Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cusco

We were in Cusco for 3 days before we left on our hike. We planned it that way so we could acclimate. Cusco was fun. It was noisy and smelled like car exhaust and I think 3 days was plenty of time.  We spent 2 days there again after the hike which was fine because we were too tired to want to do much, but we both agreed that if we ever did it again, we would not stay in Cusco the whole time.

On Friday, our first day, we pretty much wandered around the touristy part of the city looking through the shops and just getting our bearings.  We learned pretty quickly that traffic is crazy and the lights and street markings and double yellow lines are pretty much just suggestions. Cars would try to go up and down a one lane street at the same time and would have to back up when other cars were on the road.

On Saturday we took a bus to the ruins above Cusco. The bus is where I lost my camera. I wasn’t very happy but there was nothing I could do about it and it was my fault for not sticking it back in my bag where it should have been.  My sister had her camera (many of my pictures are from her) and I still had my phone. We saw the ruins at Tamomachay, Q’enko, and Sacsayhuaman. The views were spectacular.


 

On Sunday we went to church. There was a ward that had sacrament meeting at 10:00 and the building wasn’t far from us. I ended up playing the piano for them for the meeting and it was a good experience. I hope they liked having live music instead of the recordings.  Later that day we had signed up for a chocolate making class at the chocolate museum. It was one of the most fun things we have done on a vacation. Our teacher was fantastic and she took us through the whole process from the raw plant and beans to the roasting and tempering until the final product.  We were able to sample the beans, and she made cocoa tea and hot chocolate. Then we finished by making our own chocolates in molds. I am very much a chocoholic and I had a blast.
On the next Friday after the hike, I was not feeling great and pretty much slept off and on for most of the day.  We did meet up with a few of our friends from the trail at a pub on Friday night and it was fun to see everyone again, even if it had only been a day. 

 
On Saturday, we checked out of the hotel but still had about 5 hours to waste before it was time to go to the airport. It was my sister who didn’t feel so well that day so we just meandered about and then we bought tickets for the tourist bus that drives around Cusco. It was nice to see some spots we couldn’t walk to and it was nice to be off our feet again for a while.


Then we came home. I’m finally back into my routine. I had a huge vacation hangover because it was really so incredible.  I’ll just be happy being home for awhile and then I’ll start badgering my sister about our next trip. We’ve already got a couple places on the short list.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

My Porter

As I have mentioned before, I was nervous to hike the Inca Trail. I need to lose more weight and until this past January, my exercising was sporadic at best. It was a challenge and I came up with a plan to get ready. I am happy with what I accomplished. Maybe I could have done more, but I had prayed that what I was doing would be enough and it was.

Anyway, the day before the hike, we ran into some people in Cusco who had just finished the hike (only they did it in 3 days, not 4) and they kind of freaked us out just a little bit by telling us how hard it was. It did not help the nerves at all. Sunday night I think I might have gotten 2 hours of sleep but I doubt it was that much. So on Monday we were up and ready to go by 4:00 am and I was running on adrenaline. It kept me going all morning, but I was running out of energy fast. I was also used to exercising on an empty stomach and it was hard for me to force down food at lunch so I know I didn’t eat enough. I was definitely not feeling my best.
 
 
After lunch, we had a 4-5 hour hike all uphill to get to our camping spot for the night. My sister went on ahead because she wanted to challenge herself and I didn’t need her right there with me. We were only a couple hours in when I really started to not feel well. I just kept going because I had to, but eventually I ran out of steam. I got really dizzy and had to lean against a rock. Then my blood pressure dropped and I almost passed out. I started shaking and I sat down on the side of the trail and leaned against my backpack. Two of my fellow hikers came up the trail and stopped to help me. I put my fleece jacket on and they fed me candy bars and one of them went ahead and brought our guide, Edwin, back down to help me. Edwin took my blood pressure and sat with me until my color came back and I felt like I could get up. He walked with me a little bit farther and then I stopped to rest again because I didn’t feel good. Edwin gave me my options: I could either keep hiking up the mountain for another couple hours or I could stop and spend the night there and turn around in the morning. I would still be able to get the train and meet the group at Machu Picchu on Thursday. He wanted me to make the choice because I knew what I was capable of more than he was. I made the choice pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to stop but it still took me some time to let him know. I didn’t want to quit, but I also didn’t want to have to hike anymore that day.


