Nov 22 – Nov 29,2005-Peru Amazon, Inca Trail

Day 1 – Nov 22, 2005 – The Taxi’s in Lima, Peru

My first trip in a Peruvian taxi was quite an “eye-opening” experience. After the doorman to our hotel found us a taxi we hopped in to the dilapidated old vehicle. Just before getting in we made sure to confirm the price of 10 Soles ($3 US) for the 20 minute ride (prices will be much higher if not negotiated in advance). As we hopped into the vehicle the doorman made sure to lock the passenger door and motioned for us to lock the passenger door on the other side of the vehicle. Inside the vehicle there were no seat belts, the taxi sign was not on top of the vehicle but rather on the dashboard in front of him. It looked like it may have been the driver’s side-job on his way home.

We were only in the taxi about 3 minutes when the taxi driver pulled out into the first gas station we saw. He stopped and gassed up his car with the exact same amount of gas as we were paying him for the ride. I don’t know if this was done to make us feel bad for the low taxi fare we were paying (our second taxi driver followed the same procedure when we returned from our destination).

Within minutes of the gas station a blind man was begging outside as we stopped at a stoplight. Good thing the door was locked because he was checking to see if the door was unlocked. He quickly however moved on to the next vehicle in line and disappeared behind us.

Peru is not a place I would like to drive. The horn seems to be as integral and essential as the steering wheel to the driver of the vehicle. It would not surprise me to hear that passenger horns are also installed for the enjoyment of the back-seat driver as they weave in and out of traffic.

The speeds that our taxi driver reached as he screamed down the highway were only left up to our imagination as the odometer did not work. Perhaps this was done on purpose to ease our minds to some degree. I would imagine that in Peru a driver can plead that they did not know any better if their odometer does not work.

The gas gage too either did not work, or was purposefully left empty. I guess that way if they run out of gas, the driver can say you did not pay enough for the ride and ask for more as they fill up the tank a second time.

We zipped down the highway, wove through traffic, slid around roundabouts at speeds I had not seen in my travels around the world (with the exception of Italy). I sat there in amazement at how people could drive in such a manner from day to day without getting into accidents. Then I had a really close look at the side of a minivan (that was converted into a bus for locals) as it came within 6 inches of the passenger window. The walls of this bus as well as many other vehicles were not smooth but rather bumpy. It seemed that a fresh coat of paint every once in a while made for good cover-up of the bumps, dings and scrapes that the vehicles received along their perilous journeys.

In the end we did make it to our destination in one piece. Interestingly enough however, when we were ready to return from our destination by taxi we had a local find out the cost to get back to our hotel. This time we were quoted 50 Soles (5 times what we paid for the initial trip to our destination). Perhaps this was due to the limited number of taxis in the suburbs we had gone to. Fortunately a cab stopped to drop another person off at this location and we were able to have this local person negotiate a 10 Soles ride back to our hotel.

One very important piece of advice. When you travel, always get a business card, matches or notepad from your hotel before you leave. This was essential to us getting back to our hotel as quick as possible.

Day 2 – Nov 23, 2005 – Peruvian Amazon / Puerto Maldonado

Although it took all day to get to our Peruvian Amazon Jungle Lodge, it proved to be an unforgettable experience. After flying 2.5 hours from Lima to Quito and then on to Puerto Maldonado (the entry city to the Peruvian Amazon) we took a 45 minute Jeep / Bus ride out to the Amazon Boat launch.

We climbed down the steps that lead to the boat and then walked carefully along the plank that reached over to the boat tied to the shore. As we boarded the narrow 30 foot long boat with bench seats on either side, we had to walk and sit down carefully, ensuring that an even number of people (or weight) was distributed to both sides of the boat. The boat was quite wobbly and could easily tip without proper balancing. We motored up river for 1.5 hours before reaching a registration checkpoint. Here we had to register our name, passport numbers and entry/exit dates prior to entering the protected Amazonian Parkland. It all seemed like a simple/unofficial procedure and I don’t even think everyone filled in their proper passport numbers, but then again why what would they do with such information way out there in the Jungle?

