Sunday, October 7, 2007

Peru, Machu Picchu, and the Inka Trail

Hello!

This post comes to you from Quito, Ecuador. Carrie and I got here on Saturday, and we've been resting up for our upcoming trip to the jungle. While we haven't done much exploring here in Quito yet, we've had a good time just going to nearby restaurants and bars... Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), we were able to catch the Cubs game at Wrigley Field, and watched them get swept away by the Diamondbacks. On a happier note for me, I was able to find a bar with NFL Sunday Ticket, and watched the Patriots game, followed by switching bars to watch the Red Sox dominate the Angels. Hopefully, the Yankees will fall soon, but we'll see... Anyways, the last narrative post I did went up to Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side. From there, we entered Peru...

We took a "tourist" bus from Copacabana, Bolivia to Puno, Peru, on the other side of Lake Titicaca. While on that bus, we spoke with one of the employees who decided to befriend us and help us find a hotel. As always, we were initially skeptical of people who tried to arbitrarily sell us things. However, this man (whose name was Palermo) offered a free taxi ride and a good rate, and showed us the hotel's location, which appeared to be decent. We took Palermo up on his offer, and we ended up in a reasonable hotel for only 50 soles (about 16 dollars) per night, which appeared to be a substantial discount off of their posted rates.

From there, Palermo was ready to offer us tours of the Peruvian islands of Lake Titicaca, and book us on a special guided tourist bus to Cusco that made stops to tour several locations along the way. While we managed to find a better deal for the island tours, we did take Palermo up on his bus offer. He even insisted that he call one of his friends in Cusco who would help us find a good price for a hotel. More on that later...

After spending some time in Puno, we realized that Peru was a much more touristy country than Bolivia. There were districts of Puno filled with tourists walking the streets, and English speaking Peruvians hassling you to enter their restaurant or buy their products. On our Peruvian islands of Lake Titicaca tour, we had a boat full of 25 tourists, which was quite different from our private tour on the Bolivian side!

The first stop on our island tour was to the Uros floating islands, which were quite amazing, although it was clearly very touristy. The islands were apparently constructed using reeds, and we watched a demonstration explaining how the islands were secured to the lake. A woman showed us her home, which featured solar powered electricity! There was some doubt amongst our tour group if the locals actually lived on this island, or if they actually lived on the mainland and came to the islands to put on a show for the tourists. My guess was that they actually lived there, but their way of life consisted mostly of tourism shows, and not the fishing and craft-making lifestyle that they talked about. Here are some pictures:

One of the floating islands (viewed from our boat):

From Lake Titicaca

The ground on the island, consisting of reeds.

From Lake Titicaca

Locals demonstrate construction techniques for the islands:

From Lake Titicaca

Carrie, dressed in traditional clothing with one of the island's residents:

From Lake Titicaca

An "authentic" reed boat, that Carrie and I rode on. While riding the boat, we noticed that underneath the initial reed layer was wood...

From Lake Titicaca

After the floating islands, our boat headed for the Taquile island. Here, we hiked for a few hours, but honestly didn't see too much stuff worth remembering, in my opinion. The boat ride took a couple hours to get to this island from the floating islands, and it took another 3 hours to get back to the mainland. My recommendation for future Peruvian travelers would be to focus on the Uros islands and skip the Taquile.

After our island tour, we got ready to head to Cusco. The bus ride was fairly uneventful -- we observed some sights on the way, but the "touristy" feel was a little overwhelming. There were clearly people waiting for us at each sight, ready to sell us anything and everything. Our favorite sight along the way was an Incan temple... the stonework was pretty incredible. Here are a couple pictures:

From Cusco, Peru


From Cusco, Peru

Once the bus arrived in Cusco, we were immediately mobbed by people telling us we should have them find us a hotel. One person gave a name that sounded familiar... I think it was the name Palermo gave us back in Puno. We decided to see what this guy had to offer. He ended up finding us a nice hotel where we enjoyed a comfortable 2 story room in a good location for only $25 per night!

