Monday, April 25, 2011

Fast Forward >>

Turns out, I have way more pictures than time/fast enough computers to post. So, I thought one of my last posts will just be a series of pictures, in chronological order to catch up from Huanchaco (2 weeks ago) to now (post-Machu Picchu!).


The two pointy things on the left are reed boats or caballitos de totora. They have been used by fishermen in Huanchaco for over one thousand years!

Adios, Huanchaco!

The little oasis of Huacachina is behind us. It is literally in the middle of all the sand dunes. More sand than I´ve ever seen in my life.

My hair sure looks like I´ve been riding up and down and over dunes with a crazy old Peruvian man as the driver who loved to make me yelp at the top of a dune as we rolled down on our way to attempt sandboarding.

We went on a wine tour to 2 wineries, one artesenal and one industrial. We tried a handful of wines as well as the national alcohol, pisco, which is a white brandy made from grapes.

After busing from Huanchaco to Huacachina, we took the longest bus I´ve ever been on to Cusco. It was supposed to be 18 hours but ended up being 21+ because our bus broke down 2 hours outside of Cusco. Yay us! At least it was daylight. After 2.5 days acclimating to Cusco´s elevation of just shy of 11,000 feet, we departed on our 4 day/3 night jungle trek to Machu Picchu. This is not to be confused with the original Inca Trek along the 44 kilometers of restored trail that costs $500-800 to do. In Huacachina, an Aussie recommended Lorenzo´s Expeditions as the best jungle trek experience by far. So much so, that other trekkers in other groups, recommended doing Lorenzo´s tour instead of their own. It was also recommended by Lonely Planet. We had to see for ourselves and opted for a more backpacker budget friendly trek through Lorenzo´s, than the original Inca Trek. Our adventure there went as so:

Day 1 - Breakfast at Lorenzo´s house. Three hour van ride up through the Sacred Valley to the top of Abra Malaga at 4,350 meters or just over 14,000 feet. Downhill mountain biking from there, switchback after switchback, descending from the clouds to a view of the Urubamba River winding below.

Apologies for the blurriness. My baby camera is on her last leg I think. Anyways, this is the getup we all wore, motorbike helmet, shin/knee & elbow/forearm pads, cycling gloves and reflective vest. They had us quite freaked out. At least, the guides spared the horror stories of tourists biking downhill until after we did it.

After biking for 3 or so hours, we reached a point where the government no longer allows bikes due to construction. From there, we took the van an hour to the tiny town of Santa Maria to spend the night.

Day 2 - I woke up feeling fairly sick with a headache, stomacheache and extreme tiredness. Nevertheless, we headed to the river to start our 2 hour white water rafting trip. It was quite a blast, no one was thrown in and our guide was awesome. Unfortunately, no pictures. Afterwards, we hiked nearly the rest of the day for around 5 hours, nearly half uphill, into the jungle, more or less to another small town of Santa Theresa. Cue the mosquitoes.

Oh, we did stop at a house to rest, see this little guy and learn about the agriculture in the jungle.

Day 3 - Still felt quite crummy, and uber tired, but not as bad as the day before. We headed to do a canopy tour, zip lining over the trees with Cola de Mono. I would highly recommend this, as it consists of 2500 meters (7000+ feet) of cables, split into 6 sections. The longest one is about 1,200 feet and the highest is just below 500 feet off the ground! It was a blast. Unfortunately, only one person took pictures since she didn´t want to go and I don´t have any copies yet. Then, we hiked more flat trails all the way to Aguas Calientes, the only town to stay in before going to Machu Picchu.

Day 4 - I woke up at 4am to wait in line to catch one of the first buses up to Machu Picchu at 5:30am. I had company (most of the girls in our group) while the boys hiked up the 1,869 steps to the control center where they admit you to the archeological site. We all met up at the top and waited for our guide. Toured the incredible ruins. In the spirit of minimizing the number of photos for this post, I´ll just share one of the architecture that is stunning.