Behind the checkpoint building I saw a tree covered in about 3 termite colonies and about 100 attempts had been made by hornets to build a nest on the building (all of which had been promptly scraped off prior to getting too large). The remains of one of the nest had a congregation of ants eating away at the remaining honey nectar that was still left behind. It is obvious that bugs and insects flourish in this jungle region.

We continued on upriver for another 1.5 hours. As we motored along we saw a few birds, 2 cows and a capivara (the world’s largest rodent – more like a cross between a rat and a pig) along the shore. Otherwise it was surprising that we did not see much more wildlife while on the boat.

Finally we arrived at the site of our Jungle Lodge around dusk (6 PM). At this point we took the day packs we had brought with us, turned on our flashlights and started up the trail that lead to our lodge where we would be staying for the next two nights. As we mounted the bank along the shore and started our 10 minute jungle walk along the dark path that lead to our lodge we could not see much. It was pitch black except for our lights. In the darkness I spotted a firefly and within seconds of being on the trail I started to hear the non-stop sounds of the jungle. It was overpowering to sit and listen to the thousands of bugs, animals, insects and creatures as they created a rhythmic, random and soothing noise. Listening to the Jungle sounds is truly an awe-inspiring experience.

Day 3 – Nov 24, 2005 – Day two in the Amazon Jungle

Our second day in the Jungle was just as amazing as the first. We woke up from our beds draped in mosquito netting for a 4 am wakeup call. By 4:30 am we were sitting down for an early breakfast so we could start our 8 hour adventure to a nearby lake at 5 am. By 4:30 it was already starting to lighten up so we did not need our flashlights. As the sun rose and the sky lightened up, the music of the jungle changed slightly as different animals, insects and bugs awakened in the changing of night to day.

Our morning hike started with a 2 hour trek (6 km) to the nearby lake. Along the way we kept very quiet so that we would not scare away any wildlife. We saw a few interesting varieties of bugs, butterflies (there are over 1200 varieties here) and monkeys. Although we did not see too much along the trail, there were many more out later on in the day when we hiked back. As we came close to the lake, we did have an opportunity to watch a family of monkeys jumping around in the top of the jungle canopy.

When we arrived at the lake, we all boarded a raft and set off along the edge of the lake. As we coasted along slowly we saw many varieties of birds (parrots, toucans, jaybirds, snakebirds and mckaws). The most interesting were the blue and yellow breasted mckaws (parrots). It was a definite bonus that I had remembered to bring my binoculars along as I was able to get a bit of a closer view of the wildlife around the lake.

We coasted around the perimeter of the lake (that was an old arm of the river which has since been cut off as the river has straightened out) for 3.5 hours and near the end our guides tried to catch some piranhas. They almost caught a few but like any fish story, they did get away. The fish were too tricky as they ate the raw meat right off of the hook.
We headed back for home at a slightly slower pace as we stopped along the way learning about the ecosystem of the jungle. We learned how some of the large trees were actually vines that had wrapped around a tree to such an extent that over hundreds of years, it became the tree with a hollow rotten core of the original tree. Other trees would shed their bark as a defense mechanism against the vines that would climb up it. Other trees would grow external stick roots that would actually prop it up and could actually tilt the direction the tree leaned. The direction it tilted depended on the canopy of the jungle so that it could get the maximum amount of light possible.

We saw an increased number of butterflies, a grasshopper and as always, heard lots of constant bird, animal and bug sounds.

After a 2.5 hour trip back we arrived ten minutes prior to our 1 pm lunch. It also started a major downpour that lasted for hours just as we reached the safety of our lodge. We ate a hearty beef, rice and bean meal which was a great feast for hungry and weary travelers. I couldn’t help but break for a 2 hour nap due to our early morning adventure.
Following my siesta, we headed on a boat ride across the river to a local farm of about 54 acres all run by one man. He runs this farm which he says barely supports one person. It was intriguing to see the varieties of 30 foot tall banana trees, foot long papayas, citrus fruit, coconuts, breadfruit, chickens, tuber root, avocados, star fruit, pineapple, sweet peppers, giant basil plants and a variety of locally named fruits. He was even growing Mahogany trees which would take 40 years to grow but would also increase the value of his farm.

