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Andes Mountains and Machu Picchu Travelogue

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Travel Journal - Lima to Cusco to Machu Picchu

10-9-98 Lima
It’s Friday, three days into this trip and it’s time to collect my thoughts on all I’ve seen and experienced so far. First, I love it here. The people have all been very friendly and have been very helpful – even when we have had difficulty communicating. Many people know some English, so between the occasional Spanish word I know and the English they know, it’s been enough for me to get by. Sometimes it’s taken a little extra effort on someone’s part – like pointing out the ticket office at the bus depot.

But I’ll back up. Tuesday night I arrived in Lima about 9:30 pm. Once clearing customs and leaving with my bags, I was surrounded by eager taxi drivers. After sign language and “telephono”, I chose the driver that pointed me to the phones and waited with me while I called Miriam.

It was a nice evening spent with a typical Peruvian woman – black hair, dark eyes – really quite attractive, though showing her age a bit – what – about 37. On her suggestion we went to the Miraflores section where we had a couple of drinks. Her English was not excellent but we talked pretty well.

I had made arrangements with the taxi driver to pick me up in the morning and it was off to the airport where I met a nice American couple from Hawaii. The Aeroperu ticket agent had given me zero directions to the departure gate so I had to wing it. But many people were waiting with Lonely Planet Peru Guides and since Cusco is such a famous Peruvian city, I figured I was in the right place.

The American couple and I were going to share a taxi from the airport, but when I arrived there was a taxi driver there with a sign with my name – sent by Explorandes. Off we went to the Royal Inca II – me with my two huge bags and a large briefcase – they with three small knapsacks total. They didn’t have reservations so I suggested they check in first to see if they could negotiate a better rate than my reservation. He did well, negotiating the room rate down 15%, which they also passed on to me. We were then talked into a bus tour of the major ruins and sights around Cusco. A decent thing to do as it saved me the awesome walk it would’ve taken and I had planned. Plus I gained explanations I wouldn’t have gotten on my own.

The next day – Thursday – my first full day in Cusco, I must’ve walked 20 grueling miles. Up the mountainside to near Sachsayhuaman, where I had a marvelous view of the city. Met some nice kids that tried to have a conversation with me, and we successfully traded a few thoughts. I asked and they pointed out San Cristobal church, built on Incan ruins, so I made my way there. Then all around the city, including their very crowded, backward, and fascinating market area. Everything could be found here – dried frogs, dried sardines, live frogs, skinned frogs, dried llamas or alpacas – I’m not sure which – hung at one stall. Also, open air meat and fish stalls. Vegetables of many kinds, most I did not recognize. Also clothes, plumbing supplies, electronics, shoes….

Returning to my side of town I was reminded of how it is impossible to move without being accosted for shoeshines, or to buy necklaces, watercolor paintings, cheap pottery and brass. And occasionally children begging. But for the most part, I found these people to be very industrious, hard working people, trying to earn a survival.

My first meal in Cusco was Cui – the local delicacy which is roasted guinea pig. Served with it’s claws and head with teeth showing. But tasty – like chicken. And my first night in Peru, with Miriam, I had the favorite national drink – the Pisco sour. Kind of like whiskey sour but with Pisco – something like Tequilla.

While wandering around Cusco, I found an internet “café” where I could buy one hour of internet time for 4 soles (3 soles = \\$1). So I bought a half hour for something like a bit over a dollar. Not bad. In that time I signed up for a Yahoo mail account, and emailed Tanya. Not bad for a half hour.

I also spent a lot of time shopping. Bought an alpaca jacket for 70 soles, a wall hanging for 35, a bag for 30, and an alpaca rug (so soft) for, I think, 55 soles.

Ollantaytambo was a trip – 21 people packed into a little van that swayed and rocked over cliffy mountain roads. And passing other cars on curves. But the fun was the adventure of being packed close to the native Peruvians, getting the tickets, trying to understand about the bus change and needing another ticket in Urubamba.

The people are so fiercely proud of their heritage that the hostal owner was very disappointed that I didn’t get to all the cliff-side ruins. Brought me a book (which I had already purchased) that explains the Incan legends.

