July 31: A Day in Cusco

Today was a day of laundry, shopping and enjoying the local cuisine. For me, the laundry was all the clothes I borrowed and the first day of wearing my own clothes.

Cusco

Cusco was was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th-century Spanish conquest. In 1983 Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It has become a major tourist destination, hosting nearly 2 million visitors a year. The Constitution of Peru designates it as the Historical Capital of Peru.[2] In 1983 Cusco was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO with the title “City of Cuzco”.  Like many places we visited it is a mixture of the traditional and the modern.

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The first tasty experience was in the local market. As soon as you walk in there are rows of ladies waving at you to come to their station to make you fresh juice. It had everything in it. Fruit I had never heard of, vegetables, bee pollen honey and the secret ingredient was dark beer.

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After enjoying that treat everyone went their ways to explore the market. Rick and I set off to comb the market for food and snacks for our bus trip tomorrow. The market had everything. A isle of breads that were being sold by the local women, an isle of cheeses, rice, beans, fruits and potatoes. There was a isle of raw meat that we did not go down-it is not like Wegmans were everything is sliced, packaged AND refrigerated. Just a huge isle of slabs of unidentified meat and chickens. We bought fruit, nuts, empanadas and sweet bread.

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We all met back from our daily adventures for dinner at a wonderful restaurant complete with music and entertainment.

We interrupt these wonderful pics of delicious food to tell you about Cuy.

This would be a good time to tell you about Cuy. What animal sounds like Kweeeeeeee? Give up? Ok, I will tell you, Guinne pig. Guinne pig is eaten all over the area. You can order in restaurants or on the streets. Guinne pigs are pests for the farmers that eat the bread crops so there is an abundance of them. You have heard of Man vs Food.  Well we had Tom vs Cuy  – the brave one amongst us to try it.

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Ok, then — that’s it for this day……

July 30th: Machu Picchu and the day I get my luggage.

After I good nights sleep in a comfy bed and hearty breakfast we started out early to beat the crowds going up to Machu Picchu.  We caught the bus and back up the winding road. The bus would serpentine up the side of the mountain climbing 3000 feet- with no guard rails and at times having to pass the bus coming down. There were a few of us that had to sit on the inside isle seat and look the opposite way.  Thank you Mr. Tom for being my seat-mate down and up and up and down again – and for always looking out for me the entire trip.

 

 

Machu Picchu

First, we were taught how to properly say Picchu. The first “c”is a hard one. So pronounce it from now on as Pickchew or else you are saying Penis. Instead of saying old mountain you would be saying old Penis — I will leave it at that.  Things you never thought you would learn.

There is so much history and questions about this site. Why is it here, what was it used for and how did they construct this without tools? No one knows for sure but there are theories.  Chino and Omar were our guides explaining history to us along the entire site.  Do yourself a favor and watch some videos on the history of one of the 7th Wonders of the World.  It is truly amazing.  Here is a link to the a National Geographic 101.

 

 

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After going yet again down on the bus ride from another demension  – we spent a few hours in the town, met up for a phenomenal lunch and got on a 2 hour train to take us back to Cusco.

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This was no ordinary train ride.

They served tea and dessert, performed a traditional dance and even put on a fashion show of the finest alpaca sweaters (200-300$).  Here is a little bit of the experience.  YES – that is my roomie!

 

And through the entire experience our fearless heroes were planning the next adventure.

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Another 2 hour bus ride back to Cusco and I have clean pants, shirts and not only women’s underwear — but my own!

TRAIN CRASH

No, not ours, but exactly hours later on the very same train there was a collision.

 

July 29th: 4th and final day on trail – 11km

We were woken up at 530am – or early as I told you —  to climb to the top of the campsite to watch the sun rise. Our Wawqi’s were up there waiting with hot tea. With..hot tea.It was a celebration that the hardest parts were over and we ONLY had a 6 hour trek DOWN to Machu Picchu. ONLY! And my feet and legs are barkin. I will never forget all of us being up there  – being together as a f-a-m-i-l-y and being alone in our thoughts at the same time – with new friends and old.  I continued to be blessed and surrounded in my life with people like these folks — crazy?  a bit.  Loving and kind — a lot.

Have I mentioned how much cocoa tea we had?  Oh and check out the wawqi’s headlamp holding the sugar.  I hope one of us left him ours.

Wait till you see this – 

We came down from tea and breakfast was waiting. We had our last breakfast el fresco and the cook made us quinoa pancakes with bananas and kiwi! What a treat and with maple syrup. They don’t have pancakes in Peru and they made it just for us.