This farmer would sell his goods to vendors who motored the river to take food to the local Peruvian markets. It was a treat to try some of his papaya before heading across the river where we walked up the river bank and back to our lodge.
By this time it was 6 pm and getting dark enough to spot the night’s fireflies along the muddy clay path home.

In the evening, following a hearty meal in the dining bungalow, we went on an excursion to find some black and white caiman. The night was pitch black with no stars in the sky nor a moon. As we walked down the trail to the river, we noticed some blue glowing dots on the clay walls alongside the path. At first we thought these were a type of firefly but as we continued on we noticed that they did not appear to be moving. We approached them with our flashlights to get a closer look and noticed that they were tiny pinhead sized bugs or beetles. In the night when we turned out our flashlights, they looked like blue stars on the clay walls.

We continued down the trail to the boat and already noticed the water level had risen due to the rainfall that afternoon. Armed with a spotlight in the pitch black, we headed down-river 10 minutes before we spotted our first set of glowing red eyes in the darkness. It was our luck! As we approached the riverbank, we spotted a rare black caiman that had its head poking out of the water laying near the grassy bank. It stayed motionless as we approached to get a better view. This one must have been 4-5 feet in length.
We continued along after he ducked under the water and headed back upstream. Along the way we spotted 4 smaller caiman along the banks. These ones were the more common white caiman and were estimated to be about 1.5 to 2 feet in length and 4 months old. At one point our guide reached over the boat and caught one around the neck and brought it on the boat for each person to have a closer look and pet it. The caiman looked like a smaller version of a crocodile with slightly spikier tails. It was a great evening adventure.

We make our way back up the river and spotted a bird on the bank and after a short while he got tired of our spotlight on him and he flew off for higher ground.
The trip back up to the lodge in the dark was once again filled with the sounds of the bugs, insects, birds and other animals of the jungle. It was a great and soothing way to be put to sleep at 10 pm (our last night in the jungle).

Day 4 – Nov 25, 2005 – Refugio Amazonas (Amazon Jungle Lodge) to Cuzco

At 6 am we got up after having a deep sleep. We packed up our small packs, had a quick breakfast and said goodbye to the Refugio Amazonas Lodge. Although the lodge was only 3 months old it already had 2 accommodation bungalows, a water tower and a kitchen and dining area. They were also in the process of hand building a two story dining area with a bar on the second level. It was amazing to see how they were constructing this building with hand saws and how they would haul the large timbers to the top. Although the framing was not yet complete, we were told it would be finished in about 3 weeks.
The trip downriver was much quicker as we did not need to stop at the checkpoint and the current of the river kept us going down at a good speed.

It was an enjoyable trip downriver as we motored quickly along. We noticed a number of boats packed full of bananas and other fruits from the farms that bordered the riverbanks. The river also created a type of highway for the farmers to sell their goods at a variety of markets. Farmers would sell produce to the boat owners who shipped the cargo up and down the river. The farmers work hard for very little in return but it is a honest living they are proud of.

After heading down the river in about half the time it took to go upriver, we started our 45 minute bus ride in our minibus back to the Amazon Lodge headquarters by the airport. The minibus was nothing more than a flatbed truck with a box of seats on the back. The roof looked cute with its thatched grass roof that covered the tarp over our heads. As we drove, it started to pour down with rain. The box we were sitting in was not entirely waterproof as water seeped in through the front window that was in desperate need of caulking. We closed the front window (it was open and rain started to spray in) and made sure to keep our bags off the ground which was slowly getting wet.

By the time we reached the main office to pick up our main bags that were left behind, the shuttle van floor was soaked (but fortunately it was draining out somewhere – it only got the floor wet).

