Friday, November 10, 2006

2003 - Peru and the Inca Trail Trek

This is the story of an old trip, posted after someone asked for details.

Travel Report

This was a 2-week independent itinerary arranged by Amazon Adventures. The tour operator worked out my transportation between cities, and arranged either for a guide or for me to join a local day tour in each city. This gave me something more independent than the average bus tour with evenings free to look around on my own, while eliminating most of the transportation hassles.

Day 1 - Flight to Lima
– depart Austin at 135pm and arrive at Lima at 1032pm. Take a taxi to the Melodia Hotel at Ave. La Marina 2247 in San Miguel.

Our flight was an hour late, I changed a couple hundred dollars to local currency, and got most of it in small bills, which was helpful since change is sometimes hard to get for large bills, but it meant I had to stuff a big wad into my money pouch. I passed through the crowd of people and found a taxi outside. After we left, the driver tried to make some friendly talk, but he could not understand my rudimentary spanish and I could barely understand his rudimentary english. He tried to convince me to go to a different hotel, but I kept insisting we go where I had the reservation. Finally I got there around midnight. The hotel was on a busy street, and there was some type of casino down the street. With all the honking, I had to step out of my room and close the window in the hall so I could get some sleep.

Day 2 - Lima to Ica
– breakfast, then at 615am you will be met in the hotel lobby and transferred to the bus station to take the bus to Ica, which departs at 7am and arrives at 1130am. After getting off the bus, look for a person holding a sign with your name on it. He will transfer you to the Las Dunas Hotel. He will go over your schedule for this area. Later you will be picked up to take the flight over the Nazca Lines and then will be returned back to the hotel.

In the middle of the city, I woke up to the sound of roosters outside at the crack of dawn. I was met at the hotel by a driver from the local tour company. He drove me to the bus station, worked out all the tickets, and made sure I got on the correct bus. I was told this transfer only added 10 dollars or so to my overall tour cost, and it was well worth it to remove the hassle.

The bus ride went through some of the most desolate desert I have ever seen. It was a double-decker bus and I was on the top floor. A ham sandwich was served on the ride, and I think it made me a little sick later. but I took the pills and got the sickness over with early in the trip. The hotel was a resort with huge sand dunes near by. Some people were "surfing" down the dunes on something that looked like a boogie board. A small plane ride flew us over the Nazca lines. It was interesting but a little anti-climatic. Before landing, the plane flew over the city of Ica, and I could not help but notice it appeared one in 6 structures had holes in the roof or else collapsed roofs. Similarily on the bus ride, from the top-level of the bus I had noticed many similar structures that appeared to be falling apart. Four years later, in 2007 an earthquake would devastate this city rendering a reported 80%-90% of buildings unsafe.

Day 3 - Paracas
– early breakfast, then you will be met and transferred to Paracas to tour the Ballestas Islands and Paracas Reserve. In the afternoon you will be returned to Ica and the Las Dunas. Then you will go by bus back to Lima where you will be met and transferred back to the Melodia Hotel when the bus arrives at 7pm.

The boat tour took us through the Ballestas Islands which were covered in seagulls, seals, and penguins. The islands had been mined for fertilizer due to the seagull dung that had build up over hundreds of years to depths of a couple of hundred feet. In the afternoon, we took a driving tour of the Paracas peninsula. It is all desert, no vegetation. The terrain looks like sand in the pictures, but it is not. It is compacted dirt. There was no road, we just took off driving in a car across the plains. Eventually we reached a small fishing town where we had a good lunch of fried fish. Then I got on the bus back to Lima. Arrived 2 hours late, but my transfer was still waiting. This time the driver for the transfer back to the hotel was a middle aged mother talked about her kids during the 20-minute drive. We took the back routes through residential neighborhoods to avoid the traffic. Every park we passed was filled with couples kissing. As we drove along, she pointed out the townhouses where her family and extended family lived. She kept doublechecking over and over again that the car doors were locked.

Day 4 - Transfer to Puno
– breakfast, then take a taxi to the airport to arrive by 11am for Aerocontinente 1171, which departs at 12 and arrives in Juliaca at 215pm. After getting your luggage, walk out the exit door and look for a person holding a sign with your name on it. He will transfer you to the Qelqatani Hotel in Puno. He will go over your schedule for this area.

The flight stopped to refuel in Arequipa before flying to Juliaca. Flying out of Arequipa we flew between two impressive mountains. May need to go back sometime for some hiking here. I was met at the airport by a local tour agency owner. It was a 30 or 45 minute drive to Puno. He talked about the history of the area on the way. Coming from sea level to a city at 12,500 feet left me rather dizzy. This was really noticeable walking up to the second story of the hotel. The coca tea served everywhere helped with the altitude sickness. This was the start of the acclimatization before the Inca Trail Trek which would begin in a few days.

