Good Friends & Hidden Gems

I was back in Missoula to pick up the pupperino, and to spend more time with my parents. Last weekend we took a short road trip to Spokane, WA. It was a trip I’ve taken many times. Growing up in a small town like Missoula driving to Spokane was the only way to go shopping at places like the GAP – which was a super big deal in the early 90’s. The drive brought back so many good memories of road trips with friends to the BIG CITY! Missoula has grown much larger since then, and there is lots to do right here without having to make the drive.

We made the drive  to go see an art exhibit, which was being held in a winery. The artist an old friend of the family, and the wine was unexpectedly delicious! It was wonderful to catch up with so many great friends. On the way home we stopped in the historic town of Wallace, ID and had lunch at a wonderful little find! There was a tiny little cafe called the Blackboard Cafe that had the most amazing food! Not a place you would expect to find in small town Idaho. These small finds made the drive more of an adventure, and less of repetitive journey.

My point being, while big trips are fun and exciting there are interesting and unique finds to be discovered in your own backyard. Trip Advisor is a really great way to look for hidden gems, if you are not familiar with the area. Taking the time to walk around and explore on your own works too!

The winery in Liberty Lake, WA. Was Liberty Lake Wine Cellars I really wish I had thought to buy a few bottles for Thanksgiving.

Next stop Seattle and Bainbridge Island!

~Jill

Long Lost Love Child of Axle Rose and other Post-trip Product Reviews – Not sponsored.

The list of hiking gear and clothes we posted here pre-trip was cut down significantly after we had our check- in with Alpaca Expeditions and received our itinerary and instructions. Their suggested packing list contradicted wildly with the weight limitations allowed to each person. What ended up coming on the trip, was two sets of hiking clothes, not four. One to wear for six days, and one set of clean clothes to wear the day of Machu Picchu in order to look nice for photos and smell reasonable on the train ride home – this was not a realistic expectation. We smelled worse than the ass end of an Alpaca and a clean tee shirt was not going to combat that in anyway. Especially after running all the way to the Sun Gate at 5:30 in the morning.  We both also packed a set of wool long johns for sleeping in, and a set for hiking in on the cold days.

My daily hiking clothes and day pack consisted of a sun hat, wool hat, two Buffs – one neck and one headband, thin base layer tank top, sun shirt, a thin wool full zip hoodie, a puffy jacket, rain jacket, wool leggings on the two cold days, quick dry hiking pants, silk liner socks, wool hiking socks, thin running mittens, and one pair of hearty winter gloves.

The items that were invaluable were the following:

The sun hat. I purchased the Sun Sombrero from Outdoor Research. Lots of companies make a good sun hat. I chose the OR hat because it was on sale.

Yes, I looked like a mega-super-dork-tourist, and no I don’t care. This hat saved me from gallons of greasy sun screen that was going to run into my eyes anyway. I wanted to avoid using sun screen because the trail was dusty and dry, and we weren’t going to have access to a shower for an entire week. Multiple layers of dirt, sweat, and greasy sun screen day after day did not appeal to me.

Burt’s Bees Sensitive Skin – facial wipes. In general, I try to stay away from single use items, like adult wet wipes, but in this case they were much appreciated. When you don’t have access to a shower, and you have a sweaty, salty, dusty crust on your face – and your arm pits smell like something died, and then fermented, and then died again. It feels good to get that cleaned off. Also – and this is probably WAAAAY too much information, but let me just say – ass crack. Seven days, no shower, the ass crack enjoyed a little tender loving Burt’s Bees care too. We literally rationed these.

The Buff – headband and neck gator. Again I am well aware that the Buff headband makes me look like the long lost love child of Axle Rose, but again I don’t care. It protects my forehead and ears from sun, it keeps bugs out of my ears, it absorbs sweat, and keeps hair out of my face too!
The full Buff used as a neck gator, protects the back of my neck from sun and also absorbs sweat. The Buff is an all-around good tool. I think everyone on the trail had some version of a Buff.

