Reflections and images from my travels

Archive for May, 2014

Hello……..Quito!

May 7th, at a much more reasonable time in the morning, we departed from the airport in Cusco and again flew to Lima (always transfer never stay) and then to Quito, Ecuador. Quito has a new airport which is located approximately 90 minutes from the centre of the city where we were staying. We got into a registered taxi and made our way. Unfortunately, we caught rush hour but still arrived at the hotel (the Mecure Alameda) at a reasonable hour. We celebrated our arrival with Pisco sours (these were complementary). We finally had a free day which was May 8th. We did walk in the morning from the hotel in the surrounding district which was quite safe as it is heavily used by tourists and consequently well policed. We were able to get some shopping done which was great. I then took the afternoon to catch up on the blog. Anna took the opportunity to visit a very interesting national museum which was located nearby. The next day we were going to join some of our group who were arriving early in Quito for a city bus tour.

Thankfully, no pictures were taken this day as I was quite behind in processing the previously taken pictures from Peru for the blog.

Quito (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈkito]), formally San Francisco de Quito, is the capital city of Ecuador, and at an elevation of 9,350 feet (2,800 meters above sea level), it is the highest official capital city in the world.[1] (La Paz, the de facto capital of Bolivia, is higher.) It is located in north-central Ecuador in the Guayllabamba river basin, on the eastern slopes of Pichincha,[2] an active stratovolcano in the Andes mountains. With a population of 2,671,191 according to the last census (2014), Quito is the second most populous city in Ecuador, after Guayaquil. It is also the capital of the Pichincha province and the seat of the Metropolitan District of Quito. During the daytime and in the tourist districts, it is quite safe to walk however robberies are quite common and you have to be quite careful and use common sense. Many people steal out of necessity and are very adept at this.  While we were in Peru we did receive notification that one of our upcoming Galapagos group members had her rather expensive camera stolen without her knowledge. When we were out we kept personal possessions to a minimum and were very careful to carry minimal cash and only one credit card close to our bodies and in an inside pocket.

We stayed in Quito from May 7th through to the morning of May 11th, our departure date for the Galapagos. May 9th we did a Quito city tour involving visits to the Inti-nan Museum (home to the real equator), Virgin of Quito statue on Panecillo Hill overlooking Quito, lunch and then a walk about old town visiting Plaza Grande (Independence Square), Carondelet Palace, Iglesia De La Compania De Jesus and Convento San Francisco; later that evening we would return to old town by taxi for a meal and walk around the famous Calle La Ronda. On May 10th when all of our Galapagos group had arrived, we visited Otavalo, capital of Otavalo Canton, a largely indigenous town in the Imbabura Province of Ecuador. The town has about 90,000 inhabitants and is surrounded by the peaks of Imbabura, Cotacachi, and Mojanda volcanoes and is famous for its Saturday market. The same day afterwards we visited Cotacachi,  a city that is the seat of Cotacachi Canton, Imbabura Province, Ecuador in South America and is famous for its leather goods. I think the shopping was going to be good (said Anna)!

Back to Cusco!

We awoke very early the morning of May 6th and were provided breakfast at the resort before we left in the van to Puno (funny no one joined us at that hour). We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Lago Titilaka Resort- it is a world-class resort. Lake Titicaca is definitely a place anyone should visit if they are coming to Peru. It retains much more of a traditional feel and is extremely peaceful and relaxing. The expansive views are in a word… calming! We were looking for solace after our trek and we found it. To be honest, I was not looking forward to the 10 hour bus ride back to Cusco. However, it proved to be quite an enjoyable and informative trip. It was well organized and we had an excellent guide along the way. Several stops were planned breaking up the monotony of the bus ride.

1). Pukara 3900 m:

Pukara was the first regional population center in the northern Lake Titicaca Basin during the Late Formative Period (500 BC- AD 200), providing valuable insights into the origins of Andean civilization in the highlands. During its peak it covered over a square kilometer and housed thousands of bureaucrats, priests, artisans, farmers, herders, and possibly warriors. The Pukara style is identified by impressive monolithic sculptures with a variety of geometric, zoomorphic, and anthropomorphic images plus intricate, multi-colored pottery in a variety of ritual and domestic forms. We stopped at a very interesting museum which gave us a much better appreciation of pre-Inca civilization. There was also a beautiful church to take photographs of (inside and out).

