Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Christmas and Jungle Day 1

Sooo, back in Cusco for Christmas eve and day. Slept in sort of, and away Karen and I went to walk around town to see the Christmas parades. It was kind of neat, all the surrounding villages get dressed up in costumes and march around the main square. Very colorful and interesting, most seem to make fun of the Spanish, but at the same time, are deeply Catholic. We watched from a second floor coffeshop and then it began once again to rain. A Peruvian woman who said her name was Paula, latched onto us, trying to sell us some carved gourds (yes, we did buy some). Anyway, she wasn't as obnoxoius as others and we negioated what we thought was a pretty good deal; $50 for 3. They are pretty intricately carved and a nice reminder of Peru.

I managed to make it through a good part of the day, but as the group decided to continue walking about, I got too tired and went back to hotel to sleep. At this point, my breathing sound was freaking me out a bit, so I asked Karen if she could hear it. She said yes, but that it had happened to her and it was no big deal. I may be able to use that line for the rest of my life.

The group went out for dinner on Christmas day, and then out drinking and dancing. I didn't even eat dinner and laid around trying to rest and sleep. The next morning, we left for the jungle, another travel snafu as we weren't even sure when we were leaving or what we could or should bring. We landed in Puerto Maldonato in the early afternoon and were met by our jungle guides. We were bussed to their company headquarters, given some fresh fruit juice and water and then a tour of this snake rehab center. Very interesting. They also had humping turtles, a small cheeta-like cat and lots of snakes. Got to hold a boa and had my photo taken. Down at sea level, I thought I'd feel better, but not really.

We drove around Puerto Maldonato for a bit, not much to see but unfinished bridges, dirt roads, an unfinished highway, lots and lots of motorcyles and scooters and the usual unfinished buildings. We finally drove off into the wild, down dirt roads to our long boat canoe for the boat ride to the jungle encampment. The boat was about 30 feet long, and about four or five feet wide, wooden with one of those long handled motors that can be raised in shallow water. The ride was interesting, passing multiple unfinished bridges, as well as several families doing laundry in the muddy creeks. The boat ride was fine, we were fed lunch once we were underway, and the trip was pretty and interesting, but very, very long. The river was kind of high, with quite a bit of flotsam such as trees and large branches. Thankfully, we didn't see any dead animals or bodies. As the sun began to go down, we were not near the lodge, and then the trip became an adventure. One guide was in the bow with a light, shining on the stuff the captain was to miss and there was a lot of trees and large pieces of debris in the water at this time. I was slightly nervous, because although I knew I could swim, I wasn't sure if things in the water would let me!

Finally we arrived safely at the lodge. We had to climb up an embankment and walk a bit to get to the lodge, and I nearly passed out trying to walk up the slight hill. I was really getting tired of the not being able to breathe thing. The lodge was very neat and we ate a nice dinner immediately. Afterwards, we were shown to our rooms, which were partitioned off under a large roof, with two beds with mosquito netting, a hammock, and a seperate bathroom. The walls did not go up to the roof, and they were quite thin. There was a family next to us that had the loudest snores I have ever heard and all of them snored. As I struggled to sleep, I realized that it was not just the snores keeping me awake....my guts had started to roil.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Inca Trail Day 4

The final day on the Inca trail was an early one; the porters scratched at our tent at 3:30 am and before we even could get out, they started taking the tent down. It was early, it was rainy and we were hustled out of the tent to breakfast before we were even really awake. So, breakfast up until this morning was pretty hearty--not so on the last day. We got one pancake and that was it. Not a lot for an entire morning. Everyone at the camp (there were probably over a 100 people) was crammed into the bar/restaraunt building to wait for 4:30 since the checkpoint didn't open until 5am. So, we all sat there, stood there, waiting to get going. Evidently, since it was Christmas eve day, the porters all wanted to hustle down the mountain to catch early trains to get back to their familes--which I understand, but really? 3:30am?

Finally, we all left and then waited at the checkpoint for a bit until we could all get through. Day 4 was mostly downhill again, so I was able to keep up; not that I could breathe. At the Temple of the Sun, the sky unzipped and the rain intensified to the point of absurdity. We could not see Machu Pichu from there, and of course, there was no sun. Rain, rain, rain pouring rain as we walked down the mountain past some other ruins and then finally into Machu Pichu itself, well past it to the final checkpoint. The rain was hard and sideways. We huddled under some cover with a bunch of other tourists and hikers, trying to decide what to do. Finally, most of us agreed to brave the rain and get a truncated tour of Machu Pichu, a couple of our group elected to go down to the Aqua Caliente (town) to dry out.

