Also, I've updated my "Peru" set on Flickr with new photos that are related to this new post HERE. Note that I've created another set exclusively on "Machu Picchu" with, well, probably more pictures of the ruins than you want to see! If interested, you can check it out HERE.
JUNGLE TREKKING & MACHU PICCHU
Dusty Downhill Day
|Dusty downhill day|
|Firing up the BBQ|
When it came time to sit down and eat, I grabbed one each of the meat types and a big bunch of vegetables. Everything tasted good, and at some point I turned my attention to the cuy. Should I eat it? Keep in mind, this was nothing like the elegant, minimal presentation of the same animal meat we had back in Cusco. No, this was basically a half of a guinea pig minus the head, tail and feet...BBQed up and ready to eat. I tried. But, you know, I gave up. Not because it was gross or tasted bad, but rather because it was really difficult to get any meat off the thing...and when I did, it was so small and bland that, well, why would I eat that when there's other great stuff on my plate.
The rest of the day and evening was spent resting, having a little wine and learning some more from Miguel about native culture. A late dinner helped cap off the night and we were off to sleep once again - sleeping the sleep of the exhausted but pleased hiker.
A 10 Mile Hike
Morning brought a 10 mile hike along the Santa Teresa River Valley. Most of the day, the trail went up and down, along the river, away from the river...valley views, river views, jungle views. One of the more interesting things was our lunch spot. Arriving in a clearing that featured a covered dining "hall" and a few other huts, we quickly saw the lawn out front was home to a host of animals - animals such as pigs, horses, donkeys, a couple friendly dogs and...yes...a big old turkey. Just like you think of on Thanksgiving. If you made a funny noise with your voice, the turkey reciprocated with it's own "gobble, gobble" call. Funny.
|Turkey at the lunch stop|
|Lady roasts coffee|
|"Cuy" on floor of coffee hut|
We bought some of the local coffee beans to take home and turned our attention to finishing the day and getting to our final lodge of the trek. Luckily, this wasn't far. Once there, Diane called it a day and retired to our room. I did the same, but did join the group for a meal and an after dinner beer.
Jungle Pass: Final Day of Trekking
In the morning, we saddle up and started off on our last big hike of our trip. This time, we were to hoof it up an over the Llactapata Pass - topping out at 8,900 feet. This was almost exclusively up, up and up. For sure, an aggressive workout. We paused many times to catch our breath and take in views. Once over the top, we walked about a half hour to a clearing on a ridge overlooking the Urubamaba River valley. Here stood a small Inca building in ruins, a view across the valley to where Machu Picchu could just be seen hugging the top of one of the peaks...and a lunch spot where we settled in.
|View from our lunch spot|
|Relaxing at the Urubamba River|
Sliding throughout he jungle, the train delivered our weary group to the town in the late afternoon - time enough for checking in at the wonderful Inkaterra Hotel, take a shower, get some rest and meet up for dinner. All of which we did, happy in the knowledge that we'd completed our trekking and tomorrow we'd see the famous Machu Picchu ruins. As we walked back from dinner a few drops of rain fell, which we ignored.
Machu Picchu - Holy Crap Part One
OK...so far in our trip, we'd experienced nothing but beautiful weather. Sun, virtually no clouds, warm daytime temperatures and all around goodness. It had occurred to me before we left for Peru that it could come to pass that on the one full day that we would have a Machu Picchu, it could rain, clouds could obscure our view or both. But, I put those thoughts aside in favor of optimism. After all, what were the odds?
Oh how naive I was. Those little rain drops we ignored on our walk back to our room after dinner? They turned into a massive rain storm that lasted all night long, into the morning and all the way up to our boarding the bus that would drive us from the valley up to the ruins at the top of the mountain. "Holy crap," I thought, "My worst fear has come true." The one f-ing thing that could turn this "dream trip" into somewhat of a disappointment was playing out right in front of our eyes.
|Our fist "view" of Machu Picchu|
I took pictures during this part of our visit, but I have to say that these photos do not capture how miserable that day was.
|Slightly better view on day one|
Machu Picchu - Holy Crap Part Two
Awakening the next morning, signs were looking good as, well, it wasn't raining! Also, we could see the tops of the surrounding mountain peaks. Our group gathered, ate and got on the bus once again. Slowly, as our bus made its way up the steep switch back road, we became more and more convinced that today would be good weather at the top. And indeed, as we got closer and closer, we started seeing things from the road that we had not a day earlier - peaks over here, remnants of Inca ruins over there, a valley showing through.
