Selling a Cow to Buy a Computer

My housekeeper, Maria, asked me about a month ago if I could bring back a laptop from the US for her nephew. He is hoping to study engineering next year and the family thought it would be beneficial if he got a computer. While he could buy a laptop here, apparently the prices are much better in the US. Generally Matt and I decline to bring back electronic items for people because we don’t want the responsibility or the potential to have to pay import taxes on it when we return to Peru. And because I am usually using a kitchen scale to stuff the last permissible 6 ounces into my luggage. But given that Maria’s family is not wealthy and would not have access to other people traveling to the US, I agreed to help her out.

Magnificent Maria

Magnificent Maria

I asked Maria what computer her nephew wanted. He didn’t know and she suggested that I just pick one out for him – they trust me. Are they kidding? I know nothing about computers except that I pitch a fit when ours doesn’t work properly and whine to Matt until he solves my problem. I suggested that her nephew talk to friends, someone at the university – basically anyone but me. I did contact my nephew, a US college student, to enlist his aid. He came up with a couple of low cost options and I presented them to Maria along with website addresses for her nephew to review them. (Now I know you are thinking, “but Kerry, her nephew doesn’t have a computer, you idiot.” Rest assured that there are internet cafes, and I am using the word cafe very loosely, all over our town.) And I heard nothing more about it.

Now Peruvians tend to bring up important matters at the last minute. I let the computer issue rest for awhile because I really didn’t want to be responsible for bringing one back with us. But I adore Maria and I knew she felt awkward asking the favor in the first place, so last week I asked if her nephew had decided on a computer. The response? “Well, it depends on whether they can sell a cow.” What?! The long and the short of it was that her brother needed to sell a cow to get the money for the computer. He took the cow to the market but the prices were just too low. The family suspects the low prices are because everyone is saving their money to buy turkeys for Christmas, so beef is not in demand. He tried again this past weekend, but the prices were still too low and he couldn’t take the loss on the cow. So Maria’s nephew won’t be getting a computer this Christmas.

I am reminded that in 2014 Peru is still a developing country where the farm ladies in the market wear traditional garb and yet chat on cell phones and where someone might need to sell a cow to buy a computer.

Vendors

Vendors

 

Happy Birthday, Dear Shannon!

 Happy Birthday, Shannon! This (true) story is for you.

THE SHARK

Opening Statements

“Hi Shannon, guess where I was this weekend?” I am on the phone with my 6-year-old niece.

“At the cottage?” She loves our cottage.

“Yep. I had a party. A bunch of my girl friends were there.”

“Did you catch any fish?”

Crap. I forgot about her fishing fascination. Think, Kerry, think. You are a lawyer. Answer truthfully and move on.

“Nope. But we swam and played games and-“

 

Cross Examination

“Weren’t they biting?” Shannon sounds skeptical.

Double crap. Think, think. Your job is to spin answers to tough questions.

“Nope, they weren’t biting.” Technically true: we weren’t giving them anything to bite.

 

In for the Kill

“Well, did you even try?” Her indignation is palpable.

The witness caves.

“No, we didn’t. We didn’t fish.”

Schooled, Counselor.

A Weekend in the Country

From the first time I heard of Granja Porcon, I had no interest in going there. About an hour from Cajamarca, numerous people mentioned it to us as a “must see” tourist site. But when I asked what one did there, all I heard was that it was in the country and had a zoo. In the country? Don’t I live in the country? Roosters wake me up long before dawn, cows graze on the side of the running path, horses frolic along the bank of the river a few blocks from my house, I recognize the burros that carry a farmer’s milk down our street every day…how much more country did I need? As for a zoo, I have mixed feelings about them and was pretty sure a small, private zoo would make me feel less mixed and more distressed. Add to the fact that Granja Porcon is run by Evangelists and had been described as both a commune and a cult and I was not sold.

But as our entertainment options are limited, when some friends suggested we go there for the weekend in order to take advantage of the hiking trials, I was persuaded. We set off Friday after work in Korrine’s dad’s car with Rodrigo as our driver. Our first stop was at the grocery store to buy some wine that we intended to “sneak” onto the grounds. To be honest, while alcohol was not served on the premises, I never saw any mention that it wasn’t allowed, but it added to our high school feel for the weekend: dad’s car and smuggled booze.

