Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Inca Trail Day 2 50 Steps

Day 2 on the Inca Trail is the hard day. It's the day that the climb up to Dead Women's Pass occurs, and that means 4-5 hours of hiking uphill, sometimes very steep uphill to an altitude of over 14,000 feet. So, the day again started out cloudy and rainy. The uphill hiking started right away from camp and again, right away my head was pounding, legs weak and I was gasping for breathe. Nearly last in line again, I struggled up to the first set of ruins of the day, very cool wayside for travelers with what was probably a great view, but was covered in creepy clouds. After resting a bit, we continued up and up and up to bathroom break stop on a relatively flat area with some more campsites. There were women selling candy bars, Gatorade, water and other treats, which they lug up every day (I saw them go past me earlier in the climb). I bought a Snickers bar and used the squatter. Thankfully it was a sqautter not a seatless toilet!

After the break, more climbing and more gasping and I was really struggling badly just to move forward. Kind of made the IM seem easy. Lunch was at another camp area, with lots of food. I really just wanted soup, and was not really hungry. The uphill was relentless, one could look down and see the trail snaking along the side of the mountain and the porters and other hikers making their way up. I was losing it badly at this point, and nearly broke down as I tried my hardest to walk a bit more quickly. Not happening. Finally, I decided to break it down like an IM run, just get from point to point and not think about the whole. This led me to decide on 50 steps at a time. So that's what I did. Walked 50 steps and stopped for air, walked 50 steps and stopped. Sometimes counting in Spanish, sometimes in English, but moving forward 50 steps at a time. This of course, led to my thinking about how 50 is a good number for many things and I thought about all the things 50 could mean: 50 seconds, 50 steps, 50 minutes, 50 hours, 50 days, 50 pounds, 50 runs, ect. Now it makes no sense at all, but it did on the mountain!

With the rain now pouring, and the wind picking up, my slow 50 step mantra got me up to Dead Woman's Pass--and I wasn't the last person in our group! Of course the rain was pounding and it was super windy, so once we all made it up, we skeddadled down as fast as we could to our next campsite, down in the valley. We could see the colors of the tents as we hiked down the steep and slippery steps and slopes. I seemed to do ok on the downhill, but my freakin back started to kill, so about 2/3s of the way down, Karen took my pack. Bliss.

Camp was chaotic, many campsites and lots of activity. The bathroom was seatless. Arrghh. The clouds hung low and intermittently rained as we ate another huge meal and sat around playing cards until nearly 9pm. The porters were pissed, as the dinner tent is their sleep area, but we didn't know that at this time. I took a nap as soon as we got there, so I actually rallied a bit and played some cards with the group. Sleep was fitfull, my head kept pounding.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Inca Trail-Day 1

Morning dawned, well not so much dawned as a lightening of the gray and rainy sky, on the day we were to start the 4 day hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu. I awoke with a need to go to the potty, and promptly began taking anti-biotics due to, well, you know. Breakfast was good, more cocoa tea (I was getting a bit tired of it at this point) and an egg with bread and jam. After that we waited, as usual, waited for the bus that was to take us to Kilometer 82, the traditional start to the trail. We waited some more. After an hour or more, the bus arrives and we get all our gear loaded and off we go into the rain.

We finally got to the beginning of the trail, and it was raining, raining, raining. We all get under these open-aired shelters and our trail guide, Julio, went through the 4 days in summary. The place was packed with tourists and porters. The porters were stacking up our porter bags and weighing these piles of stuff, some were carried by blankets knotted at the chest, others were carried by traditional shoulder straps, all looked super heavy. Finally, we start down by the river to begin the trek. Oops, not yet. There was a passport check, which we all had to go through, along with our trail permits. Several people had incorrect information on their permits, I was male, Karen had the wrong passport number, and one of our group, Jenny had mysteriously aged a decade. Finally, we all get through the checkpoint and start the trek.

We crossed the river and then there was a steep, but fairly short ascent. I nearly passed out at the top. I finally realized I was not in good shape and took a Perivian altitude pill, which seemed to help. Or, maybe it helped that the trail was mostly level. The rain stopped after about an hour or so, and we hiked past some small and then a large set of Incan ruins. The ruins were pretty cool, so much still standing and so organized looking. We were told that many of the ruins along the way were way stations, military outposts, or food storage places.

At lunch (around 3 pm) we had our first taste of expedition trekking. The dining tent was set up, and we had a huge lunch, with salad, soup and entree. All very good. We also had our first use of the porcelin pit for a bathroom. We called them squatters and came to prefer them to the alternative. The last part of Day 1 was a climb up to camp 1, from another checkpoint. I nearly passed out on that climb as well and stumbled into camp 1, very discouraged and dizzy. At the camp, there were a couple of families living in their adobe huts with no glass in the windows and no indoor plumbing. The toilet was the 2nd variety we found along the trail, a toilet bowl with no seat. We hated them.