I wish I could say that Machu Pichu was the best thing I ever saw, but I didn't see much of it since it was raining too hard to see. The Incans had cut slots into the walls and drainageways for water removal, and the water shooting out of these slots was more like a fire hose than not. The water was coming out so hard, that it shot out more than 10 feet and would have knocked a person over. Water was pouring down the steps like mini rivers and the rain just kept pounding. Our guide, Julio, said he had never seen it rain this hard. Still, it was a pretty location, and the buildings were cool. We scooted off the mountain down to Aqua Caliente and met up with the others at a restaraunt at about 10 am. We were told we were not going to get lunch until 1 pm and we were all very hungry. Our trip guide, Carlos, was supposed to meet us at Machu Pichu, but he was a no show, and he didn't show up until close to 1pm. We all had to buy food early or we were going to be very grumpy.

Walking around the town was still hard for me, I couldn't climb steps or go uphill and the sound of my breathing was getting weird. Since I was on antibiotics for my brief stint of diaherra, my ears got sunburned, adding to my happiness. The town was very touristy, and of course, it had a craft market packed with the same crafty things. Finally, and I do mean finally, we got lunch (pizza, ok but not great) and then really finally, we got on the train to begin our journey back to Cusco. The train was cool, an old train that had been redone and was very nice. The ride was slow, but better than walking! At the station, we transferred to a bus and then back to Cusco. I was beat. Carlos had prepared a nice Christmas eve meal, with a cooked turkey and we ate a lot and I crashed. Karen and some others went out to see the festivities on the town. There were lots and lots of fireworks, and they said it was almost like being in a war zone with everyone shooting off fireworks in large crowds.

I slept and listened to my bubbly breathing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Inca Trail Day 3

The 3rd day of hiking dawned a bit rainy, but not drenching. We were awakened, as usual, by a porter scratching at our tent, with hot cocoa tea and a small basin of hot water to wash in. At this point we learned to get up, packed and out the tent as fast as possible, or the porters would begin taking down our tent around us! Having done that, and visited the seatless toilet, we ate a nice hot breakfast and began our day of hiking. The rain, unfortuately, did not stay away for long and soon we were again hiking in it.

The third day was the longest distance--I think it was 10 miles--but a mix of up, down and level hiking, through some valleys and across some ridges and then down miles of steps. I was still feeling like shit, without the ability to catch my breathe, and, while the downhill and level trails were ok, any uphill was agony. We again, hiked until around 2 pm before we got to our lunch spot, another camp area which would have looked out over some good views, but which was just more clouds. As soon as we got to the spot and took off our packs, the rain started in earnest. Lunch was good, as usual, with hot soup, an entree and tea/water. The bathroom was again seatless, and about 1/4 mile down a path, I struggled to get back up to our dining tent. I was beginning to feel like I had a fever. The rain poured, and then really poured, when our guide, Julio, said we needed to get moving, so we could make the final camp site in time for dinner. Off we went, into the absolute drenching downpour. This was our lot for most of the remainer of the day, as we started down the thousands of steps for this part of the trail. Water was running in rivers down the stone steps and its a wonder no one slipped. Thank god for hiking poles. I was able to keep up with Karen going down the steps, which made me feel like less of a loser. We passed a couple of more ruins, one right after we left the lunch spot and another some hours later. I chose not to hike up steps to one of the ruins, chosing to sit below a rock overhang and rest. I was beat at this point, and feeling worse by the hour.

After the break, we descended through a rain forest part, in the rain, and down more steps. Porters were running down the steps with their huge packs, like it was nothing. Pretty impressive. The last couple of hours was the hardest for me, I was feverish, and tired, and dizzy and just wanted to lie down. I began to be a bit concerned as I was really feeling bad.

The last camp site is the same for everyone, it was packed, and there were some hot showers and a restaraunt/bar. As we finally got there, the rain stopped and we could see the river valley and surrounding mountains. Very pretty. I crashed for a bit before dinner. As I lay there, I could hear a couple of porters talking behind the tent, one guy kept reciting the names of the porters, like he was counting them, I presume to know how the tip was to be divided up. Weird. Karen, along with some of the others in the group went to the "bar" and had some beers, I rallied enough to walk down there, but didn't stay long. The last meal was followed by the tip ceremony, where we as a group gave tips to the cook, the porters and the guides. It was kind of strange, Julio was translating and I swear he didn't translate what they said correctly. Not sure why. More partying ensued, not for me, I was trying to sleep and feeling like shit. Sometime in the night, it began to rain again.