Cusco was a nice town -- a good mix of tourists and locals, with lots of restaurants, bars, and sights. With our time in Cusco before our Inca trail tour, we visited the town of Pisac and their incredible market (Carrie has a post about that), as well as various museums around town that came with the Cusco "tourist pass", a fairly expensive (and possibly overpriced) ticket that got you into most sights around Cusco. As expected, Carrie became an expert at bargaining for free drinks and appetizers at restaurants.

One good story from Cusco involves me and my dirty shoes. As Carrie and I walked through the Plaza de Armas, a fairly young boy offerred to shine my shoes. Looking at my shoes, it looked like I actually needed it. We asked him for his price, and he said "whatever you want, maybe 3 soles ($1)". I told him I'd give him 2 soles. He began shining my shoes, and after abount 1 minute, a police officer approached, scolding the kid and telling him he couldn't do that where we were. So we moved to a different street away from the plaza. The kid them resumed, and actually was doing a nice job (see this picture at the halfway point):

From Cusco, Peru

This was when things got interesting... The kid began telling me that one cleaner he was using was "very special", and cost extra. Since he was doing a good job, I had planned on paying him a little extra anyways, so I didn't really object. Then, ANOTHER police officer came, yelled at the kid, and told us we should only pay him 1 sole (abour $0.30). After the police officer left, the kid told us that since he was using the "special cleaner", we needed to pay him TEN SOLES ($3.33), to which we laughed and told him we'd give him 5 (what we had been planning to give him). He shook his head, saying that was no good, but he finished the job, and we gave him 5 soles, and left. He appeared unhappy, but we felt he was going to look unhappy unless he successfully rippped us off, so we felt fine about the whole thing.

OK -- let's get to the big stuff... The Inka Trail and Machu Picchu:

Last spring, we reserved our trek with Peru Treks, an organization that appeared to be highly recommended by some books and websites. Generally speaking, they did not disappoint. Our group consisted of 15 hikers, 2 cooks, 2 guides, and 20 porters to carry all of the equipment. There were 4 days of hiking, 3 nights spent in tents along the way. On the last day, we arrived at Machu Picchu, where we explored for most of the day before heading back to Cusco on the train.

Our tour group consisted of 8 friends (all about 24 years old and aspiring accountants) from Ireland, 3 friends from Scotland, 2 friends from England, and Carrie and I. Our group was very friendly, and it was nice for Carrie and I that everyone spoke English, so we didn't feel left out of any conversations. Unfortunately, by the end of the trek, our group was in rough shape, as everyone but 2 of the trekkers got sick during the trip, and one trekker through his back out and had to be carried to Machu Picchu on a stretcher!

From Inka Trail - ...


From Inka Trail - ...

As for the crew from Peru Treks, they were exceptional. Our guides, Victor and Puma, were both knowledgeable about the area, and were also good at managing the different speeds of the hikers. Carrie and I felt that they allowed us enough freedom to hike on our own, while still being fully in control and aware of what was going on. Our two cooks made surprisingly gourmet meals throughout the trip. Each day, we got a full breakfast, a snack for the hike, a 3-4 course lunch, another 3-4 course dinner, and tea after every meal! There are some decent food pictures in the photo album, which you can get to by clicking here.

I need to dedicate a separate paragraph for the porters. Some porters carried food and cooking equipment, others carried tents and camping gear, and others carried luggage for the trekkers. Trekkers had the option to rent a duffel bag, which they could fill with 6kg worth of gear to be carried by a porter. Once you filled the bag, a porter carried your bag, and the bags of 2 OTHER PEOPLE. All porters carried up to 20kg worth of gear at one time. Here's the incredible part... On a typical day, we'd be woken up, and breakfast would be ready in 30 minutes. After breakfast, the guides and trekkers would start out on the trail. Midway through the trek, we'd here running behind us, and porters would RACE PAST US with 20kg worth of gear!

From Inka Trail - ...

Once we got to our location for lunch, the dining and cooking areas were already completely set up, food was being prepared, and the porters were CLAPPING FOR US for bravely hiking the trail with our tiny day packs! After lunch, we would start hiking, the porters could clean up, then race past us, and by the time we got to our campsite, the tents, dining areas, and cooking areas were already set up, and the porters were clapping again! It was really incredible.