Sun shirt – from Outdoor Research, again because it was on sale (this is a theme you will find in my shopping habits).
I love this shirt, it’s very thin and cool, it’s comfortable to hike in, and keeps the sun off of my arms and shoulders. I do wish it had thumb holes, to protect the back of my hands better. Matt’s sun shirt same brand and style has thumb holes, so mine might just be a design flaw from years past as I got mine on clearance.

Silk sock liners –  We got ours from an REI Garage Sale, so they were super cheap. At first they didn’t feel slippery / silky enough, and I was not convinced of their usefulness, but they worked like a charm. I got a few hot spots on very steep areas of trail, but neither of us developed blisters for the entire seven days. Magic I tell you!

Body Glide –  Cream for feet and other delicate areas. In addition to the silk liners I also used Glide for the delicate areas between my toes, my heels, and later in the week I was using it in the areas of skin that were getting chafed, under bra straps, and underwear lines.

Boots WITH a Vibram sole!
Get a good pair of boots that fit your foot and pay whatever they are asking. In prepping for Peru I tried to go cheap on a pair of boots that I found on clearance, they hurt my feet right out of the box, but I was determined to make it work. Thankfully, Matt saw fit to intervene, sometimes I’m too cheap for my own good. Salomon boots fit my foot nicely and I don’t think I will ever hike in anything else, BUT I will warn find a pair of boots with a Vibram sole, if you are going to hike the Inca trail. I learned this lesson in Europe three years ago on the ancient cobbled streets, but I forgot and the boots I ended up with in Peru did not have a Vibram sole.   On the wet granite steps of the Inca trail I was slipping and sliding along while Matt and our Guide were sure footed and fine. Vibram.

Trekking poles – I have never hiked with trekking poles prior to Peru, but they were on the packing list, so I felt compelled to get a pair as did Matt.  Matt enjoyed them right out of the box, but they were mostly in my way. I felt like they were slowing me down, until I needed them. They quickly became invaluable. I would recommend them for very steep up and down hikes. They really helped to take the pressure off of my old damaged knees on the way down, and they helped with stability going up and down.

SaltStick Pills, Huma gel packs, Honey Stingers, and  Nuun tablets –
For the gym or a short run I really like the Nuun tablets for electrolytes, but on the trail with a water bladder the Nuun tablets meant an extra water bottle and there just wasn’t time to deal with it. The StalkStick pills were easy to pack and take on the trail, and kept my salt / hydration levels consistent.
I’ve tried other gels for running and they all hit my stomach really hard. The Huma gels are gentile on my sensitive stomach, GF, they provide a nice energy boost mid-morning, they taste GREAT, and they also contain electrolytes. Huma also makes a gel variety with a little caffeine in it too which is also nice for a mid-morning pick me up.
The Honey Stinger gel chews are nice for trail snacking. They aren’t the mega hit like the Huma Gel, but they help keep you going. I like having both the chews and the gel for hiking and running.

Travel Underwear – I would recommend these for any trip where you want to travel light. They wash up easily and dry quickly. The company claims that two pair will get you through any trip. I like to travel with three because sometimes conditions don’t allow the laundry from the day before to dry completely, and putting on damp underwear first thing in the morning is akin to taping a cold dead fish on your ass and going about you day! Additionally, after a long day hiking or sightseeing, sometimes doing laundry is just not an option.

pStyle – female urination device
Again, maybe too much information, but I need other ladies to know about this. I will never hike, camp, or travel without this plastic gravy boat again. It made life in Peru, and all of my training hikes so so so easy! There is not a lot of foliage to hide behind on the trails of Peru, and I understood why all of the local women wore skirts over their pants and legging out on the trails. Add to that, some of the public restrooms were vile and infested with bugs. Not having to take my pants down to my knees and show my ass to half of Peru was nice. Not having to squat over a bug infested hole in the ground brought indescribable joy! And not putting that additional squatting pressure on my already sore knees was also hugely beneficial.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the gear that we took, and/ or decided to leave behind. We’d love to chat!