I wandered around through the local markets and the tourist shopping district in the city center. I had a nice dinner, and then found an internet cafe a few blocks from the city center. Throughout Peru, the internet cafe's usually were filled more with locals than tourists. There were fathers showing their kids things on the internet.

Day 5 - Lake Titicaca: Homestay on Amantani Island
– breakfast, then you will be picked up and taken to the dock for your tour to the islands in Lake Titicaca. You will first visit the Uros floating reed islands and then will continue to Amantani Island. It has 6 villages and ruins on both of the island peaks, Pachatata and Pachamama. From there are excellent views of the lake; there are temples and on the shore and there is a throne carved out of stone. The Quechua-speaking Indians make beautiful textiles. You will overnight with a local family.

I got up early to take some pictures of some of the local churches with the early morning light shining on the church face from across the lake. Then boarded a small boat with about 25 others, mostly in mid-20's to early 30's. Most of the group was European - mostly German, Swiss, and Belgian. There were a few Australians and Britons but I was the only American. First stop was the floating islands of Uros, build on mounds of reeds. The original tribe that created these islands no longer exists, but others maintain the appearance and living conditions for the tourists.
Then we traveled by boat to Amantani island where we started the most unique part of the trip. We were paired up with a local family to spend the night. I was paired up with 2 other solo travelers, college age girls from Spain and Brittan. The mother walked us to their house. It had I think 4 rooms, one of which the tourists shared. We had lunch which consisted of soup and a bowl of small finger sized potatoes. The potatoes were the pride of the island. The culture of this island never integrated with the Hispanic culture, and keeps much traditional language and culture. The family spoke no english and only a little spanish such that even the Spanish girl had trouble communicating. The father asked the spanish girl in Spanish for a "fire for the cold." She thought it was some weird come-on, but it turned out he was trying to ask for a cigarette. There was no electricity since the island ran out of money for fuel. We met the rest of the group for a Island tour up to one of the two mountain peaks on the island where there were ruins of an old temple. Then in the evening the local residents hosted a dance in their community center where they had us dress up in traditional costumes and taught us some traditional dances.

Day 6 - Lake Titicaca: Taquile Island to Puno
– breakfast, then you will continue to Taquile Island. The most fascinating island in the lake is 45km from Puno. It is about seven km long and one km wide and has several hills with Inca terracing. The scenery of the islands is beautiful. The soil is a deep earthy red color which in the strong highland sunlight, contrasts magnificently against the intense blue of the lake. The backdrop of the snowcapped Cordillera Real on the far side completes a splendid picture. The people wear colorful traditional clothes which they make themselves, they speak Quechua rather than the Aymara language of most Titicaca Indians, maintain a strong air of group individuality and don't often marry with non Taquile people. You will return to Puno where you will be transferred back to the hotel.

Leaving Amantani Island

Taquile Island

Day 7 - Bus ride from Puno to Cusco
– breakfast, then you will be transferred to the station for the bus to Cusco. After arriving in Cusco you will be met by a person holding sign with your name on it and will be transferred to the Emperador Plaza Hotel. He will go over your schedule for this area and will give you any needed vouchers.

I left Puno in the morning on a bus to Cusco. Most people from the boat trip I think were going to use cheaper, faster normal bus transport between cities, but this bus had a tour guide and we stopped at several places along the way. We saw several stops along the way off the main tourist track. It took 8 hours instead of 5 or so for the normal bus ride, but it was worth it for what we saw. The guy sitting next to me didn't think so, since he had Montezuma's revenge and needed the trip to be over sooner.

Day 8 - Cusco
– breakfast, then free morning till you are picked up in the afternoon for a city and nearby ruins tour. Visit the Cathedral built from 1560 to 1654 at the site of Viracocha Inca palace. It is the best example of the European art done by natives of Cusco and has the high altar plated with silver, contains masterpieces of woodcarvings and painting. The Koricancha, which displays the best Inca stonework in Cusco.

Explore the ancient Indian sanctuary of Sacsayhuaman with magnificent Inca walls with massive rocks weighing up to 130 tons fitted together with absolute perfection. The amphitheater of Qenqo, the fortress of Pukapukara and the spring-shrine of Tambomachay where water still flows by a hidden channel out of the masonry wall are also visited.

I wandered around the town in the morning and visited several local markets. I picked up a variety of local crafts and tapestries as gifts for pretty cheap prices. My hotel was on a street with a lot of laundries. I dropped off my clothes, and got them back clean and folded nicely a few hours latter for only a couple of dollars.

