navigatable lake in the world. It is a massive lake and the waters are an incredible clean blue color. Really nice and the hills and lake kind of reminds us of the Okanagan Valley.
Why are we here?? Well we wanted to see the Lake and the floating villages made of reed grass but we are also going to take a small side trip into Bolivia to see the salt plains (Salar de Uyuni), giant cacti and amazing landscapes.
Now, for an update on what we have done the past few days. This is a bit of a long one.......We last left Arequipa on a 10 hour overnight bus to Cusco (we splurged for sleeper seats, seats that almost fold right down to make a bed, damn seats still werenīt long enough for my legs!)
. That was going to be our base for our 3 day hike and 1 day at Machu Picchu. Cusco turned out to be a really interesting city. Lots of architectually neat looking buildings and massive churches, many nice plazas around the city too. Cusco, is much higher in altitude than any of the previous places we have been to and the guidebooks all tell you to take it easy the first couple of days, eat light meals and get lots of rest. Well, we kind of did that for the most part, except that I ate a fairly large lunch that day and went for a walk around town. Not good. A few hours later I was feeling the effects of altitude sickness with a pretty good headache, chills and nausea. Back to the coca leaves and coca tea! What a saviour they are. A few hours sleep and by the night, I was feeling almost back to normal. Kim must be a lot tougher as she had no ill effects.
The next day, we did a day tour to a couple of Inca historical sites, the salt mines and a place called Moray, an ingenious Inca invention to develop cold-hardier crops. At Moray, there is a series of circular terraces that were built downwards (or upwards, depending on how you look at it) and as you go downwards and depending on the direction the terrace is facing, the climate changes and becomes a bit warmer. So that from the top to the bottom (which is a few hundred feet), there is about an average of 15 degrees celcius temperature difference
. The Incaīs would plant crops (eg. potatoes, quinoa, wheat, maize) in selected areas and each year, from the seeds that they would collect, slowly move them up the terraces so that in a few years, they would have a much cold-hardier crop. Pretty amazing really. We could really notice the difference ourselves from the top to the bottom.
We also went to the salt mines another Inca site where the locals would make and mine salt from many little salt pads that they would make in the ground. At the site, there is a small channel of very salty water running out of the ground. The site is very similar to their farming methods in that they would make many little terraced fields and built irrigation channels to each of the little fields. They would divert the running salt water to a field, fill it up and slowly from evaporation, the water would disappear and all that is left is a form of salt. They would harvest the salt and use it to preserve alpaca or llama meat, fish and other things. They would also trade it for other goods. There are over 500 families still working the salt fields today.
The next day was the start of our 3 day Lares trail hike so we spent most of the evening getting ready and we met with our guide, Emilio to go over some of the details of the trip
. Nice guy, spent most of his life in the Peruvian army but was now a guide for the past 3 years. He went through all the details with us and made it clear on what we should bring or not bring.
It was an early morning rise as we were getting picked up at 6:30am. Emilio was there to pick us up in a little white car with our cook Erlocio and a driver who we never did get his name. We left Cusco for a little place called Calca where we would stop to get breakfast and tour the local market. Calca was a couple of hours away and our little white car had a serious exhaust leak. Kim sat in the middle on a hump that penetrated her tailbone with every bump. Lets just say, it was a long ride. At Calca, our guide led us through this amazing outdoor market, where all the locals sold their multi varieties of corn and potatoes, Quinoa, fresh vegies, fruit, coffee and you name it. We took to the indoor market where we ate our breakfast and witnessed lots of butchering of meats at the market. We saw a Peruvian man order cow brain. Out came the saw, off went the top of the head and with a bag, the local lady, tenderly dug out the brain and placed it into a bag which he paid for and began licking his lips. Cow brain for breakfast anyone?
After our breakfast we were back into the exhaust filled car and witnessed some of the most spectacular views
. Massive mountains, deep canyons, hillsides full of cascading terraces of corn, beans, quinoa and potatoes. The Peruvian people, we soon gained so much respect for. Such hard working, strong people that climb those mountains by foot herding their llamas, alpacas, cattle, sheep and at least one or two dogs twice a day, every day. They are out there in the early morning digging trenches, harvesting their prize veggies until dark. Many women, carrying their babies on their backs weaving the alpaca wool onto spools as they herd their animals or are digging by hand in the most precisely worked fields, you would think a machine did it. Let us just say that no machine we have could operate on the slopes these amazing people work. We made our way to Lares, where we enjoyed a dip in the natural hotsprings. After lunch, we set off for our trek along fields of quinoa and corn. We gained about 700 meters that half day, but taking some of the climbs certainly was a challange for us flatlanders. It is amazing how the difference in altitude can affect ones body. Making you feel like you were on your 20th kilometer of your half marathon. We came to a school by a nearby village and were greeted by many small children hoping for candy or solies. Mike had a fifteen pens that he handed out to a bunch of children and adults. One small little boy, wearing such dirty, torn clothes, barefoot with the runniest nose you have ever seen had such a cute smile on his face. Amazing how, even though they were soooo poor, they really had all they need from what they provide for themselves
. Happy and content in the world they all know and culture they strongly abide. We arrived at our campsite, where the horseman (we had 2 horses and one donkey carrying all of the gear we needed), cook and helper had our tent all set up and tea, popcorn and freshly baked banana pastries awaited. It cooled off throughout the night, close to 5 or so degrees. We enjoyed our supper in the horseman's house in a small village called Huacahuasi. The horseman's 18 year old wife and year old baby left their home so we were able to experience what an local home was like. The small door that both of us had to bend down to enter was the only natural light available as the stone/clay house had no windows. A small bed full of alpaca skins and blankets, beneath the bed lived nearly 10 guinea pigs that had an abundance of grass provided for them amongst the dirt floor. A lonely chicken popped in and out of the house throughout the evening. In one corner there was a small clay stove made where they would make a small fire to cook on and an interesting little beer making, corn fermenting machine that made chicha-the peruvian homemade beer. A bag of dried potatoes and rice sitting on a high bench. Our first night was under the stars in a tent and we had a nice sleep under some cool but comfortable conditions.