Look at that! How on earth is it not or has it not fallen yet? Incredible. The Incas used lots of natural features of the mountains such as this one. It is estimated that nearly 10,000 people contributed to building the city of Machu Picchu. It was how they paid their taxes. I was shocked at the tiniest of details in how the rocks fit together. They were perfectionists, and had learned from generations and conqured peoples before them. 

Had to put some 3 goggles on in Blazer gear at one of the 7 Wonders of the World. Maybe we´ll be on TV next season. Fingers crossed!

My very own, postcard picture of Machu Picchu. I did not google image this one. :) The bigger mountain you see is actually not Machu Picchu, but Wayna Picchu, meaning ´´Young Mountain´´ in Quechua. The mountain Machu Picchu (´´Old Mountain´´) is behind me and not nearly as well known as the view seen here. The ruins of the city are called Machu Picchu to the world today, but that is only because the American Hiram Bigam (Yale professor in early 1900s) called it that when he ´´discovered´´ these ruins. No one knows the original name of the city which is fascinating. 

And let´s see. We stayed until mid afternoon before heading back to Aguas Calientes. The next day (last Friday) we rode the train back to Ollantaymbo (2 hours), then took a taxi back to Cusco (1.5 hours).

Tomorrow morning, I fly to Lima. Then, Wednesday morning, my adventure comes to an end when I fly back to Portland. I am quite ready to be home!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chán Chán Ruins

So, to take the suspense out of this entire post, we made it to the ancient ruins of the Chimú people, Chán Chán, without a hitch, unlike our attempt to see the ruins of Chavin de Huantar. Granted, they were about an 8 minute taxi ride from our little beach paradise of Huanchaco, but nevertheless, we made it.

For a brief history lesson, these ruins are considered the largest adobe city in the world. There are a total of 9 palaces, each one for successive Chimú kings. Surrounding all 9 of these compounds were very high walls, estimated to be between 27-36 feet high, but have eroded to abou 10-15 feet high. This is quite impressive considering the average height of the Chimú people was barely 5 feet tall, not to mention they are made of adobe. Previously, this area of the northern coast of Peru was occupied by Moche civilizations for 300 years before the Chimú took over. The Chimú became the second largest pre-Columbian society in South America with its empire stretching 620 miles along the coast from where Peru borders Equador, all the way down to Lima. In 1470, after more than a decade of seige and threats to cut irrigation canals, the Chimú surrendered to the Incas.

I could not believe how well the palace we toured, Tshudi, had been restored. Not that I had much to compare it too, except the other 8 palaces we saw driving to Tschudi. To my non-archeologist eye, the 8 other palaces look like mounds of dirt, as none of them are able to be visited by touists. Our guide told us that much of the restoration has been based off of what the Spanish documented when they conquered the Incans here, since there are no other records of this civilization. Makes me wonder how accurate their descriptions were and how much has been lost in translation. She also said that one of the other 8 palaces is a few years away from being adequately restored to tour.

Chán Chán means Sun Sun in Chimú, which makes sense as the entire civilization is in the desert. Most all of the ruins were covered in ocean-related pictures, for lack of a better word because my brain cannot think of what the right word.

The birds are pelicans, the straight lines are thought to be waves and the half of an X you see would have been a lot more ¨x¨s thought to represent fishing nets. The pelicans are all over and as our guide said, helped the Chimú fish because where there were pelicans, there were fish.

I found these designs to be the most interesting. You can see pelicans on the left in more of a swimming pose. To the left of this half wall in the middle was about 15 feet of space, all with the fish swimming right. To the right of the half wall was the rest of a long hallway (30-40 feet), with fish swimming left. Nothing the Spanish recored, or archeologist could determine why this was built this way, until they consulted local fishermen in the tiny town of Huanchaco. The fishermen suggested it was depicting the currents, a smaller one (represented on left) and the larger one (represented on right). Pretty incredible.