All of my best,

Jill

Day 7 – MACHU PICCHU

We made it! We hiked for seven days and made it to Machu Picchu, with two thousand of our closest friends!

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This was such a surreal and bizarre day – I actually need to go back to the day before.

If you read the post about Day 6, you will hopefully remember the trail I pointed out on one of the photos where the two-day treks meet up all at the same campsite. All of the treks, two-day, four-day, five-day, seven-day – they all end up at this one campsite which is right at the main gates for Machu Picchu. There are a second set of gates on the other side of Machu Picchu. These gates are for the train and bus people.

Two things happened the morning of Day 7.
First, it’s a day off for the porters. They need to catch the cheapest and earliest train back to Cusco. In Cusco they drop off all of the stuff they have been carrying and then have their day off – total crap. That is not a day off. In order for them to be able to catch their 6:00 a.m. train all of the tourists have to be cleared out of the camp site, so they can pack up, walk down the side of the mountain, and peace out. Definitely NOT a day off.
Second, the gate for Machu Picchu opens at 5:30 a.m. In order to get a good photo of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate you have to be there first, otherwise your photos will just be of other tourists. Our guide warned us that people try to run this trial to get the best photos. “It’s like Walmart on black Friday – people go crazy,” he said. “Just let them pass and stay safe. The stairs up to the Sun Gate are very steep and very narrow. Let them pass.” He said pointedly to Matt.
The solution to both of these issues. Everyone gets up at 3:00 a.m. in morning packs their shit, and attempts to be first in line at the main gate. While the tourists are waiting in line the porters pack up and vacate. I went back up to the camp site at 4:30am to pee, the entire campsite was abandoned – ghost town.

Since there were only two of us on our tour, and our guide was young and maybe a little too ambitious he got us up at 2:45am. We packed quietly, so as not to wake anyone else in the campsite and rushed to the gates. We were first in line – obviously. Did I mention it had rained all night? Being first in line also meant having a covered area to sit for two and a half hours while it poured rain.

At 5:30 the gates opened our guide signed us in, asked if we were ready and then he started running. WE WERE THE CRAZY ONES!! We ran / speed walked the entire way – yelling THUNDER DOME and cackling manically as we went! A one-hour hike up wet treacherous stairs and stone paths took us 40 minutes, but we were first! No matter that Machu Picchu was engulfed in clouds and fog since it was still raining – we were first!
Close on our heels the entire way was two couples from Utah. We had met them on the trail a few days earlier, and they did not seem surprised to see us at the gate when they got there at 3:10 in the morning. They also had a Jill, and she also was swathed in purple all of the time. We bonded.

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Saul signing us in.

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The first photo of Machu Picchu! Fully engulfed in clouds.

 

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We are exhausted in these photos. It’s 6:10 a.m. and we had just ran for 40 min. flat out, up hill. I can’t even keep my one eye all the way open. 

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Second take – still can’t get my eye all the way open. Machu Picchu still covered in clouds. 

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This is the other Purple Jill – we had the same Buff in purple. 

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Myself – eyes still closed, Matt, and Saul – wearing jeans like it’s no big deal.

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Clouds slowly clearing away. 

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Jill! No idea when she stole our phone, but I respect her for it. 

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Down at the site waiting in line to get our photo taken at Machu Picchu.

After resting and having a snack at the top near the sun gate we leisurely wandered down to the actual site. There was no need to rush as the other set of gates also opened at 5:30 a.m. and hoards of train and bus tourists had already flooded the site.

Saul gave us a tour of Machu Picchu the history and all of the important parts.

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More llamas and babies!

