Monthly Archives: October 2008

Machu Picchu!

well, we made it. we´re back in cusco after four days of hiking, a beautiful day of exploring Machu Picchu, a night in aguas calientes, a delayed train and one final bus ride. the trek was incredible. the hiking itself was tougher than i anticipated (for which i was glad). our group was great: a grand total of ten gringos, 2 guides, and 16 porters (refered to as chaskis, meaning swift footed runners – which they certainly were). here we are in all our glory (if you look closely, you should be able to pick out the cook):

anyways, we began our hike on a sunny friday. the first day was about 12 km total, and most of it was “inca flat” meaning a slight uphill but nothing too bad at all. we stopped for lunch around 2pm and were delighted by our first meal. we started out with some soup, and followed that up with stuffed avocado, river trout, rice, potatoes, juice and tea. it certainly beat the cheese, sausage and crackers that usually comprise a meal for me while camping. after hiking a bit in the afternoon, we settled into our first campsite, where we enjoyed a few beers and awoke the following morning to roosters at 4am and coca tea delivered to our tent at 5. somehow the tea made the early wakeup a bit more bearable. here are some photos of us upon arrival, of the view we saw in the morning, and of chris enjoying his morning cup of coca tea:

day 2 was greeted by sunshine in the morning, which was nice considering this was to be our toughest and highest climb of the trek. we hiked a total of 15 km that day, the majority of which was uphill…and in the rain. we topped off at just over 14,000 ft when all was said and done that day. the hike itself was beautiful – unbelievable views and scenery – despite the 6 straight hours of uphill climb. after our morning tea break, we encountered the rains, and they stuck with us throughout the rest of the day. come sunset, the clouds began to part and we enjoyed a clear evening to relax after a long, chilly day of hiking. here´s a photo of my chaski, quasimoto, on his way up the steepest steps right before we reached dead woman´s pass, along with one of us atop the pass:

following the pass, we made our way down for about 2 hours before reaching the campsite. lucky for us, the fog cleared a bit and we were able to enjoy the valley below. again, the views were just breathtaking (both the night we arrived and the morning after when we were a couple of tired campers)…

day 3 was quite a bit nicer. we hiked 15 km that day as well, but the majority of it was a nice, slight uphill. nothing compared to the day before. the scenery was quite different, as we entered into more humid, wet areas and passed through a cloud forest. the group spread out a bit more on the third day as well, so we were able to enjoy some quiet hiking on the trail (it´s generally quite busy with people!). we passed quite a few ruins along the way, which made for nice rest stops, and ultimately made our ways down 3,000 rocky stairs to reach our final set of ruins for the day, as well as our campsite. our view for most of the afternoon looked a little something like this:

camp the final night was unlike the others in that there was a bar, they sold food, and those who wanted to could take hot showers (we did not want to). dinner the final night even included a cake, prepared by the cook and presented by a chaski. in the photo you can see our guide (david, dressed in yellow), the assistant guide (ricky, on the far left), and one of the chaskis (victor). they baked a cake for us while we were camping?! crazy.

up at 3:40 am the final morning, we readied ourselves for a 4:20 breakfast followed by a 5:00 departure to make our way to the sun gate, where we would catch our first (albeit very foggy) glimpse of machu picchu. we could see very little, but we hung around for a while before the rain really picked up and did manage to see a bit (though the photos suggest otherwise). as we made our way to machu picchu, it cleared a bit, then fogged over even more. patience proved to be a virtue for us though, because as the day progressed we were blessed with more and more blue skies. chris and i chose to climb up waynapicchu, a mountain right next to machu picchu, that we were told would give us spectacular views of the ruins. we hoped what we were told held true, because the climb was a bit ridiculous after waking up before 4 am! here´s a view of machu picchu (the mountain in the background is what we climbed), a view of machu picchu from the top of the climb, and a photo of us and our new friend, the bird right above our heads:

anyways, following the last climb we were entirely beat and opted to head into town for an afternoon of hot springs. sounds delightful, and it might have been had there not been 40 (chris counted) other people in the tub with us. ha! it was semi gross and semi really funny. everybody into the tub.

that about does it for our trek. we´re now over halfway done with our big adventure. today we´re in cusco, and we´ll be here tomorrow as well. there is currently a bus strike that is preventing us from heading down to lake titicaca, but we´re told it should be resolved by friday. our fingers are crossed! in the meantime we relax, enjoy sleeping in a bed, and take some time to explore cusco. hope all is well at home; here´s one final shot of machu picchu for all to enjoy (it really was unbelievably beautiful):

off we go again…

well we leave tomorrow morning for our machu picchu trek, so this is the last you´ll hear of us until at least the middle of next week. we spent all day on tuesday on a bus to lima where we arrived, ate, slept, and boarded our plane to cusco. we got into cusco bright and early on wednesday morning and were into our hostel by 8am, so that was nice. after a breakfast overlooking the plaza de armas, we spent the rest of our day wandering around this quaint little city. nothing too exciting to report, although we have enjoyed a couple nice quiet days of reading, wandering, relaxing, and enjoying. it´s a hard life we lead.

