Monday, November 14, 2016

Peru, Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Alpaca Expeditions, Aguas Calientes

Cuzco, Peru

In June my friend Melissa and I took an Inca trail hiking tour with Alpaca tours out of Cuzco, Peru. It was absolutely amazing and I would recommend it highly. So high in fact it ranks right up there with the Great Wall of China and my 3 day Kruger National Park Safari. We hiked about 60 miles in 5 days. There is actually a spider web of Inca trails all around Machu Picchu so we only traversed some of it. Some uphill and some downhill but only the first day felt really hard and the rest was not that difficult. It was just awesome. The scenery was incredible, we had our own guide, porters and chef. There were supposed to be 6 people on our tour but someone got altitude sickness flying into Cuzco and so two of them couldn't go. So four girls. Me and Melissa, Toni from California and Lisa from London. There was a four day hike that had about 10 people on it and we hike with them for the first two days and then split up. It was fun getting to know them all. Melissa and I learned to speak fluent Spanish 30 years ago when we served LDS missions in Ecuador but she kept hers up and I didn't. I could at first understand about half of what they were saying. It was handy to have Melissa there. She loved speaking it and was good at it. It wasn't really necessary though since all the tours were in English.

Our hostel was just off the main square of Cuzco and in the morning there was a fiesta and dancing going on. It was fun to watch

It was a nice little place to stay and cold but comfortable. This is where we slept off our jet lag. 

We took a bus tour of Cuzco the day before the Inca trail tour started. It was about all we had time for but really got a feel for the city. My Spanish was rusty but I could understand about half of what they were saying. It was a lot harder to express what I wanted to say

It was a beautiful city with lots of character. We were up pretty high in the Andes at 11,200 ft. It's considered subtropical highland with average year around temperatures of highs at 65 degrees and lows at 45 degrees. This is the Cathedral of Cuzco. We didn't go inside but it was pretty

Lots of poverty but they seemed to at least be able to keep warm. 

The views were incredible

 The Ruins of Saksaywaman were pretty awesome. Here were some of those giant cut rocks that fit almost perfectly together. So cool! They also had Llamas wandering all over them

Picture of Cristo Blanco from the back

Melissa and our tour bus. I think we paid about 15 dollars for the tour

We stopped at a lagoon and they did a traditional blessing of the earth for us. Here we were introduced to coca leaves that became a cool part of our trek. They would make tea for us to help prevent altitude issues.

View of the city from Cristo Blanco

Cristo Blanco- We were only supposed to stay here for 15 minutes but we got so caught up in the coolness of this place that we totally missed our bus. No biggie though, we just hopped on the next bus that took us back to the main square but before we did we walked over to check out the ruins of Saksaywaman which were really close

I met this cute little guy. I didn't find out until after the trip that they spit. They must have liked me because I got up close and personal a few times!

I bought some great bracelets from this nice lady 

I wish I would have spent more time exploring this place. We walked a bit around on the backside near the Cristo Blanco
Scenes like this were common place outside of the city
Day 1
From Cuzco early the next morning they drove us about four hours to this place which was where we would start the trek. We would be hiking through the Vilcabamba mountain range

They had breakfast waiting for us which was delicious. The fruit was amazing and they also brought out eggs and potatoes. They insisted we drink a little coca tea for the high altitude

We started the trek from here. Breakfast was over to the left and you can see the trail behind me. That's Salkantay Mountain in the distance

All I can say about the scenery was that every step was just "wow". Our guide was just taking it nice and slow so we asked him about doing this every week. He had been doing it for years but various different hikes. His advice was to not stop but go slow and steady. Once I applied that I realized that I could go all day. 
Looking back. We hiked over four hours uphill until we hit the summit at 15,200 feet and then went down for a couple of hours into the campsite. It was a 10-11 mile day, which was the hardest day of the trek

Did I say incredible views yet?

At the summit of Salkantay Pass

Heading back down through the pass

Glaciers everywhere

We hiked with the three night tour group for the first two days. Mostly men. They were Greg, Aaron, Lane, Brian and Michael who was not in any pictures since he was undercover in Peru and a special forces sniper. He had some cool pictures he showed us and some great stories. At first he kept to himself mostly. Aaron, his friend had flown down to do this trip with him. They were in the best shape and Melissa pretty much waltzed along with them at the front the entire time

Coming into camp which is off to the left. It looked like a tiny village with only two or three houses. It was called Huayracmachay at 12,500 ft.

Our tents were already set up and dinner was cooking
Our chef fixing dinner

Dinner tasted so good because of the hike and because they just served so much variety and I thought it was all delicious but then again I am not a picky eater. We had chicken with potatoes, four different kinds of vegetables, yucca plant patties, rice and more. We also had dessert with every dinner. For lunch we had eaten salmon and other great food.

After dinner there was a beautiful sunset and I got some amazing pictures on my phone which I later left on the airplane and lost. So sad but I remember it. So some of these pictures are from Melissa's phone. The stars were so bright and clear. We saw the different constellations of the southern hemisphere including the Llama!

