In the days following our successful attempt on Machu Picchu, I spent some time in the nearby town of Ollantaytambo. We had been here a few days earlier while acclimatizing and seeing the sights, but I didn't realize that this was the town that my friend Krissa was staying. There's a long story here... in short, Krissa and I worked for different companies renting space on the same floor in a building in NYC. We had our first conversation on my very last day of work. The mailman told her I would be in Bolivia (not true), so she inquired when she saw me in the hallway. She was moving to Peru in three days to work for a non profit company called Awamaki. I told her I'd be in South America, but wasn't exactly sure where I'd be and when I'd be there. We decided to keep in touch. She visited me in Argentina for a week of hiking, snowboarding/skiing, and an honest to goodness near-death experience while lake kayaking, as implausible as that seems. As luck would have it, I was passing through her town with a few days to burn after Machu Picchu, so I crashed with her host family.
a baptism/brothers playing while mom sells local fare.
a worker in the salt mines
Ollantaybambo (or, Ollanta - as Krissa and friends call it for short) was celebrating a big birthday that weekend, so we attended the festivities day and night. The majority of the town came out to watch a well choreographed group of 5 year olds acting out a bull fight on the edge of town.
In addition to the town birthday celebration, Awamaki, as well as most of Ollanta, celebrated the paving of the street in front of the store that week.
A few days later... back in Cusco.
Traces of the Spanish invasion of the Incan Empire in the 1500s can be found throughout Cusco. Many structures were rebuilt in Spanish style, while the Incan foundations remain.
At the Cusco Market, I took down some frog soup. The taste was fine... the aftershock was a fairly awful experience, especially in a country that seemingly doesn't believe in toilet seats or bathroom hygiene in general.
view of the Sun Gate from Krissa's family's house.
Typically you would spend about 48 hours in Cusco acclimating before taking on a Machu Picchu trek. We, having showed up a full 2 days late for our reservation, had very little time for that... as in actual negative amounts of time. Ask Stephen Hawking about it. Anyway, we did have nearly 20 hours between arriving in town and leaving for the hike, so we took a short day trip to the Sacred Valley, including stops in Moray to view the circular farm land, a small wool spinning operation, and Ollantaytambo. It seems a sort of standard circuit for those with time to kill before the trek, but it's all very impressive.
At this small wool market, women teach you how they use items from the earth to dye their wool and produce the vibrant colors found in their traditional garments. You feel as though you're getting a major cultural schooling and then just minutes later you are attacked with broken English sales pitches while you try on wool clothing that you're not likely to wear, but you're definitely going to buy. Regalos de Navidad de Peru? Facil. During all this I couldn't ignore the overwhelming resiliency of their culture. How are these people still wearing these clothes? How are they still producing them by such archaic means? ... and maybe why? Will this still be happening in 100 years? Forget the mountains, forget the elevation. This country has hung onto its culture like no other place I traveled to in South America. Respect.
Ollantaytambo as seen from the Sun Temple ruins in town.
Sun Temple, Ollantaytambo
Moray farm. This is one location in Peru where no one can determine the age of what has been left behind. It is here that ancient(?) Peruvians farmed many different vegetables that could be grown and harvested within many different temperatures. Each level represents something like a 3 degree temperature difference, therefore, many different plants could grow in one small area rather than being indigenous to various spread out locations with different climates. Possibly more impressive is that there is an aqueduct feeding water to this field from a melting glacier found 25 miles away.
a boy who started walking home from school in 1997.
A fellow hiker takes a break on the Salkantay Trail.
After 4 days of hiking, mediocre food, wet tents, over commissioned socks, and diminishing attitudes, we reached Machu Picchu. We woke up at 4am to begin our ascent from Aguas Calientes to the ruins in the dark and in the rain. While many will opt for a bus ride from town up the switchback highway to the ruins, we felt that would completely defeat the purpose of hiking for four days to reach Machu Picchu, enlightenment, a wonder of the world, a gift shop, or whatever it was that we were meant to encounter. We joined (raced?) a small group of hikers to ascend a hiking trail that bisected the driving road, going up 2,000 ft in elevation in just 2,000 steps. Our guide, aforementioned (below) asshole and self proclaimed king of the Peruvian karaoke scene, Enrique, asked us what took us so long to get there. He must be exhausted from his bus ride to the top and just was not thinking clearly. According to him everything takes "mmm.... twenty meeeunites," so guess what? This impressive 45 minute effort on our part got us there 25 minutes late. "Chumbawumba" performance... presumably strong to quite strong. Math/customer service skills... room for improvement.
Paul, seemingly examining the switchback road we didn't travel on via bus that morning. Atop Wayna Piccu.