This has to be my favorite picture and moment of our trip:

Today our destination was down to the Machu Picchu.  It would take us 5 hours through a vast set of Inca terraces full of swallows and orchids

Omar

Omar was all about the “MOUNTAIN”.  We loved him. He was so knowledgable about plants, birds and was always talking and learning from others.  He was also the one that would teach us about the traditional beliefs and you could feel the deep pride he had for his country and heritage.

Hey — Llama ahead! Yes, we were told to put our hiking poles on the right side and simply pass them.

They don’t call me a Llama Mama for no reason….

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If you look to the left of the picture in the middle you see some buildings.  Yes, that is what we need to get to for our lunch.

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But first navigating down the steps…

After another amazing lunch complete with jello.   This would be our last time we would be with our wawqi’s.  We had a thank you ceremony for them and shook each hand, thanking them for their service and presented them with a tip. It was such an honor to do so after seeming how hard they worked to make our experience seamless.

We said goodbye and started the final leg of the trip.  Chino had one more surprise for us.    We got to the Winaywayna sign and he had us look down to the right and face the mountain side.  He then had us all turn around at once to see this:

and this

Winaywayna

The name means “forever young” in Quecha. At this site, the Inca terraced the entire mountainside for growing food, and built a two-level complex connected by a cascade of fifteen baths. Since it is only 3miles from Machu Picchu it is thought that it was a  religious center.  The complex is divided into two architectural sections, with temples at the top and more rustic structures below. As many as 19 different springs carry water to various stone baths located at different levels throughout the characteristic Inca terracing.  We had a few moments to explore and experience the majesty like this pic —

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And then of course one of us had to make the most of it !!

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And 2 hours later we reached our destination.  We all stopped on the trail just before the Sun Gate – or Intipunku.  It is believed that this was some kind of control gate for the people who enter and go out of Machu Picchu.  It was a celebration thanks to Izzy for the chocolate. It was a first glance of the site.  If you are wondering what the zig-zag roads are that is the only way up to the site by tourists.  Yes, will tell you about the bus that we took to get down and up again on those roads.

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We would not be touring today but walking past it to get to a bus to take us into town where a shower and bed awaited. We were a bit bedraggled looking group and very pungent as we passed the tourists. A cold beer while waiting in the long line for the bus hit the spot. We took a crazy bus ride down the side of a mountain into town and found our hotel the High Classic. It was quaint and beautiful and most importantly had an elevator

 

July 28th: Dead Women’s Pass: 16kl  

Today was the big day. It was going to be a 11 hour day climbing up and down two passes. I was either going to make the 13,800 foot pass or would be a dead women myself. We were starting from approximately 12,300 which may not seem like a lot of elevation but at that altitude and the rise it was tough. Well, I am writing this so I made it but not without going through some of hardest physical and emotional times along the way.

They woke us up at 5:00am, breakfast at 5:30am and started walking by 6ish. This picture shows the pass we are heading for over my left shoulder. Look for the boob with the nipple.  Oh, sure it looks close enough…… 

At about 9am I reached the pass. Chino was playing music, the family was cheering and my roomie came down to meet me with a snickers bar.  Once you reached the top we received a pin for our hats by Omar.

A quick rest, a few pics and then down we go. We had another 2 hours of a rocky trail before we would stop for some soup.

On the way up when ever a Wawqi was passing us you had to stop  to let them pass – and of course yell out Allillachu Wawqi to them – Hello Brother!  Going down was a bit different because on top of carrying 50lbs on their backs in addition to navigating the rocks they like to run down. We could keep walking but had to stick to the mountain side as they ran by. Just……..unbelievable to see their agility and strength.

There were so many times I would look back and see where I came from.  It was true amazing what Mr. Peru (ask me about that) and I did — I mean we all did.  My F-A-M-I-L-Y.

Down that side of the mountain and then a nice lunch was waiting for us at around 3:00pm.   The goal was to get to our campsite before sundown and all we had left was a more gentle 2 hour hike to our 11,300ft campsite.  It was amazing and a little scary at the same time. It was on top of peak proving the most glorious views. It was very cold and we were tired.

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We all hopped in our tents to rest and get ready for the cold night ahead. Dinner at 7:00pm, bed by  8:30pm. I did it. We did it, as a family does – supporting and loving each other……um, hate to interrupt this wonderful moment of celebration to tell you that we were just told that we are waking up again early, early, early to climb up a hill to see the sunrise.  La la Salama…….

July 27th: Up With The Chickens

Did I tell you we were sharing our campsite with chickens?  At 6am the Wawqi’s came around with cocoa tea and hot water.  Today’s hike would take us from 8,737 to 12,300 ft. It was a beautiful hike — always up of course.  Wow – it was always amazing to look back to see how far and high you came.  We started at the bottom on the brown mountains just the day before.

