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!

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

Lima, Peru – Day One

For such a large city (almost 10 million people) we have very much enjoyed our day here. We have had amazing food, a beautiful walk along the sand bluffs, and saw some beautiful parasails.

We started with breakfast at our hotel, then walked to the beautifully manicured John F. Kennedy cat park, where the city cats live. Locals feed them and there was even a small cupboard with food dishes and a donation box.

We kept walking, found some tourist markets with stall upon stall of gift merchandise. We were still quite tired from the long travel day yesterday, so we stopped at the lovely open air cafe for tea.

Then we walked to the sand cliffs and spent a few hours there walking and watching the parasails. They looked so peaceful floating on the air. There was also lots of art along the trail, statues and mosaic murals. We also discovered a chocolate museum where we sampled chocolate tea which was delicious!

After all the walking we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap and barely made it back out for dinner, but I’m so glad we did! My meal had ginger air on it which is a flavored light foam and it’s so fun to eat! It was also the best fancy food I’ve maybe ever had!

It’s time for a good night sleep because we have a morning flight to Arequipa where we will spend three days getting used to altitude and exploring!

Matt and Jill

Hiking with My Dad and Other Emotions

I was very lucky to grow up in Missoula, MT. As a child I didn’t fully understand the gravity of my luck, but as an adult I can see what a magical place it is and be grateful for such an opportunity.
I am in Missoula this week to visit my parents, get some elevation training hikes in, and drop the dog off. There are very few people you can ask to dog-sit for an entire month. There are even fewer people you can ask to dog sit for an entire month, when the dog is an angry chihuahua with a lot of opinions. Parents. Parents are actually the only people who fit this category.

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The smell of the Montana mountains and hiking with my dad brings back so many memories. He taught me all of life’s most important lessons while walking. There is something that happens during a hike that makes talking about the big topics easier.  My mom taught me her own lessons, of course, but they are not connected to the smell of the outdoors like the time spent with my dad is. My dad taught me about the beauty of nature and what it means to be in it. He taught me about direction, following your heart, and going your own pace. He taught me to be strong physically and emotionally. He taught me the art of not giving a single flying fuck about what anyone else thinks, says, or does. And most importantly he taught me to be loyal and to hold friendship in the highest regard.

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He is retired now, and every morning he gets up with the sun, has a cup of coffee, breakfast, and then goes for a walk. He walks for a few hours each and every day. Some days he stays in town walking along the river, other days he heads for the woods. He has graciously altered his daily routine to match my training schedule. Riding his bike along with me on Saturday morning, and keeping me company while I ran for two hours and fifteen minutes. He’s super good at being a dad.

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This morning we hiked up in Pattee Canyon to the top of one of the many peaks in order to gain as much elevation as possible.

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The other day we hiked up to the top of Mount Sentinel, Missoula’s famous “M trail”, but we went to the very top. We have logged many miles and many more hours in the last week.

Tomorrow we will go up to Flathead Lake and rest! Hopefully the smoke won’t be too terrible, and I will be able to get some good photos.  Until then keep chugging that protein powder!

-Jill