Day 2! Salkantay Pass 17,060 ft.

September 12 – Happy Birthday Matt!

After a successful first day we were excited, but anxious to tackle the second day. Since we had already been to Humantay Lake, and had some bad feelings towards it, through no fault of its own. We decided to skip the lake and take on the Salkantay Pass, essentially cramming day two and three into one day. The pass rests at 17,060 feet. It would be the highest either of us had ever hiked, and we were only on day two. Our guide was confident that we could do it, and assured us that he had lots of oxygen. He also tested our oxygen levels and heart rate multiple times during the day.

To be perfectly frank, I was terrified. After the first Humanitay Lake experience, in which I ended up on the floor of our hotel room with a pounding headache, fighting tears, and too nauseous to stand. I had no idea how I was going to survive 17k feet, but at the end of the day the only option was to try.

The Pass was challenging to say the least. Thankfully it wasn’t scary steep, or technical hiking. It was just up. It was about half way up that I realized that I had to change everything about the way I was breathing. I shifted my body into it sloth mode. Taking one step for each breath. I also focused more on slowing my exhalations rather than my intake. At points I was huffing air trying to get enough, but the more I controlled the exhale the better I felt. The most frustrating part for both of us was that our legs were fine. The legs wanted to go, but the lungs said absolutely not!

Lots of photos on the pass, mostly because we were alive. And that was a big deal!

We didn’t take any photos on the way down because it was quite steep, and we had to move quickly. A storm was trying to roll in and we didn’t want to get caught in the rain.

Our chefs and horse man passed us, right as we crossed the pass, and were down the other side in no time. As we made our way down we could see them set up on the valley floor. We were about 30 minuets from the camp site when our head chef Selveleo radioed that they wanted to break camp and move further down the valley. It was very cold and windy due to the storm, and there was a large heard of cows already trying to trample the tents. They said they would move another 45 minuets down the trail, but we were so tired that it took us and extra hour and a half to get to camp making our total miles for the day 15.5. So tired, but also very proud of ourselves.

Our camp dog for the night. The dog lived at the house in the background with Juan’s brother. Juan was our horse man and the dog was so happy to see him. The dog followed Juan all night, and was so gentile when we gave him scraps. He was a good boy.

We slept like baby alpacas that night.

Day 1 of the Salkantay and Inca Trail Trek

On Tuesday the 11th, we were picked up from the hotel yet again at 4:30am in a van. This van however was smaller and piloted by a responsible and respectable young gentleman. We were given fleece blankets and were instructed to go back to sleep. Our guide was in the front passenger seat and there were two men asleep in the very back. I had no idea how much I would come to adore these two sleeping beings.

The journey took us back the way we had gone only two days before, but with much better results. After a three hour drive and a few stops at local markets for fresh produce we arrived as a small roadside store deep in the Peruvian country side.

Waiting for us was a man with three horses. In record time the van was unloaded, the horses hitched up, and magically breakfast was served.

Our guide, Saul posing with our first breakfast of fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, GF potato biscuits with butter and jam, tea, coffee, and juice. I was so full I almost couldn’t hike, but hike we did!

The two men sleeping in the back of the van turned out to be Silveleo and Miguel our chef and assistant chef for the trip. These two pumped out meal after amazing meal on the trail. Magicians!

We took some start of trip photos, and then we were off!From left to right – Saul, Miguel, me, Matt, Silveleo, and Juan our horse man.

SO EXCITED!!!!

After breakfast we started hiking leaving the horses and the other three behind to clean up after us, which felt really odd. The odd feeling of not helping or not being able to clean up after ourselves never went away.

At first I was concerned that we were just going to ditch these folks with all of our stuff and a bunch of dirty dishes, but they passed us in no time, as if we were standing still. Laughing and joking the entire way. They were soon out of site, and we were on our own again.

The planned lunch spot was high up in the hills, and on a cold day could be very windy. As we were making good time, and it was threatening to rain, Saul suggested that we stop there for a snack and press on to the lodge for lunch. We agreed. He radioed Silveleo with the new plan and we continued on. Since we were the only people on our trek Saul felt comfortable making other suggestions and changes to our itinerary. We were supposed to just walk a dirt road the rest of the way, but Saul took us along the Inca canal instead. It was much more scenic and less dusty. There were some high points with sheer drop offs, that got the adrenaline pumping, but it was very good practice for what was yet to come.

Our first night was surprisingly spent in these quaint lodges. They were simple, just a room with a bed, but the view of Humantay Mountain was amazing. We laid on the bed after luch just watching the mountain change with the light of the sun. After dinner we laid there watching the stars from the sky lights. It was a very good first day!