tomorrow morning is certain to bring us some days of excitement as we make our way to machu picchu. our group includes 2 guides, 16 gringos, and 22 porters. evidently gringos necessitate a lot of stuff. the good news for us is that we only carry our sleeping bags, a change of clothes, a book and a camera (and – shhh – maybe a beer or two for the first night)…they handle the rest. not bad for us, not good for them. so it goes.

anyways, off we go on our next adventure. we´ll be back in touch next week, but in the meantime hope all is well at home. bye for now!

back to peru…

hi all,

we made it safe and sound back to peru yesterday morning after a 24 hour bus voyage that carried us from cuenca to machala (both in ecuador still), machala to tumbes (now in peru), and finally tumbes to trujillo (overnight). needless to say, by the time we arrived in huanchaco (a beach town nearby to trujillo), we were sweaty, stinky and in need of a good shower. it was worth it though because our one full day of buses gave us two full days in a nice little beach town, so we’re quite pleased with the choice. some of you might remember huanchaco from earlier in our trip; we were here for a few nights on our way north up the coast right after we left lima. we’re staying at the same hostel even because it has a tv in the room equipped with espn deportes, so i got to watch the red sox last night (at this point i could have done without), and we both get to watch monday night football tonight. suffice to say we already have a bet riding on the winner. go patriots.

anyways, our last bit in ecuador was great. we took the train from riobamba down la nariz del diablo. the train wound its way through the ecuadorian country side for a few hours before we collected a whole bunch more tourists in alausi and headed down la nariz del diablo. while the ride was beautiful (we sat on the roof), by the time we made it to la nariz we were swimming in a sea of tourists and cameras and both feeling a bit claustrophobic. here’s a few photos…one is chris looking thrilled to be on the train, another is the sea of gringos, and another is the view from the train (that was the best part…it was just beautiful).

following riobamba, we began our voyage south. we hopped a bus to cuenca on friday night, ate a delicious dinner of indian food, slept for a bit, and woke up early to begin the next day’s bus journey. one long day and three buses later, we were greeted by a day of sunshine in huanchaco. yesterday was spent relaxing on the sand, and today will more than likely include much of the same. tomorrow morning we’re up and out early once again in order to catch our bus to Lima. wednesday morning we have an early flight to cusco, and machu picchu begins on friday. that marks just about the halfway point in our trip. i keep telling chris it’s crazy how fast it’s going, and he keeps telling me we still have another 7 weeks left. i hope he’s not getting antsy. ha.

anyways, off we go for now. hope all is well at home!

please pardon the interruption…

well it has been quite a while since we last touched base…apologies for the delay. we finished up our last week in cuenca before hopping on a night bus to quito. since then we´ve been on quite the adventure; hopefully you´ll all enjoy our tales. first things first: a couple photos. there´s one of chris and me with our teachers (they´re so wee next to the american giants). the second one is me in the bar we went to our last night in cuenca with the folks from the zoo. the ceiling really was low…although none of the ecuadorians seemed to have any problems with it. damn.

quito was nice although we had terrible rains each afternoon while we were there. the first day was spent wandering around the old town. the streets are all pretty small, and because it was a holiday in ecuador, they were packed with families milling about. it was a nice way to spend our first morning. here´s a look at our smiling faces in quito:

following the first day in old town, we enjoyed an afternoon of pouring rain, a dinner of street food, and an early night to read. saturday morning we were up early to head to la mitad del mundo…the center of the world! we took about two hours worth of buses to get to the equator despite the fact that it is right outside of quito. chris had little interest in the tourist trap, but i insisted, so we went – and it was fun. i´m not sure if the video will post properly (i know it´s the wrong direction – but hopefully it will work because it´s funny)…i´ll try it anyways. if it works, you can judge for yourselves whether or not chris has fun at the tourist trap. ha.

anyways, here´s a few photos of us too (scott, this one´s for you):

following our trip to the equator, we returned to quito for more rain. needless to say, come sunday morning we were happy to find ourselves on a bus out of the big city and away from rainy afternoons (or so we thought). we hopped on a bus to Zumbahua, a tiny little town on what is known as the Quilatoa Loop. the bus ride was absolutely beautiful…pretty, pretty scenery of rugged mountains, patchwork hillsides (much like ireland though less green), and scary roads. upon arrival in Zumbahua, we were greeted by music from the town below. we made our way down the hill only to find very, very drunk indigenous people stumbling up the hill towards up. it was around 4:00 in the afternoon. anyways, as we walked around town – a tiny town that was packed with people – we found more music, more drunks, and a HUGE town party. we managed to check into a hostel right by the market square (which was now the main party spot) after the hostel owner saw a couple of gringos knocking on her door and emerged from the dancing masses. oh, and at this point it had started to rain again. anyways, here´s the view from our hostel balcony (where we spent much of the night drinking beers and observing the craziness below), along with another photo of our mischievous looking selves. it was a fun night (the party was for 3 weddings and a bunch of baptisms and it finally ended around 10 pm…crazy).