When we parked at the location of our luggage, the people in our group strapped on their rain-gear and took a mad dash for the storage building. It was a torrential downpour and only took but a few seconds to drench anyone not in proper rain dance attire. After grabbing our gear and heading off to the airport, we noticed a number of deep puddles on the ground that our 4×4 shuttle bus had to drive through. It was at that time I realized why the minibus was designed to be a 4×4 raised 4 feet off of the ground.

We were 2 hours early for our flight and it was delayed another 3 hours and so we got to know the small airport of Puerto Escaliente very well. It was also interesting to note that many areas of the waiting room had vacant seats. We quickly realized why. Due to the rain, a number of the airport’s skylights leaked and left puddles on the ground and nearby seats.

By the time we boarded our flight and headed off to Cuzco, we were too late to do the city tour which was part of our tour. Instead we took a scenic route to our hotel, circled the main square which was breathtaking with its stone architecture and churches. On the one side of the square were buildings with second story balconies carved with the most exquisite wood carved faces and railings.

We checked into our hotel quickly and then headed off for what our guide called “The Black Market”. The cab ride only cost $1 and the market was a congested set of row upon row of vendors (many of which sold identical items). We had a list of things to buy and only a limited amount of time to get it all. My wife still had not tracked down the bag that Air Canada had lost 3 days earlier and so it was important that she buy some hiking boots and rain gear for the 4 day Trek to Machu Picchu (starting on the following day).

After spending 20 minutes trying on hiking boots she finally found a pair that would not kill her feet (If you have the choice never break in a pair of hiking boots on a multi-day trip. Unfortunately the pair she bought for the trip was broken in during the month prior to the trip but the airline lost her suitcase). She asked the vendor how much the shoes would be and she was told 175 soles ($55 US). She tried to negotiate a better price but there was no negotiating after the goods had been selected.

Another lady on the stall facing this one motioned my wife over. Here she was offered the same shoes for 145 soles ($48). Although she didn’t have the right size in stock, she rushed off to get a pair that was the right size (leaving her booth alone) and quickly returned to make the sale. We barely had time to buy a 40 soles ($13 US) rain-suit before heading to the hotel for our Inca Trail briefing.

Day 5 – Nov 26, 2005 – Day 1 of the Inca Trail

This morning we were up by 5:30 am and had finished our breakfast and were on our way by 6:45 am. The drive to Kilometer 82 of the Inca Trail took us through the highlands of Cuzco, past beautiful farmlands and by homes made of red clay bricks. The houses were very simple and humbling to see. It was not hard to observe families in their yards working the land or to see them alongside the road to catch a bus or walk their cows.
Many of the older and younger people were also wearing their colorful traditional clothes knitted or woven from Llama or Alpaca yarn.

As we continued on th road to our starting point, the relatively rolling hills turned into windy roads down tall mountainsides. We drove through a large city in a valley before continuing on along a beautiful river.

All of a sudden the road turned into a cobblestone road which mounted a small hill and brought us into a quaint little village. The village was full of narrow cobblestone streets and we approached the centre square of town with a beautiful fountain and lots of people sitting in the square.

Outside the perimeter of the square were dozens of people selling their wares and tiny shops selling almost everything a trekker would want. We were able to buy traditional alpaca knitted hats, gloves, carved walking sticks, water, woven water-bottle holders and everything else on our list of things we still needed. We had literally dozens of men, women and children coming up to us with all their wares trying to sell us their goods. It was sad to see how little they were asking and how much they competed and went down in price to make the sale.

Our hand-carved walking sticks were $3, knitted hats were $4, Gloves $2 and water bottle holders $1 US. The Peruvians make every penny count and are anxious to make money any way they possibly can. It was impressive to hear their command of the English language. Basics language skills which are probably driven by desperation or need.
The people in this town spoke more English than may other Peruvians I had met in Lima or Cuzco. The only however seemed to know enough to be able to make a sale.