Our campsite was always “just a little further”  – but I heard instead of chickens we would have Llamas.  It is hard to see but the little red dot is a farmer with Llamas and we are heading there.

 

My Roomie – Linda

Linda and I were tent and hotel mates.  It was so much of her support and love that added so much to my experience of this trip.  Overnight we would get into our tent and there would always be a break out of the giggles.  We were told that it was going to be very cold this night – down in the 30’s/40’s.  On top of that we had the longest and hardest hike the next day.  We would sit in our tent and meticulously plan out how we were going to keep warm, what we were going to wear the next day and the most important conversation was about how we were going to get up in the middle of the night to pee.  The grey tent was not that far away, but when you have to leave the warmth of you sleeping bag in the middle of the night it is a long and cold walk. Sooooooo, sometimes you just go outside your tent.  I have no idea what time it was, but I had to go.  I unzipped the tent and I hear from Linda “be careful when you pee – it flows towards the tent.  Well that started the giggles.  Then trying to get back in the tent and in the sleeping bag was like trying to stuff the Michelin Man in a stuff sack.  That was it — we both just burst.

 

This is a Linda stroke of genius — she used her puffy jacket to keep her feet and legs warm.

Thank you Pablo – we decided instead to go with Paul’s suggestion of filling our water bottles with hot water as a thermos to keep our feet warm.  Perrrrrrrrfectissssimo.

July 26th: Ollantaytambo and Our First Day on the Trail.

We packed up for the hike and first stopped at archeological site of Ollantaytambo.

This was our introduction to the engineering minds of the Incas. The walls are all built by stone and the further you climb the more amazing the craftsmanship is. In the pic above you can easily imagine how they used rocks to form create the walls closer to you. Well, wait until you start to go up.

As we climbed higher the rock construction would change.  Look at the pics below.  It starts out at the “Wow – how did they get the rocks up here and how did they get the rocks to be seamlessly fit tougher – amazing”

Then you get to the “how the hell” section.

And, then the “that’s impossible it must have been aliens” section.

We made a quick stop at a local store on the way to the trailhead and bought my poles and a sun hat- the last two items I needed to start.

We met up with our porters who were packing up for the trip. There would be 32 of them to support the 17 of us. Chino explained to us that the word porter is not the proper word to use since these people are Quetchwan. The way we were asked to refer to them are our Wawqi – or brother of man. So, from now on you will see me use the word Wawqi

We went through 2 check points where we had to show our passports to make sure they match the names on the permits we had to have to climb. This is a controlled park and only 500 a day are allowed on the trail. Across the Urubamba River and up we started.

Our first surprise from Chino was when we came to the top of a pass. All we could see was a big cliff and a high drop off. He made us turn around lock arms and walk backwards. He had Omar and Edu in back of us for reassurance we would not go over. Yea…..He had us stop, turn around and this is what we saw. It was their way of saying welcome to the Machu Picchu Camino!

After conquering my first height challenge i was feeling pretty good.

When we got to our first camp, Tarayoc the waiki’s were all lined up to clap and high-five us. Needless to say, they were always there ahead of us. Camp would be set up including the food tent, our tents and the bathrooms before we go there.

Inside our tents for two were two thermarest mattresses, our green duffel bags and sleeping bags. The waiki’s would bring a small bowl of hot water and soap to our tents to clean up.

Since this was our first night we had an introductory ceremony where the waiki’s introduced themselves to us and us to them. We presented them with a bag of cocoa leaves, which is a traditional exchange, to thank them for the work ahead.

There was tea at 6pm and an amazing dinner at 7pm of trout and vegetables. It is still a mystery how they bring everything up on their backs for 4 days and serve 3 meals a day for 17 people plus 32 Wawqi’s.  The most amazing group of men.

JOI Goes to Peru

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

I went on another journey of inspiration. I traveled to Peru for two weeks. This trip is to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first JOI climbers to Kilimanjaro. The 08’ers were kind enough to let an 09’er tag along for the trek. The first week included a 4 day, 43 km hike on the Inca Camino through the Andes to Machu Picchu. The second week will be a bit more of a relaxing tour of Cusco, Puno, Lake Titicaca and Lima. Though on a Rick French (Pack, Paddle and Ski) trip there is always a bit of adventure in everything we do. I am writing this after completing the first week and what a week it was. It was one of the most physically and emotionally challenges I have had and filled with some of the most loving, beautiful and spiritual moments too. It is hard to explain the combination of hardship and joy at the same time – but you know me, I will give it try. Let’s start at the very beginning…

The plane trip that would not end —

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The pic from the air is to help tell two stories. The first one is that the trip here did not start out nor end as expected. So, I will tell you the second one first.  This was the first time we saw a glimpse of the Andes.  I was not expecting them to be so grand and of course did not consider that I would be trekking through them in a few days.  They are spectacular from the air and from the ground.

