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Machu Picchu

Cusco, Peru

I met up with mom n' pops here in Cusco. Not easy though. And Jamshade got here too, after surviving the shadiest cab ride I've ever heard of. Yup, we were all here together for my birthday. Mom n' pops treated us boys to dinner, so I chose an Italian restaurant fully expecting the Peruvian take on Italian food to be sub par. Was I ever wrong! The chef was Italian himself and even invented the mouth watering sauce that was served with my alpaca steak. Thanks mom n' dad!

After dinner the boys and I went out wearing shamrock stickers from my sisters, got back from the bar around 6am and decided to do some sight seeing. Good idea too cause when we got to Ollantatambo around 8am there were barely any other tourists and the sun was shining from the perfect spot. Jimmy napped with a dog on a terrace while the rest of us explored the ruins of the Quechua's last stand (aka Incas, but the Inca was actually just the king - the culture, language and people is Quechua).

Obviously we rested between then and starting our treck to Machu Picchu. Some well needed rest! The trip started in the middle of a cloud at 4100m above sea level as a bike ride, declining 2300m down a mountain for 6 hours. After only 20 minutes of cold biking down hairpin turns we encountered a traffic jam and a change of plans. What caused this traffic jam? Another landslide of course.

Apparently the landslide took out a truck along with the road. By the time we arrived some people had been waiting 15 hours (I found out today that it took 4 days to clean up). Our guide, Johan, and his father, Lorenzo, wouldn't let a mere landslide stop us, so they investigated the best route around. Some other groups actually climbed the slide, but Lorenzo deemed that too dangerous. Some government workers were busy cutting a trail over the landslide through the high jungle, which was to be our route of choice. It's important to note that my dad is scared of heights, which has brought quite a bit of entertainment to the family in the past, but the danger factor of the landslide brought in an element that made me hold back all teasing. Everyone seemed to have a little bit of fear in their eyes, everyone except Lorenzo and Johan. Let me tell you, it was not an easy hike through the jungle - the ground was soft and slippery, the slope was steep and we were carrying all of our gear with us. In all honesty, I was proud of myself to reach the road on the other side. As for Tony, I was impressed. And kudos to mom, she finished up ahead with all the young folk. Apparently while we were crossing above the landslide someone fell from the landslide to their death. A few days later the path we went on gave way adding to the slide.

On the other side we were left without bikes or a bus, we had to walk the rest of the way down the valley to our hostel with dusk quickly approaching. My mom asked Johan how long the walk would be. He told her it's not worth knowing. He's only 17, but is wise beyond his years.

Eventually a gas truck with a flat bed on top picked us up. The tailgate appropriately read "PELIGROS - COMBUSTIBLE". Eventually there was close to 30 of us winding down the road to Santa Maria for the night. We ended up driving more than 2 hours after dark. Thank god we didn't walk that!

A warm dinner was welcomed in Santa Maria, as a shower would have been if it worked. No biggie though, I couldn't get much dirtier. After dinner us boys went behind the hostel and played soccer with some local kids, not really knowing how much energy the next day would require.

Day 2 is Lorenzo's favourate day and it's understandable why. We hiked along a river before climbing up into the jungle and eventually meeting up with one of the old Inca trails (of which there was 25,000km in the height of the Quechua empire - 4 different ones connect with Machu Picchu).

Tony likes to say he's not afraid of heights, rather precipices. Well, the Inka Jungle Trail had more than your average person's fair share of precipices in Day 2. I can honestly say that I have never seen my dad more scared in my life. Lorenzo quickly became dad's best friend, whom dad kept asking, "Lorenzo, are you okay?" At times we were walking on stairs that were less than a half a meter wide, with the rock face on one side and an 800m cliff on the other to the Rio Urubamba. Johan would often casually stand right on the edge to proudly educate us on Quechua culture. I say it's absolutely nuts that the Quechua messangers would sprint over these paths to deliver messages at a ridiculously fast pace!

My words don't justly describe the insanity and serenity of the scenery throughout this trek and neither will my pictures. Even our lunch stop was a jungle oasis with hammocks and our pre-dinner cool down was lounging in a hot pool filled naturally with fresh mountain water. The day finished with us in Santa Teresa, where we found out that Day 3 was much easier. Naturally us boys decided to go out again. The club was so hot it looked like I just stepped out of the shower.