The Incas seem to have copied much of the Chimú culture, including their creation story (very similar to Chimú) as well as much of their architecture, most notably the wider base of the exterior walls to create stability and strengthen against attack.

Even the famous Incan symbol, the Chakana, as graphically pictured above, looks an awful lot like the picture of the remaining ruins below

This is only half of the Chimú symbol, as much of it has eroded. It is the exact same on top, if you can picture it.

This was also very interesting, as the Chimú people figured out how to irrigate and use deep wells to get water to their different palaces via irrigation canals. It was so bizarre to see water and green-ness in the middle of the desert.

After seeing the Tschudi palace, we took a taxi to see the Chimú´s Rainbow Pyramid (also known as the Dragon Pyramid), which is located on the NW side of Trujillo.

The depicted rainbows are of great interest to archeologists because the area rarely ever gets rain, and therefore rarely has rainbows.

For some reason, I was under the impression we would be able to go inside the pyramid, but nope. We were the only ones there, and simply walked around it and on top of it. Is it still a pyramid if it is flat on top?

Not super exciting, but just a flat top that really isn´t very big.

View of the mountains from the top of the Rainbow Pyramid.

Despite disappointment of how small the pyramid was and not being able to go inside, I did get to see the biggest spider of my life. Yikes!

Well, that about wraps up our ruin adventures during our time at the beach. Up next: last few photos of Huanchaco, then stories of sandboarding and wine tasting in the desert, south of Lima, in the tiny oasis town of Huacachina. Hopefully, at least one or two posts happen tomorrow, as Monday, we leave Cusco for our Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ah, Those Blissful Beach Bum Days

So this has been life for the past 13 days, as of Saturday. Tough, I know. We were in a little town called Huanchaco, just outside of Trujillo.

New best friends.

We have been living the beach bum lifestyle since the 27th of March or so. Andy has been surfing nearly every day for $5 a day for surf board and wet suit. (Yes, we aren't qutie in paradise, as the water is too chilly to surf sans suit.) I've tried it a couple days and am quite a disaster on a board. I've decided, my best bet is to stick with sports involving a ball.

We are staying in a hostel right on the beach called Surf Hostel Lily. It is a little more expensive ($7 per night) than the ones not on the beach ($4 per night) but we couldn´t resist. It´s hard to say no to waking up, sitting up in bed and seeing the ocean, not to mention falling asleep to the waves hitting the beach.

Our view from the patio off our room!

We really have just milked the beach bum role for all it´s worth, to the point where I was ready to dooooo something other than try to surf. I mean, when your biggest complaints are your peeling/itcy sunburn and a bug in your burger, you know life´s good.

I couldn´t help but take the following picture.

Now really, how much shade is this providing? Don´t you just have to laugh.

I love this picture. They sat like this for so long. We outlasted them on the beach, but the fact that they left the umbrella like this was just hilarious. The wind wasn´t even blowing that bad. The best part of the whole thing was watching them try to pack it back into the bag it was originally in. That, and just getting off the beach with their canes. I hope I´m old and hogging the shade from my loving husband in a foreign country someday.

Next post will be the only other thing we did while on the coast, which was a visit to some pre-Incan ruins of the Chimu people. Don´t worry, we actually made it to them, unlike our Chavin adventure.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Altitude Sickness and Hitchhiking (Dad, don´t read)

Warning: This blog post is very long. Good story, but long. Read the captions of the pictures to get the whole idea.

So, as there are so many things to do around Huaraz as briefly noted in this post, we chose to do something with Kyle that he hadn´t done before, that would only take a day so he wasn´t away from his Peace Corps site too long. That happened to be a hike to Laguna 69. It was supposed to be a beautiful lake that doesn´t get too much foot traffic.