Then, because we are fools and we paid $75 US dollars each. We climbed THIS.
After anxiously not sleeping, waking up at 2:45 a.m., sitting in the rain for 2.5 hours, sprinting for 40 min. up hill, tourist-ing for two hours, we got in line to climb Waynapicchu.

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Waynapicchu – it’s the big one!

Waynapicchu is the most terrifying thing I have ever done. It was so steep, the stairs were the most narrow and harrowing we had experienced thus far. There are no photos of us going up because we were hanging on for dear life. If you are interested search YouTube for people falling off Waynapicchu – it’s a thing. There are cables attached to the mountain, but they end at the most inconvenient times. The photos at the top were taken only because Saul insisted.

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Machu Picchu waaaaay down there.

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Not dead yet. Too bed we still have to get down.

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As close to death as I’ve ever been. 

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Going down. 

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Matt at the top. Park rangers supervising the whole up top procedure. Or counting the bodies falling, not sure which. 

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Spent! We lived and we are 100% done. 

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Got the tee shirt.

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We took a bus down the hill, had lunch in the small tourist town at the base of the mountain, and waited for the train to take us back to Cusco. I fell asleep on the train, Matt drank a lot of beer, and while we loved every single second of our trek, we were so happy to shower and to sleep in a real bed. It was without a doubt the trip of a lifetime!

 

Day 6 – Crocodile Tears

I didn’t wake up overly tired on day six, which, when you consider how harrowing day five had been was a small miracle. However, a small insignificant sigh in the wrong tone set me off for about two hours. I was not ugly crying by any means, there were just small rivers of uncontrollable tears streaming down my face. I wanted them to stop, the tears were making Saul very uncomfortable, but I had no control over these tears. They were the tears of the overly tired and worn the fuck out. And again I found myself in a situation where the only way out was to go up. And up we went.
After I got my blood pumping, the tears slowed and eventually stopped. With a clear head I was able recognize my mistakes. In the cold chilly rain of the day before, I was so focused on the wet trail in front of me, I had neglected to take care of myself. I had not ingested a single salt pill, zero electrolytes, not one ounce of additional protein, goo, or gel – nothing. I was officially spent. It was a rookie move, and I know better, but it just goes to show how even experienced hikers get themselves into trouble.

Thankfully and because I’m super lucky, Day Six was a half day – for the most part. All we had to do was get to lunch, eat, nap, and then Saul our delightful guide had a “small surprise” for us. If you’ve been reading along, you will know that Saul’s surprises were always super cool, but were not free. We had to work for them.

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Our first attraction of the day was Phuyupatamarca, a small, but mighty ruin.

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Oh Good! More stairs. I was afraid we had run out.

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A slow day made for looking at bugs and other interesting bits.

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In the distance Intipata

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We spent a lot of time at Intipata, sitting in the grass, and enjoying the warm sun. We had made good time getting there, and so needed to give our chefs time to prepare lunch for us, as well as the other two day groups that would be converging on the trail with us.

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In the mountain opposite from the Inca plateaus you can see the trail coming up from the river. This is the trail that the two day treks take to Manchu Picchu.

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After resting and exploring we headed to camp / lunch.

This is the only camp we didn’t take photos of. It was a super highway of porters, tents, tourists, and super stinky bathrooms. It was the Grand Central Station of pre-Manchu Picchu. It wasn’t noisy enough to prevent me from taking a nap though I promise you that! After a HUGE farewell lunch I napped for a good two hours. Saul woke us up to go see his surprise. We almost blew him off in favor of a continued nap, but he promised us it would be worth it, and he was so right.

We went to Peru with the intention of going to Manchu Picchu, but I have to say Winay Wayna was by far my favorite place on the entire trek, and it wasn’t just because of the baby llama. It might be because of the baby llama.

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BABY!!!

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An entire family of llamas lives at this site , cutting the grass, and maintaining the site.

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OMG! He was SO CUTE!!!