Day 3 was essentially us walking along train tracks to Aguas Calientes (the tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu). I got there and slept.

We were woken up at 4am on Day 4 to walk up the mountain that is Machu Picchu (Apparently Machu Picchu is the Quechua name for the mountain and the name for the ruin city is very difficult for Ryan to say, let alone type. Archeologists believe the city was a university for the Quechua elite to study close to the heavens). That was possibly the hardest leg of the whole trip and was accomplished entirely in the dark. Well worth it, as we saved on the expensive bus ride up. That's a valuable $10 you know! I've never been this cheap in my life, but I need to stretch my doe.

When we got there the clouds blocked all views during our guided tour. After which, the clouds parted and we climbed Huaynapicchu (the classic mountain you see in almost every picture of Machu Picchu). This intense, slippery climb took about an hour and offered an incredible ariel view of the site. Mom n' pops passed on this one, so the boys and I had a cliff side lunch at the top of Huaynapicchu by ourselves, which included tuna and avacado sandwiches.

For the remainder of the day we walked around the city trying to see as many of the sites as possible. After a solid 12 hours of climbing up and down stairs we almost saw all of the 5 major sites (the city, Temple of the Moon, Huaynapicchu, Inca Bridge), but were stopped by a guard half way to the last one, the Sun Gate. Amazing nevertheless.

Dinner's here, gotta run!!

permalink written by  ryanmyers on March 18, 2009 from Cusco, Peru
from the travel blog: Ryan's First Sabbatical
tagged MachuPicchu

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Machu Picchu

Aguas Calientes, Peru

The final day of the Inca Trail was one of such heightened emotions and vivid, surreal moments that I know I will never, ever forget it. We woke at 3.15am and quickly stuffed ourselves with a pancake before making our way to a checkpoint. The large wooden gates were closed and would not be open until 5.30am but it was important to get to the front and we had managed to be the first there. We sat huddled in the cold darkness, looking up at the clear sky and the billions of bright stars which covered its entirety. I could see why the Incas were such passionate astronomers with that over their heads every night.

Eventually a bulb broke the darkness and the wooden gate was opened. Floating head torches filled the path as we marched excitedly along the rugged trail. As we moved, the stars began to disappear and a faint glow crept up from behind the mountains. Josh and I were near the front of the group and I heard Selsa approaching behind us. In a low voice, careful not to excite the rest of the group, he whispered:

“Anda now we are gonna ron.”

It took me a moment in my sleepy state to work out his accent and in that moment he was gone. Running away from the group. The excitement as we ran off in the dark towards Machu Picchu was incredible – it wasn´t an easy path and we ran up and down treacherous steps with our torches flashing across the path in front of us. Gradually the glow from the mountains grew stronger and we were able to see without torches – the path was narrow and to our right hand side a sheer drop fell to the valley below where the early morning train clunked its way up, filled with tourists. This spurred us on.

Then, disaster. From behind me I heard Josh shouting desperately. I looked back to see the contents of his backpack strewn across the path. The zip had worked its way open. But Josh was only interested in one item. The single item which had gone off the edge.

“My fuckin passport..!”

His voice was filled with fear and panic. I felt it rushing through me. It felt like the worst thing that could have happened at the worst possible time. We were all in shock. Selsa repeated our swearwords and it was clear from his expression that he was as traumatized as we were as we peered over the edge into the bushes.

The path was built into the mountain side and was reinforced with a stone wall of around 8 or 9 feet. Below this wall was a small mossy platform around two feet wide which dropped into bushes and trees. The vegetation made it unclear how steep or how far the drop was but it was clear that the slope was far to steep to attempt climbing down. It was almost vertical. The ledge seemed a long way down but Selsa was already starting to lower himself off the Inca trail and down onto it, with the ominous words, “This is my first time.”

He seemed to think he could see it in the bushes. We were all terrified. The longer I saw him down there on his own the more useless I felt and when he asked me if I would come down and help him, I didn´t hesistate. I climbed down, ripping my trousers as I stretched desperately to find the mossy patch where I could secure myself. Adrenaline pumped through my whole body. I was still scared that Selsa would fall as he crept further and further towards the bushes but now at least I had hold of him. I held on to the wall with my other hand and, lying back, dug my heels into the ground.