In the afternoon, I met a half day bus tour of the city and surrounding sights. I was continuously amazed at the engineering that the Inca's put into everything. Huge stone blocks cut perfectly everywhere so that no masonry was needed. The spanish invaders destroyed so much of it often there is very little left, but what was left was amazing. I wish I had one extra day in Cusco.

In the late afternoon, the tour guide was explaining that despite being at 10,000 feet there was hardly ever any snow due to the proximity to the equator. Then clouds moved in and we got a snow flurry. Our tour guide was excited because she had not seen snow in 17 years.

Day 9 - Sacred Valley Tour
- Breakfast, then you will be picked up for a full day Sacred Valley tour, including lunch. Colorful morning markets are open, where you can purchase Peruvian weavings, jewelry, and pottery, and see a traditional Indian market where goods are traded and get an introductory view of the local diet. The Inca town of Ollantaytambo is clearly seen as a fine example of the traditional Inca City planning of Canchas or blocks, which are almost entirely intact and still occupied. The tour includes a visit to the village, terraces, temples, irrigation systems, granaries, the fortress and the temple of the Sun built by Pachacuti Inca, using Colla Indians from Lake Titicaca. We may visit the village of Chinchero if time permits. You will return at about 6-630pm

This was a day-long bus tour of some of sights near Cusco in the Urubamba valley, also known as the Sacred valley. We stopped in Pisac village which had a weekend market. Much of it was for tourists but there was a local section where people were selling food and wares.

The ruins of Ollantaytambo were one of the more interesting sites. The Inca's had picked the location facing a particular mountain because (1) only on the summer solstice did the sun rise cast a shadow from the left side of the mountain on a certain spot, and then (2) only on the winter solstice does the sun rise on the other side of the mountain and cast a shadow on the same spot in the temple. For a structure that took over 100 years to build, such planning went into everything.
We had to travel over some high mountain passes to get back. We stopped in the village of Chinchero where there was some kind of local festival and we toured a local church.

Day 10 - Start Inca Trail Trek
– breakfast, then you will be picked up to start the 5 day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu.

From Cusco we met our guide and other travelers. there was only a couple from Paris, myself, our main guide and about a dozen porters and the cook. We drove out past Ollantaytambo to the trail head where most of the guides were hired.

Then we hiked about 10k to the first stop near the Llactapata ruin.

After setting up camp we wandered over and explored the ruin. Local kids were playing with dolls in one part of it. The Inca's had set up settlements every 7-10 km along the trail. These served as exchange points for messengers who would run between stations and hand off the message to the next runner.

I think our cook bought chickens from the local farmer whose land we camped on. We had an excellent meal of baked chicken that night, although that was the last night of such fresh food.

Day 11-13 - Hiking the Machu Picchu trail.

The day typically began with a porter bringing tea to my tent. there was a choice of various herbs including coca. Tea in these parts of Peru does not come in bags, but instead is what ever herbs could be collected from the mountain side, and thrown straight into the cup of hot water. Whether it was some kind of mint or coca tea, it was always the best tea I ever had. Then we would have breakfast in the main tent and go off hiking. Usually there was a bag lunch somewhere. The lunch stop would often correspond to one of the inca ruins along the way. Dinner was never bad, although I could tell they used up much of the fresh food in the first two days and later meals were simpler dishes.

The porters were able to move quickly. Always leaving camp after us, and arriving and setting up the next camp before we got there, no matter how hilly the trail was. Our guide told me about the Machu Picchu marathon that ran the same route we were taking 4 days to hike. I had just done my first marathon earlier in the year and I was thinking it would be crazy to run this course. Now after running the pikes peak marathon I would find this tempting.

The trek included 3 high mountain passes, the highest was Warmiwanusca Pass at 13,773ft (4198M). We passed through several villages in the early part of the trek and would see school kids walking to school along the trail in the mornings. One cute kid grabbed my arm to see my watch to tell if he was running late for school. My guide explained he was asking what time it was so I tried to reply in spanish, but the guide had to translate that to Quecha, the local language.

This tour was 5-days/4 nights. Most other tours on this route are 4-day/3 night tours. I liked the longer option since it was less rushed. It also meant we arrived and got our first sight of Machu Picchu in the afternoon instead of morning, when the light was better for pictures. We walked through a very small part of the ruins since the main visit was to be the next day, and we caught a bus that took us down the mountain to our campsite. The last night of camping was at the base of the mountain, 1km from the tourist town of Aguas Calientes. We walked in the evening into town and visited the thermal pools at a local hot springs spa to bathe. I picked up a nasty cold here that would stay with me for a couple of weeks.