After driving through this town, we turned off onto a narrow one lane dirt road that wove past farmlands and along a railway line. Many of the locals would walk along the rail line to get from place to place and at one point I saw a lady running her young son across a railway bridge.

We finally arrived at the starting point for our hike just before 10 am. As soon as our group of 7 arrived, our 13 porters (all dressed in matching purple GAP Adventures shirts) grabbed our bags, food and other supplies and started packing them into plastic bags and ran on down the trail before we even knew what was going on. They were taking the bags to a weighing station which was there to ensure that they were not carrying more than 25 kilos of baggage each (in the past porters took 40-50 Kilos each and some died as a result). As they sped off we took a leisurely walk to have our passports checked, stamped and handed in our registration papers before we could continue on our way. At this checkpoint our Passport Numbers and names were cross-checked with our Reservation Papers prior to being allowed onto the Inca Trail.

I have a hard time putting to words the amazing sites we saw along our first day of the trek. This first day we enjoyed the flattest 14 km of our trek up in the high altitude. It was hard but nothing like what we were about to experience. We took breaks frequently as we only just arrived at this high altitude less than a day earlier. I had a difficult time with the altitude, as did many of the others in our group, but we took it easy and hiked from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM.

Along the way we followed the river valleys, climbed and descended small hills/mountains. We also saw some beautiful archaeological sites. One of the most impressive site of the day was when we stopped for a history lesson at the edge of a bluff on the edge of a meadow to the side of the trail. This bluff was in the shadow of 4 valleys and massive mountains on all sides. Over the bluff at the bottom of one valley we could see an ancient village that was over 400 years old. It rested along a river with clay walled structures and hundreds of what looked like homesteads. The walls were all that remained of the homesteads as the traditional thatched roofs have long since disappeared.

We stopped for lunch along a river where our porters had set up a dining tent and hot meal for us. Following soup and some local corn dishes and rice we headed back up the trail.

Another memorable point was at km 12 where we passed through a village of about 100 people with a small offering of goods, camping sites and homes. These people live and farm in an area away from any roads or communication to the outside world (apart from the porters and tourists they see walking their paths).

Prior to reaching camp, we passed through a ranger station checkpoint and headed on our steepest climb yet up to our camping area. I had to make sure to take occasional breaks to catch my breath and increase my oxygen intake at these high altitudes. I was really beginning to feel like I wish I had some altitude medication.

Some tea and biscuits were waiting for us as well as all our tents that were set up by the porters. we had 30 minutes free time as the darkness and cool air set in before dinner. Our campsite was located at 3600 meters above sea level and the nights really do get cold. We bundled up in our coats, gloves and wool hats to enjoy a fish and rice 3 course meal. We had two great cooks and 11 other hard working porters plus a guide to make this an unforgettable adventure.

At 9:10 pm I was ready to sleep as the hardest day was only one sleep away at 6 AM. We needed all the rest we could get as we prepared to cross 2 passes, the first being called Dead Woman’s Pass. Although my body ached, my mind was in awe by these Andes mountains that towered around us and made me sit back and think about how dependent I was on so many things out of my control.

Day 6 – Nov 27, 2005 – Day 2 of the Inca Trail

Day two of our hike was the hardest of our trek. And wow, it sure tried our stamina and energy. After packing up our gear in the morning we were introduced to our porters and explained how GAP Adventures not only employs these porters but also provides some community programs for them and their families. It was heartwarming to see some of their toothless smiles and helpful attitude.

The morning’s hike started at 6:30 AM and it was the hardest of the day. We climbed 900 meters to the highest point of our trek (Dead Woman’s Pass) at an altitude of 4100M. As I slowly made my way up the mountain I started out within the front two people of our group. After a short while and a number of stops to catch my breath I really could feel the effects of altitude sickness which can be common among people who don’t have enough time to acclimatize to the altitude of Cuzco and the Inca Trail. Fortunately our guide that seemed to have noticed my green face, offered me an altitude pill. That seemed to help within only a few hours.