The drive out of Cajamarca was pretty and uneventful. After about an hour we arrived at the turnoff to Granja Porcon. Another 25 minutes and we were at the gate, just as the sun was setting. We had reserved a cabin and the guard gave us directions to get there. I tried listening to the directions in order to help navigate, but after he kept describing the roads we were not supposed to take, I gave up. We started up the mountain, darkness descended and we had no idea where we were going. We stopped at one place where we saw lights and the woman there told us to continue up the road. Just as we left, a man ran after us shouting that we should take a left – but left led us back down the mountain. We confirmed that we were supposed to go up the mountain, took a right to do so and then laughed at his “left” direction. 20 minutes later we were not laughing when we could see nothing and were utterly lost. We headed back down the mountain, intending to go back for more directions, when a lady on the side of the road waved us down, introduced herself as Marleny and told us that she had been waiting for us to show us our cabin. The “left” made sense as we had to take a left to go down a small, dark road that led only to the cabin – a left that was only about 5 minutes away from the house where we had asked directions! It was now about 8:00 and there was only one restaurant – back down the mountain – that was open to serve us dinner. We unloaded the car, nervously trying to hide our bottles, called in our dinner order and then began the trek down the mountain. Marleny came with us because she thought we would get lost otherwise. She was right!

The way back

The way back

Despite calling ahead by about 1/2 hour, the restaurant was deserted. A man quickly appeared and opened the place up for us. It was a cold, beautiful, rustic room with windows that overlooked the Porcon main square, but at the late hour we could only see a few lights in the distance. We enjoyed a lovely meal of chicken soup and fried trout and headed back up the mountain to our cabin, stopping to pick up a thermos of hot, boiled water from Marleny’s house. A few drinks later we called it a night. It was freezing in the cabin – the only heat was the fireplace in the main room and the beds had those old fashioned wool blankets that weigh you down so you can barely move. Matt and I slept with our hats on and were still cold!

Warming at the heath

Warming at the hearth

The day dawned overcast, but it was still breathtaking. It felt as though we were on a movie set – gorgeous setting, rustic cabin, cows mooing, lambs bleating and roosters crowing – unreal.

We headed back to the restaurant for a breakfast of caldo verde (my favorite soup) with numerous stops along the way to admire the vicuñas and avoid the lambs. Vicuñas are cousins of alpacas and llamas (and guanacos, another wild camelid in the Andes) and are prized for their wool, which can run up to $3,000 a yard! The animals can only be shorn every 3 years and then only about a pound of wool results from each animal. While they are described as shy, the ones at Porcon are obviously accustomed to tourists because we got amazingly close to them. They were gorgeous – so graceful and delicate. The lambs, on the other hand, were just hilarious. They were all over the road and it was all Rodrigo could do not to hit any of them. The downside of all the lambs was that meant there was no sheep cheese for sale – something I was really looking forward to as I am so tired of the limited cheese selection here.

Once we tore ourselves away from the vicuñas, I then became fascinated by a hummingbird feeding outside of the window at the restaurant. It was quite a dramatic scene when another hummingbird appeared and they began fighting. In addition the view was breathtaking.

Fight!

Fight!

After breakfast, we wandered into the town to check out the weaving shops, dairy and zoo.

I found the dairy products to be disappointing – while there were some decent fresh cheeses with herbs and a brick that was sharper than anything else here, nothing came close to amazing Carr Valley or other Wisconsin-produced cheeses. The others were hyping the ice cream and I, lover of Kopps frozen custard, couldn’t wait. What a letdown! The so-called “ice cream” was really ice-milk on a stick and not at all creamy. There were many exotic fruit flavors, but that was little consolation for me. After that crushing disappointment, we headed to the zoo.

 

Zoo Sign

Zoo sign

The zoo was interesting. One the one hand, the old-fashioned, small enclosures were incredibly depressing. But all zoo enclosures are depressing – no matter how big the enclosure, the lions and tigers still pace in captivity, the birds can’t fly free and many animals are far from their natural habitats. On the other hand, it was unbelievable how close we could get to the animals. As I was watching the spectacled bears, native to Peru, walk along the fence, a little girl stuck her finger into the enclosure and I started panicking, wondering if it is socially acceptable for a stranger to yell at a kid when you think she might lose a finger (and then, to try to think of how to say it in Spanish!). Thankfully, her mother saw her in the seconds these thoughts raced through my brain and pulled her away. Yikes!

After the zoo and a mediocre meal in town, we headed back up the mountain to our paradise. Marleny, who was parking cars in town, tried to persuade us to stop at the trout farm or come back to see the 4 o’clock milking, but as neither of those things are novelties to us, we declined and relaxed the afternoon and evening away. Well, except for the parts where Rodrigo smoked us out of the house by trying to start the wood stove in the kitchen, not realizing that he had blocked the flue and that we didn’t have the key to the kitchen door so there was no ventilation and then, when Marleny showed up unannounced and we scurried around trying to hide our wine bottles and glasses!