Also, yes, that is the real name of the lake we were hiking to - past, Lake Llanganuco to Lake 69. No one gave us a very good answer or reason why it was called that. The only one we understood was that it was some sort of counting system, that it was 69 something away from something...yeah, not a great answer, especially since there were no other numbered lakes....

So the adventure began at 6am. We caught a combi (van that has 15 or so seats and then standing room) to Kyle´s site of Marcara, about an hour away. Then, the three of us jumped on a different combi to Yungay. This took another hour or so. In Yungay, we hired a taxi to drive us the grueling 32km along one of the bumpiest roads I have ever been on, up to the trailhead for the Lake 69 hike, where the taxi would wait until we returned at the agreed time, between 2-3pm.

About 13-14 kilometers before we were dropped off at the trailhead for the hike, we bought our park pass and just a few kilometers before the trail head we passed Lake Llanganuco, which is actually two lakes.

Unfortunatey, this was the only picture I got of Lake Llanganuco, while in the taxi.

I couldn´t help but google image a better picture to show how beautiful in color the lake really is - especially on a sunny day!

Once we finally arrived at the trailhead, another hour later (total of 3 hours) we were presented with this scene.

Sorry for the bluriness, but we were told to stay to the right of the river and we would find it. Easy enough.

So we started hiking. And hiking and hiking through the trees, seen above, through the vast green, cow-pie filled pasture. I wondered to myself if I would spend 3 hours via transport to get to a trailhead to hike to a lake anywhere else in the world.

There were so many cows and hence, their droppings everywhere. We came across these deserted little huts. I wish I knew the story behind them.

At this point, I just kept thinking that the infamous Lake 69 would be just beyond the next ridge. It´s not like it was a grueling hike at this point, but I just felt that it should be just around the next bend. We had not passed a single person at this point, probably about an hour in. 

We hiked around the little hill on the left, then around the one on the right before coming to the end of the pasture valley, with our only option to be to go up.

And up we went.

So we had to hike dozens of switchbacks, more to the right of this picture, but eventually ending up just over the middle part of this picture.

It was quite a beautiful hike and despite the overcast look to all the pictures, not too cold. We took plenty of breaks, mostly when I needed to. It was hard and just disappointing every time we came around a ridge or bend expecting a beautiful lake to appear.

But, it made the hike a bit easier seeing beautiful waterfalls along the way.

So, just as we make it to the top of the peak in the picture, where we had our hearts set on the lake being, we came to a puny, little, dark lake.......It couldn´t have been it and so we trekked on, disappointed again. Soon, we came upon two signs, arrows pointing in two different directions, one indicating which way to Lake 69. This was 2+ hours in, so it was reassuring to see we were still on the right path.

At this point, above the peak in the picture, there is a large flat pasture area for a little bit before more mountains sky rocket into the clouds. I was exhausted, hiking at nearly 14,000 feet by now. Kyle and Andy got quite a bit ahead of me. We all had climbed this ridge, that yet again, we were sure the lake was just beyond. Nope. On two different sides of the circular ridge, the boys were a little higher than I was and yelled/pointed toward a ¨trail¨ they could see and said to take it up toward the lake. So, I did, thinking the trail would be easier than the side of the ridge they were trying to climb. Not the smartest move to split up, but I figured we´d meet up quickly enough.

Wrong again. After hiking up the trail until I could no longer see the trail on the flat pasture where the sign split was, I got really nervous about being so far apart from them. Definitely too far away to yell or see them. So I descended down and waited at the sign for them. Not longer than a half hour after I had been resting at the sign, I heard Kyle´s voice yelling my name which was a huge relief. I started walking toward it to find him on the other side of the river, having descended the ridge they had climbed earlier.

Kyle looked anxious and Andy was not in sight. He informed me they made it to Lake 69 and just as they were descending Andy got altitude sickness. Oh boy. If you recall, we were supposed to meet the taxi between 2-3pm back at the trailhead. We were quite a ways away (at least 2 hours) and Andy was in no condition to move fast at all. It was decided that Kyle would go back as fast as he could to stop the taxi and Andy and I would descend as fast as Andy was comfortable.