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I was not shaking at all when I took this photo.

At this point day six had been the best day ever, and then it got even better!

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Our wonderful chef made Matt a birthday cake and it was GF too! Such an amazing company! If you ever go to Peru book with Alpaca Expeditions!

 

Day 5 – Hard. Hard. Hecking Hard!

You know that feeling when you wake up tired? That was Day 5.

Our training had been paying off, but the problem with training in a gym, or by running is that you train for an hour or two each day. During our journey we had been hiking on average 6 to 8 hours a day, and there is no good way to train for that without taking additional vacation time – which neither of us had.

The biggest issue with waking up tired on Day 5, was that it was going to be our longest and most taxing day of the entire trek. It was only ten miles, but it would take us an estimated 11 hours as we had two mountain passes to hike up and over.

The first pass was Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,779 feet. Then back down the other side to our lunch spot at 11,700 feet. The second pass was Runkuracay pass at 13,123 feet and back down again to our camp site. On a dirt trail this would not have been so demanding, but now that we were on the Inca Trail which is paved in stones and carved stairs it was downright punishing.  Our knees are still sore almost a week later.

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You can see the boob of the dead woman – she is cold. 

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It was super cold and shitty up on top of the pass.

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Still cold!

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We stayed at the top of Dead Woman Pass long enough for a few photos, and an army of porters to pass us. We had been warned that morning at breakfast that the porters will be running down the hill and that they have the right of way on the trail. They will not stop or slow down for a mere tourist. Get out of their way!

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And I do mean an army.

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Porters resting – These were Alpaca Expaditions porters, but not for our group.

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The entire Inca Trail was paved with rough stones like this.  

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Once we got to the bottom of this ravine we would stop for lunch, and then start back up again on the second pass of the day. 

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This is a lunch spot. As you can see the Inca Trail is much more crowded than anything we had experienced previously. Those are all lunch tents and one toilet area. 

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This was the only photo taken from the Runkuracay Pass.

After lunch we started hiking again and stopped to explore this small ruin which was also named Runkuracay. It was a checkpoint / lookout for the Inca. As were were admiring the views we heard what sounded like a very loud, very low flying air plane. Our guide’s eyes went wide as he clued into what it was we were hearing. “RAIN!” He yelled. “Rain gear go go go!” And in less than 10 seconds were were in the middle of a nasty rain and hail storm. The granite stairs in front of us became slippery and treacherous, but there was no way to go other than up. Slowly we began to climb in the rain, testing the footing of every rock before trusting it. If we had not been tired before, we certainly were now.

We made it across the pass and down the other side at a snail’s pace. As we were reaching the bottom of the valley we hiked out of the clouds onto a delightful spring day.  Thankfully it cleared enough for us to enjoy the Chaquicocha ruins. Another overlook / outlook point situated right above our campsite for the night.

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Sunshine!

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Our’s were the green tents. Again a fairly crowded camp site. 

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Our campsite had the best view!

We slept like baby alpaca that night!

Day 4! Wait, It Was Supposed to be an Easy Day!

During breakfast the morning of Day 4 our guide, Saul said to us “I have good news, and bad news,”. Foolishly, I didn’t believe that there could be bad news in Peru, especially not while on vacation!

I was wrong.

On Day 4 we would be transitioning from the Salkantay Trail to the Inca Trail. Horses are not allowed on the Inca Trail, because their shoes break up the rocks used to pave the trail. We would be saying goodbye to our horseman, Juan, and hello to four new porters that would take the place of the horses. I promise you, I have never felt more ridiculous than I did on the Inca Trail with not just a guide and two chefs, but also four men carrying all of our stuff. As the Inca Trail became steeper and steeper I felt less and less ridiculous, and more and more grateful that I didn’t have to carry a fully loaded backpack – or cook any food.