They gave us hot water to bath as best we could and also hot water bottles which kept us nice and cozy on the coldest night I have ever spent outdoors
Day 2
Leaving the first campsite the next morning. Campsite is behind us
This was a super cool day because we hike 18 miles downhill into the jungle. We shed layers as we went. It seemed easy after the previous days hike. There was lots of cool terrain with waterfalls

Interesting houses occasionally

Waiting for lunch and enjoying the warmth of the sun

Lunch was really good again. It was soup, beef and french fries, fresh salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and  fresh avocados. The avocados were in season and so they were an option with almost every meal. I ate Melissa's since she doesn't like them. I have never tasted better. We walked by avocado trees a lot on the trek and they were loaded 

We saw the other group crossing this bridge and we hiked over to meet them

This was about as scary as it got
Stopping at a little tienda for a snack on the way

I tried a Granadilla fruit which is native to the Andes. You basically just suck on the seeds and it's not bad. Kind of slimy maybe

We crossed some pretty cool bridges
This was our second night campsite and the tents were already set up with our bags inside that were on the horses. It was a little town called Playa and since we were down at 7,200 feet it was nice and cozy

The bathrooms weren't great but we could get a quick shower here. Bathroom to the left

Dinner was delicious again. We had Salmon with lemon sauce, broccoli, carrots and other veges, rice, popcorn and cake for dessert. The other group was eating at a different table next to us. They took good care of us because nobody ever got sick that I know of
 Day 3
We said goodbye to the other group who were heading to Machu Picchu and we went for another day of hiking up. I am so glad we did this because we got to see some incredible scenery

We started at this part of the original Machu Picchu trail. There are ancient stairs behind us and today we went up again but still stayed in the jungle

Brick making

We stopped to have a coffee making demonstration and I actually made my own Peruvian coffee! Too bad I don't drink it. It was still fun though 

Coffee in it's different stages

I did however partake of the amazing banana's picked fresh off the tree. Not like banana's at home

Saw how the locals lived. Yes, that is Cui or Guinea pig that they snack on. Had it on my mission and saw this scene many times

A place to wash up but not to drink. Our men gave us clean water for our water bottles whenever we needed it

As we left she insisted I take more banana's since I like them so much. Sweet lady

We were heading to a campsite that looks across at Machu Picchu and the trail was well marked and traveled

Stopping for a snack break at a pretty little water fall
The horses went back the previous day and our porters passed us at a pretty good clip which made me feel like a slouch:)

These pictures do not do this view justice. Not even close

Our Porters, Chef and Guide enjoying the view

We saw lots of pretty flowers and birds all along the way

Eventually we came to these ruins that are as old as Machu Picchu called Llactapata and this was the view!

Yes, this was our view of Machu Picchu. Our campsite was just 10 minutes ahead and had the same view

This whole hillside is owned by one family. Besides us there was only one other German couple camping here and they had just stumbled upon the place. So of the 3,000 people they were letting visit Machu Picchu the next day there were only six of us that got this view!

They are building a secluded lodge now but for now this was where we ate

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And these were just the appetizers

Day 4

More cool bridges

Melissa had some trouble with the bridges:)

We followed the railroad track into Aguas Calientes and had some fun along the way

We did have to watch for trains and get off the track

We met this really nice lady and she let me take her picture after I bought something from her. I think it was a banana

We stopped for lunch at Hidroelectica

Sorry we can't stay

Another view of Machu Picchu

Coming into Aguas Calientes where we stayed the night at a nice hotel 

Aguas Calientes means hot water and so we decided to check them out! Mineral springs. We ran into the German couple quite a few times that last two days. They were really friendly

Heading back to the hotel from the hot springs

 Machu Picchu
They bus everyone up early in the morning and it was a pretty little drive but not too long. This is the first view with Waynapicchu in the background. We had permits to hike it but they only let groups of  about 50 go every hour. I was so glad we got to do it! The trail zig zags up the left side

We were totally blessed with a clear, beautiful day

We got our tour t-shirts so we wouldn't get lost. Kind of like on a fieldtrip!

There was a route that the crowd took but you could really explore still. It was such an amazing place! Rain is slowly eroding the rocks and that's why the walls are coming apart. Still it's a slow erosion. The tour leader told us that it has recently been discovered that the Inca's probably weren't the first one's to build here. Also I though it was interesting that there is a rock quarry on top. It was a city still being built when it was deserted

Up close and personal!

I zoomed in here but you can see where we camped two nights before

Looking down at Machu Picchu from Waynapicchu. I was pretty proud of myself for being the 7th person up on top. Of course Melissa waltzed up first. She is a mountain goat:) It was straight up and took about 35 minutes but I went slow and steady and passed quite a few people who raced past me in the beginning. It was mostly stairs the whole way. I took the coolest shots here with my phone but lost them. Dang!

Interestingly 7 of the 12 people we met up on the top where LDS or from Utah. We were in good company 

Some of the steps at the top were pretty intimidating but not dangerous 

Back in Aguas Calientes and eating the best Pizza I've ever had! Lots of cheese