day...which I do have all day but still....

The trip today included a couple rides on local buses. Those trips are always interesting in this part of the world. Buses completely packed with locals getting on to sing and play guitar for money...not to mention the way the drivers careen around the turns. And I was just reading about a bus that fell off a cliff here in Peru and killed 12 people. Worked out alright thankfully.

And so the five day hike to MachuPicchu starts tomorrow at 0430. Hiking and o´dark 30 wake-up calls...maybe I should´ve just stayed in the military.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Finally left Lima today. Took a flight over to Cuzco, the oldest continuously inhabitated city in the Americas. The place does indeed look old. Narrow little cobblestone streets that are really little more than sidewalks. Most of the streets still manage to host two way vehicle traffic, however. Don´t ask me to explain why the traffic patterns are as they are in places like this. The town is pretty...though I have to say my initial impression was not favorable; there was a strike going on this afternoon with all sorts of people making noise and burning tires in the streets. Took awhile to get to my hostel as a result since many streets were closed. Didn´t seem violent though. I had forgotten the word for ´strike´ in Spanish when I was questioning my cab driver what was going instead I described it as a 'parade for complaining'. The cabbie was like, ¨yeah, that´s a pretty good way to explain it¨. Never ceases to amaze how you can get a cab for a 3rd of the price if you walk outside the airport parking area and wait for one on the street. Let me rephrase can get a cab for a fair price and not pay triple if you walk out of the airport area to find one.

Cuzco is pretty high up in the Andes - about 12,000 feet I believe. Chilly. I feel pretty fine, although I get winded walking up the stairs in my dump of a hostel. Crappy hostels are great for making you get out the place to type up your blog though. So I´ve got one more day to acclimitize myself as I´ll be hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu starting Friday. It´s going to be a 5-day hike, so should be interesting for sure. I think I´ve gotten a little soft as I can´t really say I´m looking forward to it. But I know it´s something I will enjoy and remember so be happy to do it. Think I´m going to take a little mountain bike tour tomorrow. Hopefully, it won´t rain.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Lima has this really cool fountain system set up. Quite impressive for a country like this. Better and well, just different, than anything I´ve seen back home or elsewhere.

Basically, they converted a park into a series of fountains. Some of them are for kids to play in...shoot water unpredictably all over the place. Others are much larger and have a way of spraying the water so they can project images onto the water. Lots of other interesting ones interspersed with lasers and other pyrotechnics. And of course they have one really large fountain that shoots water a good 80 meters into the air. The big one didn´t look so impressive at started out shooting up only a little high...10 meters or so, but kept gradually shooting the water higher and higher. The wind kept blowing the spray more and more into the spectator area the higher the water went. I knew it was going to get me...but for some reason I didn´t do anything to stop it....

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Got here to Lima a couple days ago. Not sure how I feel about being in another big city. Suppose there's lot to do and see but I tend to like the more quiet environments these days.

Transportation in the city is mostly done by cabs. Small buses exist but are apparently not really very useful...or maybe they're just too hard to figure out so foreigners don't bother. The cabs are pretty cheap 45 minute ride to my hostel from the airport only ran me $7. There are no meters in the taxis so you have to bargain for every ride, which is something I enjoy. The first cabbie at the airport wanted $20 for my ride...what a negotiator I am!...well, at least I think I'm getting roughly the same rates the locals do. Gives me an opportunity to practice my spanish if nothing else...though it does get expensive having to cab it everywhere...miss the subway system in BA. Noticed a lot of the cabs here have the turn signal on the right side of the wheel...I haven't driven in awhile but I think it goes on the left. Can't figure that one out as the cars are all manual so their right hands are busy enough. Reckon the Japanese just didn't bother to change it for this country.

One thing I like is the expenses. Things are indeed cheaper here. I'm paying $15 a night to stay in a really nice place, with AC, internet, phone, and breakfast. Although, when a place/country is really cheap you have to ask why...and the why is probably because it's some kind of undeveloped or underdeveloped nation. Which can mean lots of things you might want to be aware of like more crime, etc. but for me so far has meant I'm accompanied by a little stomachache (that's a strange word to type and seems misspelled) many hours of the day. Haven't figured out what's giving it to me yet but I reckon it'll go away sooner or later...or else I'll have to change to a diet of bananas and soda. The stomach issues began the day I crossed into Peru and I'm only drinking bottled water. Thankfully, it's not that bad.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Have to say I like this little town Tacna. And Peru is definitely a bit cheaper than where I´ve been. Got myself a decent hotel room since I arrived at 6 this morning. Figured it´d be worth it with all the time I was-am spending here. Yes, I arrived at the bus station in Chile at 7 and got to my hotel in Peru at 6...two hour time difference exists between the countries right now...first time I´ve ever had jet lag without flying.