We were all in bed by 10 pm, but that allowed Rodrigo, Matt and me to get up early and climb to the summit of Mt. Porcon the next morning. It was only an hour hike on a dirt path to reach the top and the views were amazing. After all my reluctance to go, I completely fell for Porcon and would love to go back to do more hiking. It was peaceful and picturesque – the perfect getaway weekend.

Yoga in Peru

Last year, my friend Luzma invited me to join her for a yoga class. I had taken yoga in the US and missed it, so I readily agreed. In addition to a yoga class, it proved to be an excellent Spanish class – left, right, up, down, breath in/out, parts of the body…I felt like I was getting a double bang for my buck. The instructor and other ladies in the class were very nice to me and patient with my limited Spanish skills and lack of cultural knowledge. For example, I learned that even in an exercise class, you greet everyone individually and give them the customary kiss on the cheek (in Peru, always one kiss, and everyone goes to the left). This means that even if you are already sitting on your mat, you get up every time someone enters the room. What a far cry from an exercise class that my friend and and I took for several years in Wisconsin during which we never learned anyone’s name and I am sure the instructor never knew ours! I also learned that the infamous Peruvian tardiness applied to classes as well – often I waited 15 minutes for anyone to arrive and once, because the class was held in a daycare, a father and I waited a half hour for anyone to show up to open the building. He was understandably upset; I just tried to be very “in the moment” and go with the flow, which is not my usual habit. The instructor, Patty, is a wonderfully kind woman and an excellent teacher and taught yoga how I like it: not as a exercise class but as a true yoga class designed to open your mind and body.

 

The class would have been harder with my limited Spanish had I not already practiced  yoga in English. One day Patty talked to the class about mandalas. Everyone seemed very enthusiastic and a date was set on which we would make mandalas. I hoped I was misunderstanding: it sounded like some sort of art project, and I am far from artistic. Ever since getting a mean frown face on my apple drawing on the first day of first grade, any art project fills me with great anxiety, particularly one in a group setting. I went home and googled mandala and discovered that a mandala is (more or less) a circular, cosmic design that represents the universe and is used as a meditation tool. Apparently we were going create our own mandalas in class. I was stressed out just thinking about it, which kind of defeats the purpose of yoga. Adding to my stress was that I had to go buy craft supplies to make my mandala. Here, you cannot just go to Target, browse and then select from an vast array of art supplies; you go to a stationery shop where everything is in a case or back on shelves, which means you need to know what you want and how to ask for it. I had no idea what I wanted apart from possibly skipping yoga class on the appointed day, but managed to come home with colored markers and a large sheet of poster board.

Mandala day arrived. We spread out our mats and our art supplies and began some meditation exercises before being let loose to make our mandalas. We were supposed to let the drawing just happen- meditate, draw, meditate, draw. I did my best to go with the mandala flow and actually was okay with the process. Then, to my horror, Patty began walking around the room and talking with each student about her mandala. More horrifying was that most students cried during the discussion. Apparently, I was missing something. It kind of reminded me of a cassette tape I have from when I was about 5 and I am pounding out a made-up tune on the piano and telling my dad what it meant (it was obviously around Easter as it was all about Jesus being crucified and resurrected, pretty deep for a 5 year old)! Sweet Patty got to me and we chatted about what I thought my mandala meant, but it did not bring me to tears. The final step in the mandala process is to burn it. I actually put mine up on a shelf and forgot about it, but will make sure to burn it soon!

Mandala

Mandala

Patty lost her space early this year and my classes ended. I missed them terribly and was delighted when she contacted me to say she was ready to teach again. Now, I have a private lesson twice a week. So far we have been able to have class outside in her backyard; despite the beginning of the rainy season, the rain usually holds off until the afternoon. I love having class outside despite the noise and occasional neighbor peeping at us!

Hiking to Machu Picchu Part IV – the Payoff!

We are up, packed and on our way at about 4:15 am on Day 4. It’s the big day – a short 3.1 mile hike to Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate (Intipunku). We hustle down the trail and about 15 minutes later are at the checkpoint where we have to wait until 5:30 to start the trail. Moooo. There is definitely a herd feel as we all stand around in the dark, listening to the rain and wondering why getting up so early was necessary.

The trail opens at 5:30 and the groups are staggered slightly to allow some space on the trail. Soon it is our turn and, for the first time, our guides are rushing us along the path. The rain thankfully stopped while we waited at the checkpoint, and while the guides urge us to be careful, they hustle us along. It’s really weird and as we pass other tour groups, I wonder whether they have bets with other guides as to whose party arrives first at the Sun Gate. It is rather disappointing as on our last day we barely are able to enjoy the scenery as the sun is rising.

We get to the Sun Gate around 6:30, after a final, vertical flight of 50 or so steps, and find it crowded with hikers and… Machu Picchu is hardly visible, shrouded by the clouds.