After I left Ollantaytambo I went to Pisac. Another trip. The hike to the absolutely fantastic ruins was the most rugged of my life. Carrying my Ollantaytambo bag and my knapsack on a very hot day was quite literally brutal. And 2/3 of the way up I realized I didn’t have enough water and became quite dehydrated. I almost gave up the hike at one point. At another, almost left my bag along the trail to go ahead without it, thinking I could pick it up on the way back. Still had not seen another soul during the hike. But I had to go on. Kept seeing more and better sights ahead, whenever I came over a rise and could see ahead. Fortunately, I didn’t give up the hike or leave my bag. The ruins were wonderful and people were there that were returning to Pisac by the route I had just come.
On the way back, a Quechan woman in traditional dress sold me a bottle of water for only one sole more than I would’ve paid in town. Steps to the ruins were so steep, they were scary to come down. But what spectacular beauty!

10-11-98 Starting the trek
The hike to Machu Picchu! There are 13 of us not counting porters. Four Americans besides myself, a Swede, three Argentinians, a couple from the UK, and the last couple I haven’t spoken with yet. (From Spain I later learned).

We got off to a very late start, not leaving Cusco until about 12:30. It’s election day and everyone must vote – it is obligatory. So the traffic out of town was difficult. And on top of that, I woke up with diarrhea. Yuk – I’m sure it was from the chicken the night before. AND – the hotel receptionist called me at 8 am and said I had to check out – there were other guests! As if I wasn’t one. Later, I saw a sign that actually said that 8 am was check out time. So I checked out and laid down in the lobby for most of the next four hours. By this time I had taken the neomycin that the friendly Americans had left for me – a travel tip they said every international traveler should know about. Little did I know I’d need it so soon after they passed this tip on to me. I’d also taken one Cipro by then. Fortunately, the D stopped but I had a fierce headache, which might have been due to the dehydration of the day before. In any case, I wasn’t in great shape to begin a hike into the mountains.

The ride to the trailhead was a trip. The last two hours was on a very narrow rough road that kept our speed down to under about 10 mph. Twice we had to get out of the bus so that the bus could pass through some tough spots. One was the river which flooded the road, the second was a huge stone in the road where the road was so narrow the driver feared going over the edge. But the worst of it was that we didn’t start our hike until about 4:45 and it’s dark by 6:00. So the last 1-1/2 hours of our hike was in the dark! And on trails that seemed to be on cliffs. But while we could see, the scenery was beautiful. And we passed by several Quechan homes where some of the children didn’t speak Spanish – or understand the Spanish for “What’s your name?”

As we hiked in the dark we could see the stars and lightning at the same time. We might get rain while we sleep.

10-12-98 Continuing the trek
Before anything else I must say that today’s hike was as difficult as anything imaginable. Very, very strenuous climbing 4,000 ft to an altitude of about 12,300 ft. We are now camped in the clouds at a most spectacular place – a view as wonderful as imaginable and always changing as we look horizontally to a set of beautiful mountain peaks, ever changing with the passing clouds.

We awoke this morning to see nearby ruins of Llactapata. The Incan portion dating to the 1400’s, but earlier settled by the Wati as early as 700 BC.

There are 25 porters to our 13 hikers. They carry enormous loads and some are mere children. Camp is always prepared by the time we arrive. Shortly after they bring us a basin of hot water for washing, then a little later yet is tea. We are offered, really, tea, coffee or coca, which is also used for tea.

Eva, the American woman who is 60 has had a very tough time of it – always arriving last to camp and very exhausted. And this is a woman that is clearly in good shape for her age. The trailing guide has been carrying her backpack and having her chew coca leaves to keep her going.

Amanda, her daughter, has the attention of David, the Argentine student, and Karl, the Swede – a candy company salesman. I have the attention of Olga, the woman from Spain. But she doesn't speak English. Everyone on this trip is very nice. I like them all a lot.

Today was a very hot day for the walk. I left camp with water – supposedly boiled, but it was the foulest tasting brown water I’ve ever tasted. Only when absolutlely necessary did I drink, and then only small sips. At the first little village – what should three little huts spaced closely together be called? – I bought water. And again at the next. The price went up the higher we climbed.

12,300 ft and the sounds of toads croaking around our campsite.