Along the way to the summit, we saw some local ladies and children selling drinks and treats. The last such stop we would see on the trail. Still, at the 3700 meter mark it was an interesting location for someone to have an outside food stand. I saw one girl under 9 years old running up the trail with her dad as if it was nothing at all. Yet for me, I was winded after a few steps.

The climb was beautiful but also a test of our stamina. It was a sunny and cloudy day with no rain which was a wonderful way to enjoy such a difficult climb. I was the last to reach the summit and was able to take pictures of the Valleys on both sides of the pass. It was interesting to see Alpacas wandering the mountain sides even near the top of the pass. While at the top we even had a young eagle visit us as he perched himself within 2 feet of us to observe what we were doing there.

After reaching the summit, our next challenge was to descend into the next valley. Although going down a mountain may not sound as difficult than climbing it, there are different challenges that this poses. This was a steep descent down a series of rock staircases and sloped trail for about 400 to 600 meters to where we were stopping for lunch. To one side of the trail was a beautiful waterfall up the mountain and a stream that came down through the valley. The challenge was to the knees with such a steep descent on stone steps but my walking stick made it that much easier as I was able to lean much of my weight on my stick as opposed to absorbing the shock in my knees.

Following a three course lunch that was waiting for us, we had an enjoyable 45 minute rest before ascending the second (and slightly smaller) mountain pass. This second pas was about a 400 meter climb and we were able to enjoy a stop along the way at an archaeological site. It was a circular stone building used as a checkpoint along the Inca Trail and our tour leader gave us an interesting history lesson on the Incas and Spanish settlers in the region.

With all the energy we had left, we mounted the rest of the way up this pass. From the top we were once again able to see the mountain across the valley from where we had descended earlier in the day. We were also able to look at a lake in the valley where we needed to descend to, in order to reach our new camp for night #2. The descent here was narrower and steeper. Many of the stones were also loose and we had one big stumble from Matt in our group and a few other close calls. We did however make it all in one piece to the second archaeological site of the day. The site was a bit daunting because after descending most of the way down the mountain, we had to climb about 100 steep and narrow steps up to this large site on the edge of a cliff. The site commanded an amazing view of valleys on 3 sides and was positioned so that the people in it could see places all around the valley.

Following another history lesson, we descended the steps down and continued into the valley which then turned into an enjoyable flat hike to our camp across the valley. I was so exhausted that I crashed into my tent (as did most others) until dinner was ready. Dinner was short as everyone was anxious for a bit of sleep.

Day 7 – Nov 28, 2005 – Day 3 of the Inca Trail

The third day on the stone trail was a nice break from the strenuous effort of climbing and brought in the challenging component of descending down stone stairs. Over 3000 to be exact. But before that, we had a nice gradual climb that skirted the edge of the mountain and did not involve too much difficulty. The path at parts however got interesting as on a few occasions we came to some staircases that tunneled through the rock of the mountain. It was stunning to imagine how the Incas carved out these rocks to become part of the trail. It was no wonder however as outside the tunnel wall it was a steep sheer cliff.

We continued to wind along the mountain until we gradually came to the to of our 3rd and final mountain pass. After the two rigorous passes the day before, this was a piece of cake. we stopped at the to of this pass and tried to take some pictures but the fog/clouds was at first very thick.

A few of us ran off the trail at this point to relieve ourselves of Inca’s Revenge at the toilet building which was no more than half a dozen stalls with square holes cut in the floor. At this point it did not seem to matter much. I even made a comment to a fellow hiker I had not previously met about how I thought the locals should add Imodium to their lineup of trailside wares (normally water, soda and chocolate bars) they were selling. They could probably make a killing. She was kind enough to offer a bit of her supply much to my relief. Most of our group was in desperate need and understandably could not part with their own rations.

We waited at the pass for about 20 to 30 minutes and watched as the clouds rolled in and out of the valleys and mountains around. Just before we were about to head down, the valley cleared up and below we could see two of the three archaeological sites we would visit later that day.