The young guys arrived about 10 minutes before us and tell us nothing was visible then, but as we all wait, the clouds begin to lift and the sight is magical.

Clouds Lifting

Clouds Lifting

We hang out for about 20 minutes and then hit the trail yet again. We are worn out from 2 nights with no sleep and 3 days of hiking, and the path down seems to last an eternity, even though it is only about 35 minutes before we reach the Watchman’s Hut.

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After enjoying the view, we have to descend to the entry point, drop our bags and return up to Machu Picchu for our tour. Matt and Carl enjoy a victory beverage.

Well Deserved Beer

Well Deserved Beer

We climb back up to the site and Edwin starts our tour. He is losing all of us fast: not from lack of interest but because it is hot in the sun and we are exhausted. Machu Picchu is fascinating, despite the crowds. I was warned that after hiking the trail, the hordes of tourists will feel overwhelming – and cause great irritation because they are clean and rested – and this prediction is correct!

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After a few hours enjoying Machu Picchu, we head down to Aguas Calientes where we pick up our gear and relax for a few hours. The town exists to cater to Machu Picchu tourists and hotel, restaurants, massage spas, hot showers and markets abound. Our train for Cusco leaves at 5:30 and we appreciate the nice service and clean, comfortable seats. The train has entertainment: first, a dancing shaman and then, a fashion show put on by the wait staff. It’s rather awkward and all the more when the Shaman picks me to dance with him. Now I am smelly, in hiking boots and exhausted, but I do my best even though the scary Shaman is like a clown and I hate clowns!

The trek was fantastic and I would actually consider another hike somewhere. I also want to return to Machu Picchu to appreciate the site when I am not completely exhausted.

Macchu Picchu 9184

Hiking to Machu Picchu Part III – Day 2 Summit and the Long Day 3

Apart from the 3 young guys, I think everyone is nervous as we start off on Day 2 – the alleged killer day of the hike. We leave camp around 6:30 am, stop at the trail checkpoint, are given the briefing on our mandatory stops for the day and then are let loose on the trail.

After the first day, the beginning of the hike is wonderful. The walking is uphill from the get-go, but not terribly steep, and it is great to walk at our own paces and enjoy the scenery. For many stretches I see and hear no one on the path. This lady is huffing up the trail with us. I ask her if she walks it everyday and she says yes because she sells water and beverages at the rest point. She is sweating bullets, which makes me feel better, but she still beats me to the rest spot and has her wares spread out by the time I arrive.

 

Water Vendor

Water Vendor

I hit the designated rest spot in under an hour and again arrive in the middle of the pack, which makes me feel good. Matt is pleased to report that he was the 4th in after the young guys.

The entire group arrives in good time, which makes our guides happy. We are set loose again with a designated meeting place for a snack before the steep summit to Dead Woman’s Path.

Then it is the big push to the summit. It is steep hiking and a light rain starts to fall. As I approach the top, I hear loud cheers, apparently for each person who makes it to the top. Encouraging. Unfortunately, the acoustics are deceiving and it takes me what seems to be an eternity to arrive. I am walking with some porters and one keeps assuring me that we are almost there. I stop to rest, not realizing that I am really am almost to the top, and when I arrive I anticipate the cheers and… nothing. I look around and realize that it is a specific group (the Frenchies) that are cheering for their hikers only. My friendly porter must have seen my disappointment because he claps for me and gives me a big smile, which cheers me up. I spot Katie from our group (she and I had been passing each other on and off the entire summit) and she tells me that Matt has just left. A driving rain begins and there is time for a quick selfie before starting the horrible descent. After all the hype, the hike between the snack break and the summit takes me only about an hour and a half.

Katie and I begin our descent together. We hoped we were on the 3,000 step “gringo killer,” but while it is a killer on our knees to navigate the slippery steps, it is not the infamous descent – that comes tomorrow. We sidestep a fair amount, which is slooow going. On the plus side, Katie is good company and we chat about politics and healthcare in our respective countries. We arrive at camp just before 1:00,which I find pretty amazing given the horror stories I heard about Day 2. Everyone arrives by 1:35 and we have lunch at 1:45 – 45 minutes before our guides thought we would all arrive.

We have the afternoon to relax, but instead I obsess over the uphill trail that we will take in the morning. They feed us well – we have a tea at 5:00 and dinner at 7:00 and then we turn in early.

The two worst parts of the trip for me are apparent at this campsite. First, the camp toilets:

Camp Toilet

Camp Toilet

I’ve used squatters before and anticipated them for the trail. What I did not anticipate was how much harder they are to use when you have been hiking all day! Do you squat only slightly, and risk peeing on your foot, or squat lower and risk your shaky legs giving out and landing you in the shit? Thankfully, I manage the trip without peeing on my foot or falling into the shit, but it is no picnic. I should mention that this picture was taken when the toilet was still relatively clean – by the next morning it was a cesspool of toilet paper in the corner and shit on the floor. The toilets got worse the further we went down the trail.