An interesting dinner tonight. In this part of Peru, dinner begins always with a bowl of soup. Through most of soup everyone was very quiet, unlike how our previous meals have been. So the guide, Narciso, began to tell us about what to expect for day 3. Everyone was very interested because he told us before the trip that day 3 was the hardest. And yet none of us could imagine anything worse than we experienced today. So he was very philosophical in his very heavy accent – telling us to live within ourselves, to accept ourselves and to find a comfortable place inside. That he did not want anyone to collapse – that the Inca trail was “one way” only and if anyone could not go on, the porters must come back to carry them out – that it is very difficult. Earlier in the day several of us had wondered out loud what would happen if someone broke an ankle or was otherwise unable to continue and was in need of getting out. This was the tough answer.

But the group was very quiet, very tired after our hard day. But it was Brian’s 37th birthday and his wife had arranged for the camp cook to bake a birthday cake. Candles and the whole bit. She also made a cheesecake – not an easy feat given that we were in the middle of nowhere and without conveniences. It was all a very nice treat.

The 13 yr old Argentine asked his father for altitude sickness medicine.

I caught Olga looking at me at dinner. She does not speak English and so is left out of much of the conversation, though sometimes the Argentines will speak to her and Angel in Spanish.

They supply us with air mattresses. My new sleeping bag has a nylon shell and wants to slip off the air mattress every time I move. So I’ve been laying clothes in between to keep my bag from slipping.

It is very cold tonight so when I had my water bottle refilled with boiled water – still hot – I used it as a hot water bottle to warm the inside of my sleeping bag. Weird – desert like heat during this grueling hike to reach an altitude where we can see snow at an even level across from us on a neighboring mountain.

Several of us had a very good laugh. After most of us had arrived (with much relief) at camp and got settled, a woman came to one of our tents, thinking it was her camp. She then discovered that it was not her camp, that she would have to hike on and was so disappointed. We could imagine intensely. Our morbid sense of humor (or relief to be resting in such a beautiful place).

A disadvantage of this beautifully scenic ledge campsite is that our tents are very close together. I can hear the Spanish couple talking, I can hear the UK couple talking, I can hear the American couple. I can hear when people roll over in their sleeping bags. Go to sleep I feel like saying. Now I’ll sleep.

What a trip it’s been today. It was supposed to be our longest day so we were up early. We had three mountain passes to cross, the first 1000 feet higher than we camped. The fast group today was David, the Argentine student, Karl, the Swede, Peter and Kitt, the UK couple (she is from Malaysia, he from Scotland), and myself. We ate a snack at that beautiful pass at 4,200 meters with a gorgeous view in all directions.

Getting up in the morning we learned that Max, the 13 year old Argentine, had been sick in the night and vomited. Narciso said it was normal and due to altitude sickness. But lo and behold, Max arrived at lunch shortly after the Spaniards who arrived after us fast hikers. So he was doing well again.

Our lunch site was about halfway up the second pass, which was only about 300 feet lower than the first pass. But after we crossed the first pass we descended almost as far as we had climbed to reach it from our campsite. So our day was to be long ascents followed by long descents.

On this day our fast group was faster than our porters. We had arrived at our lunch site at about 10:30 and had a lot of time before lunch. But about a half hour later it began to rain. Fortunately, our lunch tent was up so the five of us took cover. Soon after, the rain turned to hail with occasional lightning. This was bad news for most of our group that was still on the trail. It continued to rain and hail off and on through lunch and Narciso urged the faster of us to set off as it might get worse. So Karl and I set off – me with only a rain jacket on and no rain pants.

The stone trail up that second pass was one of the first few that was near a cliff and it was very wet and getting icy when we arrived. Also very steep, kind of scary. To top it off, lightning was nearby as we reached the top of the pass.

It continued to rain on and off all the way to our campsite. Several times along the way I caught up to the porter that was carrying my bag, one other of comparable size, a tent and a large tarp to cover it all. Must’ve been at least 80 pounds. I would help him to cover his load with the tarp after he managed to get it settled on his back. This porter was a teenager and real struggled with this load.

We are once again camped at a beautiful site. But I believe that the porter arrived too late to get the best of sites in this general vicinity. This is the kind of site where someone might groggily roll out of their tent at night to relieve themselves and step off a cliff.

I’ve been unable to get my feet warm since arriving – or since getting wet. The lesson learned from last night of getting boiled water, still warm, before going to bed has helped.

I find myself thinking of Tanya, who I just met a couple of weeks before leaving on this trip.