the following morning we hopped into a truck that would take us to Laguna Quilatoa, a volcano crater. from there we planned to hike around the crater and then down into a town a couple villages away where we would spend the night. the day started off beautiful and sunny. the hiking was amazing despite the altitude (we started at around 12,000 feet and wound up at around 9,000). there were supposed to be signs leading our way, but most of them had been removed by locals wishing to work as guides for the hikers. lucky for us they removed the signs but left the signposts so combined with our guidebook´s instructions, we had plenty of information to help us on our way. the total hike was around four and a half hours which was great aside from the rain and the canyon that made up the last hour and a half or so. when we reached the canyon, we could look to the other side and see the hostel where we would stay…we just had to get there. it started raining about halfway down into the canyon so for the second half of the way down and the entire way up, we were drenched and tired. it´s three days later at this point and we´re both still sore. needless to say, it was a tough hike but we both went to sleep that night with big smiles on our faces (part of those grins may be attributed to the celebratory beers we shared with a group of canadians at our hostel). anyway, here´s a few more photos…one of me on top of the crater (the view was amazing), one of chris and i along our way, and one of us drenched at the end of the hike (brr):

following the hike we spent the night and the next day in the village of Chugchilan. it was tiny, beautiful and wonderfully relaxing. not a whole lot to do, but a morning walk, an afternoon of reading and chess, and we were both quite happy.

the following morning we had to be ready by 9am to catch the milk truck on its way through town. it was to be our ride to Sigchos, a village about 25km away from Chugchilan. we quickly learned that by milk truck they did not necessarily mean milk DELIVERY truck so much as milk GATHERING truck. we stopped every so often to collect buckets of milk from the locals along our journey. the man in the bed of the truck dumped them into two giant blue drums, at times offering the milk deliverer a fresh jug of milk, at times picking up an empty propane tank, at times collecting a few locals to join along our voyage. it was a tight squeeze by the end (when all was said and done, there were 2 milk truck workers, at least 3 locals, 4 french folks, a canadian and two americans in/on the truck). here´s a few photos from our journey:

once we got to sigchos, we waited a few hours for our next adventure (this was a busy day): the bus to latacunga where we would then catch another bus to ambato, followed by another bus to baños. our bus left sigchos at around 1:30, which meant we were to arrive in latacunga around 3:30. perfect. the ride was a bit crazy…we hugged the side of cliffs for the first hour´s descent. about five minutes from the bottom a very noticeable burning brakes smell made its way into the bus. we made it though, and our only interruption for the next bit was an alpaca in the road, followed by a few cows in the road. not bad. proceed forward about 45 minutes and things turn sour. we´ve since climbed and descended a few more hills, and have reached a semi flat spot when CRUNCH GRUMBLE CLUNK SMASH the bus stops. we´re stopped on the side of the road and we´re not going anywhere soon. it´s raining now too. all the bus kids (by that i mean the men in charge of the bus) hop off, most of the riders hop off, and we wait. they pull some rope down off of the roof, grab a couple metal rods, jack up the bus, and begin working…and working…and working. at one point they had about eight men pulling on a rope attached to something under the bus in an attempt to fix the problem. hmm. anyways, fast forward an hour (not bad!) and they have successfully secured a couple metal rods with rope to whatever caused the problem below. we´re back on our way. the bus isn´t making awful noises anymore, so all seems to be fine. we make it to Latacunga (where we are to change to our next bus) and can´t help but wonder if they intend to actually fix the bus or just go along with their ropes and rods until something flares up again. either way, we´re done with that bus and on to the next.

two buses later, we´re making our way into baños, a town known for its thermal baths. we arrive without a glitch, check into our hostel, eat some pizza (mmm…a lovely american reward after a long day of travel), and head to the thermal pools. we have about an hour to spend before they close for the night at ten, and i have to say it was magnificent. we sat in a pool gazing at a waterfall about thirty feet from us, all of it illuminated by the dull glow of lights from the thermal bath place. it was absolutely beautiful and a perfect way to unwind after our long hike (the hot baths were great for our aching selves), our crazy bus rides, and an active few days.

now it´s thursday morning and we have our hostel here until 2 in the afternoon. we plan to walk to some springs about 3 km out of town for the morning, enjoy the hot baths there, then return here to gather our belongings and head for the bus. we need to be in Riobamba this afternoon in order to buy tickets for our next adventure: a crazy train ride down La Nariz del Diablo. look that one up. that will happen tomorrow morning, then we begin our journey back to Lima. Machu Picchu begins next Friday, so we have from now until Wednesday to be in Cuzco.