Tacna is actually pretty clean. Don´t find much of that down here. When people open a pack of smokes or whatever they simply drop the garbage on the ground...but don´t really see much refuse all over the place here. Another bonus: I can understand the people pretty well again...this wasn´t always the case in BA or Chile, especially Chile, but here the accent is fairly neutral like in Ecuador. Should makes things easier and more enjoyable for me.

Given that Tacna is right on the border you might expect the town denizens to be less patriotic as the proximity of another country with a slightly different culture leads to a meshing of cultures and attitudes. Not so - the people were quite patriotic. Lots of Peruvian flags flying about. And there was a large flag removal ceremony in the town center at sunset. Thinking about it though, not a surprise, as Tacna was actually taken from Peru by Chile (along with another 100 miles or so of coastline to the south) after a war over minerals at the end of the 19th century. Tacna was returned to Peru by Chile at some point afterwards (obviously).

Chile-Peru border

Ok, where did I leave off? Yes, another overnight bus trip. Had to get out of that town Calama...being there was reminding me that I had no reason to be there, lol.

Slept much better on this particular trip...probably because I was so damn tired...oh, and the Ambien too, or maybe I´m just getting accustomed to sleeping on bumpy roads.

So got up to the border with Peru about 7 AM today. Wasn´t totally sure how I was going to cross the border when I got to the train station...but never usually exist. Guy flagged me down to be the final passenger in his beat-up Chevy Impala. He´d already gotten 4 other locals to pile in, so I gave him his $4 and hopped in. Guy drove us about 40 miles or so and helped with the border formalities. What a deal!

So yay! Peru at last.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Santiago northbound

21 hours on the bus. I decided to take the economy bus...probably not the best decision I´ve made...but then it really wasn´t that bad. What was bad about the bus trip was the fact that I sat right next to the bathroom. A crowded bus, 21 hours, very few rest stops - it was pretty bad back there by the end of the trip...and it wasn´t very fresh when we left.

One highlight was the guy I sat next to - at first I thought it might be a painful time with him as he´d taken my window seat and had his elbow all over the ´neutral armrest´ in the middle when I got there. I had a hard time understanding him at first but he turned out to be pretty cool. He was a miner working 20 days in Calama and then 10 days at home with his family. Tough way to earn a living but gotta do it...his words. He ended up giving me a bunch of the food his wife packed him.

Quite impressive scenery up the Chilean coast on Route California in more ways than one. Kind of surprised how quickly it turned to desert though. I´m here in the middle of the Atacama desert, which is known as the driest place on earth, and I can believe it...this place makes Tucson look like a rain forest. Haven´t seen anything growing in the countryside in this area. I´m not going to see the more interesting ´salt flat´areas near here...I believe I´ve seen quite enough of those.

I´d planned on seeing the world´s largest copper mine today, but due to my inattention to my tourbook I´ll have to skip...not open on weekends...when I found that out today I was really, really unhappy with myself, but I´m over it now. I´m going to go ahead and bolt out of here tonight on another night bus which will get me to the Peruvian border by morning. From there, I went ahead and picked up a cheap flight for Monday into Lima. Enough with these bus trips.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year

Can´t say I´m really looking forward to leaving Valdivia after having had such a nice time here with this family, but after 4 days of being one of the family I´m probably starting to wear out my welcome.... Catching the night bus to Santiago in a couple hours.

Celebrated the New Year here with these guys. The people here tend to celebrate the new year at home with their families...and then go out with their friends after midnight. I was a little worn out and stayed in.

During the day I went for a cruise around the rivers surrounding Valdivia. At my table was a couple and their 18 month old child from Australia. Actually, the guy was Kiwi and the his wife orignally from New Guinea. They were in the midst of a worldwide year long tour. I cannot imagine traveling for a year with a 18 month old, but they said they didn´t want to let his arrival on the scene deter them and so they decided to do the trip anyway. They looked pretty worn out 8 months into the trip but were interesting people to talk to. Never mind the child, the woman was still using her New Guinea passport and needed a visa for practically every country...what a pain that has to be. Anyway, the tour was good but I´m a little worn out on sightseeing. They did have some interesting information about the 1960 earthquake that hit Valdivia...was the most powerful ever recorded...9.5 on the Richter scale. It submerged the city in 10 feet of water and altered the landscape considerably.