As we exited the bus at the top, the whole entry area of the park just looked different - open skies, people walking around a leisure, brighter. This was at about 7 a.m.We showed our tickets, walked through the turn style and entered the park. Following the path from the entrance to the ruins, we got our second - and far better - view of Machu Picchu. And this time, I was thinking, "Holy crap, this place is so spectacular."
After an hour or so of this, we had a decision to make: should we continue rambling around the main part of the ruins or should we hike up the close by Huayana Picchu peak for an unbelievable view back down on the ruins? There were benefits to both of course - don't hike and get to explore more of the ruins, do the hike and get the exercise and the unique views. We opted to do the hike and went for it. Let me just say this...that is one STEEP ass trail. This was steeper than anything we'd hiked on our trip to date, and in parts dangerous if you weren't paying attention. Also, keep in mind that you are still at 8,000+ feet above sea level. But all the huffing and puffing, sweating and pulling ourselves up along the cable handrails was worth it because when we neared the top we were rewarded with one of the most jaw dropping views we'd ever seen. Check it out below right.
|View of Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu|
Now, the other thing about being way up high on a steep peek is that...well, you are way up high on a steep peak. It doesn't exactly make for comfort. You literally feel like you could fall to your death with one wrong step. And, the ledges and edges around you are on such a steep incline that the only thing you see over their edge is the massive drop off. I say you feel that way, but in reality most places on the trail were not literally on the cliff edge. If a person did slip, they might hurt themselves, but probably wouldn't plunge to their death. Probably.
We made the final push for the very tippy top. In doing so, we had to crawl through a narrow cave and up through a hole back into the sunlight. Once through that challenge, we were at the top. There were more people up there than you'd think! We decided that we weren't going to linger because we wanted to get back down and look around the ruins some more before we had to leave. So, that's what we did...slowly. We precariously made our way down the steep steps and trails and eventually made our way back to where we started a couple hours earlier.
By this time, the sun had really come out to bathe the ruins an bring out the brilliant green of the grass and the colors of the rock. Also, a few friendly llamas had now strolled out onto the grounds and were in various stages of lounging, grazing or scratching. We went back to a few places we had been the day before, but wanted to see again in the good weather. This was well worth doing because 24 hours earlier, all we could do was concentrate on staying warm and dry rather than what we were looking at. In our re-visit venture, we knew we had to make our way back to the entrance to catch our bus to the bottom of the mountain by 11:45 a.m. So, we tracked along and made it back to a beautiful viewpoint looking back on the ruins. Here we stayed for a while just soaking up the views...and the sun. Below is a picture I took then. I think you can see why we lingered...
|Machu Picchu in all its glory|
|View from train taking us toward Cusco|
On the bus, down the mountain, back to the hotel, change of clothes, a civilized lunch and then onto an afternoon train that would take us about half way back to Cusco - and in doing so, give us a tour of the sacred Urubama Valley.
Off the train, into a private vehicle, ride the second half of the way to Cusco through the valley - passing through towns, villages, crossroads and even a city. Political slogans painted on the sides of buildings, stray dogs, Inca ruins on some of the hillsides, run down houses, snow capped mountains, and people walking on the sides of the road made for an unending supply of visuals to look at as we cruised onward back towards the town we started our adventure in.
Our tour completed its loop when our bus pulled up outside the hotel where we started nine days earlier. After unpacking and checking into our rooms, our group met in the lobby for a farewell to our guide and, at least officially, to each other. Each of us said our goodbyes to Miguel for his expert leadership, knowledge and friendship as our guide. I think a great guide transforms a trip like this from being an sight seeing trip into a full fledged adventure...and I thanked Miguel by telling him that I thought that's what he did for us.
And that was that...at least in terms of the tour. Diane and I would spend the next day and a half in Cusco and then head south to visit another part of Peru and relax following the hiking portion of our trip. All of which will make up the last two posts in my series recapping our trip. So, come back for those over the next few weeks.
NOTE: All pictures in this post were taken by Marc Osborn. No use of any kind is permitted without prior written permission from Marc Osborn.