Second, sleeping on the ground. Our night 2 campsite was on sheer rock and I got about 3 hours of sleep because I was in so much pain. The night was extremely cold and then it started raining about 2 am. The rain wasn’t so bad – pleasant on the tent and I think all of us were listening to it hoping that rain at night would mean no rain during our hiking hours.

Day 3 we get up to an overcast day and hit the trail by 6:40. I am dragging and often make it last or close to last to our meeting points. On the other hand, Mark has a burst of energy and decides to keep pace with the young guys. The scenery is spectacular and while there is some rain, it isn’t terrible. We see many remains and walk through different types of ecosystems; I really enjoy the cloudforest with the dripping mosses and ferns.

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After lunch we hit the gringo killer steps and it is once again slow going. It is raining and we are cautioned to be extremely careful. We stop at Phuyupatamarca and then we descend into the cloudforest. Our guides tell us to detour to see the Intipata remains – in retrospect, I think they wanted to give the porters time to set up camp for us. We arrive to our campsite at Wiñay Wayna around 4:30 and go to the natural museum just down the trail. I regret this visit as it is full of mounted snakes, spiders and bugs! The curator assures me that only one of the snakes in poisonous and that most of the spiders are non-venomous. UGH. We have our afternoon tea and then play cards until dinner time. As usual, we turn in early. This campsite is pretty comfortable, but we wake from our slumber to a spectacular thunderstorm at 12:30. At one point a branch hits our tent and Matt and I jump a mile. Our tent holds firm and everything stays dry. Unfortunately, as our wakeup is 3:30 am, by the time the storm passes around 2:00, we never fall back asleep.

NEXT: The Payoff – Machu Picchu!

If you missed the first 2 posts of the journey, find them here http://kerryedwyer.com/2014/10/15/hiking-to-machu-picchu-part-i-preparation/ and http://kerryedwyer.com/2014/10/17/hiking-to-machu-picchu-part-ii-the-trek-begins/

Peruvian Elections Update

I previously posted about the election process in Peru. http://kerryedwyer.com/2014/10/05/election-day-in-peru/ The elections were held on Sunday, October 5 while we were in Cusco. We had hired a driver for the day and in the late afternoon he asked us if we minded if he stopped at his polling place so he could vote. Of course, we said it was no problem (in particular given that both Carl and I were on the Wisconsin State Elections Board at one time). He made it just in the nick of time and was relieved that he didn’t have to pay the 150 soles ($54) fine.

A friend of mine in Cajamarca took the following pictures from the polling site. The first is the outside of the municipal ballot that is signed by the “table head” at the polling place, the second is the regional ballot, and the third is her national id, with a sticker that shows she voted and her ink-stained finger. Due to the high level of illiteracy, the ballot has the candidate photo and party symbol, in addition to his or her name. Ballots can be marked with a + or X over the selected candidate’s picture or party symbol.

In Cajamarca, the Regional President incumbent won with 49.9 % of the vote despite being incarcerated on corruption charges since June. He is anti-mining, which gives him a strong majority among the farmers and country folk in the Cajamarca region. His supporters believe that the corruption charges were trumped up in order to cause him to lose the election so the Conga mine project could move forward without his opposition. Others see the vote as a stall to progress and jobs for the area.

I honestly have no opinion on the election or the candidates. As a guest in Peru, I do not understand enough of its history or all of the issues to hold an opinion (odd for me, I know).

Hiking to Machu Picchu Part II – The Trek Begins

5:20 am on Monday morning and Matt, Carl, Mark and I are cramming a few bites of breakfast into our mouths when Edwin and Jimmy, our guides for the trek, arrive at our hotel to pick us up. This is it – no turning back. We grab our backpacks and duffel bags provided to us by Peru Treks and get on the bus. I’m a bit nervous as the duffel bag weighs a precious pound – does that mean I only got to pack 4.5 pounds and not 5.5 pounds? I asked at the trek office on Saturday but didn’t get a clear response, so now I am anxious that I will be forced to leave some of my clothes on the trailhead or, more likely, get Matt to carry them.

As we wind through Cusco, we stop to pick up our fellow trekkers. Each time I size them up: do they look older, fitter, fun? In the end, we have a great group, even if the 4 of us are the oldest on the hike and 20+ years older than many of the others. The only two other Americans on the hike, Dusty and Jenny, are from WI and UW grads, so there is an instant bond with them. The fact that Dusty is a doctor gives me a sense of security and even though he jokes that he can prescribe drugs and refer to specialists, I am confident that he could perform CPR or splint a broken leg in a pinch! Happily, we never have to call on his skills. There are 5 Australians: Erin and Mark, a couple in their 30s; Katie and Tim, friends who have just finished University and are traveling for a few months; and Ian, who has been traveling for 2 years and celebrates his 25th birthday on the trail. Two other youngsters are Kirk from New Zealand and Crazy Henry from Manchester, England. Crazy Henry is so named because he smokes and drinks like a fiend yet can effortlessly scamper up mountains. I am convinced he could have hiked the entire trail in a day with no problem. Diego, who is probably about my age, is from Colombia but lives in the US and speaks perfect English, and is the nicest uncle as he brought his teenage niece, Isabella, on the hike. Isabella also speaks great English and is a sweetheart. After a stop at a designated shop/restaurant in Ollantaytambo, we reach Km 82 and chaos ensues. Our duffel bags are dumped out for us to jam our sleeping bags and mats into them and then have them weighed, we are mobbed by local folks trying to sell us all kinds of things, the sun is hot…overwhelming. After years of the trail being a free-for-all, the government now limits the number of trekkers to 500 starting per day. This number includes all of the porters and guides, so about 200-220 tourists can start the trail each day. We are not trekking during peak season, and I later estimate that about 110 other tourists began the trek with us, but it seems like at least half of them are dropped off at Km 82 at the same time we are. Good news – my duffel bag makes the weigh in, so I am good to go.

The Gang

The Gang

Day 1 is known as the easy day of hike and while it isn’t terribly hard, it is still hiking in the Andes with plenty of ups and downs.We begin hiking at about 10:45. The views are great and we pass some Incan ruins, which we are instructed to call remains as they were not destroyed by man but rather left to the elements. It is cloudy at times, but it never rains. We walk loosely as a group and stop frequently, which actually makes it harder because I never get into a rhythm and the frequent, long breaks make me stiffen up each time. But I understand that the guides are seeing how we do with the altitude and also assessing our hiking abilities for the coming days. We pass farms and houses; it is much like the hikes Matt and I do in the countryside around Cajamarca. At the rest stops there are ladies selling snacks, beverages and coca leaves. Coca leaves are common in Peru and trekkers are advised to chew them to combat altitude sickness and get an energy boost while hiking. I think they taste terrible, and the alkaline substance (made of ash or lye) you add to activate the chemicals in the leaves is awful, but I do chew them during some of the more challenging parts of the hike. I don’t know whether they actually help or have a placebo effect, but the guides and porters swear by them. Having frequent bottled water available is great as I can carry 1 – 1 1/2 liters at a time instead of filling up my camelback to 2 1/2 liters. We stop for lunch at a site with many of the other groups and the porters set up a tent, have buckets of water for us to wash our hands and camp chairs for us to sit on. Our lunch starts with a hot soup (a staple for all lunches and dinners) and is followed by a lot of starches, vegetables and some fried fish. Very civilized.

After lunch, we walk for about an hour and have another break and then finally we make the final push to our camp at 10,137 feet. We climb up past several farms until we reach our barnyard site. I arrive in the middle of the pack at around 4:30. We sleep on animal dung that night, which at the time it seems unpleasant, but when we sleep on rock the second night, the poop site seems nice by comparison! We relax at camp, have dinner and then turn in around 8:00; sunset is around 5:30, so it is already pitch black. Matt and I both sleep well – the only night on the hike that we do. Due to our group’s hiking skills (in fact, the porter with my and Matt’s bags arrives a good 30-40 minutes after I do) we get an extra half hour to sleep in on Tuesday – our wake up call is at 5:30 when the porters shake our tents and bring us coca tea. It is a cloudy morning and we have the dreaded challenging day ahead of us. By 6:30 we are packed up and on the trail.

Day 2 is different than Day 1 – we are allowed to walk at our own pace with a few meeting points along the way, including a morning snack before the big push to the summit. For the first time, I learn the proper way to hike mountains – go slowly and try to keep your breathing and heart rate stable as opposed to climbing in a burst of energy and then resting to recover. This makes perfect sense, and Carl, who has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, climbed in this manner the prior day. We are also cautioned to give way to the porters and always keep to the mountain side to avoid being whacked by the porter’s pack and pushed off the mountainside. The porters are amazing – I’m not sure any are taller than I am (5’3″) and they carry huge loads, as Mark can attest. We step aside often for the porters and then try to watch to see how they manage with broken down tennis shoes or sandals. Humbling, to say the least. I also try to see where they walk as they often pick out the best part on the trail – the lowest steps, less slippery spots etc. Each trek company outfits their porters in a specific color; ours wear yellow.