I´ve never been around anyone with altitude sickness, but we all knew the only way to make it better was to get to lower elevations, or it can get bad fast - like loss of eyesight, severe dehydration, etc. To spare the gruesome details you can find on Andy´s rendition of this story, it was so tough to watch him throw up again, and again with nothing left in his stomach. He said his head felt like it was going to explode. I said a couple prayers and thankfully, Andy was able to move enough through the pasture up high, past the dinky fake lake and finally down. Once we started going down, he didn´t puke again and felt better, just really weak, so we weren´t moving too fast. The long, cow-pie pasture felt like forever and it started raining on us for the last half of the hike. It wasn´t bad because I was just so thankful he was okay. We didn´t talk much, just focused on one foot in front of the other. I had a pretty bad headache at this point since we never stopped to eat lunch at the lake.
So, once we got up to where the taxi dropped us off, we were beyond disappointed when there was no taxi and only Kyle huddled under a tree trying to stay dry. He got back at 2:30 and the taxi had ditched us. Awesome. Here we were, soaked, exahusted, and it was getting dark, 32km up a rough road from the nearest town. We did not pass a single person the entire day. Very few cars make it on this crappy road, so we did the only thing we could and kept walking down, saying a few prayers. Within 20 minutes, I saw a white truck on the switchback above us.

This is where the story gets just a bit scarier, but at the time, was so relieving. Never would I really suggest hitchhiking, particularly in a foreign country in the mountains. But, considering all the circumstances, it sounded perfect if we could just get in a car to get down the mountain.

The truck stopped. It was an extended cab, in quite nice condition with 3 men in it. In we climbed, Andy and I sitting next to one guy in the back cab, 2 men up front and Kyle jumped in the bed of the truck. We flew down that mountin. We went between 10-20kph up the hill in the taxi and between 50-60kph on the way down, passing nearly every car. It was bumpy, but the guys were nice, asked us what we were doing in Peru, etc.

The only sketch moment was when we were going toward a national police truck, we nearly came to a stop. The driver sucked his breath heavily in through his teeth, gripping the steering wheel tightly. While this was happening the guy next to me started quickly zipping up the backpack between his feet and shoving it under the seat. Okay. Maybe drug dealers? Who knows. Maybe not. But they were the nicest drug dealers we could have asked to pick us up and take us safely back to Yungay.

Once in Yungay, we ate and hopped on combis back to Huaraz. Since you stuck around this long, below are pictures of Lake 69 that I didn´t get to see.

Yeah, of course this is pretty, but I wasn´t too upset I missed it, as the hike itself was gorgeous. I had just created huge expectations in my head before we left for this magnificent lake.
 Only until I google imaged ¨Lake 69 Peru¨ was I even slightly bummed I didn´t get to see it. It was too cloudy when we went to get any sort of view like this.

Maybe another time. In the summer time. Oh yeah, and this lake sits just above 15,000 feet!

That was a long one! If you made it this far, congrats! Hope you enjoyed the scariest story I´ve had so far (and actually hope to have) while I´m in Peru.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lessons Learned Going to Chavín

Monday, the next day after the soccer game, we woke up quite early and caught the 7:30am bus to Chavin. It didn't actually leave until 7:50 or so, but that's Peru's punctuality, or really just Latin America´s elasticity regarding the conecpt of time. It wasn't very apparent we were on the correct bus, as the man I asked as we boarded sort of just noded for me to get on the bus. So, I asked the woman behind me if this bus was going to Chavin. She, very nicely, reassured me it was, with a big smile.

Good enough. I was exchausted and didn't feel too well that morning, so I slept for a large part of the ride, despite the super crummy road. In the beginning, when I was awake as we got out of Huaraz and into the mountains, as well as the numerous times I was woken up by bumps, I took some of these pictures.