If I were to do this again, I still would have taken the longer (5-day) trek schedule, but would have liked to be with one of the larger groups. It is nothing against the guide or people I traveled with, but I learned half-way through the trek that this local tour operator for the hike specialized in private romantic treks, so I was a little like the third wheel. I saw several larger groups doing a similar schedule along the trek that might have been a better fit for me.

Day 14 - Machu Picchu to Cusco
– after touring Machu Picchu and having some free time to explore the site on your own, you will take the train back to Machu Picchu, where you will be met and transferred back to your hotel.

In the morning, we caught a bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu. At the ticket office, they took our passports, and returned them with a Machu Picchu entry stamp on one of the pages. After spending half a day in Machu Picchu, we went back to Aguas Calientes for a few hours of shopping and a buffet lunch. Then we boarded the train for the ride back to Cusco. The Cusco tour operator met us at an early train stop before Cusco. It seems there is one point where it was quicker to drive the last few miles since the train had to take some final switchbacks into Cusco rather slow, so they saved us an hour by getting us off the train early.

Day 15 - Lima
– breakfast, then free morning till you are transferred back to the airport in time for Aerocontinente 1144, departing at 1030am and arriving at 1130am. Sorry, but you have all day to wait till your flight back to U.S. which departs at 1147pm. You might want to take a taxi to visit a museum or 2.

The local tour operator gave me a ride to the airport. This dude was making a lot of money from this job, and was not afraid to show it with a really nice car.

I arrived back in Lima, but had 12 hours until the next flight. So I checked my luggage into the locked luggage office, and jumped on a bus to downtown Lima. The bus would drop off travelers at any hotel or tourist location. The bus was only 10 pesetas, and at this time of day did not make any stops until it got to the central square. This was much cheaper than the 80 peseta ($20) taxi to the hotel so next time I will take this bus.

On the bus, I got to talking to another American whose name I do not recall. We ended up walking around town together. This was a little safer than walking alone. We went through a couple of churches and museums. The cathedral of San Franscisco had some interesting catacombs. We walked south past the Supreme Court to a market mentioned in the tour book, but it was not a market for tourists. Mostly consumer goods, but it appeared to be a little black market. When we walked past the section where people were selling guns, we decided it was time to turn around.

Then we walked past the soccer stadium. There was a big crowd gathering for a game against Argentina. Someone tried to unzip my friend's pocket where his wallet was, but we caught it in time that they did not get anything. Then we walked back towards the main square. We found a sidewalk cafe to have a bite to eat. The owners were friendly and chatted with us for a while. Then we found a tourist craft market where we unloaded some of our last Peruvian money. When it was time to return to the airport, we went back to the main plaza. My friend asked an attractive police woman in Spanish how best to hail a safe taxi (we have heard stories of taxi drivers taking charges to remote areas and extorting money). They flirted for a bit and then she hailed the taxi for us. I gave the driver all my remaining change for the fare and tip. I think it was 11 or 12 pesetas.

Day 16 - Return to U.S.
– arrive in Houston at 615am, then connect to Austin, departing at 922am and arriving in Austin at 1024am

The overnight flight was mostly un-dramatic. I got stuck in the middle seat. The woman next to me had a baby in her lap. I woke up around 3 am to the strong smell of crap. And I found she was changing the diaper with the baby in her lap right next to me. She perhaps did not realize there was a changing table in the restroom.

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  1. Oh my GOD- this is awesome!!! Can you send me all your travel logs please please please? Machu Picchu is amazing. Ironically, I was looking online today at at booking a reward ticket to Peru. Love your pics!

  2. Well... I have been home for almost 6 days now... which means I am planning my next trip! Luckily, I am on the road for business the next 3 weeks in NM, MN, WI, and CA (wooohhooo) although I am debating whether to hit China, Peru, Chile, or Australia in the spring. I know I could swing a South American and Far East trip next year.... so many options....

  3. Hey- do yall do the 3M Half in Austin in Jan? I think I am signing up for it as I have business in Texas that week and figured I would just stay on. No sense in going through Texas border patrol twice! :)

  4. Yep, I'll be doing the 3M. It is a popular race. There might be a pub run the Thursday before if they keep doing it on the 4th Thursday. If you come to Austin, give me a call, we'll show you around.

  5. Hey- no sure if you get pinged when I reply to my own blog. Technology.... mmmmmrrhhhahfff

    Yes, I am definitely in for the race. I heard FLAT and downhill. It will work out perfectly to just come into town Saturday before the race and stay in Austin Saturday and Sunday night before heading to Houston for a work conference. Woohooo... I can stay right downtown near the festivities!

    I def want to catch up with the Austin Bloggin' crew while there... and raise a glass or two as well. Sorry I will miss the pub run :( We will have to celebrate completion of the race on Sunday!


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