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 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.

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.

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