This lizard is about to end that butterfly's afternoon, perfect view, life, et al.
View of Machu Picchu from the top of Wayna Piccu (Huayna Picchu). Some incredibly small percentage of visitors to Machu Picchu take advantage of this somewhat difficult and dangerous hike for arguably the best view available of the ruins.
It's 4am. Paul is totally psyched about it.
A few hours later we reached the beginning of the trail in a small village. We mingled with about thirty other hikers who were heading out on the trail that same morning with other expedition companies. I should define "mingle" here. We ate breakfast in the same room as them, shared with them two seatless toilets that may or may not have been associated with a plumbing system, made up nicknames for them based on their characteristics and similarities to people we know back in NYC, and laughed at how ridiculously overpacked they were. Their guides tested their bags and found that about 99% of them had exceeded the 6 kilogram weight limit... by about another 10 kilograms. We later found out at camp that evening that designer sweaters and stylish untied boots were must-haves for these people. Between the two of us, we had two pair of pants (total), two pair of sneakers (total), one change of socks (each), one change of underwear (each), and an emergency Snickers bar.
It was in this village that we were told we would be boarding a "bus" because the condition of the roads, post a recent flood, was not suitable for hiking. Consider that for a moment. It's not safe to walk on this road, but we will load a bus (see: the back of a truck with a tree trunk the width of a soda can to be shared as a stabilizing hand grab for all thirty two of us) and DRIVE over it. The tree trunk flexed like it was a string of yarn. This courtesy ride, like every other thing that ever happens on the Salkantay Trail apparently, was to take "twenty minutes," but actually took an hour and a half. "Enrique, how long will it take for 45 minutes to pass?" "Mmmm... twenty miiiiinutes." Right.
So this is the "bus."
2 toilets... no running water... now everyone hold onto this stick with your filthy hands... or fall out and die.
campsite Night 1
paul creepin after dark
On Day 2 we woke up at around 12,000 ft above sea level and eventually hiked to 15,253 ft, the greatest height we'd hit on the trail. We entered a cloud and eventually found ourselves in the middle of a snow storm. Our fingers froze and my pants... well, they were keeping Paul's legs dry. The backup pants I decided I'd wear on the hike soaked completely through. The only joy I found here was that "Himalayas," as we'd aptly named a girl on the "bus" who bragged constantly of her 15 day trek in the Himalayas, was being carted up the mountain on a donkey because she couldn't make it. Really? You trekked the Himalayas? "I knew I shouldn't have done this, I haven't been feeling well." OK.
Eventually we descended into the valley and could see the light at the end of the storm cloud. Enrique and Paul.
Campsite Night 2
On Day 3 Enrique turned to us and with a solemn voice told us that there had been an accident in the river valley below. We looked down and could see a few men struggling to rescue a horse from the river. We looked about 50 yards upstream and noticed a small, dilapidated, and typically unsafe South American bridge from where the horse had fallen. We continued down the trail and I asked Enrique if we could go and help. He said we could if we wanted to. The two other members of our hiking party were on board. When we reached the river, I shouted to the men scrambling for the words in Spanish. They noticed us but seemed too in shock to take us up on our offer. Time was running out and one could assume that the value of this horse to these people was quite high. Eventually the horse was saved. We moved on.
Picking out dinner on Night 3.
post guinea pig cig
entering Aguas Calientes
When we finally reached Cusco, we were a bit delirious, under hydrated, hungover, and in no way acclimated to the altitude. According to our porter company, we should have been in town three days prior to the hike in order to properly acclimate to the altitude. We would be leaving for the trail in 22 hours.
Some sights from the trail below.
view of our night 2 campsite from across the river gorge on day 3
Enrique, our porter. Loves karaoke and dirty jokes. Total asshole.
nearing Aguas Calientes on the last day of the trek.
October 25 - Fifty hours, five busses (two overnight), two border crossings, and one elevation induced bus pass out later, Magyar and I made it to Cusco, Peru last Tuesday and began our trek to Machu Picchu via the Salkantay Trail. Rainy season meant we were greeted by a snowstorm on day 2 at around 15,200 ft. The next night we picked out a guinea pig at a local's house and ate it for dinner. Cuy al horno - this is not part of the tour. On day five we woke up at 4am to hike in the dark and in the rain to Machu Picchu, covering 2,000 vertical feet in under an hour. We then hiked Wayna Picchu for stellar views of the ruins (those photos at a later time).
Night one. Milky Way visible over our campsite in the Andes.
Night 1 campsite. Apologies for the over editing, but it was necessary to make the camp visible.
Cuy al horno
This post is dedicated to Dave who told me he was hoping to come down and visit me.