Dinner was again a lot of food, and most of the group played cards for a bit before dinner. I slept. The trek was not turning out so good for me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Peru Trip #2

Monday (12/20/2010) dawned with the promise of biking and hiking. Carlos the guide was late yet again, so we were late leaving for our downhill biking as we made our way to the town of Pisac and eventually to the town of Ollantaytambo. As we were going to start the Inca trail on Tuesday, we had to pack for the trail. This should have been a simple task, we were to be given porter bags for our clothes and sleeping bags and the total weight of what we could bring was to be no more than 8 kilos or 15 pounds. Well, getting that message to us proved to be very difficult and confusion reigned for more than an hour before we got all packed and ready. The porter bags were late, Carlos did not convey to us what it was that we were to do in a way that made sense to any of the 12 of us, so we basically unpacked, repacked, unpacked and repacked until we got it right. He kind of forgot to tell us about the weight limit and that the remainder of our stuff would stay in the hotel storage. Arrgghhh.

Downhill biking from outside of Cusco was fine, I was able to fly down b/c it doesn't require effort. Still had a hard time breathing, but kept thinking I'd feel better any moment. We biked down to Pisac. In Pisac, we wandered around yet another open air market, with people selling the same stuff they did in Cusco. Carlos did get us into the back of a jewelry store to see how they make silver stuff, which was kind of neat, but kind of weird. We saw our first cooked cuy as well as some live ones in their little cages. Guess it makes sense to eat Guinea pigs, they are small, they don't eat much and multiply like crazy. Still, seeing a skinned and cooked one did not make we want to eat it.

We waited until 2 pm before lunch was handed out, and then another 20 minutes before we got to eat it. We had breakfast at 7:30 am. Hunger is not something I expected on a guided trip. Our comfort level with Carlos the guide was fading fast. After lunch, some chicken-vegetable-potatoe mix, we hiked up to some ruins, the name escapes me. The hike was harder than it should have been, and again, I should have been paying my lack of breathing a bit more mind, but I thought it would all be ok. So, I was the last person up to the ruins, and gasping for breathe and dizzy. Oh well. The ruins were impressive, the terraces for crops, the buildings were all still standing and in good shape. Amazing that people who could build such things did not have a written lanuage!

We toured the ruins and then hiked downhill back to the bus, much easier for me downhill. We then continued for about 2 hours to Ollaytaytambo, where most people stay before starting the Inca trail. As we drove, it started raining. Not a good sign. The town was ok, our hostal (which is really a small hotel) was clean, but sparse and we walked around the town a bit before having our dinner at an italianish restaurant next to our hostal. The food, well, I got pesto pasta and have never seen such pesto, and not in a good way. Lots and lots of it, and it was not paste-like, but sauce like. Not the worst thing to eat, but not the best.

Our porter bags could not go with us on the bus, because it was too small. They finally arrived at 9pm, when we were all ready for bed. Again, the group was kind of becoming leery of the professionalism of the trip.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Christmas vacation 2010-Peru Part 1

As it turns out, Martina Navratilova and I have more in common than the obvious (you know, my stellar tennis skills!). But, more on that later. Peru, well....it was an interesting trip and to really bore you, I'll write about it in a number of posts.

Leaving Richmond was not an issue, except that Shelley didn't get the message that we were having pre-trip massages and arrived at our house to drive us to the airport early and then nearly drove off with out us! All our flights were good, and the flight from Atlanta to Lima was not too bad. We arrived in Lima around 1 am and then had to wait until 4:30ish for our flight to Cusco. The airport is nice enough to have benches that one can sleep on, so we dozed after trying our first Spanish food ordering. Karen got ice cream, which ended up being a cookie tube with some ice cream inside for 7 soles. I got a cappacino. We napped until our flight and then off to Cusco.

Cusco at 8am was interesting, got a taxi ride to Hotel Prisma and discovered the crazy driving in Peru. Lanes are wherever and horns are the means of communication. The drive through Cusco was informative, and I can best describe Cusco as old, but still unfinished. Many, many buildings are not complete, with pillars and rebar sticking up on the top floor as if the next floor is under construction, but of course it is not. Dilapidated adobe brick buildings set next to new sort of shiny buildings. Roads both paved and not. Very chaotic and unorganized looking.

After checking in and sipping our first cup of cocoa tea, we set out for some breakfast at Jack's. More cocoa tea, and a satisfying breakfast in our belly's we wandered out into Cusco. Wow, we were not expecting to be so accosted by Peruvians selling all manner of trinkets, paintings, sweaters, scarves, carved gourds, etc. We made the mistake of looking at Pepe's paintings and then were swarmed by a lady selling sweaters, another guy selling paintings and two girls with baby lambs or llamas who thrust the baby animal into Karen's arms and tried to get us to take a photo, which they would then demand money for. Thankfully, a policeman scooted them all away. We eventually learned to keep walking and say No gracias or No quiero very firmly. Peru is for sale people, one trinket at a time.

We did small stints out into Peru the first day, walking around for a bit and then napping in the hotel. We walked around a good deal, venturing up the hill to the artist area where we were again accosted by people selling themselves for photos...this time two old ladies and a grown llama. I made Karen take their picture and pay them....Ha. Everything is negoitiable, and we also learned to low ball the price of what we would buy. We had dinner at Green's Organics which was very good. Of course we got there at 6 and while they were open, we were the only diners for most of the meal! Crashing for the night by 9 pm, we both slept a bit fitfully and I awoke with a killer headache. Should have begun to pay attention at this point!