He reached further and let out a cry. He had it! He pulled it out of the trees and we all shouted with unrestrained relief! It was an amazing feeling. We pulled each other up to safety. There were no words. Strangely no sooner were we back on the Inca trail than I was thinking of the time we had lost and wanting to get going again. Others from the group were catching us up! We dusted ourselves off and the run to Intipunktu continued. With my heart pounding and my head spinning I dragged myself up the last few steps to Intipunktu (The Sun Gate). I sat down heavily, laughing and dizzy with exhaustion. When I looked up I saw Machu Picchu.

Taking photos every few steps, we walked gently down towards the ruins. Along the path Selsa showed us a huge boulder reaching up into the sky like a mountain. Beneath it were piles of stones – offerings left by those who had arrived safely to Machu Picchu before us. We dutifully drew out our stones and created a small pile along with some of Selsa´s coca leaves. He prayed out loud and in English, thanking the Pachamama for helping us to reach Machu Picchu and although neither of us said a word, we both thanked her too. Whatever you want to call those invisible forces of nature which are beyond our control, there was no doubt that they had worked in our favour and we were extremely lucky to be there on that clear morning. Especially the passport.

With more button pressing than an Australian casino, we snapped our way down into the ruins. I will not attempt to describe them as everyone knows what the famous Inca city looks like but I will say that they were more beautiful than I had imagined and in the dim light of the morning they looked calm and undisturbed. For a while. Then I noticed the tourists. I do not mean to sound arrogant but after three days of trekking, sweating, broken sleeps and undesirable toilet experiences you feel a million miles away from the clean and colourful groups with their North Face fleeces and elaborate bumbags who come puffing up the stairs from the bus stop. To rub salt in the wounds which these people- with their confused and pitiful glances towards the flapping crotch of my filthy trousers- had opened up, we were told that the 400 tickets to climb Huayna Picchu were already sold out.

It was 6.50am. We had been up since 3.15am and had RUN along the Inca Trail risking life, limb and passport to get here first – now we find we had been beaten to the ticket office by 400 Americans wearing matching tour group t-shirts who celebrated by jumping or pretending to push the mountains in order to get the ultimate facebook profile picture. Selsa went to get a drink, Josh went to the toilet and, left alone, and I suddenly found myself in a very real state of depression. I stared in disbelief at the extravagantly expensive hotel, built only 100 yards or so from the ruins. I watched more and more tourists climbing complaining off the buses and I found myself in disbelief, hating everything around me.

In retrospect this was clearly the result of a comedown after the massive release of adrenaline that morning combined with the exhaustion of the early starts and I do appreciate that not everyone who wants to see Machu Picchu should have to walk for three days and do chilly, scenic poos. I do think, however, that a small percentage of tickets should be reserved for those who invest time and money in the Inca Trail. And there I will end my beef. Incidentally, my depression didn´t last long. As we climbed back up p the top of the ruins for our first lesson of the day my mood lifted immeasurably. This was no doubt helped by the well timed appearance of the sun which, as it climbed slowly from behind the jagged mountains, cast spectacular beams of light onto Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. As Selsa taught us about the history of the city, it lit up slowly behind him.

We toured the various points of interest and significance, waiting patiently for other tour groups to finish taking photos before we moved in to take our own. Luckily the city is interesting enough that the swarms of tourists do not detract too much from your appreciation but after a couple of hours, with more and more groups arriving by the minute, we had seen everything and were ready to leave. We thanked Selsa for all his knowledge and passion and for going, so dramatically, beyond the call of duty as our guide. Our tips seemed pathetic but he seemed moved and genuinely thankful for our time together. It was a sad goodbye but his final words “Look after your passport!” were well chosen.

We got a bus down to Aguas Calientes where we ate well and relaxed in the hot natural springs which give the town its name. Then we hung around waiting for the big group and the three hour train ride home, every now and then reminding each other exactly what had happened that morning. Ironically it had been the expensive Berghaus backpack which had been at fault while my ridiculous Peruvian manbag (I was dressed completely inappropriately as ever) handled the challenge without any complaints. On the long journey home, tired from the days emotions, I thought about my life back home and especially Shion. I had never wanted a bed and a cuddle so much in my life. I couldn´t wait to talk to her and tell her what we´d been doing.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on July 8, 2009 from Aguas Calientes, Peru
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Tourists, IncaTrail, MachuPicchu, Passport, Selsa and HotWaterSprings

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Inca Trail - Day Four

Aguas Calientes, Peru

Machu Picchu revealed!