After taking a few photos, our group started its 3000 step descent of the day. The descent was hard on the knees but those of us with walking sticks had a bit of a n easier time as we leaned our weight on them with each step. I think I shaved an inch off of the bottom of my walking stick as it frayed and scraped on the stone steps with each climb down.

The first archaeological site we came to was right in the middle of the trail and we had to walk through it to continue on. Our guide stopped here to tell us a bit more of a history lesson on the purpose of this checkpoint. I also noticed a series of stone ceremonial baths that cascaded one into the other. All together there must have been at least 6 baths. This site also overlooked the valley we were about to descend.

We continued down for over an hour longer down steep and sometimes slippery steps. The stairs down did not seem to have an end as we kept descending and descending. Finally we came to a fork in the trail (the third I had noticed). Our guide explained that the one down was 20 minutes to camp while the other was 35 minutes to camp through the archaeological site. This site we had seen from the top of the mountain pass and there was no way we wanted to miss it. It was a village mounted on a steep cliff with what seemed to be over 80 terraces. The walk there was flat and easy along the mountainside but when we reached the site we saw the steepest continuous stairs we had yet seen at any of the archaeological sites we visited.

We first mounted steps in the blazing heat of the day. There was however no shelter from the heat of the sun due to the steep nature of the terraces. The walls and terraces formed a labyrinth of grass and flower covered landings. It was truly the most amazing site thus far and I was glad we had not missed it. It was a bit of a challenge to find our way out of this site and back down the mountain. Fortunately we knew we needed to go down and after a bit of guesswork we made our way down the steep steps that seemed to be carved into a cliff.

We finally made it to WinyaWwona which was the first village we had seen along the trail with electricity. Our 3 course lunch was waiting for us but I had long since lost my appetite. I took it easy in preparation for our afternoon hike. For the first time along the trail however we were (around 1 pm) already at our camp and able to drop our day packs before our afternoon visit to another site.

Fortunately it was only a 5 minute walk and what a site this city was. Terraced walls in the semi-circle of a valley with priest’s houses and buildings in the upper section. Once again ceremonial baths descended down into the village area along with steps that were so steep I had to take a few breaks along the way back up.

Unfortunately nature called and I had to cut my visit a bit short as I ran back to camp (fortunately it was close by). I spent most of the next few hours a bit sick with a combination of altitude sickness, headache, flue and Inca’s revenge. I was a bit whipped out at this point. Although most of the medicines we planned to bring were all in a lost suitcase I was able to obtain a cocktail of drugs to treat each symptom from the pharmacy our fellow trekkers had brought with them.
I took the pills and laid down a bit longer before being able to get up and stumble out of my tent for some fresh air. I had to postpone my dinner for an hour after everyone else due to the directions of some of my medication but the cook was accommodating.

Day 8 – Nov 29, 2005 – Day 4 of the Inca Trail

This morning we rose at 4 am following a restless morning and a slight rain shower in the middle of the night. We got lucky with the weather of what was supposed to be the rainy season. This and a few sprinkles on the first day was all the rain we saw during our 4 day trek.

Everyone was anxious to get going as it was the culmination of our trip to see Machu Picchu that morning. After packing up for the last time, eating our last tent breakfast and taking a much needed bathroom break at the little campsite restaurant, we headed off for the final trail checkpoint. This final checkpoint did not open until 5:30 AM but 10 minutes before that there was already about 50 backpackers in line. Everyone was anxious and hoping that the thick clouds all over the mountains would dissipate so that we would get a great view of Machu Picchu by the time we were to see it within the next hour and a half. It didn’t take long for all of us to get through the checkpoint as our guide did our paperwork while we walked through.

For the most part the walk to the Sun Gate (1st point from where to view Machu Picchu) was flat and easy compared to any other day. The most challenging and fun part was when we reached a 54 step staircase which was so steep that it was more like a ladder. In all of our excitement and preparation we all seemed to jump up to the top (not really but our guide did run up).

