Saturday, May 28, 2016

Inca Trek - Part 1

The Inca Trek (Peru: South America)
May 26 - June  2016
5 days, 14000 ft on Ancient trail

Machu Picchu was always a mystery. Growing up had seen pictures, some discovery channel / national geographic films. That's about it. People, the ancient culture, style of living all so different than one has ever experienced. The most amusing part while watching the shows were how can a human perform and build and stay at these elevations. The Classic Inca Trek supposedly done by royalty and now a days by enthusiasts who want to walk in the same footsteps is now a compulsory guided walk with limited permits.

Well the thought of doing it was lingering in minds since long but the habit of always planning things at the last minute and this being permit only trek, missed the opportunity couple times. Hence this time not too long ago but still for our records booked earlier to ensure we have the permits. May and June being popular months with less rain in Andes the crowds are more. Given we live at sea level decided to land in Lima and then to Cuzco which is at 11000ft elevation. Just a day of acclimatization.

Got an opportunity to look around Cuzco the basilica, square, the view from the balcony hotel where we just had snack was great. We could see traditionally dressed ladies roaming around taking pictures with their pet Guanaco and themselves with tourists, no of dogs running around, some people feeling the elevation and taking it slow and taking  a break. From the balcony one could even see the huge statue on the mountain some tree lines and a park up there those were the Sacsayhuaman ruins later to discover, I think that was the highest point in the town from where U get the view of the entire city.The road where one can see Puma on the original Incan wall (a small section of the original wall still remaining) is amazing, an alley with lots of gift shops and enthusiastic vendors. One shop owner lady was so delighted to see people from India that she handed free gifts and started telling how our both cultures are so ancient and showed us the wall with puma and snake on it.  Interesting part was some sports competitions (Tiquando etc later to discover) among Bolivian, Peru, Chile kids were going on in Basilica grounds and had very hilarious symbolic combinations conversation with the Police officers to understand what was going on but at the end we both understood each other. 

On this journey got a chance to visit couple villages, see weaving techniques and how do they use natural dye to color wool of Alpaca, Guanaco, Llama's. The typical dressing style at various places was interesting.  The area felt as if you are really in some ancient times. Roads / alleys were pretty clean. Little rain thunderstorm showed how it would be in real downpour. It was fun having coffee and some local sweet with group members in one of Cuzco coffee shops in the evening.  Hers was first ever trek so she was trying to get some confidence (She did good at the end, it was fun leading and marching entire ladies battalion up the mountain, Just a fun thing, yes our guide was amazing but he had to stay back with much needy individuals.)


The Pisac ruins almost at 10,000 ft show the high performance human ability to build crazy things in thin air. The terraces grow different kind of potato on each one as the climate of each terrace is different, the entire sacred valley area, how high it is and the amount of construction and productivity during those times is worth a visit. Here U will discover the famous Peruvian Corn, they just boil it in water but the kernels are so huge and different tasting. There is always lineup of vendors at the entrance with water, some fresh squeeze juices and what not.  There are numerous varieties of potatoes and corns which grow in Peru.

Ollantaytambo at 9500 ft is yet another one of the sacred valley part:  the fort, the storages built in mountains, the village, one gets awestruck to see how from far away mine they must have hauled huge slabs of granite to build sun temple . The square in the town is the hustle bustle area with river flowing in the town. From here one goes to the trek that starts from the gates at km82. Here is where u load up your backpacks, and start walking with the guides for the most amazing trek. Fun begins!!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Inca Trek - Part 2

The classic Inca trek. Walking in the footsteps of royalty. After spending first couple of days getting used to various elevations, visiting Cuzco, Pisac, Ollantaytambo visiting some other places and ruins walking, climbing around finally we arrive at Km 82 to start the much awaited trek.

Many groups were in line waiting at the gate.  

Basic guideline:
Day 1: Starting at gated KM 82 one has to show passports and required documents before embarking on the trek with your guides and porters. On day one final camp is at 3100 meter elevation, one has to carry soles for toilets, later on there are different kinds of toilets.
Day 2: This is the day to cross Dead women pass at 4200 meter elevation. On the way Luluchapama has last store where one can buy some snacks, water if needed (extra from what your guide company provided and you were carrying). After the pass one has to traverse no. of steps downhill and finally one sleeps at 3500 meter elevation in Paqaymayu camp.
Day3: This is the day you cross second pass at 3900 meter elevation, longest day. Walk down to sleep at Winaywayna camp.
Day4: Most awaited moment. The gated check point opens at 5.30am to start walking on the final leg of the trail, might call it as trail exit point where the documents get checked. People lineup since very early in order to make it to the sungate to witness sunrise. After witnessing it and taking in surroundings finally at  2430 meters one reaches Machu Picchu and gets chance to explore this amazing place. 
Day5: One can stay an extra day to explore wayna picchu and finally take train or mode of transport pre-decided to take you back to Cuzco at 3399 meters elevation.

There are plenty of ruins and amazing places to explore on the way and each one leaves you awestruck. 