Off we go for now…sorry again for the delay! hope all is well at home!

our final Cuenca weekend…

well, we´re back after one last weekend in cuenca. we have four more days of volunteering and schooling, then we´re off once again. the plan as of now is to take a night bus to Quito on thursday, so we´ll arrive bright and early Friday morning. Cuenca has been great for sure, but we´re both looking forward to being back in the world of doing what we please when we please. i also have to admit that i´m looking forward to eating what we please when we please (i had a dream about a salad last night – i swear).

anyways, this weekend was a fun one. friday afternoon we went to a local hat museum for class – it´s pretty interesting and amazing how they weave the hats by hand. the other highlight of the afternoon was the fact that they served real coffee (not nescafe instant coffee) in the coffee shop at the museum. i was a happy person that day. after a quick dinner at home, we hit the road and headed back into town to grab a few beers. we happened to stumble upon the red sox game, so needless to say i insisted we hung around that bar for most of the night. saturday morning we slept in, then headed off to a nearby suburb of cuenca called baños (it´s a town full of hot springs and thermal pools). we found a nice quiet place where we had the pool to ourselves all afternoon. it made for a wonderfully relaxing day. saturday night proved to be our big night out…after dinner we stopped by our favorite little place near the casa for a 70 cent beer (BIG beer – 700 ml), then made our way to calle larga, the street with most of the bars. we had ourselves a good little night, and i insisted upon eating bacon flavored potato chips at the end of it. that ought to give you a decent hint as to how the evening played out. i would have sworn then that they were delicious. ha ha.

anyways, yesterday we got up late, had some breakfast and headed to the park for a bit. chris bought a green (SOUR!) mango that turned out to be delicious when eaten with salt. i´m telling you, the fruits they have here are wonderful. yum. for lunch we piled in the car and headed to jaime´s (the dad) cousin´s house. big lunch followed by lots of card playing. in the end, chris won the pot (a whopping total of $1.80). go gringos, go. he he. following the cards, we piled back into the car to visit a cousin with a broken foot who lived nearby. we hung out there for some family videos and coffee, then piled back in the car to drive up to a lookout point. it was really pretty, and overall the day was great, but we were both quite happy to return home at the end of it all and climb into bed with our books.

now it´s monday and we´re working on our translation this morning. we don´t have much big planned before we leave, but there is the one missing piece of the puzzle left to be completed: the cuy dinner (review: guinea pig). mmm….

back to translating we go for now. hope everyone is well!

p.s. as of tuesday we will have been on the road for one month exactly

our new friends…

this week has been a full one of working in the mornings and classes in the afternoons. our original volunteer project has changed because when we went to work on monday, our work had left without us. so it goes. we talked to the folks at school and they found us a new home for the mornings, so now we are working at zoologico Amaru, a small (read: tiny) zoo in Cuenca. it´s pretty good though; we spend our mornings watching the animals being fed and translating the website into english. good practice for a couple of gringos.

oh, i´ve included some photos, but again i´m having the same trouble with not being able to see them. there are a few of our new friends from the zoo (the crocodile is named frances and tomorrow we get to watch him eat live chickens – gulp). there´s one of us in our sweet uniforms. the flash does wonders to the reflective tape on them. ha. there´s another one of Chris from last night. we went to a bar for some wine after class and when we left, stumbled upon some fireworks/music display for the miss cuenca pageant. it was weird and only got weirded when the fireworks they were using started going off into the crowd as opposed to into the sky. the band never stopped playing (despite the fact that they were being showered by flames). odd for sure.

this morning we went to the university to chat with a class (one of the teachers from our school invited us to speak to them). their first question: what do you think about cuenca? their second question: are you married? HA. they´re puzzled by the notion of two unmarried people traveling together it seems.

anyways, classes are going well. we´ve made it through three weeks of travel (as of tuesday) and still enjoy one another´s company, so things are going well. right now we´re working on plans for the weekend…i think they might entail a couple of day trips from cuenca – nothing big. we´re out of here next friday…time has certainly flown.

OH, yesterday at lunch chris ate chicken hearts, liver and kidneys. i couldn´t manage to choke it down, so the family suggested he eat mine as well (sucker). it was gross.

speaking of, we´re still looking to try the local specialty – cuy (pronounced koo-ey) – before we go. for those of you unfamiliar with cuy, it´s guinea pig and apparently it´s delicious. we´ll let you know and we´ll share photos.

in the meantime, off we go for now. hope all is well at home (all must be well given that the sox are up 1-0). take care and thanks to everyone for their comments!