Shortly after we arrived at the sungate to see a magnificent, splendid, awe inspiring patch of clouds blocking our view of Machu Picchu! Although somewhat disappointed it was not at all unexpected. So we sat there for 10-15 minutes to see if the clouds would lift and if we could get some distant pictures. Just before we were about to leave, some of the clouds started to drift away. I almost felt like blowing at the clouds to get just a little bit of a better view. They were just hovering there in front of us and slowly dissipating. Finally the Machu Picchu Guard Tower came into view as well as the valley and Mountain close to us. Although it did not clear up any more before we left, we did have a magnificent view of the mountains, valley, river and a few archaeological sites.

Our walk continued to another lookout spot but the view just got worse as more clouds moved in. So we forged on until we reached some terraces filled with Llamas and Alpacas. In our excitement to take a few pictures, we did not realize we were only 100 feet away from looking over Machu Picchu and meeting the other members of our group that did not hike the trail. After a few minutes of photo taking we continued on and caught our first glimpses through the clouds of Machu Picchu. Although not 100% clear, we could see the majority of this ancient village. It was magnificent and mystical to peer at the buildings taking shape through the clouds. Here we met up with the rest of our group whom we parted with 4 days earlier.

We quickly headed to the main entrance of the park to get our bus passes that would get us down the mountain and to drop off our day packs that by this time I was anxious to shed. It sure was a nice feeling to rid myself of everything on my back and to relax and enjoy walking around with a hat and no gear.

By the time we returned to the site 20 minutes later, the clouds were clearing and we were able to get a better view of the city. Our guide proceeded to give us a somewhat coherent tour of the site but was not entirely too clear. In any case it was curious to tour the site, to see the doorways, carved caves, baths and towers. At one point we had a close look at an enormous 4 foot tall boulder in the wall of an elevated building which had a 32 point carved cut to fit other rocks into it. It was amazing to see the work involved in fitting these rock walls together as each of the four sides of the boulder were carved to different levels.

After our tour Matt, Kirsten and I decided to hike up a nearby hill but after a small attempt, gave up and headed for an overlook where we first came to see Machu Picchu. We explored the hills and each had a quiet moment to look over the city. I enjoyed the view from the furthest corner of the terraces for the remainder of my time at Machu Picchu.

We soon had to leave to catch a 1:15 PM, 30 minute hair raising bus ride down the mountain. The road for the most part was one lane, had hikers coming down and had hair pin corners with no guard rails anywhere. I think a few on the bus almost wet their pants on the way down as another bus approached us around a corner with two hikers blocking the miniature shoulder on the side of the road. The buses came to a screeching halt only about two feet from each other head on. After breathing a sigh of relief, we reached the village at the bottom of the mountain where we had lunch and enjoyed a stroll through the shops of the town.

As always we had a chance to barter for souvenirs and picked up a few things at amazingly low prices. Peru is a very chap place and it is sad in some ways to see how little the people live off of.

Around 4:20 PM we caught a train which took us on a 1.5 hour ride to a cobblestone town where we had first bought our souvenirs. It was amazing to see how far we had walked during our 4 day trek. After taking the train, we bussed another 1.5 hours to our Cuzco hotel. Exhausted we repacked our gear in preparation for leaving our tour the next morning. Our tour had come to an end and I along with many others were able to contemplate the stunning beauty of the Andes mountains. It was inspiring to be in nature and dependent upon nature and our porters who supported us. Although exhausted and sick, I was happy to have experienced this once in a lifetime hike in Peru.

At the hotel I was yanked into the reality of my life as I hopped onto a computer to check email, talk to family online and phoned kids and family at home.

It was great to hear our oldest and youngest child on the phone and it did make Mom and Dad’s heartstrings rip right out but we held onto our emotions (at least Dad did). And then headed off to bed late at night following our preparation for the next trip of our two trip holiday. Peru was over but Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands were waiting for us!

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