Humantay Mountain from the bed. These photos don’t do it justice at all.

Stay tuned for day two!

Matt and Jill

That. Was. AWESOME!

I am at a loss right now as to how to accurately describe the last seven days. It was the trip of a life time, to say the absolute least. It was amazing, wonderful, hard, exhausting, beautiful, meditative, stinky, challenging mentally and physically. In short, it was everything.

Each day deserves its own post as we have hundreds of photos to share, and each day was so different that they felt like separate trips.

We are back at the hotel, and about to go for a much deserved hydrotherapy spa appointment. However, if Alpaca Expeditions knocked on the door right now and said “Want to go again?” Neither of us would hesitate to strap on our packs and start walking. I feel naked without my pack, it has become a part of me. I miss our guide, Saul. I miss the solitude of the mountains, and believe it or not, I miss hiking.

Here are some choice photos to tide you over while we spend the rest of the day mentally processing the trip, and reintegrating back into the real world – which is actually quite painful.

Wish Us Luck! Please.

Here we go! Again.

We went to a briefing last night. It was very nice they had tea, an agenda, a check list, and we met our guide Saul. I already like this tour company much more than the last one.

Saul walked us through each day. What temperatures to expect, which days would be the hardest, etc. He also promised me that we would drive to the trailhead in a small van. He has done this trek more times than he can count, and couldn’t recommend bug spray enough. We also learn that he hates mosquitoes and enjoys chocolate. Saul and I are going to be good buddies by the end of the seven days.

I’m not sure what type of internet access we will have on the trail, so we will see you on the other side!

Until then here are some photos of the dogs of Cusco. They all seem to be strays, but they are not skinny, and they get lots of petting and attention. While they are strays they seem to have some people. I saw a dog run up to a sidewalk vendor wagging his tail. The vendor sat down and they shared a snack.

Well, That Was Fucking Terrible

It’s hard to complain sitting in a five star hotel wrapped in a bright white fuzzy hotel bathrobe, and wearing cute little hotel slippers, but I’m going to try my absolute best!

Saturday we arrived in Cusco, the hotel sent a car to pick us up from the airport which was very nice. The driver worked for a tour company and asked if we wanted to do any tours while we were in Cusco. He had a tour book in the car, and we had already decided we wanted to go to Rainbow Mountain. He took our name, and said he be back tomorrow at 5am to pick us up. He was very pushy and we both got a bit of a dodgy feeling about him, so we decided to visit the tour company office to make sure. Sure enough he was trying to overcharge us for the tour, $50 USD vs. $28 USD. He was clearly going to keep the extra for himself, but that’s between him and his company. We booked a tour to Rainbow Mountain for the next day.

As promised, at 4:30am a large 20 person Mercedes sprinter van showed up, the woman had our name on her list, and we loaded into the van like the cattle that we were.

This is clearly the 4:00am thing to do in Cusco. The vans go from hotel to hotel gathering their tourists before heading out of the city to the different locations. They do this at top speed racing through the cobbled streets without the day to day traffic to contend with. Being a passenger in one of these vans required full participation, it was a core work out trying to stay in one’s seat.

Once the van was full we began the journey to our destination. The journey was also driven at top speeds. Our driver had zero regard for his passenger’s comfort, as he was quite literally drifting the van around corners, tires squealing and all. He was also most comfortable on the wrong side of the road. Passing other cars, vans, even an ambulance (with lights flashing- on its way to the hospital) at one point. He owned the wrong side of the road, the oncoming traffic was merely a small inconvenience.

We stopped for breakfast at what can only be described as a tourist warehouse. Multiple vans stopped here at the same time. We were herded into a large room with long rickety tables and food was rapidly flung in front of us. Everyone had a single gelatinous pancake, and a bowl of old fruit. I ate as much fruit as I could stomach. The coca tea was good.

It was here that we learned that we were not going to Rainbow Mountain. We were in fact on our way to Humantay Lake….the exact same lake that we will hike to during our 7 day trek. Of course by this time we were two hours into a road trip and there was nothing to be done, but go to the lake.

It turns out that there is no tour to Rainbow Mountain on Sunday, but we wanted a tour on Sunday, so we got one! Peruvians are very helpful. They were a little confused as to why we were upset. A tour is a tour!

At the end of the day, despite the 6 hours of nauseating van ride, the hike was at least beautiful. And we got a very good taste of what our next seven days will be like.

The horses were for the tourists who couldn’t make the hike. The poor beasts looked miserable going up, but they seemed to enjoy running down hill.