Next Up: The Summit and the Longest Day

If you missed my prior post Hiking to Machu Picchu Part I – Preparation, read it here http://kerryedwyer.com/2014/10/15/hiking-to-machu-picchu-part-i-preparation/

Hiking to Machu Picchu Part I – Preparation

Machu Picchu is the most famous Incan site and the mainstay of Peruvian tourism. Built around 1450, it was abandoned in the mid-1500s and was never discovered by the conquering Spanish. Theories abound as to the purpose of Machu Picchu, with the current, most popular one being that the Inca emperor Pachacutec wanted to build his own magnificent capital city instead of ruling from Cusco, the traditional capital of the Incas. Machu Picchu is situated in the Sacred Valley 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Cusco. As one of the 7 New Wonders of the World, it was on our must-see list.

Little lower and the clouds lifted

Little lower and the clouds lifted

Our initial decision was how to get there. The most accessible way to see Machu Picchu is to take a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and then take the 20 minute ride on the tourist bus to the site. Once there, it is easy to spend a day wandering around the city. The more adventuresome can climb Hauyna Picchu, 1,180 feet above Machu Picchu and a one-hour climb, to get a spectacular view of the entire site and see additional ruins, ascend Machu Picchu Mountain or hike up to the sun gate. So even if one takes the “easy” way to Machu Picchu, there is still plenty of hiking to do on the site itself. But Matt was having none of “easy” and was set on hiking the Inca Trail. Once our friend Carl and his brother Mark decided to join Matt on the trek, I couldn’t wimp out. We chose the most popular 4-day, 3-night hike and after reviewing Trip Advisor and the like selected Peru Treks as our trek company. For $599 a person, Peru Treks outfitted us with tents, sleeping bags and mats, purchased our permits, secured our campsites and provided us with meals and guides for the trek, in addition to a crew of porters who carried all of the gear. Our cost included $60 for the service of a personal porter who in addition to carrying our sleeping mat and bag could carry another 5.5 pounds of personal items for us. Peru Treks sends you back to Cusco via an 1 1/2 hour train ride followed by a 2 hour bus ride. This sounded horrible to me so we opted to book the Peru Rail Vistadome train ourselves and take a 3 1/2 hour train ride and 20 minute cab ride instead. It was the right call as the train was far more comfortable than the bus, and the cost difference was only $45.

Train along the river

4 days later, we would be on that train!

With the planning details out of the way, training and packing became my next concerns. Everything I read indicated that while the hiking is difficult, the hardest part for most people is the altitude. We were taking the orange route, which begins at Kilometer 82.

Trek map

Trek map

Here is a breakdown of the hike:

Day 1: 7.5 miles (12 km), begin at 8,528 feet (2,600 m) and ascend to 10,137 feet (3,100) for a 1,609-foot (500 m) elevation gain. Touted as the “easy” day of the hike, it wasn’t exactly easy, but not terribly difficult compared to the next two days.

Day 2: 7.5 miles (12 km), begin at 10,137 (3,100 m) and ascend to 13,776 feet (4,215 m) for an elevation gain of 3,639 feet (1,115 m) before a steep descent back to 11,480 feet (3,500 m). This second day is the reputed killer day of the hike. When I was in Lima 2 weeks before the hike, I ran into some folks who had recently completed the hike and they told me horror stories of hiking 11 hours and tears all around. I am happy to report that our group hiked it about 6-7 hours (including snack and lunch breaks) and there were no tears that I am aware of.

Day 3:  9.3 miles (15 km), begin at 11,480 feet (3,500 m), hike up to 12,916 feet (3,950 m) for an elevation gain of 1,436 feet (450 m) before the descent of 3,000 stone steps that is referred to as the “gringo killer” and then additional up and down hiking until the end at 8,829 feet (2,700 m). I found this day to be the hardest. Possibly because I was tired from lack of sleep the prior night and the hard hiking the prior day, but just as likely the fact that when we camped the second night we had a view of the climb that we would immediately begin on Day 3. I think seeing the ascent (and the top of the photo is not the top of the pass, there were about 3 more false passes before one arrived at the pass) demoralized me. But no tears or 11 hour days!

Night 2 Campsite - note the trail up the mountain

Night 2 Campsite – note the demoralizing trail up the mountain

Day 4: The end is in sight! 3.1 miles (5 km), this is where the trail really feels like a cattle call. We were up around 3:00 in order to break camp early and then rush 15 minutes to stand in line at 4:30 am waiting for the trail to open at 5:30. Once open, it was a mad dash to the sun gate to see the view of Machu Picchu, and then a trek down the mountain to the site.