The bad news, our four porters had gotten jammed up with the small army of porters that would be caring the gear for a 12 person trek just starting out on the Inca Trail. Our porters were supposed to meet us at 10 a.m., but due to the mix up they were going to be two hours late. The worse news, this meant our lunch would also be two hours late, as they were bringing fresh groceries with them.
The good news, our guide had a surprise for us. As a way to kill time we were going to go to an Inca site not on our itinerary. For those of you paying close attention, you guessed it.  This meant that we would be hiking for two additional hours – without lunch. My poor lonely tummy!

The hike was of course, beautiful and it was well worth the extra time hiking. The site too was very cool. The other nice part was that because it was a down-and-back trip, we dropped our packs with a local store merchant allowing us to cover more miles in less time.

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The village / town of Wayllabamba. There are no roads to this place. Horses and feet are the only transportation to and from this area.

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Watch out for small bear like animals and bathrooms!

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His bowl was bigger than his entire body!

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After our detour, we collected our packs and then hiked up the mountain to the first of many check points for the national park that contains Manchu Picchu. The number of people allowed to enter the gates each day is very heavily restricted. We purchased our permits a year ago, and I’m so glad we did!

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First check point – waiting for paperwork to be completed…

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So excited!!!!

The terrain from this point on changed dramatically. It was mind blowing! Our guide called it a micro-climate, but one moment we were hiking a river valley, and after only a few hundred feet of elevation – JUNGLE! And steps. SO. MANY. STEPS! The Inca were as extra as any one group of people could possibly be. Why build a dirt trail when a trail paved in stones and carved steps would do just fine?!?

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When our dear chef’s reached us, they were so upset at not having fed us on time. They scrambled and within minutes had a four course lunch ready. These guys were beyond amazing!

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After our quick lunch we hiked only two more hours to our camp site.  It was during this leg that we started to run into other groups and porters. Up until joining the Inca Trail we had had the trail all to our selves and in the process had gotten quite spoiled.

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LLAMAS!!!!

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A group of porters from another company – playing soccer in the field after hiking 6 or more hours with roughly 55 lbs. on their backs.

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The cutest camp invaders ever!

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This camp site also had a bathroom! It was referred to as a proper toilet, to be clear I was quite fond of the original Squatty Potty. Unfortunately, the bathroom pictured below was one of the cleanest toilets I visited in Peru. In fact I have an entirely new bathroom rating system after Peru. I used to think that the dirtiest place I had ever pee’d was a Starbucks in Paris. Again, I was wrong.

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Mom, you aren’t going to like Peru.

Day 3 – Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy

A half day when hiking is just as exciting as it is when going to school, or working. Since we had hiked so far on day two, we woke up already at our lunch spot for day three. That meant that all we needed to do was get to the camp site for the night, a mere four hours away. The best part is that we would be camping at the base of the pre-Inca ruin – Paukarkancha, so we would have the entire afternoon to explore it.

The hike was relatively easy since we were already on the valley floor and just continued along the floor in a slow gradual downward fashion next to the river. This part of the path was the most populated by local farms, and farmers, as they traveled between two small villages. Lots of livestock on the trail too.

A half day for us, also meant a half day for our chefs, guide, and porters. Our head chef was most delighted, as he was going to take the opportunity to go fishing in the quick moving stream. The grin on his face as he hurried past us, fishing pole in hand, made all of the miles the day before totally worth it!

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Wild Andean Mint – our chef was picking this along the way and making us Muna tea each night after dinner. 

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Look at all of our extra energy today!

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Hola Senior Mooo Moo!

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Our camp for the night below. 

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We had time to do a little laundry, and I took a shower here. I didn’t take a photo of the shower because it’s not anything I want to remember. It was the equivalent of three men on the verge of hypothermia peeing on my head.

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This wee little puppy was our friend for the night. 

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After a half day our chef’s were also very well rested and served banana’s flambe for dessert that night! 

Stay tuned for Day 4! Hint – it was supposed to be an easy day too.