By the way hiking at altitude is really hard! Our training paid off, but breathing was a bitch. From base to the lake was a 3,000 ft elevation gain. The lake rests at 13,800 ft. It took three breaths during the hike to get the same amount of oxygen as a breath at regular/ accustomed altitude. I could feel the lack of oxygen in my muscles as well. The pressure in my head was the oddest thing. It was in spots. It felt like I was wearing a too-tight hat. The cocoa candy helped, but I was definitely feeling a bit woozy. The tree hour speed-racer van ride home has really put me off of #vanlife, and I’ll be ok with never stepping foot in another van for many many moons. Matt has had almost no issues at all with the altitude, and hasn’t the entire trip. Which is total bull shit in my humble opinion.

Tomorrow we begin our seven day trek!

Thanks for reading my rantings,

Matt and Jill

Arequipa Cont.

On our last day in Arequipa we crossed the river and walked about a mile from our hotel to the Yanahuara Arches. It was a mostly up hill walk and we had a great view of the entire city and there was a lovely park. Up until this point, we had mostly stayed in the downtown area. The arches and view were well worth the walk.

We also visited the Museuo Sanctuaries Andinos where the frozen maiden Juanita is located. Juanita is the mummy found in Peru, not far from Arequipa. She was an Inca sacrifice from about 500 years ago. We were not allowed to take photos and had to leave all electronics in lockers. The tour starts with a short 20min. movie which is interesting and informative. There is a small four room museum that contains all of the gold and silver figurines, woven blankets, clothing, and pots found in the sacrificial graves. In the last room is the mummy, still frozen, she is heartbreakingly small and tiny. She was at most 12 years old.

We finished the evening at a restaurant called Zig Zag. The food is served on a volcanic rock and it sputters and spatters while it continues to cook right at the table. We would highly recommend this restaurant. The power went out while we were there and the staff just lit more candles and continued on without hesitation. Unfortunately we don’t have photos of the amazing food, because it was served in the dark. It was fun and highly memorable. The photo is of the bib they provide, since the meat is still cooking.

Some reflections on travel in a foreign country.

Travel can be exhausting, mostly in a good way. The brain is always on high alert everything is new and different, all of the senses are on overload. Being continually aware of your surroundings for security and for sure footedness is mandatory. Unfortunately it is so easy to slip into what is comfortable.

Our first day in the hotel in Arequipa, I tripped going up a flight of stairs. My brain felt like cotton candy from the altitude, and I wrongly assumed that stairs were stairs no matter the country or city. I was very wrong. I have a large green and purple welt on my hand to remind me of this fact. Matt has a large welt on his forehead from the overhang on the same flight of stairs. Remaining aware of ones surroundings is imperative when traveling, even if it takes a little more energy.

We have also noticed a markedly different cultural norm here, that is not present in the U.S.. People in Peru have no problem picking their nose in public. Initially Matt and I were both very much for it. So much freedom! Yeah, you go, get that crusty boogie! Especially since the air is so dry and dusty. Then when we were eating lunch yesterday, I saw our chef do it. Then he did it again, and he was going for the gold! I am maybe ok with this particular lack of freedom in the states.

All of our best,

Matt and Jill

Arequipa, Peru

We are deeply in love with Arequipa. It is quaint and pretty, the weather is perfection, and the people are kind. We feel safe here and the language has not been a barrier. Most people speak a little English and we speak a little Spanish, and everyone is more than willing to try to communicate. This is our last day here, and while we are excited to see Cusco and get to the Inca Trail, we will be sad to leave Arequipa.

The sunsets here are always phenomenal, so much so, there are many roof top cafes and bars dedicated to watching the sun set and viewing the three surrounding volcanoes. Our first day here was basic sight seeing and getting our bearings.

Yesterday was magical in its own way. Ladies I have to say – Get you a man or woman, who is so dedicated to your hobby that he/she, not only researches yarn and fiber shops in the town that you will be visiting, but finds a factory store, AND then runs to three different ATMs to get enough cash to pay for your haul!

Feast your eyes on the Factory store of Alpaca Mundo. They also had a small museum and a few alpacas that we got to feed!

I spent $85 in USD and in return received about $350 worth of yarn. It was possibly the best day of my life!

We also visited the Monesterio de Santa Catalina and it was beyond beautiful. I would highly recommend paying for the guided tour. We learned so much. When the monastery was founded the tradition was for the second daughter of the family to become a nun and join the convent / monastery. This sounds horrific upon first hearing about it, but throughout the tour we quickly realized that the second daughter was the lucky one. Only wealthy families were able to send their daughters to the monastery, so the nuns had private apartments with maids, cooks, and other household helpers. Their homes and gardens were and still are beautiful.