Matt and I live at around 8,800 feet above sea level, so that gave us a good start on training for the hike. I continued with my walks 4-days a week and Matt with his daily walks to work, and then Matt and I would hike on the weekends. Usually Matt kindly carries my water and jacket for me as I despise carrying a backpack (and it is one of the things that I was advised against doing after my spinal fusion surgery so I routinely invoke the prohibition when I don’t want to carry anything but then chose to think that it refers to heavy backpacks and not a few pounds when I wanted to do this hike), but I even started carrying my own pack to get me accustomed to it. Our last joint training hike was our second trek to Cumbe Mayo, which is also on the Inca trail, is about 7 1/2 miles and is fairly steep with a 3,000 foot elevation gain, so I was feeling as prepared as possible for the hiking part of the trek.

Then there was packing. For some inexplicable reason, after years of traveling for work and pleasure, I am the world’s worst packer. And this time I was limited to 5.5 POUNDS!!! I read blogs on what to pack and a friend’s friend who had done the hike gave me some good advice. After much paring down, I was hoping that this would be 5.5 pounds:

Not 6 Pounds

Not 5.5 Pounds

It wasn’t. Further paring down and I ended up with :

  • 1 pair hiking pants
  • 1 super lightweight, insect repellent zip up jacket
  • 3 pairs of hiking socks
  • Fleece pants, long sleeved cotton top and 1 pair of short sport socks to sleep in
  • 1 sports bra
  • 5 pair of underwear
  • 3 short sleeve workout shirts
  • Hat/gloves
  • Necessary mini-toiletries (no fancy soaps or lotions, here!)
Actual 5.5 pounds

Actual 5.5 pounds

This left me carrying:
  • Lightweight (.8 pound) tennis shoes, tied to my pack until Carl pointed out that they were unlikely to weigh our bag on killer Day 2 and I put them in my porter bag instead, along with the notebook/pen, flashlight, scarf and extra wet wipes for the rest of the hike
  • Poncho
  • Rain Jacket
  • Scarf
  • Lightweight fleece
  • Sunglasses
  • Glasses
  • Insect repellent, sunscreen, first aid supplies, contacts, hand sanitizer
  • Head lamp and mini flashlight
  • iPhone
  • Wet wipes, toilet paper, Kleenex
  • Notebook and pen
  • Bandana
  • WATER. And water is HEAVY!! 2 liters weighs 4.4 pounds. It always felt so good when I was hiking with only a half liter or so of water left.
So when all was said and done, I carried about 10 pounds. In the end, I packed darn good – with the exception of one pair of underwear, the flashlight and the notepad/pen, I used everything I brought. Matt only had an extra pair of socks and underwear, so he packed well too.
Oh, and these stowaways made it into my pack too!
Next Up: The Trek Begins!

Hanging Out in Lima

In addition to eating and buying cheese, we have seen some of the sights in Lima. Matt and I usually make sure to take a walk along the Miraflores boardwalk, which is perched on the cliff above the ocean. Lima is typically shrouded in fog; we have yet to have a clear day there and I am not sure they exist! On one of our first visits to Lima, we had lunch at La Rosa Nautica  – a restaurant that juts out into the sea and gives you a great view of the surfers. While it is a bit overpriced, the ambiance is amazing and the food very good and fresh, if not imaginative.

My favorite part of the walk is the Parque del Amor (Love Park) that has fantastic mosaics and a great statue, El Beso (The Kiss).

On one visit, Matt and I also went to the Plaza de Armas, which has many grand old buildings and a fountain that dates to the 1600s. We got there just in time to see the changing of the guards, which had all the pomp and circumstance that one would expect. Next was a tour of San Francisco Church, which included a great library and incredibly creepy catacombs. Part of the creepiness was that the bones had been sorted by type and then neatly arranged in patterns. So, for example, the skulls were all in a round design. Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed inside the Church or grounds.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

On my most recent visit to Lima with Sarah and Mistina, I finally visited the Magic Water Circuit at the Parque de la Reserva. If you enjoy watching the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas, this is the place for you! There are 13 fountains that incorporate lights, music, laser and images to create a truly magical experience. Some of the fountains are interactive with the water streaming or, in some cases, dancing over you. Truly spectacular. The fountains also have charming names, including The Fountain of Traditions, The River of Wishes and The Fountain of Harmony. The park grounds themselves also looked incredible: a train; gardens in delightful shapes, including a butterfly or Christmas tree; a tea pot and cup topiary; a true-to-size, upside-down house (for which we never received an explanation); and a life-size retalbo, or Peruvian shadow box. We arrived at night to enjoy the fountains so we couldn’t enjoy the other features very much, but a return visit at dusk is on my list. While none of the fountains are are large as the Bellagio fountain, the experience is unique and not to be missed.

I’m a convert to Lima. My first impressions of the city didn’t leave me too excited, but after this last visit, I see that it has far more to offer than I thought.