2). Raya Pass 4335 m:

Abra La Raya (La Raya Pass) is the watershed between the valley that drains into Lake Titicaca and the valley that leads down to Cusco and to the Sacred Valley. The altitude is 4335 m (14,232 feet). We stopped briefly and Anna got her fix with the numerous vendors waiting for the buses at the crest of the pass. I grabbed a quick shot of the snow covered mountains.

3). Sicuani Lunch Buffet 3552 m:

Sicuani is a relatively large highland town. The town is a major intersection, with the road to Puno/Arequipa passing through here. This town is surrounded by some very pretty hills. Upon stopping we had a buffet lunch in an exclusive restaurant with family atmosphere. Again, there was more shopping.

4). Raqchi “the Temple of Wiracocha” 3450 m:

The most important building inside the complex is the “Wiracocha temple” that according to the old chroniclers was built by the Inca Wiracocha in honour to the Superior God invisible for the Andean people: “Apu Kon Titi Wiracocha”. The “temple of Wiracocha” is a great example of architecture for that age. Architectonically it is classified as “Kallanka”, that is, a high building completely covered with straw (wood and “ichu”). Externally it is 92 meters long (302 feet) and 25.25 meter wide (83 feet). This was a fascinating area and we took the opportunity to grab some photographs of the amazing architectural structures.

5). Andahuaylillas “The Sistine Chapel of America” 3122 m:

The church of San Pedro Apostol de Andahuaylillas, built by the Jesuits in the 16th century is found here. Like other Spanish and religious constructions of the time, it was built on top of a huaca, or sacred place for the Incas. Made out of adobe and brick, the church is a small structure consisting of one nave, apse and bell tower. But there’s a reason why it’s known as the Sistine Chapel of America. The inside of this church is perhaps the most beautiful I have ever seen. Unfortunately pictures were not allowed so if you wish to see it you will just have to make your own way here. Trust me, it is worth it! Anna was able to pick up some wall art from a painter who was in attendance.

Just prior to coming into Cusco I was able to grab a quick photograph of the Inca gates of Cusco from the bus. The grandeur of the Inca civilization continued to amaze us. The scale of these gates was massive and it was amazing to witness the dying sunset light streaming through as we descended into Cusco. After being dropped off at the bus station we were thankful that a representative from our hotel was waiting to pick us up. We ate dinner in the hotel that evening so that we could re-pack (yet again) as we were departing Peru for Ecuador in the morning. Our experience in Peru was fantastic (personally, I am so glad I decided to come back to visit this wonderful country). What we both experienced will remain with us forever.

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Lake Titicaca Day 3- Taquile Island and the Uros Floating Islands

May 5th was going to be a busy day. We had two separate half-day excursions that day. Taquile Island in the morning and the Uros Floating Islands in the afternoon. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful. The resort provided a boat right from their pier for our excursion to Taquile Island. For the afternoon, we would have to travel by van to Puno and then board a boat to take us to the Uros Floating Islands.

Taquile Island is a living museum, a secluded island of weavers whose textiles have been held as heritage masterpieces by UNESCO. Part of the uniqueness of the island culture comes from the traditional social structure which is reflected in their dress, traditions and greetings. We departed from Titilaka’s pier and traveled by boat for about an hour to Taquile Island. Beautiful terraces were visible from the boat as we approached. We docked on the southern part of Taquile which is furthest from the city of Puno and therefore less frequented. This would allow us to have a much more intimate experience of the island. I would describe the island as peaceful and tranquil. We had a very leisurely hike and along the way stopped at an elderly man’s home. He was absolutely thrilled to receive a gift of coca leaves from one member of our tour. We were able to look inside his home at his very “rustic” kitchen (see included picture). Despite having very little these people are very content and welcoming. Even though their lives are difficult I would certainly not consider them stressed in any way. They simply coast along according to the rhythm of the day. They are not completely isolated and do have contact with the mainland. Media and television have influenced the island. As an example, as we were walking our guide was talking to one of the young women who recently had had a child (the slang name for a infant in the local dialect was “wawa” which seemed very appropriate) and he inquired of her as to the name of her child. We were expecting a very traditional name so we were quite surprised when she called out “Frank”. I guess no one is safe from the influence of television! We then carried on to a flat plateau where several villagers had gathered in traditional dress and had various handmade crafts for sale. They demonstrated their technique for cleaning and washing wool using a local plant for “soap” and some of their spinning and weaving techniques. They were very open to us taking pictures. Of course, we had to purchase a few items. Their textiles were absolutely exquisite and many of the pieces that they made, especially in courtship, took up to six months to complete. We were very glad of UNESCO’s decision to honour and protect their artistic skills. We then hiked up to the high point on the island for beautiful views of surrounding Lake Titicaca. We then had a beautiful descent to a beach where some locals were fishing. After boarding our boat we had a very pleasant sail back to our resort for a delicious lunch. I had the opportunity to take a few pictures of our beautiful resort.

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At approximately 2:30 PM that afternoon we got ready for our trip to the Uros Floating Islands. We got into the van and drove approximately one hour to Puno. Puno is the major “resort town” of Lake Titicaca. It does not have an airport and that is why we had to fly into Juilaca which is located another one hour distant. We didn’t spend much time in Puno but immediately went to the local dock in order to board our boat. You can tell that this is a major tourist town and that many tourists board boats for excursions as there were numerous boats for hire. You cannot see the Floating Islands from Puno. Soon after leaving the bay just outside Puno you begin to see the reeds from which the Floating Islands are constructed. Numerous waterbirds were visible from our boat in these reeds. We also passed small rowboats that served as the “taxis” of the Floating Islands. As we approached the islands we had to stop at a small structure which represented a “tollbooth” for the islands. Our guide then took us to one particular floating island which housed 3 women and one man. I was surprised at how small their particular island was. On the island they had several structures that served as their living quarters and bedrooms. One of the advantages, according to the guide, of the floating islands is that if you have any problems with your neighbours you can just float away and park your island somewhere else. They also pay no tax here! Our guide also told us that the inhabitants of these islands tend to be heavier than the mainlanders because they do not get much exercise! This appeared to be the case. I was surprised at how stable the island was walking on it. We were given a demonstration by a local woman of how the islands are constructed. Fascinating. We were then shown into her sleeping quarters for a personal demonstration of the structure but in reality it was a clever ruse to sell us textiles that were apparently handmade (Anna pointed out on a different day at another market that one of the unique “handmade” textiles was also for sale at that market- we suspect a local sweatshop is responsible for most of the textiles that are sold around Lake Titicaca). This was a slightly disappointing experience as we really felt trapped in that small structure with one of the other local women blocking the doorway until we purchased something (the mafia could learn something from these women). After extricating ourselves we were then offered a ride on a very interesting boat structure that was made by the locals and was very ornate and colourful (once we boarded we were made aware of an extra cost for the cruise- 10 soles). The locals refer to them as their “Mercedes-Benz”. Before we got on board, we were serenaded by the woman with a traditional song (nice) followed by a song in English they had learned phonetically (believe it or not it was “Row Row Row your boat”). It was a little kitschy but we had to laugh. Anna and I felt a little guilty as one of the more elderly women and her similarly aged husband rowed us down a stretch of the Floating Islands. The sun was going down and the light was beautiful and we simply enjoyed the experience, in other words, we got over it! We were then dropped off at another much larger island which had cafés, restaurants as well as the Internet! I think the owner was a little bit disappointed we did not purchase anything. Our motorized boat then picked us up and we had a pleasant sail back to Puno. We got back into the van and returned to our beautiful resort for a fantastic meal, re-packing and then a pleasant slumber. We would be leaving very early the next day in order to catch a tourist bus from Puno which would take us back to Cusco. We were initially going to fly back however no flights were available on that day to Cusco when we arranged our adventure. Our tour operator was then going to have us take a train-which I think would’ve been really amazing- however, this did not pan out either. A 10 hour bus ride instead leaving at 6:30 AM! Would we survive?

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Lake Titicaca Day 2

We awoke Sunday May 4th better refreshed and ready to start our first day of excursions in the surrounding areas of Lake Titicaca.

Our first stop was the barter market in Acora. In the Peruvian altiplano trade is still an important method of paying for goods that one needs for their households. On Saturday mornings, villagers need to barter livestock and Sunday they engage in a lively barter market with other goods. Livestock, as well as potatoes, quinoa and chuno, an Andean dried potato product, are inspected and traded. We had a quick visit on Sunday to observe the bartering of fresh produce, vegetables and other goods as well as the bartering process carried out mainly by the women dressed in traditional costumes of the local Highland people. Fascinating.

Following this, we traveled to the impressive Chullpas of Molloco. These are tremendous funerary relics jutting out from a vibrant green field. They are impressive stone structures expertly made and previously housed approximately 3 to 4 mummies of well-to-do families. They always had a small opening facing east. The structures were either conical or cubical depending on the sex of those interred. Amazing structures.

We then proceeded along the Archaeological Aymara Route with a visit to Amaru Muro. This is located in a series of red coloured rock hills very reminiscent of the southwest USA. It involved a longer hike than expected with a few tricky sections trying to get up some relatively slick rock. It led to an absolutely stunning viewpoint with Lake Titicaca in the distance. Anna watched as I ventured out onto the viewpoint as there was a very narrow section with precipitous drops on either side that did not appeal to her (funny that). We then descended by an alternative route and came upon a most amazing site. This was the doorway of Amaru Muro, an absolutely massive structure, believed to be an inter-dimensional portal by local shamans. In the middle of the doorway at the base is a kneeling area where you can place your forehead into a small depression in the doorway as well as your hands on the sides. Anna was able to get a picture of me in this pose but I was not able to pass into the next dimension (thankfully). While we were there, there were two locals who were performing an ancient Andean ceremony at the site. It was a privilege to observe this very special ceremony. Even though most of the population is Roman Catholic, many of the locals still practice the ancient Aymara religion.

On our way back to the resort we attempted to stop in to see a local traditional weaver in the community of Copamaya. Unfortunately, he was not in. However, his sheep were (they were not weaving in his absence). We were also able to visit his home despite his absence. He apparently makes many of the textile products that are proudly used in the resort that we were staying in. The resort tries to support local communities and artisans which is admirable. Just prior to the resort we stopped at an outlook to view a beautiful castle-like structure at a resort that has been built by a prominent Belgian. We then returned to the resort for lunch.

That afternoon Anna enjoyed a relaxing half day spa with a massage and I went for a mountain-bike through the fields of Plateria. That evening we enjoyed an absolutely spectacular meal (all of the meals at this resort were world-class) and simply enjoyed the ambience of this beautiful resort.

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Lake Titicaca beckons…. Day 1!

May 3rd we started the next phase of our South American adventure. We had just completed the Salkantay Trek May 2nd. It was difficult to say goodbye to our hiking group as we had formed quite a strong bond over the previous seven days. May 2nd proved to be quite a long and somewhat stressful day for us. We were sure that after the trek we would have an additional rest and shopping day in Cusco prior to leaving for Lake Titicaca. This was not the case. In fact, we were leaving early May 3rd which left little time for shopping and re-packing for the next phase of our adventure. We had arisen very early the morning of May 2nd to get up to Machu Picchu early so we could avoid the crowds. Once we completed our tour of Machu Picchu we had to get back to Cusco which would involve a train ride as well as a long journey by van back to our hotel. We were dropped off at the El Mercado at 6:30 PM first along with Shawn and Steve as well as Mike and Karen who were also staying at our hotel for the evening. This meant saying goodbye to Peggy, Lisa, Tim. Georgia and Raul (we had parted with Ricky the previous day). We promised to stay in touch.

The plan was to quickly accomplish some shopping in town then meet up with the remaining group staying at our hotel for a farewell dinner by 8 PM. Anna and I rushed into town and were able to purchase our Alpaca wall tapestries but had little time for any other purchases. While she was busy arranging for shipping, I scurried back to the hotel to meet up with the others at the appointed time. It was a wonderful evening dinner filled with remembrances of our previous seven days. I had ordered my meal as well as Anna’s early as I knew we still had to re-pack for Lake Titicaca. After about 90 minutes I was informed by the waitress that they were having trouble with their gas stove and dinner would be delayed. Yikes! Eventually our dinners were served and we completed our meal by about 10:30 PM much later than expected. We said goodbye to our fellow trekkers and quickly returned to our room hoping to pack up quickly so we could get some sleep. We were assigned a new room which had an external door leading to the front door of the hotel room through a short hallway. All of the doors work based on an electronic card. To our dismay the card lock refused to work for the external door. We called reception who had the same problem and then informed us they would have to get someone in to reprogram and fix the card lock. This would take approximately 45 to 60 minutes. Unbelievable! However, there was little we could do but lie down in the reception area and wait. Eventually, our door was opened and we began re-packing. This took longer for me than Anna. She got into bed by midnight but it was approximately 1 AM before I was able to rest my weary and stressed bones. We would have to get up by 4:45 AM in order to get our 7 AM flight to Juliaca via Lima.

4:45 AM came way too quickly! We were both exhausted but made it to the airport in time and were on our way to Lake Titicaca. Every flight we took had a connection through Lima. We became extremely familiar and comfortable with this airport. When we arrived in Juliaca we were met by our representative Daisy and a driver from the resort that we were staying at. They were extremely welcoming and we knew right away we would be taken care of for the remainder of our visit. They had cool drinks available for us and light lunch snacks in the van as it took approximately two hours to reach our resort.

Lago Titilaka (that is not a typo) Resort, Peru was absolutely beautiful and palatial. It rested on the shores of Lake Titicaca and would be our home for the next two and a half days. Our room was stunning and extremely comfortable. After quickly unpacking we had a quick look around the resort which had several patios overlooking different views of the very beautiful and vast Lake Titicaca. The bar was well-stocked and all beverages were included. Dangerous! We were able to join a sun-downer that evening to enjoy the sunset and also meet some of the other guests. Champagne was served as well as some beautiful hors d’oeuvres. Later that evening the resort guide led a very informative explanation of the Aymara sky and constellations. We had a fantastic meal and then settled into a deep slumber dreaming of our upcoming tours and excursions. The resort provided à la cart activities and excursions which we decided on our first day. This was going to be special.

The Salkantay Trek Highlights!

It is always difficult to try and pick the highlights of any particular adventure. I imagine it would be like trying to pick your favourite child. When I initially planned this trip the Salkantay Trek was what I was most looking forward to experience. The entire Salkantay trek was amazing and certainly lived up to expectations.  Having said that, the following represents a listing of experiences/individuals that were particularly special:

1).  Enjoying a “refreshing” dip in Humantay Lake at 4200 m Day 2. Swimming in a fresh, cold mountain lake is my idea of heaven. Fortunately, I was joined in this “baptism” by Anna, Cindy and Steve from Ottawa. Unsurprisingly, this was mainly a Canadian contingent except for Cindy- who is from Hawaii- but has now been made an official Canadian citizen (it is just that easy). Below is photographic proof of this momentous accomplishment just so you don’t think I am making this up.

2).  Enjoying a remarkably relaxing afternoon with Anna Day 2 after the hike to Humantay Lake. Prior to coming on this adventure, things were particularly challenging and stressful for both Anna and I. The hike to Humantay Lake was accomplished in the morning so we had a free afternoon to enjoy ourselves prior to the hike to the summit of Salkantay Pass the following day. The afternoon was spent under the brilliant sun on the grass in front of Salkantay Lodge with a view of Salkantay Mountain before us. Anna was meditating to the sound of numerous songbirds and I was gently stretching on a yoga mat completely “in the moment” listening to my “Relaxed” playlist. Our minds were completely emptied of all concerns and were simply focused on the natural sights and sounds surrounding us. Whenever we opened our eyes we were greeted with the surrounding grandeur of Salkantay Mountain. Just so you think we are not too “granola” this was followed by a rather boisterous hot tub party with Pisco sours and beers! The evening was spent enjoying a fabulous meal with fellow hikers and an early to bed in preparation for the summit attempt the next day. A perfect afternoon!

3).  Summiting Salkantay Pass 4638 m Day 3. Anytime you undertake a multi-day trek, the focus always seems to be on the summit. Our group was split into two as some of the hikers were going to take a longer time to achieve the summit. Our two groups were expertly managed by Raul and Ricky so that we would arrive at the summit at approximately the same time. There was genuine joy, and a few tears, when we all arrived at the summit very proud of our accomplishment. The fact that we were able to enjoy it with others of similar disposition made it all the more special.

4). The hot tub the evening of Day 3 Wayra Lodge. After the physical and emotional stress of the long hike up to Salkantay Pass, everyone’s spirits were on a natural high despite our tired and aching bodies. Just as we were arriving at Wayra Lodge (the most remote lodge) it started to rain and we were enveloped by mist and grey clouds. The lodge was welcoming and warm. Georgia, as per her nature, was first to get into her swim suit and surrender herself to the warm, bubbling waters as well as a cool Pisco sour! A few of us were still checking out the lodge when we saw her alone soaking in utter contentment in the churning waters (see picture below). As a photographer, I felt it was my duty to try and capture this moment. Soon afterwards, the rest of us joined her full of pride in what we had just accomplished. Who would’ve thought you could fit fourteen people into a hot tub designed for eight! A special experience.

5). The descent through the Cloud Forest and a Pachamanca lunch BBQ Colpa Lodge Day 4. For most of us, this was the first time we had truly hiked and experienced a Cloud Forest. Going downhill for most of the way certainly added to the pleasure. The Cloud Forest was amazing. Because of the water content within the clouds, rather lush vegetation is able to grow at elevations unheard of back home. The low-lying cloud, and at times gentle rain, added to the mystical feel. As we were descending, the temperature and humidity rose. It was amazing to all of us that you could move from one ecological zone to such a different zone in less than one day. At the end of the hike we were rewarded with an utterly amazing traditional Peruvian barbecue. Preparations prior took four hours (while we were hiking) but as we arrived they placed the numerous vegetables and meats (including guinea pig) into the earth on hot coals and thirty minutes afterwards we were enjoying one of the best meals we had ever eaten.

6). Lucma Lodge day 5 (see pictures below). All of the lodges were amazing, however, we were all absolutely enamoured with this lodge. It was located in surrounding fertile farmland bursting with fruit, vegetable and coffee trees. The sweet air was thick with moisture and enveloped us like a cozy blanket. The lodge itself was absolutely beautiful despite the lack of a hot tub. The surrounding gardens were also gorgeous. We had arrived at this lodge around midday allowing us to relax and really enjoy and experience all it had to offer. Heaven!

7). Machu Picchu Day 7. To be honest, I did not have a lot of expectations for Machu Picchu. I thought it would be overrun by tourists and not the special and peaceful place I expected it should be. Needless to say I was wrong. Certainly, there are quite a few people but usually by mid day. Our guide Raul took us up early and we were able to experience it in relative solitude. Visually, it is stunning. Architecturally, it is a masterpiece. It boggles the mind to think that a “primitive” race was responsible for this magnificence. Raul was able to guide us to areas that were not heavily visited and provided a coherent and enriching explanation of the culture and intricacies involved in its construction. This added to the overall experience. Truly worthwhile!

8). Our guides Raul and Ricky. Having guided and provided medical services to the Skyline Hikers of the Canadian Rockies for years, I can appreciate the work and expertise involved in group hiking. Our guides were professional, personable, passionate, extremely well prepared and informed. Our experiences during this trek were augmented by their presence. They worked together extremely well and insured that everyone in the group, regardless of ability, were able to enjoy the trek. To both of them I will always be grateful.

9). Our fellow hikers- Cindy and Alan, Steve and Shawn, Peggy, Georgia, Tim and Lisa as well as Mike and Karen. As mentioned previously, one cannot always predict how different personalities will get along on such an adventure. I really felt that our group connected on numerous levels. Everyone was supportive, welcoming, personable and felt a deep responsibility to ensure others had as good a time as they were having. Everyone demonstrated an openness and deep love of the outdoors. My life has been enriched by sharing this experience with you all. Thank you.

10). Anna. One of my closest and dearest friends. Life has not been particularly supportive or easy over the last several years for either of us. I realize the trek challenged you at a time when you were already feeling challenged. The fact that you undertook this challenge and succeeded speaks to your fortitude. My life has been enriched by your presence and your willingness to invariably say “yes” to the adventures I keep involving you in continues to strengthen the bond that we share. Hopefully, Lake Titicaca and Galapagos will provide you with ample respite.

Gallery

Salkantay Trek Pictures Day 4-7

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Salkantay Trek Pictures Days 1-3

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The Team!

I had no concerns about the amazing scenery I was going to experience along this ancient pathway, however, one is never sure how things are going to turn out when you throw together people who have never hiked together before. I needn’t have worried. All of the members of our group clicked immediately. We were expertly managed by Raul, our main guide extraordinaire and his ever patient and supportive assistant guide Ricky. The group dynamics were fantastic. Everyone shared the same open attitude, love of the outdoors and a willingness to augment each other’s experience. This truly added another dimension to this amazing trek that will stay with me forever. All of our trekkers were from the United States, England or Canada. Hopefully, the following pictures can do them justice and also serve as an introduction to our amazing team. Thank you all for making this a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience!

 

Raul our amazing guide

Raul our amazing guide

Ricky our assistant guide

Ricky our assistant guide

Peggy- Humantay

Peggy- Humantay

Steve and Sean- Humantay

Steve and Sean- Humantay

Mike and Karen- Humantay

Mike and Karen- Humantay

Lisa and Georgia- Humantay

Lisa and Georgia- Humantay

Tim and Lisa - Humantay

Tim and Lisa – Humantay

Cindy and Alan- Humantay

Cindy and Allan- Humantay

Anna and Steve- Humantay

Anna and Steve- Humantay

Salkantay Trek Begins!

Here it is! It is April 26 2014 early in the morning and we are preparing to leave Cusco for our trek to the Salkantay. Why Salkantay? The last time I was in South America in 2008 to visit the Galapagos, I passed up on the opportunity to visit Peru. This was something that I had always regretted, and at the time, I promised I would come back to trek to Machu Picchu. To be quite honest, I was expecting to be disappointed going directly to Machu Picchu. Therefore, I began to look to add on some trekking in a location close to Machu Picchu. My search led me to the Mountain Lodges of Peru. The trek they offered seemed perfect. The famous Salkantay Trek, named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine, is a trek open to everybody, with no limitation on spaces or permits (at least for now). Connecting the city of Mollepata, Cusco with Machu Picchu, the Salkantay Trek is an ancient and remote footpath located in the same region as the Inca Trail where massive snowcapped mountains collide with lush tropical rain forests.
Located less than fifty miles northwest of the city of Cusco in south central Peru by the Cordillera Vilcabamba and rising to 6271 meters above sea level (20574 ft) Mt. Salkantay is an outstanding glacier-capped summit worshipped for thousands of years by local indians. The name Salkantay is a quechua word meaning “Savage Mountain”.

Our Machu Picchu Lodge-to-Lodge Trek 7D/6N itinerary was as follows:

Day 1: Cusco-Soraypampa
The pickup began at 7 AM in Cusco. On route we took a short break to visit the Inca ruins of Tarawasi. We then traveled for an additional two hours, including passing through the mountain village of Mollepata, arriving at a place called Marcoccasa where we began our trek to Soraypampa with an overnight at Salkantay Lodge.

Day 2: Soraypampa
After an early breakfast, we then hiked for four hours in the area surrounding the Lodge visiting Humantay Lake. This proved to be a highlight as it provided an opportunity to swim in a beautiful lake with stunning surrounding mountains at 4200 m. This hike was meant to help acclimatize us to the elevation just prior to ascending the Salkantay Pass the following day. This hike only required the morning allowing us to return to the Lodge for the afternoon for some relaxation time including stretching, yoga and meditation as well as a dip in the hot tub. I know, it all sounds very stressful!

Day 3: Soraypampa- Wayraccmachay
After an early start, we hiked up the Rio Blanco valley, circling Humantay Peak across from Salkantay Peak. The highest point on the trek was at a pass at 4638 m where we stopped briefly for photographs and a few tears. What an accomplishment! From there we continued our descent towards Wayra Lodge, our destination for the evening. Of course, after such a strenuous hike, we decided to have our briefing for the next day in the hot tub (under duress of course) and appropriate lubrication with Pisco sours assisted us with our recovery. We have just completed the most difficult part of the trek, however, little did we know there was more to come.

Day 4: Wayraccmachay-Colpapampa
We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at Wayra Lodge. Our day’s trek led us downhill above the Salkantay River, until we arrived just before Colpa Lodge where we were greeted with a Pachamanca lunch, which was a special Peruvian barbecue. Delicious! We then spent the afternoon relaxing in the outdoor hot tub (yes, again) with a visit to the nearby orchid garden. Little did we know that our main guide Raul was an expert on the subject having researched these very intricate flowers over ten years! He provided us with a slideshow of the numerous orchids he had taken over this period of time. Truly, an amazing guide! We then had another fabulous dinner with an overnight at Colpa Lodge.

Day 5: Colpapampa-Luchmabamba
This part of the trek led us down the Santa Teresa river valley through more populated rural areas. We passed through coffee plantation, banana, granadilla as well as avocado orchards. The evening before it had rained quite heavily so part of our trail was washed out. This changed our plans. Just before the small town of Playa, we boarded a private vehicle which drove us to the beginning of the “Llactapata Inca Trail”. The road was simply a dirt road with rather precipitous drops which provided several instances of appropriate trepidation. We hiked a portion of this Inca trail through beautiful farmland to our lodge known as Lucma Lodge. This lodge did not have a hot tub. We knew at this point we were truly “roughing it”.

Day 6: Luchmabamba-Aguas Calientes
This trek provided more of a challenge than the hike to the Salkantay Pass. We climbed uphill for 2-3 hours towards Llactapata Pass (2763 m) where we would come upon an amazing distant view of Machu Picchu from the recently restored Llactapata Ruins. This allowed us to see the exact topographic location that Machu Picchu rests in. Truly, the Incas were inspired in their choice of this location. After a brief lunch, we descended about 300o ft to the hydroelectric train station where we would take a train to Aguas Calientes, the town of Machu Picchu, where we checked into our palatial hotel for the night. A soothing dip in the warm mineral springs as well as a cool Pisco sour drink eased our aching muscles and knees. We slept well that night in anticipation of our visit to Machu Picchu the following morning.

Day 7: Machu Picchu-Cusco
After breakfast at the hotel, we made our way to the bus station for the ride up to Machu Picchu early in the morning. A complete guided tour of Machu Picchu was provided by Raul which really added to the overall experience. He kept us away from the crowds and augmented our knowledge of this sacred site. We certainly came away from this experience with a much better appreciation of the grandeur of the location as well as the engineering marvel that it represents. Our group split up at this point. A few of us took the opportunity for a more relaxed hike up to the Inca Bridge while the other brave souls climbed Waynapicchu Peak. We then returned by bus to Aguas Calientes for lunch before embarking on the train to Ollantaytambo. We then boarded a private vehicle to take us back to Cusco. Sadly, our group started to go their separate ways. We felt blessed to have enjoyed this amazing trek with such wonderful individuals. We promised to stay in touch. Fortunately, Anna and I were able to have our evening meal with Mike, Karen, Sean and Stephen. The evening flew by. We still had to pack which took us into the wee hours for our journey to Lake Titicaca early the next day. No rest for the wicked!

The total trekking distance was 64 km. We truly felt like we had had a unique experience with amazing and inspiring individuals as well as a superb guide in Raul and assistant guide Ricky. We would remember this trek forever.

 

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