We wake up at an early 3:30 in the morning basically to save our place in line. A quick breakfast and packing with our headlamps then we head down the trail about a kilometer before we reach the checkpoint. By the time the gate opens there are several hundred people waiting to get in, and fortunately we are among the first.

A bit of a climb and we reach the Sun Gate, where we can theoretically get a bird´s-eye view of Machu Picchu, although the fog is just a bit too thick to see anything. We take a break and get ready for the last few kilometers going downhill before entering the park.

When we reach the site the mists start to part just enough to take the postcard photo. Our guide then gives us a one hour tour of the major sites before cutting us loose to explore on our own.

There is way too much to explore here, and after a while my travel companions opt to find a nice shady spot to relax and we check out the sites around us from a relaxed position.

I´d like to covey just how awesome this site is, but I´m just not the poet I´d like to be. The ancient structures, the surrounding mountains, the history, the majesty can only be truly be conveyed by going there. Go visit Machu Picchu!

Later on our tour ends as our groups meets in Aguas Calientes for lunch and then we hop on the train, then by bus where we recap the events over road beers.

In all I had a fantastic time on the Inca Trail. I really want to thank the people who made this trip memorable-

The Fellow Campers - Jason, Helen, Richard, Sally, Eric, Liz, Emily, Sinead, Trisha, Yvonne, Paul, and Claire

The staff and porters at Llama path- their hard work made a huge difference

Our guides, Santiago and Edwin made the biggest difference. Their patience, passion, and good humor made the difference between a good trek and a great trek. Thanks, guys!

permalink written by  paco on October 28, 2009 from Aguas Calientes, Peru
from the travel blog: High-Altitude Peru
tagged Peru, IncaTrail and MachuPicchu

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Machu Picchu!

Aguas Calientes, Peru

The 4th day of our trek had us traveling by bus to a hot Spring in Santa Teresa and swimming there for a few hours, we then made our way to the town of Aguas Calientes which serves basically as a tourist gateway to Machu Picchu. There really wasn't much trekking on that day, but that was fine by us. Our knees and calves were still sore from the days before, and we could use a break before the granddaddy of all ancient Inca sites.

Machu Picchu is really breathtaking. One of those places that lives up to all the hype. It is easy to see why it is packed with tourists every day. There is such demand to see it, that the Peruvian government sets a limit of 2000 visitors each day - slots that are pretty much sold out throughout the year.

We woke up at 4am again, yay, and caught a bus that took us up to the Mountain on which MP sits. We walked up the rest of the way by dirt path and finally reached the top. The site itself is massive, but it is really its surroundings that make it so awe-inspiring and memorable. Cue the pictures...
Another nice thing about MP is that there is are relatively few guard rails or roped-off sections. You can kind of explore freely and there is no set path. We spent a little over 5 hours there and then headed back to Aguas Calientes to catch our train to Cuzco, and then night bus to Arequipa.

permalink written by  bhkann on August 12, 2010 from Aguas Calientes, Peru
from the travel blog: Peru 2010
tagged Peru and MachuPicchu

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Preparing for an Antarctic expedition

Tampa, United States

The last two weeks have been filled with multiple phone calls to and from GAP Adventures, plus hours spent on Expedia.com. Finally all the details have been worked out, payments received, air and hotel reservations confirmed. I am so exited: I am going to Antarctica!

In two weeks I will be on a plane from Tampa, FL to Buenos Aires, Argentina and then on to the southern most city in the world: Ushuaia. I will spend five days exploring Tierra del Fuego National Park and visiting the glaciers near Ushuaia.

Here in Forida we have a lot of people, AKA snowbirds, from the east coast and Canada that come south for the winter. My trip gives a whole new meaning to "going south for the winter". I ran into a friend the other day who thought I was going to Key West, FL when I told her I was going as far south as I could go for Christmas. Hard as it is for us Floridians to believe, there is something south of Key West (and I don't mean Cuba)!

permalink written by  dorisdavies on November 30, 2010 from Tampa, United States
from the travel blog: End of the earth to the top of the world
tagged Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Gap, MachuPicchu and Antarctica

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