Reading too much into other peoples experiences one kind of looses the charm of the place. Just know the basics before going so you are prepared for weather, clothing, shoes, food etc. and create your own experience on well-travelled path.

Meeting new people and taking them up the mountain could be called as the highlight of this trek. There was group of individuals most of them girls doing it for the first time, it was really nice to lead them up the mountain when our guides were busy attending much needy individuals. We had best time.

Teaching Yoga to loosen up was worth cherishing. Under the starry skies having dinner watching couple shooting stars, trying to photograph starry sky. Sharing personal experiences, getting to know how everyone decided to do it.  Teaching something as well learning something.

Apart from set group of people and some other groups following, there is very less crowd on the trek (one would know what I mean when you reach Machu Picchu), giving you ample time with yourself and scenery. The Llamas, some birds, valleys, Andien mountains, flowers, people but to my surprise somehow not that much wildlife on the trail or surroundings. Its amazing to watch local people walking up to these elevations to host food stalls.  For most part its their daily routine preparing them for elevation.  Cocoa leave chewing was one major part of some peoples diet to avoid altitude sickness. Tried the tea but not my cup of tea, didn't like the taste.

We really had great time and enjoyed this experience very much. The photo journey to this trek can be found here :-  Inca trek photo journey

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

In the Amazon Jungle

AmaruMayu (Mother of Gods River)

As we were visiting Peru for Inca trek and traveling that far out, decided to spend couple days in the Peruvian amazon basin. AmaruMayu in Quechua language ( snake river ) now mother of gods river. It further changes its names as travels from Peru through Bolivia and finally into Amazon river. Wild river with abundance of water and wildlife, the Tambopata National Preserve. Given it was not rainy season still it had plenty water and force. Even though its a subsidiary the river basin was huge with muddy waters. It was bustling with wildlife: crocodiles, egrets, parrots lots other varieties of birds, monkeys, mammals.

Exploring Lake Sandoval:

Doing the boat ride in Lake Sandoval "Indiana Jones style journey" ( I mean that was  the name I gave it to this ride). The boat takes you on AmaruMayu river to the Lake Sandoval entrance trail location. From here it is almost a mile walk in the jungle to reach actual lake. Muddy road otherwise must be really having knee deep water in real rainy season. Lots wildlife around: snakes, monkeys, macaw's, fire ants, termite nests. Watch your steps, watch your footing, look around on trees before you pass them or touch them. I think one has to be vigilant from all possible aspects. This is where you realize how the actual walking experience is vs. seeing it on television someone else do it. Don't get me wrong, its a nice experience.

It is a jungle with lots of huge fig variety trees, attracting monkeys and fruit flies, mosquitoes and many others. After almost a mile walk there is the entrance gate for formalities and then one heads to the boat launch. These are shallow boats almost to the level of water. Don't put your hand or anything in water as there are lots of crocodiles in water, sometimes one can only see an eye popping out next to you. The initial ride is from narrow canals surrounded by tall trees and marsh land. Sometimes one can see sloths, howler monkeys making their march above you on the trees and all of a sudden a great opening into the lake. The lake is surrounded all around by trees. One keeps hearing lots of sounds, birds, monkeys, monkeys hunting, lake has family of otters, crocodiles, variety birds. The bees here are huge, once your boat is in water they keep coming at you and keep circling around, the only thing for any bee is just sit still, one can really feel the humming sound and flutter of their wings.The line of small bats sleeping on trees, turtles getting their eyes cleaned by butterflies, nesting macaw's, family of otters busy doing fishing, all nice to look at.

There are different variety trail or hiking experiences. This is a Jungle walk and Indiana Jones boat ride.

Night walk in amazon jungle:

This has to be guided walk as day signs strictly say stay out and proceed only with guides. Long boots, lots of mosquito repellent ( it doesn't work because even if a small hole size section of your body is not covered in repellent somehow the mosquitoes come to know of it.)  

With torch lights in hand we left. Be vigilant with torch off, get used to the night light (with tall trees surrounding you there is no moon or starry sky to look at). The moment guide sees something or hears something the flash is on it. How active the jungle is at night ( seen that, done that , experienced that but its different everywhere and every time). 

Tarantula's, wolf spiders and all other kind of spiders hanging in front of you, on sides, on leaves,on grounds everywhere. As one walks on the dried leaves you hear crushing sound and sudden movement as something tries to run away from under your feet. Small snakes hunting small frogs and things on grounds, the moment they hear u coming they try to run for the hole. Birds sleeping on trees but they don't even get bothered by flash lights and just stick to the place as if they are not afraid or too sleepy or used to this experience one can not tell for sure. Creepy but nice. The glow in the eyes of animals at night is really different, they shine which you do not notice in daylight.

The not so different story on river banks. Number of stars one can see and sound of crickets. Suddenly crocodile senses your presence and enters water, Capybara hanging out with family by the river side. Just the heavily flowing river water one can sense it, occasional boat, wild sounds or otherwise pin drop silence and darkness.

The Night of  exploring...