We woke up early as a loud speaker was blaring from one of the nearby houses. It seems that there is one local person that broadcasts the daily news and events to everyone in earīs range
. Neat but not great to hear at 5:30am. After a breakfast of bread, jam and butter (for the 18th time since we had been in Peru) we were off on the trail at 7:30am. It was a nice sunny morning and cool, great conditions to do some hiking. This day, we were going to make it to the highest point on the trek, 4350m (14,300 feet) in the first 3 hours from where we were at 3800m. It was an amazing walk, the scenery was spectacular with snow-covered mountains, waterfalls, small crystal clear lakes and of course all the locals, doing what they do, even at 4000m. Crazy really, seeing them farm potatoes on the steep sides of the mountains. We had a great morning even though it started raining about 45 minutes before we made it to the top. The coca leaves sure helped me out again getting rid of a headache as we got close to the top. It was a bit tough going, as our lungs burned a bit and our legs tired with every step but we made it with several breaks and it was well worth it. The views were fantastic! Once we got to the top, it was down hill all the way and it was one of the nicest downhill views we have ever saw, if you catch our drift.
A short 45 minutes later we were under a tent drying off a bit and sipping hot tea and eating hot soup. It was welcomed for sure. Unfortunately, it continued to rain the full 2 and a half hours of our afternoon hike until we reached the village of Patacancha
. What was really interesting was that our group of two horses and one donkey were nowhere to be seen. They had always been ahead of us and had all the tents and gear set up before we would arrive. It took us another hour and a half before they arrived and we found out what had happened. We were quite cold by then with the wind and rain. Turned out that the donkey had slipped twice and fell once into a small creek, soaking our sleeping mattresses and a small part of one sleeping bag. So, we now had a problem with our sleeping arrangements. The cook (after a bit of an argument with the guide) ended up picking our camping spot at a local house which turned out good for us as we both got to sleep on the floor on the second floor of the house. They put out some alpaca rugs and blankets and with our sleeping bags, that was our bed for the night. Our guide thought it was too wet outside in the tent too, so he grabbed the bed next to our sleeping area. We guessed though that we had evacuated a sweet little old lady out of her nice warm bed as she was standing at the doorway when we moved in. The guide said no problem but we had some doubts when we noticed a pair of well worn sandals under the bed.
It finally stopped raining (after some serious downpours throughout the night) at 4:30am and we woke up to a bit of blue sky and sun and another village idiot who had to blare his music and announcements to the rest of the village at 5:30am.....again
! After breakfast, we were off on the last part of our hike down to the village of Ollantaytambo. We were a little disappointed that day as most of the 5 hour hike was along a gravel road. It was a beautiful sunny day and the scenery was very good. As we were descending in altitude (nearly one kilometre that day), Kim started feeling the effects of altitude sickness. Who knew that one could get it as you were going down in elevation? She had a headache, chills and was ready to toss her breakfast. She got better about an hour after taking an altitude sickness pill (she wasn't thrilled about the taste of coca leaves.....she would rather stick her tongue to a frozen swingset in January than chew on those). The hike was similar to the other two days as we hiked through various villages and past fields and locals along the way. We got into Ollantaytambo after lunch and that was the end of the hike. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
From Ollantaytambo, our tour continued to Aguas Calientes, the town from which you visit Machu Pichu. Due to the heavy rains in January, a big section of the train tracks were wiped out so we had to take a minivan ride for an hour to the kilometre 82 train station. Things were quite messed up because of this and a large part of the one hour ride was along a one lane gravel road that caused a lot of traffic jams when vehicles came upon each other. From kilometre 82, we caught a Peru Rail train for an hour and a half and we were greeted by a hotel staff member.....had our names on a sign which made us feel like rockstars
May 2nd – Machu Picchu!! What a day to visit the site. Sunny, warm and only a few low lying clouds at the tops of the mountains which added to the spectacular scenery. There were a lot of people at the site as there is the daily limit of 200 Inca Trail hikers and then the bus loads of other people that come up from the town. We had a guide as part of our tour package that met us there and gave us a 3 hour tour. We were amazed by the site as Machu Picchu was built high up on a mountain and we walked around quite a bit and up to the Sun Gate to get another view. All in all, it was a memorable day that we will not soon forget.
Hope all is well with everyone....Kim and Mike
We are now writing from Puno, Peru. A small city on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest