Monday, September 24, 2018

A Perfect Day

It's August 15th.  Wow! What a day today was!  As the title says, it was just perfect!

It started with a beautiful ceremony with our llama handlers and guides.  The object was to give an offering to Apu Ausangate (Father Ausangate).  It is believed that this will keep us safe on our journey.  The guides placed all sorts of little trinkets and food in a paper wrapping.  We each placed 3 coca leaves in the package after asking Apu and his children for safe passage.  We also gave wine I think it was to Pacha Mama and the mountain.  To complete the ceremony, we burned our package of offerings so the smoke could go up to the mountains.  It was quite beautiful and emotional for many of us.  My description of it doesn't make it justice... it is in my memory for ever.

After our ceremony, we headed off the mountain to complete our first and highest mountain pass: 5200m.  Mattias was the front guide today.  He's great at making sure the pace is perfect.  I was able to follow him all day.  Anyway... back to the story.

It was quite the hike!  we climbed 300m -I would guess about 1km - which took us about 2 hours.  2
hours to walk 1km... really?! yes, really!  We did stop a few minutes here and there to catch our breath, but we literally took 2 hours to walk 1km (it should take on average 10 minutes or so to walk 1km).  Lucky for me, the horses carried my daypack until lunch today -Holgar's orders.  I'm certain that made a huge difference.

When we reached the top, an overwhelming feeling of I don't know what came upon us.  I can't explain it in pictures or words.  It's just something you have to experience for yourself to understand. It's a feeling that just takes over, tears stream down your f

ace -not tears of sadness - I'm not sure what kind of tears they are!  Pure accomplishment? Pure joy because you finally arrive? The beauty you see is just too much to take in?  A bit of all that? I don't know how everyone else felt, but many of us had tears of some kind. 

After spending about 10/15 minutes enjoying the beauty, taking photos... we started our descent.  That was not any easier than going up!  Physically it was ok - very slippery as it was ice and snow covered.  It was also quite steep!  I sure was glad I had walking poles.  They saved me a couple times! 

The first group got to the bottom pretty quickly so we decided to make snow angels and leave our prints in the mountains.  That sure was fun!

The views today were most spectacular.  We saw colourful mountains, rocky mountains, blue skies, clouds, we felt wind and that was all part of the adventure.  We arrived at the bottom of the mountain
and were greeted by this cute little boy.  We gave him a soccer ball, food, and chocolate.  He was just so cute!  He sat down beside Remi and Remi shared all sorts of treats with him.  He sure got spoiled today!

Nearby was a hill where we could see 2 other boys waiting in the background- were they shy? too old to come and get things? I'm not sure.  Sophie was going to give our little boy more treats but I suggested she go give it to the two other boys and so off she went to hand them a granola bar.  They seemed grateful and happy. 

We started walking again.  To get to our lunch spot we still had about 1.5 hours of walking to do - uphill for some of the way of course!  Again, just as beautiful as ever!  We arrived at our lunch site.  It was now cold and windy.  Today's soup sure was welcome!

We had lunch, another pee break (probably the 100th so far today!) and off we went... about 1km to go - that's 1.5 to 2 hours of walking.  Sounds crazy doesn't it?  That long to walk 1km... I still can't believe it... and if someone told me it took them that long I would think they were crazy! Let me tell you - it's very difficult in extreme altitude!

This last bit was extremely slippery as the very narrow trail was covered in this red mud. It was quite tricky not slipping down the side of the mountain.  Are you ready for another emotional moment?  Here it comes!  We got to this little pass- it was a very long way down a cliff...I couldn't go through - luckily, Jodi and Mattias were able to help me get through it (At this point, Remi had gone back to meet with the back group to take pictures I think, or to give Sophie a pole?).  Thank God I had these two or I think I would still be there bawling!  With help, you can do anything...

We could see the tambo from about 100m now.  What a feeling!  We are doing 2 mountain passes tomorrow.  I have a feeling it will be another difficult day full of adventure!  We can do it!  We will do it!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Keep on hiking

Guess what!  Another early morning!  Our wake up call was at 6:30 - the wake up call is Nelly singing at our door.  -what a nice way to wake up!  Breakfast this morning was fruits and oatmeal made from quinoa.  It tasted better than oatmeal at home - and the texture was way better.  I was able to eat my portion!  After breakfast and before heading off, we had the women from the nearby village demonstrate their weaving.  I bought a beautiful hat that intend on wearing all winter!

We began our trek at about 9am.  The first part of the walk was fairly easy, offering beautiful views of the mountains.  We had a bit of a hike up to a house where we had lunch - soup and some sort of egg and potato thing.  It was actually quite tasty.  This house belongs to the manager of the past lodge - or something like that - I'm not too sure.  It's very simple "mud hut".  I really don't think I could live here - it must be freezing cold at night - worse than the lodges...  The "washroom" if you can call them that
are pretty awful.  The door is holding on my a thread and is just a couple planks holding on I don't know how!  Inside is a little hole that is quite disgusting.  I couldn't take a photo of it as I was not going to stay in there any longer than needed!  The hole wasn't quite big enough for people to aim in... if you know what I mean... argh - gross.  I prefer to pee in nature - Thank God I didn't have to poop!!  I would not have been able to!

After lunch, we refill our water supplies and off we went to continue our journey.  Our next lodge is called Macharacay.  I was really happy to see the lodge as the journey was a difficult one! Had a headache for most of the day as we continue to climb in altitude.  By dinner, I was feeling a little nauseous and my headache wasn't leaving even with strong meds.  I decided to sit on the couch next to the fire as I just wasn't able to eat.  A few minutes after sitting by the fire, I was really feeling like crap.  Eric checked my oxygen and it was just a bit low.  Said he would check it again after dinner.  I decided to go to bed and try to sleep it off. 

Once in bed, I guess people noticed I had "disappeared".  Remi came to check on me and saw I didn't look too good I guess as Eric quickly came and checked my oxygen again.  He decided to put me on oxygen - told me to take deep breaths for 10 minutes.  Let me tell you - 10 minutes of oxygen was like a miracle!  I'd say about 15 to 30 minutes later all my symptoms were gone - headache -gone! Nausea -gone!  I felt really tired, but that I can handle!  I didn't feel like I was dying anymore!

I wasn't the only one feeling like this tonight.  I believe 3 or 4 of us received oxygen tonight.

What a day!  I sure hope tomorrow will feel better!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

First trekking day

Another early morning rise - 6am - Aug. 13th.  Today's the big day! We head off to the middle of nowhere to start our 5 day trek through the mountains - to see the rainbow mountain.  We have 2 vans to accommodate the 17 trekkers and 3 guides -Holger, Mathias and Eric.  We set off, in the same direction we went yesterday for birdwatching.  I recognize the little villages we passed by - the guinea pig village, the bread village and the pork village!

It was nice to have a tour guide on board as he told us all sorts of things about what we saw.  We first
stopped at a little market.  Here I had a new Peruvian experience.  Let's say it wasn't necessarily a pleasant one.  Our first washroom with no toilet!  At the back of the market, you pay a man 1 soles, he hands you a couple squares of toilet paper, he points to a door (at least there's a door).  You enter, see a very dirty floor and a hole in the middle.  Ok.  How will my body react to this?! Let's just say it's easier to just squat down outside - I'm happy I just had to pee!  You leave the "washroom" and the man throws a bucket of water behind you, all over he floor.  Let's just say I wouldn't go in there barefoot... We had a few minutes to buy a few gifts for the children we would encounter along the way.  I got some hair clips for girls, Rémi got little soccer balls and Sophie got apples.  We had time to have some fun and get some jump shots in.  I managed to talk Tara into them as well.

Our next stop was at a different village where we went to the washroom again (cleaner this time).  We stopped here to visit a beautiful church.  Peru has a very interesting and sad past.  When the Spanish came to conquer Peru, they were not quite kind... Like when the Europeans came to Canada - let's say the indigenous people had seen better days... Similar to Canadian history, children were taken from families and
placed in "schools" -the guide had a special word but I've forgotten what it is.  They build this amazing church.  It's not easy converting people to believe what you believe in - especially when they don't speak your language.  To convert the children to christianity, they filled the church with beautiful artwork to help with communication.  For example, Jesus is black and he wears a skirt.  There is a whole history story here, but again, I don't remember all the details.  I do know that the gold is real gold.  Sadly, the Spanish stole the Inca treasures, brought them to Belgium to be melted, turned into gold leaves and returned to complete the church.  I'm sorry -I find this absolutely tragic...

After hearing all about the history, we went outside to see a reconstruction of  an Inca bridge and other things - pretty cool.  A few pictures, videos, a little break and back we head to the van to a nice surprise... little snack bags!  Yum!  We will use these bags everyday on our trek as we will refill them every morning before leaving.  We are off again to continue our journey.

The road we took was... let's just say... an adventure in itself!  OMG!  You don't want to fall off the edge!  No gates, it's wide enough for one car - don't want to meet anyone - there are really tight corners - the driver honks the horn before each one... Poor Beth!  She's sitting on the side and she doesn't like heights!  The view though... wow - takes your breath away! This bit reminded of the roads I had to drive in Iceland. 

We finally arrive at a house in ruins where we see a beautiful little table set up in the middle of the field.  We had a very good lunch of vegetables and chicken and cheese, had our first pee break in the wild and off we went - walking this time.  We are going to be walking for the next 5 days.  Hard to believe, we are
actually doing this. 

Today is a short walking day -about 2.5 km.  It takes a long time to walk 2.5km in the mountains.  Especially when it starts a bit rocky!  Had a few tears, I did manage to walk the very narrow path on the side of a cliff.  It wasn't very long... thank God!   I'm also happy I have my human rock with me... I thank him for believing in me.

The first 40 minutes or so we walked in between two mountains, longing a little river.  I can't even put in words the beauty I see.  There are tiny little flowers here and there, ferns have found the weirdest places to grow, vegetation is sparse - a few hairy cactuses here and there. 

We eventually turn a corner and again, O.M.G. The narrow path turns into a beautiful valley.  Off to one side, a small village in the distance, along the snaky river.  About 1.5km ahead, our first Tambo (lodge)!  It's just a speck at this point...

Before getting to the lodge, we saw a boy -probably a teenager fishing with a net.  We cheer him on each time he throws his net in.  he's probably thinking what a bunch of weirdos... as he probably does this everyday...

Not much further, we arrived at a gate where we were greeted by little girls.  So beautiful and shy!  Unfortunately for us, they only speak Qechua.  Let's just say they lucked out and got quite the loot today!   We finally arrive to the tambo!  We are welcomed and given a beautiful pair of slippers. 

It's quite cold in the tambos - there is no electricity and no heating - except for a wood stove in the "living room".  Everyone is tired, excited and sitting near the fire. 

Our first dinner - we had soup, trout and potatoes.  Orlando serenated us with his beautiful voice as he played his Peruvian harp.  Wow - more tears...

Lucky for us, Nelly, our Peruvian helper puts a hot water bottle in our bed....I would've like to have 5 or 6 of them!  Brrr!  Not much sleep to be had... but oh well! What will tomorrow bring?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Bird Watching Day!

Another very early morning!  It's August 12 - 5am start!  We are meeting our birdwatching guide at
6am.  No time to waste!  Getting ready, eating breakfast and off we went!   Our guide's name is William.  When I asked him where his name came from as it's not very Spanish, he told us his mother loved William Shakespeare and so she called him William.  What a great story!

We drove for about 30 minutes outside of Cusco.  On the way, we passed various little villages - each with their own specialty - fried pork, cuy (guinea pig), bread... People will drive to all these villages during the weekend to get what they need.  This bread village is the only place where this particular bread is made.  We were told that if you want to bring a nice gift when visiting someone - is to bring some of this bread!

We arrived at our destination - Lake Huacarpay - We started where it looked more like a marsh than a lake.  We drove around this lake and stopped at all the blinds and viewing spots.  All together we saw 40 species of birds.  My favourite was the plumbeous rail.  It's black with a lime green beak and bright red legs.  Rails and the likes are usually difficult to find and see.  Today was our lucky day as we saw quite a few of them!

Around the marsh parts we also saw wild guinea pigs!  Oh my! They are so cute!  They are all dark brown and a bit larger than domestic guinea pigs.  We are told these don't get eaten as they don't taste very good... After seeing where they live, I wouldn't want to eat one either! They are not grass fed that's for sure!  It would be like eating a muskrat that lives in a swamp... yuck!

After rounding the marsh part, we stopped and walked a while trying to find various birds.  We did see an endemic type of hummingbird: the bearded mountaineer - it's black and white and not easy to see!  Funny story to accompany this bird... William had it in his scope - we could see it very well - but I couldn't find it with my eyes.  So, William took out his laser pointer and was pointing near the bird.  I had just commented on how little butterflies we could see at this altitude when all of a sudden Remi says something like look at that bright green butterfly! It was no butterfly... it was the laser pointer beam!  Oh my how we laughed!

I was getting tired of just standing there.  I decided to walk ahead and see what I could find.  Bingo!  I came across the ruins or the Wari people - a people found before the Incas.  This site is called .  It looked quite different from the Inca villages.  These people used small stones and there seemed to be streets.  I walked around for a while, until the rest of them caught up to me.

We continued our tour around the lake where we saw fishermen on rafts made from bullrushes.  Our guide was explaining that these people make a new raft each time they go fishing.  I wished they'd been closer so I could've captured an image...

After going around the lake, William brought us to another site to see if we could find more hummingbirds.  We drove for about 15 minutes to an abandoned hacienda.  A huge property full of ruins from the time of the Spanish invasion.  These haciendas were something else! 

We did find a second type of hummingbird here - the sparkling violet ear hummingbird.  It sure was sparkly!  It's had a beautiful green colour!  It showed itself to us for quite a while.  What a little beauty!

After our birding tour, we headed back to Cusco where we decided to go to the square to find something to eat.  We headed up to a tiny balcony and had soup.  I chose the quinoa soup.  It was good - not delicious.

After lunch we went to explore the city a little more.  We ended up back at the market where we purchased yummy Peruvian chocolate.  When we were leaving the market, we could see a group of dancers and musicians about to perform.  We waited for about 15/20 minutes - we decided to leave as there was still no sign of them moving.  (We had seen a glimpse of them earlier on a different street so we didn't mind missing it).

I didn't write down what we did after that.  Couldn't of been to exciting as I don't recall.  We packed what we wanted to bring on our trek.  Oh and we had a group meeting.  Our real adventure starts tomorrow.  Early bed time!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Day 3

Aug. 11th - another spectacular day spent in Peru!  Today's outing - The Sacred Valley.  It's a pretty incredible place!  This is where much of the agriculture takes place - the Incas used to grow things on the side of the mountains - we can still see the terraces everywhere - although they are not used anymore as they are protected land.  I can't imagine how difficult this would've have been - working the land with your hands, and oxen... Today, much of the work is still done the same way - hands and ox - once in a while you will see a tractor - but only rarely.

We began our journey with a drive to the valley.  The morning was filled with fun activities such as the textile coop and shopping in a market. 

They get all these colours of this "dirt"
The textile coop was a neat visit.  It starts with feeding alpacas some grass - and lots of picture taking of course.  We learned how the wool is prepared - from alpaca to product.  It sure is a long process.  I found it interesting how these women use things in nature to dye the wool.  Beautiful colours can come out of dirt and plants - it's all chemistry!  These women work very hard.

She sits there all day weaving - phew! 
This coop had vicunas and guanacos - two types of wild llamas -that can be found at the top of mountains.  We also caught the first glimpse of a viscacha - the cousin of the chinchilla.  What a fast little critter! 

After our visit to the coop and shopping in their store, we made our way to Pisac - where we shopped some more in the village market place.  This is similar to the market in Cusco - just more "high class" more for the tourists.  We spent about 1 hour here.  Way too long if you ask me... as I'm not a big shopper.

As we were driving to our next destination, lunch, we stopped by a street vendor to purchase a Peruvian delicacy: the "cuy" - also known to Canadians as the guinea pig.  this little village had them everywhere.  People will come on weekends just to buy one!  It takes about 1 hour to cook the little fellow.   These were like spit roasted.  They actually quite tasty but very bony.  Not much meat on a guinea pig!  We were told that on your birthday you don't want chocolate cake - you want cuy.  I think I will stick to chocolate cake. 

 Lunch was served buffet style as a beautiful restaurant that used to be a Hacienda.  The gardens were just spectacular.  The food was not as good as the previous meals...but it was edible.  I'm not sure
why vegetables are usually served cold here... I like my broccoli and green beans hot...

so crowded! 
Going up Inca stairs
Our next visit was Ollantaytambo where we climbed something like 300 steps to see a temple and a grainery.  What an experience to walk where the Incas walked and worked in the early 1400s!  Wow!   It was raining and the stones we walked on were a bit slippery - had to take it sow.  Remi, Vesna and a couple others had enough time to walk all the way to the grainery.  Once at arrived at this end of the path, it was less crowded and so we could take time to take it all in.  There were some pretty steep stairs to take - which I didn't particularly enjoy... but you have to challenge yourself from time to time... which makes you proud of your accomplishments.  Jason and Tracey pointed out these stairs sticking out of the wall - Remi and I took time to do them - that was scary as well!  Lots of tears to be had here!  This place is simply magnificent.  It would've been nice to have more time here. 

We were supposed to visit one more site but we weren't able to as it was now dark.  We drove back to our hotel as we have a very early morning - 5am!  Looking forward to tomorrow! We will be going bird watching - just the 3 of us.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Peru Day 2

It's now August 10th.  I didn't get much sleep.  The bed is hard and not very comfy.  Also, Diamox, the drug you take for altitude makes you pee.  I got up 3 or 4 times to pee.  Each time I felt like all the energy had been sucked out... you would think I would be able to sleep... nope!

Today, we are meeting our guide for the next couple days - Juan.  We will be doing a hike to help acclimate to the high altitude.

Our guide med us at 9am.  We hopped on a van/bus and off we went for our first destination:  Sacsayhuaman (almost sounds like sexy woman)- Inca ruins - just outside of Cusco.  It's a beautiful and interesting place.  This site is believed to have been the center (geographically) of the Incas.  We learned all sorts of information about the site, most of it is gone from my brain already.  I will have to read up on it when I get home. I do remember that it was a very important place - religious, bureaucracy, fortress type place.  you can see a Puma print, a Llama and a snake.  I also learned that the huge stones are the actual ruins - all the little stones are part of the restorations.

As we were touring and listening to Juan tell us all about this place, I could see a group of teenagers harassing a spider.  How do I know?  I could hear them, and could see them throwing a rock at it.  Who would ever think I would come to the rescue of a spider?  Not me that's for sure!  This is exactly what I did though!  I stomped towards the teens, told them off and told them to move away from the poor thing they had done enough harassing for one day.  I don't like spiders, but I can't watch idiots harassing a living creature.  It was a huge spider!  After the kid
s left, I didn't stick around for a photo... now I regret it! Oh well!

Today, we also visited 3 other Inca sites, learning all about each as we went along.  Every place was just as beautiful as the next - each with different reasons of being.  Each sites welcomes you with groups of women and children who either sell things or want a few soles to get their picture taken with you.  We of course took lots of photos!

The mountains at the back...

Cusco is surrounded by mountains.  It's quite spectacular!  We had a glimpse of where we will be heading.  I saw a glimpse because the mountain was in the clouds.  My first thought was oh shit! That is not going to be easy!

After our hike, we had a "picnic".  O.M.G.!!!  Unbelievable!  We drove down this tiny dirt road - switch back style of course.  We arrived to the most beautiful site!  A beautiful white tent set up with beautiful tables - like 5 star restaurant type set up!  This is no simple picnic!  No sandwiches at this picnic either!

We were treated to a 6 course meal - each plate looked like a work of art.  Again, I will let the photos speak for themselves.  There was bacon, alpaca, potatoes, corn, stuffed pepper, fancy drinks, banana bread, it went on and on!  To think the chef is self taught... incredible!  He sure is gifted in mixing foods and making them look unbelievably beautiful!  He makes his own bowl with stones, as he believes what the food is placed on is just as important as the food itself.  Wow... just wow!

After this most special lunch, we visited the old hacienda and off we went to the hotel to relax.  There will be no dinner needed tonight!  Peru really is a country for foodies! 

Cusco -Day 1

It's the 9th of August and we are in Cusco, Peru!  It's 6 degrees Celsius - not what we would call warm!  We find out there is an hour difference with Ottawa.  Not bad!  This means no jet lag!  We will have enough of dealing with the high altitude without adding jet lag!

Altitude is weird.  It's already playing tricks on us!  Walking a single flight of stairs is proving difficult.  It's like an elephant is sitting on your chest.  No matter how deep a breath you take, you feel like you can't fill your lungs.  You feel like you are out of breath all the time.  Everything you do, even very simple tasks like putting on socks sucks all the energy out of your.  I've had a headache all day.  Luckily, it's not a serious headache and Advil took care of it.

Funny enough, the altitude is not affecting Rémi the same way.  He's not feeling any of the symptoms that everyone else is feeling.  He feels exactly like he does at home.  He wishes he'd brought his running stuff so he could go for a run!  Let me tell you, there is NO way I'm running anywhere!  Not even downhill!

When you first arrive in high altitude (Cusco is at 3200m above sea level), you are supposed to take it easy for the first few days so you can acclimatize.  You are to just slowly walk around, taking time for your body to adjust.  So, that's exactly what we decided to do after our debrief with the lady from Andean Lodges.

A group of us decided to walk to the market.  I found this quite overwhelming.  I had a few tears... the smells, the people, the stuff being sold (pig and sheep heads, tongues, feet, you name it they had it), it was just too much for me.  All I could think of was the Superstore... and this market... how can people shop here? Eat this meat?  Then you just get over it.  This is how they live.  This is all they know.  This doesn't bother them.  Don't let it bother you.  It's actually beautiful when you stop, look and take it in.  Simple life...Hard, but simple...

After this overwhelming experience at the market, we walked to the square.  Every town/city has a "square" where everything happens - as we saw on Sundays!  It's really a square with a beautiful garden in the middle.  There was also a big fountain and statues.  It really was a beautiful place!

After all that exercise, we tried to have a nap.  Well, something altitude does is not let you sleep!  I laid down for a while, no sleep came.  I felt like I was burning up, yet when you touched my skin, I didn't feel warm.  I did looked flushed though.  Not feeling feverish, I just blame it on altitude.

We finished our day with a very yummy Peruvian dinner at a restaurant called Morena. Wow! That was quite the dinner!  I will let the photos speak for themselves!  The plating was absolutely beautiful and the food was delicious!
Sophie's pasta dinner - OMG that was good! 
Remi's Dinner

I had chicken skewers
Dessert: Churros

Remi's dessert -inside a cocoa pod
Brownie and ice cream

Sophie's fancy juice

It's late and it's time for bed!  I'm hoping to get a good night sleep!