Happy Two Year (and a Day) Ex-pat Anniversary!

Two years ago yesterday, Matt and I landed in Peru and began our international living adventure.

Last Hurrah!

In the past two years we have:

  • Lived in 2 countries
  • Learned Spanish
  • Trekked to Machu Picchu
  • Acquired a donkey jaw as a musical instrument
  • Ate guinea pig
  • Swum with sharks, manta rays, sea lions and sea turtles

and so much more!

While the there will always be challenges and we miss our stateside family and friends, this adventure has been incredible. We have made new friendships that will stand the test of time and distance and had experiences we will never forget.

You only get one life, so live the life YOU want to live!

Young, wild and free

Young, wild and free

PS. This is my 100th blog post – thanks for reading!

Walk the Line: A Visit to the Equator

North and South of the Equator

North and South of the Equator

Who can resist the draw of standing on the equator? Matt and I couldn’t, so one Sunday we set off from Quito to go to Mitad del Mundo, “the Middle of the World.” We intended to take a cheap bus there, but for some reason, despite directions, couldn’t figure out where to catch the bus. So we settled for a $15 cab ride to drive us the 1/2 hour to the site. After some confusion (apparently the theme of our day) we realized that the building we, and a bunch of other people, were hanging around was just the Unasur (Union of South American Nations) building, and was not getting us closer to standing on the equator! We headed over to the ticket booth, which was inexplicable chaos. There were some people waiting, but nothing like a Milwaukee Summerfest crowd. The delay seemed to be because newcomers would conveniently not see the lines and just pop ahead of all of us waiting. Eventually, I had enough of this nonsense and skipped ahead of the skippees to the front of a line.

We were in at last. Our full tickets included the planetarium, and we were urged several times to go directly to the planetarium. We took a quick photo or two on the equator, rushed to the planetarium… and waited in line for about 40 minutes. The show was in Spanish, and while I understood a decent amount of it, a nap seemed more in order. Frankly, apart from the Little and Big Dippers, Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt (but not the whole guy) I can never see the constellations – it’s a bunch of dots and a lot of imagination to me!

We headed to the monument and went to the top to enjoy the views and the sight of the equatorial line running across the premises.

Now here is the rub: the monument is in the wrong spot and we were not actually at the equator! We knew that before entering the complex, but decided to check out the spectacle all the same. And a spectacle it was. The monument also houses a nice museum showcasing the indigenous cultures of Ecuador, and the grounds have tons of souvenir shops, restaurants, a couple other museums and even some entertainment, all devoted to the wrong spot on the map. I find it hilarious that although modern GPS proves the equator to be about 240 meters north of this line, this entire complex pretends that isn’t the case. Not a disclaimer anywhere that you aren’t on the real deal. Apparently the motto is “Why be right if people will pay anyhow?” And indeed, we did!

Walk the Line

Walk the Wrong Line

But then we walked down the road to the real equator, at the Intiñan museum. Privately owned (yes, the incorrect location is owned by the local government), the Intiñan museum was hokey but charming.

We were told to wait for an English tour, but a mountain storm was brewing so we tagged along on a Spanish tour, which we quickly ditched when we realized it was going to take us through little exhibits of the different regions of Ecuador. We just wanted to stand on the equator. And so we did.

Matt didn’t try, but I was determined to balance the egg!

All in all, a fun, silly time. Especially when you consider that the equator is a line and certainly there are other spots in the area on which one could cross it.

We tried for a picture proof, but because our phone GPS is not military grade, this was as close as we could get.

As close as we could get on our GPS

As close as we could get on our GPS

Art and the City

I admit that I had never heard of Oswaldo Guayasamin, Ecuador’s most famous painter, before we arrived in Quito.

Self Sculpture

Self Sculpture

Born in poverty in 1919, Guayasamin devoted his artwork to portraying indigenous people, racial discrimination, injustice, violence and the plight of the poor. Powerful stuff. One of his famous quotes is “I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a child that had no feet.” The Fundacion Guayasamin site contains the artist’s former home and studio (he died in 1999) with its breathtaking mountain views, a museum called La Capilla del Hombre (Chapel of Man) that Guayasamin designed before his death and, as an added bonus, a small archeological site. It was amazing. An absolute must-see for anyone visiting Quito.



The exterior of La Capilla del Hombre is bunker-esque, but inside the space is perfect, just as the artist envisioned.

La Capilla de Hombre

La Capilla de Hombre

The Capilla del Hombre is a tribute to man, in particular the struggles and sufferings of Latin Americans. The museum has an eternal flame on the ground floor that represents a prayer for peace and human rights. Matt snuck some pictures.



While it was definitely our favorite museum, we also enjoyed other museums and artwork around the city.

Wheelie Art:

The National Museum of Quito is housed in a complex that includes theaters and a few other museums and has some cool outdoor art. Pictures are forbidden in the museum (this time Matt complied) but the works ranged from pre-Colombian pottery and the like to religious art from the Colonial era.

In the same complex is a modern art museum and we stopped in and enjoyed some work of Francisco Urquiza. I have no idea who he is but his paintings were really cool!

Another museum visit, to the Casa De Alabado, was also well worth it although we again have no pictures to share. It had pre-Colombian artwork of the indigenous cultures. Finally, we enjoyed the Museum of Contemporary Art. Housed high on a hill overlooking the city in an old military hospital, the museum has rotating exhibits. We saw three: a student photography exhibit, an Italian exhibit of art from the 1960s (psychedelic, baby!) and Art in Orbit, devoted to outer space. Art in Orbit included a room at the end, complete with bean bag chairs, where one could watch various sci-fi movies.

I loved the room of gowns by Italian designer Fausto Sarli. Che Bello!