So I started walking again. It got dark and I had to get my headlamp out. Thinking about it now, I’m glad I couldn’t see very far up the stairs. It was easier to hike them just taking a few at a time. Edwin had a porter come down from camp and made me give up my backpack. The porter hiked the rest of the way with me, carrying my pack and stopping whenever I wanted water from my hose. Edwin went on ahead so it was just the two of us. I started practicing my very bad Spanish on him since he didn’t speak English. I bet he thought I was crazy but it was actually almost kind of fun and gave me something to concentrate on besides the stairs.

He seriously has no idea how much I appreciated his help that evening. Muchas gracias just doesn’t cut it and that’s all I could say to him. The rest of the trip Edwin referred to him as “my porter”.  I was able to give him a hug and an extra tip our last night at camp. It really doesn’t seem enough. His name is Joselito and I’ve probably spelled it wrong and he has no idea that he impacted my life so much. Ha ha… he might have been helping me under duress for all I know.  The most I can do now is pray for him and trust God to take care of him. He doesn’t know it, but he has a friend for life even though I’ll probably never see him again.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Inca Trail Packing List and Tips

I have to give a shout out to our trekking company. We used Enigma  and I would highly recommend them. Our guides, Edwin and Elbin,were fantastic and very knowledgable. So were the porters. After hiking the exact same trail carrying much more weight, they cheered for us as we made it to camp each evening. And the food was excellent. I couldn't believe what the chef was able to do on the trail. We all wondered if the food was so good because we were so tired and hungry, but decided it would have been good anyway.



I followed the packing list they gave with only a few extras. I packed:
  • 2 pairs hiking pants
  • 4 short sleeved moisture wicking tee shirts
  • 1 long sleeved tee shirt
  • thermal shirt and fleece pants to sleep in
  • 5 pairs of SmartWool/Thorlo brand socks (and I didn't get any blisters)
  • clean underwear for each day, 1 sports bra, 1 extra bra (to get out of the sweaty one at camp)
  • fleece jacket
  • warm hat, gloves, and ear muffs (I prefer my earmuffs over a hat)
  • poncho
  • headlamp
  • sunhat and a Buff headband thing
  • camping toilet paper and travel sized tissues
  • hiking shoes, tennis shoes, and flip flops (I preferred the tennis shoes at camp instead of flip flops so I'd skip those)
  • insect repellent
  • sunblock
  • toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, ponytail holder, etc. (very basic toiletries)
  • Platypus water containter with hose (we had a 1 liter and a 2 liter)
  • snacks
  • rented trekking poles (these saved my knees - I wouldn't do it without them)
  • first aid kit (medicines and blister kit)
  • microfiber sleeping bag liner
  • ShowerPill athletic body wipes (loved these)
  • earplugs (the tents are close together and I did hear other people snoring)
  • passport
  • money for tips for the porters
  • small notebook and pen (I like writing a few things down while it's fresh)
  • sleeping bag (I rented mine, my sister packed her own)
  • plastic bags of various sizes (we had quart to 3 gallon size - everything should be in plastic bags in case it rains)
We paid for an extra porter so I carried just the things I needed for the day on the trail and the porter carried everything else. We had people who packed all their things, but they struggled a little bit. I couldn't have done it. Even my sister was glad she didn't have to carry everything.

If I had to do it over, I would take less snacks. We had some energy bars that we didn't need. I liked the trail mix we took, but I would have added a few small candy bars or fast sugar. We did take a can of Pringles that were a big hit. Every morning we were given some fresh fruit and granola bars or cookies or other kind of snack so we didn't need near as much as we brought and it was just weight we didn't need.

I would also take waterproof gloves or I saw someone take latex gloves to put over their other gloves which I thought was a great idea. My knit gloves were fine until they got wet and then my hands did get cold.

There are cold showers available at the camp on the 3rd night. I thought the body wipes did a decent job until I got to a hot shower. Most of my group went and played in the waterfall near the ruins and they said that felt just as good as the cold shower would have. Plus, the toilet/shower area is kind of disgusting.