As for the trek itself, it was HARD. Day 1 was the "easy day", where we hiked in fairly flat elevations. Carrie and I, trying to keep ourselves in the best shape as possible, took it easy on the first night. We quickly realized we had a fun group of trekkers when the rest of our group immediately started drinking beers upon arriving at the campsite! They managed to completely clean out the supply held by the woman living at the campsite! Here is a video of Carrie at our first campsite:



Day 2 was when things started getting really tough. Most of the day was uphill, and very steep. In addition, some of our fellow trekkers began falling ill with some sort of nasty stomach flu. The uphill sections were extremely tough -- Carrie and I would take 20 steps, rest, take 20 more steps, rest, and repeat. Finally, we reached the highest point on the Inka Trail:

From Inka Trail - ...

After the summit, we headed downhill for another couple hours. While we welcomed not having to climb anymore, the downhill was hard because of its steepness. I tweaked my ankle a bit after landing on some steps badly, and my knees began to ache from the constant downhill. Finally, we arrived at our campsite, where we rested up.

Day 3 was not much easier, unfortunately. It was the longest distance hiking day, featuring both uphills and downhills. In addition, new group memebers were becoming sick. Probably the only good things about this day were the tropical scenery and the fact that there were shower facilities at the 3rd campsite.

From Inka Trail - ...

Unfortunately, I became the newest victim of the stomach bug during the 3rd night. I won't get into details, but I'll say that it was a long and unpleasant night. To make matters worse, we needed to wake up at 3:45 am!

For day 4, we had the rude awakening in darkness. I was unable to really eat much breakfast, and we started out on the hike to Machu Picchu. I moved slowly, step by step, gradually built up an appetite, and was eventually able to eat some snacks. I was not alone in my difficulties -- another girl got sick as well, and our trekker with the bad back was now unable to walk. Miraculously, we eventually made it to the Sun Gate, where we got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. In this photo, Carrie and I are with our assistant guide, Puma. You can see Machu Picchu in the distant background:

From Inka Trail - ...

After the Sun Gate, we headed downhill to Machu Picchu itself. It truly is a remarkable place, having been constructed many hundreds of years ago! What was hard was that so many people (myself included) were really exhausted by the time we actually got there. While our head tour guide gave us the Machu Picchu tour, I found myself walking to each point, listening to the first minute of his talk, and then involuntarily dosing off. Luckily, Carrie had a bit more energy and was able to absorb more of the information. Below are a couple of my favorite pictures, but I'd highly encourage everyone to view the full photo album... we put captions in for many of the pictures.

From Inka Trail - ...


From Inka Trail - ...


From Inka Trail - ...


Generally speaking, while I thought the tour company was great, I'm not sure I'd recommend the full 4 day trek. It is very grueling, unless you are a seasoned trekker in great shape who really loves this kind of thing. By the time we got to the best part, we were exhausted. Instead, I'd recommend just taking the train from Cusco to the Machu Picchu city of Aguas Calientes, where you can then take a short bus to the ruins.

OK!! Enough for now... Look for a new post maybe in about a week regarding our Ecuadorian adventures!

5 comments:

Ann Marie said...

Hi Dan & Carrie - your trip sounds amazing!!! The pictures are beautiful - just like in my Social Studies book in grade school - amazing.

Thanks so much for keeping us all up to date. Looking forward to hearing about Ecuador!

Anonymous said...

that poor little shoe shine kid probably had to feed his whole family...you should have given him the higher amount

Dan said...

Actually -- I gave the shoe shine kid more than double what I said I would... Before he started I told him I would give him 2, and I gave him 5. If I gave him 10 he would have complained and asked for 20.

Anonymous said...

the cop probably beat him and took his money after you left anyway, so it probably doesn't matter; don't be surprised if the "special" ingredient he was using was llama manure

Daniel H. said...

That's a mighty fine belt buckle you got there, ma'am.