The 60s art was dizzying with its play on dimensions. This piece was awesome and photographed pretty well. It was 2D but the pixie stick lines looked real!

2 Dimensional, but looks 3D!

2 Dimensional, but looks 3D!

And last, but not least, if you can’t make art, join it!

Photo Bomb

Photo Bomb

Quito – the City that Grew on Me

We have passed the 3 week mark in Quito, Ecuador. While this isn’t ideal and we would rather be getting on with our new life on the Galapagos Islands, there are worse places to spend a few weeks as you wait for your visas. Well, not just visas: we finally got those last week but now need the special permission to live on the Galápagos Islands. Nothing seems to be going easily, but we are trying to enjoy our time despite the frustration of waiting.



Quito is situated in the Andes at 9,350 feet above sea level. That hasn’t posed a problem for us because we were used to living in the Andes in Cajamarca. For a capital city with a population of about 2.6 million, Quito feels surprisingly accessible. We are staying in an apartment (thank you, Airbnb) in the Mariscal Foch area, which is a great location for us. We can walk to a number of parks, restaurants, malls, the Old Center etc. Initially Quito did not rock my world – it was nice but not spectacular. However, the more time we have been here, the more I appreciate it. (Except the food. Peruvian food is much better.) A mountain view anywhere you look is a selling point.

View from the Apartment

View from the Apartment

One of my favorite things about Quito is the many parks. We have walked through Carolina, Ejido, Arbolito and Alameda parks several times. It’s a toss up which is my favorite. Ejido and Arbolito Parks appear to be one park and have a lot of trees (hence the name “Arbolito” or “Little Tree”), making for a nice walk. All of the parks are well used by families, couples, groups of people and, as we saw yesterday, card players. I didn’t get a picture, but it cracked me up – crowds of men around an overturned box, cash flying. Initially we thought it was a shell game but then we saw the cards. I’m not sure what game is being played or whether my assumption is correct that it is illegal, but I am intrigued.

Park Carolina is a ginormous park. It has a running track, soccer fields, lagoon, old airplane, and, my favorite part, a wonderful botanical garden. I have dragged a somewhat reluctant Matt to botanical gardens everywhere we have visited and he agreed this one was the best. It might have been because the weather was perfect – low 70s and partly cloudy (key at the equator) – so it was pleasant to stroll around. There were many different exhibits and 2 greenhouses: one devoted to carnivorous plants and one to orchids. I wanted to see a bug get eaten in the Carnivorous greenhouse, but no such luck.

The Orchid Greenhouse contains over 1,200 Ecuadorian species of orchids and is a highlight of the gardens.

Our walks in the parks have been educational and relaxing. Not a bad way to pass the time.

Next Up: Great Museums and The Middle of the World!

Beautiful Basilica de Voto Nacional

“Are these people nuts?” It seems that I ask this question frequently in South America although not often in a church. I am looking at a rickety, unenclosed, 3 story ladder (unless you count the netting and I do not) that leads to the top of the one of bell towers of the magnificent Basilica de Voto Nacional in Quito. A stiff wind is blowing and as I watch, a septuagenarian makes the very wise decision to turn around and descend the ladder on her rear. There is a line of people waiting to ascend and the look of horror on my face makes it clear that I am not planning the climb. Another lady confesses that she made it three steps and had to turn back. I console myself with the fact that the view from the base of the bell tower is fantastic and causing an international incident by getting stuck on the ladder isn’t really necessary. While I am a wimp when it comes to climbing – actually descending – open staircases, this climb isn’t for the faint of heart. The Basilica sits high atop a hill in the city and the towers are 377 feet high.

Basilica de Voto Nacional

Basilica de Voto Nacional

The funny part is that I didn’t feel that the rest of our climb around the Basilica was particularly safe. On the second story balconies we had to climb across crumbling corners and navigate electrical cords everywhere. Guardrails? Please. Apparently, your faith will protect you from harm! But touring the Basilica was well worth the risk – it is as spectacular as its views. It is patterned after Notre Dame and the Gothic design is fantastic. My favorite part was the native species gargoyles although the brilliant stained glass was a close second. The nave itself is unfinished and a bit cold feeling, but there is a small chapel, La Capilla de Sacramento, that is stunning in its decoration. Unfortunately, photos are not permitted in the Chapel.

Pope John Paul II blessed the Basilica in 1985 and this welcoming entrance was one of my favorite parts of the building.

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II

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/

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!

One Year Ex-Pat Anniversary

One year ago today Matt and I and 17 suitcases/boxes arrived in Peru for our new life of international living.


While our new life has had its challenges, what has surprised us is how easy it has been to make the adjustment. We have both improved our Spanish and can navigate the basics in Peru with relative ease (sometimes even on the phone!), we have grown accustomed to livestock in the road and stray dogs everywhere, our opinion of acceptable cleanliness has been necessarily modified, and we have learned to live without some of our favorite foods and luxuries. While we miss our family and friends, with the internet and wifi phone it has been so easy to keep in touch that almost seems as though we aren’t missing out on anything. A far cry from when I lived in Italy 25 years ago and my only method of communication with anyone stateside apart from my parents (whom I was allowed to call for about 10 minutes every 2-3 weeks) was writing letters.

It has been wonderful to immerse ourselves in local culture by hiking in the mountains near our house, traveling within Peru, enjoying the food (with the possible exception of cuy) and celebrating local customs and traditions. We have made good friends – both Peruvians and other expats. Spending almost a month in Buenos Aries and taking a wine trip to Chile and Argentina were both spectacular. In short, we have made the most of this past year.

So Cheers! to our 1st Anniversary of our new ex-pat life. We wish for many more great international years to come.

World Travelers

World Travelers