Today for tea, we had popcorn and crackers. The popcorn was a treat. For dinner, there were two glasses of wine. These little things are great pleasures.

Amanda, the American in her mid-20’s had altitude sickness today. She and her mother arrived at camp very late tonight and she did not eat dinner. That makes 3 of 13 stricken by that problem. And several others really struggling, I think.

I think Karl was genuinely worried about survival today, believing he needed the dry clothing in the bag carried by the porter to survive, mentioning its importance several times. Maybe rightfully so. The thought certainly crossed my mind as I felt cold and damp crossing that high pass.

All of the hikers were awoken this morning by a rooster crowing at 3 am. It continued through breakfast and on until we left camp at about 7:45. During breakfast after we shared our gripes about this rooster, the damn thing crowed again. My comment was that this was the Duracell chicken – pause – it just keeps crowing and crowing. I thought this was very funny but only got about “2” on the laugh-o-meter.

10-17-98 Machu Picchu
It’s been awhile since I’ve written. So much has happened. But I should first catch up with the hike to Machu Picchu. The last day of the hike on the Inca trail was a bit disappointing - it started raining after lunch and we hiked in a cloud off and on until arriving at Intipunko – the Gate of the Sun. The view of Machu Picchu was spectacular but hazy at first, then obscured by clouds. As I neared it, it cleared and became astounding.
We visited it briefly then rode the bus to Aguas Calliente, a town nestled at the base of these spectacular, sharply rising mountains. From a distance, beautiful. Once there, very seedy. That night as I walked around town, feeling very unsafe, I stopped at a little bar. The server spoke English so we started a conversation. Very surprisingly to me, I recognized the music playing – Massive Attack’s Mezanine. So we talked music. He claimed to have lived in the US – Seattle and San Diego – coincidences with Brian and Donna (Seattle) and with Eva (San Diego). I didn’t believe him until he also said that he had lived in New “Joysey” as well.

Later, we had a good dinner including Pisco Sours and two bottles of wine. The wine compliments of the Argentine, who I think was very relieved to have finished the hike. The guy is filthy rich and owns his own highway construction company in Argentina that builds roads in three countries of South America. Has homes in Buenos Aires and New York City. Had just returned from a hunt in Alaska and would soon be going off to visit a friend in Spain. After dinner, Karl and I went to a “disco”. A real dive of a place, smelled of urine – not atypical with the sanitation problems of this underdeveloped country.

The next morning I was hung over and my legs felt weak. We toured Machu Picchu with one of Narcisso’s friends, who was able to tell us a great deal about many of the nooks and crannies of Machu Picchu. It is a truly fascinating place. Later, I joined Angel, Olga, and Leon (the trailing guide) for a hike to the top of Huaynu Picchu. Those that try the hike must sign in on the way up, providing name, passport no. and nationality. Then sign again when successfully returned. In hindsight now, I'm sure it is the information they need to contact the US embassy to arrange for the surviving relatives to be informed of the loss of their loved one. I got to within about 20 minutes of the top and totally freaked. Sent the rest on ahead and waited for their return. The longer I waited, sitting there clinging to the cliff and looking down over the edge, the more frightened I became of the return trip. The trail was narrow, extremely steep with a sheer cliff thousands of feet down. Easier going up, when not looking down! Three Europeans, William and Caroline (a couple), and Nicole stopped and talked to me on their way down. I was very dehydrated, having been told we could not carry bottles of water into Machu Picchu, so they gave me some to drink. They suggested I come down with them – something I did because I felt more comfortable with them than with Angel, Olga (the Spaniards that didn’t speak English) and Leon, who I hadn’t gotten to know because he had spent much of the hike helping Eva. The Europeans were very helpful - knew the right things to say – look at the wall and concentrate on the steps and to not look over the edge, etc. I’m not sure I would’ve made it with Olga and Angel, or without the good advice and confidence instilled by these good people. With Angel and Olga it felt awkward. The night before I had made passes at Olga during dinner while getting drunk. Earlier today, while touring Machu Picchu, I apologized to Angel but he didn’t understand what I was apologizing for. I fumbled around trying to avoid admitting that I’d made a pass at his girlfriend – something I thought had been obvious. But then, it was never clear they were boyfriend/girlfriend.

Next, I traveled to Iquitos, where I began my journey down the Amazon River to Leticia, Columbia.

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