I had just about everything imaginable in my first aid kit and only used the Advil and Tylenol PM. I wouldn't change what I packed because if I had needed it, I would have had it and it was still small enough to be manageable. I took a half dose of Tylenol PM the first night and should have done it the other nights. Between the noises, the rain, and the hard ground, I didn't get a lot of sleep even though I was tired.



You can definitely tell which people hiked to Machu Picchu and who took the train, but I'm glad we did the hike. My sister and I have already decided that we need to go back to Peru to hike another area in the mountains. It was a great trip and I would love to do another one like it.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Inca Trail

Hiking the Inca Trail was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The first day was hard for me due to lack of sleep and a few other things (my blood pressure dropped and I had to sit for awhile so I didn't pass out) and our guide actually gave me the option of turning around. I have to admit it was tempting but I knew even as I considered it that I wouldn't be quitting. One: because I'd like to think I'm not a quitter, at least not when it matters, and two: this was my sister's dream and I wasn't going to be the one to ruin it for her.


I managed to get some sleep the first night in camp and the second day of hiking was much better for me. In fact it was my favorite day of the trip. It rained off and on all day which actually made it nice for hiking, and the mountains were so beautiful. The entire day, I just kept thinking of the quote: "Mountains are temples without walls where God comes to meet His children." It just seemed appropriate.


We didn't know this before hand, but our guides prefer to make the first day of hiking the longest (and arguably hardest). We ate lunch where most people spend the first night and then we kept going to the higher camp: Llulluchapampa. I ended up liking this because that meant that the next morning we had only about a 2 hour hike to reach Dead Woman's Pass, which was the highest pass we had to go over. Then it was downhill until lunch. They say there are over 8000 steps on the Inca Trail and I believe it. Once we finished the first pass, it seemed like it was almost all stairs. We were either going up them or down them.


Also, because of where they planned for us to camp, we were able to be at camp on the third day around 1 or 2 for lunch and then we were done hiking for the day. It was so nice to finish early and be able to have some downtime.


And then of course on the fourth day, we were up freakishly early, mostly to give the porters a chance to get us fed and get camp packed up so they could go catch a morning train home. Once control opened at 5:30 AM, it was a mad dash to get to the sun gate. It was an absolutely beautiful morning.



Honestly, getting to Machu Picchu was like the cherry on top. It was fun to see the ancient ruins and hear about the history, but the journey was just as amazing as the destination. Maybe more so. The sense of accomplishment was worth every sore muscle.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lo Hice!

I did it! I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu! It was probably the most amazing thing I've ever done.


 
I'll try to post pictures and more trip details later, but I just wanted to first write about my overall experience and feelings after finishing.
 
I was still quite nervous about the hike and worried that the hiking and training I had done for it would not be enough. But once we started, I just kept walking. It was hard, the hardest physical thing I've ever done. But it wasn't impossible and I wasn't the slowest person, and everybody had some part that was hard for them, even marathon runners like my sister. It was worth every single sore muscle.
 
The views were amazing! I honestly would turn around and do it again in a heartbeat just to be back up in those mountains.  Our guides, Edwin and Elbin, were excellent and the group of people we hiked with were so great. We all got along so well and really had a good time. And then there are the porters. Those guys are my heros. They have a hard job, from my perspective at least. They get up early to get breakfast ready, then stay up late getting dinner cleaned up, and they pack all the equipment and some personal belongings for us. And they run up and down those mountains! I must confess it was nice to see them resting on the side of the trail once in a while so I knew they were human.
 
 
Really, the trip was kind of life changing. I made myself do something I wouldn't have thought was possible a year ago. I have a broader perspective of how other people live, and I have a greater appreciation for God's creations. I have to be honest that this trip was hard to come home from. I was ready to be home, but not ready to stop the experience. There was just a sense of loss of new friends and places that I didn't expect. Now that I'm home and getting back into my routine, I am profoundly grateful. I'm grateful for the whole experience and I'm grateful for the good life I do have and the many opportunities I have to grow and challenge myself and be happy.