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The Andes is the longest mountain range in the world and the only ones taller are the Himalaya Mountains.  I have never experience such majesty and beauty.

The part of the flight story is that our 7am flight was cancelled out of Rochester.  They shipped us up to Toronto for a 6 hour layover.  When boarding the flight from Toronto to Lima they would not let us the flight because American Airlines never issued us a ticket.  Once we got that figured out we got on the flight and sat for 3 hours.  Finally taking off we got to Lima at 530am instead of 1030pm the night before – just in time to meet the rest of the group for our flight to Cusco. Oh, wait it gets better.  We land in Cusco and no luggage.  I did not get it until a week later.  Yes, with all my gear, clothes, boots, you name it.  Ended up borrowing a little bit from the group and buying at local markets to get me through the trek. So the outfits you see me wearing on the trek are not of my choosing.   It was awful but got through it.  So enough of that.

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

Chino

We arrived in Cusco and met by our guide Chino – real name is RRRRRRRRRRubin.

Chino would be our main guide for the first week.  He became everything to us, our tour guide, our trek leader, our historian, our supporter, our cheerleader, our problem solver, our friend and family.  We were also joined by Omar and Edu other wonderful and amazing guides that I will introduce to you later.

Pisac Citadel

First stop was Pisac Citadel – our first Inca site.  We quickly learned that there are 1000’s of Inca sites across the country with only a small percentage discovered and accessible.

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Pisac, a word of Quechua origins, means “partridge”. Inca tradition dictated building cities in the shape of birds and animals, and as such, Pisac is partridge shaped. The Inca ruins included a military citadel, religious temples, and individual dwellings, a cemetery and overlooks the Sacred Valley, between the Salkantay Mountains.

The “ridges” on the hillside are called terraces and we would soon see them everywhere. These terraces are how they developed farm land on mountainsides. The terraces leveled the planting area, but they also had several unexpected advantages. Here is a great site to learn more about this farming technique.

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It is hard to see in this pic but this is the side of a very steep mountain next to the site.  It is a cemetery.  If  you look hard you can see holes in the side and steps leading up to them.  You can’t tell from the pic, but there are 100s of them.  When people died they were embalmed with local herbs, put into a fetal position and placed in the side of the mountain. The mountains were their father and the earth their mother. This way they would be reborn.  We will come to learn how important the spirit of nature was part of the culture and part of their souls – an apparently mine.

After a lunch of llama — yes, you read that right we went to the Villa Urubamba.  Exhausting first day but already an amazing journey.

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

We were up early and went to the archeological site of Moray.

It was a fascinating to learn just how advanced the Incas were. Yesterday, we learned about the terraces.  This site showed the terraces in circles. The full purpose behind these concentric terraces isn’t fully known. However, it is widely believed that these ruins were once an agricultural laboratory. Each one of these terraces are a different depth, design and orientation to the sun, wind and temperature. These different micro climates at the different levels allowed them to study wild vegetation.

From there we walked to help get acclimated to the elevation and low and behold we came around the corner and there was lunch and the grey tent. For all my Kili climbing friends this will look so familiar and brought back such wonderful memories.

We even got a demonstration on how to use the grey tent since this would be our bathroom for 4 days on the trail. After lunch Chino “schooled” us about our days ahead and what to pack.

We then went to the Maras Salt Mines. This is an association of 350 families. Each of these pools are fed by an underground spring that starts to fill the bottom ones by a series of channels As they get filled rocks are placed to stop the flow and the next one is filed and so forth. It can take from 7 to 20 days to harvest the salt depending on the winds.

The Market

We stopped at a local market to see the Wegmans of Cusco.

So my luggage is not going to be here in time for my climb. We started looking for sweats, a jacket and underwear. Have you ever tried to shop with a group of people especially men for underwear and pants? You are lucky if you haven’t. I was also lucky – more then you know, and blessed.  My lady gang of Linda, Linda and Char formed a pride around me, kicked the men to the curb and found me some things to wear.

Chicha

After that experience, Chino took us to a Checharina where they make Checha of course. It is a traditional drink made of corn. They also had a flavored one of strawberries which was much tastier.

Our last meal was at a wonderful restaurant in town called El Huacatay. Then home to pack for the trip.

We were given one small green duffle that we could fill with what we wanted to have on the mountain.  The porters would carry these along with our sleeping bags. Since I did not have one I needed to rent one from the touring company. We also would carry our daypack and that was it for the next 4 days. The rest of the luggage would be waiting for us when we returned to Cusco the following Monday which for me…….we still did not  know where mine was.