Didn´t quite figure out what lake this was unfortunately.

It was all so green. Sorry the picture is so dark.

Not the greatest picture since we were moving and in the bumpy bus, but the quick moving river winded along much of the road.

Getting up higher than the river and starting all the switchbacks.

The pictures in no way do any of it justice (as pictures, taken with point-and-shoot cameras, rarely can), but it was like we were going through backdrops for a movie - so much green, the mountains were ginormous. We passed the Pucaraju mountain that is 17,300 feet and the Yanamarey mountain that just gets over 17,000 feet! Crazy big. Understandbly, Andy stayed awake the entire ride, in awe.

I woke up as our bumps slowed through a couple little towns. I thought we should be getting off any time now, about 3 hours into the ride. Then, the super nice lady behind me tapped me on the shoulder, through the seats, and said in Spanish "Didn't you want to go to the ruins in Chavin?" as she pointed backwards. Well, nice lady, yes we did. So at that point, we figured we the bus would turn around at the next town and we could get off when we went back through. However, just to make sure, I went and asked the driver's assistant (or the guy who yells out the window to get people to get on the bus at any point after the engine starts) when the bus was returning. His answer: ¨manana.¨ (tomorrow)  Awwwwesome.

So, we got off at the next itty bitty town of San Marcos. We were way too far away from Chavin to walk back at that point. Once off the bus, I was quite nervous because it was obvious white people rarely go there, as there would be no reason to. We found the town square, asked a man selling bus tickets for the next bus to Chavin. He only sold tickets to Lima or Huaraz (which wouldn´t have been too bad of an idea, but we still wanted to go to Chavin, since we made the 3 hour bus ride anyway). Then, he told us to go up the hill where the Chavin bus lines were. So we did. Once to the top, there were a handful of men with taxis asking if we wanted to go to Chavin. Yes, but not with you. Taxis are pretty sketch here if not called from a hostel/restaurant, especially if you are gringo, don´t speak flawless Spanish and have no idea where you are or really where you want to go.

There was no apparent place to buy bus tickets to Chavin and I thought to myself ¨Please God, just let a bus to Chavin come this way.¨ And what do you know, up the hill chugs a big old bus, and across the street from us, a handful of Peruvians gathered for it to stop. We ran across the street, joined the group and the guy asked for 2 soles each (about $0.65) to get back to Chavin. Done.

The fun-ness doesn´t stop there. Once we got off at Chavin, we were not hawked by people asking to take us to the ruins, which is normally the case when you get to tourist destinations. These ruins, by the way are pre-Incan and of one of the first civilizations in Peru. Seems like sort of a big deal. We figured it would be obvoius where to go, especially since everyone in Huaraz recommended we go check them out. After asking around, getting pointed toward a museum, we gave up and hiked up a fairly steep hill. Passed by a donkey and a woman carrying a baby, we were headed to the crosses on top of the hill overlooking the town. We hiked for over an hour and turned around to look down, realized we passed the trail toward the crosses. Looking up, we had a lot farther to go if we were going to reach the top. Too far for our hungry stomachs, bladders and lungs to go before needing to catch the 4pm bus back to Huaraz, so back down we went.

As there is one everywhere, Plaza de Armas in Chavin. Fountain on the right, church on the left. The hill thing we hike faces the church, so ¨behind¨ the photo.

View from our hike of Chavin, the town.

After returning home, we figured out that the ruins (officially called Chavin de Huantar) are a few kilometers before the little town. It was still quite surprising, as we were the only gringos in Chavin, that no one wanted to take us there. There were no obvious signs for where they were located either, which is just so strange for what we assumed, was the only tourist attraction this little town had to offer.

I learned that the local buses (not fancy schmancy bus lines) do not announce where they are as they stop, as you´re just supposed to know where to get off. I also learned that when desiring to do something touristy, sometimes it is just best to sign up with a tourist group in order to get to and fro your desired location, without problems.

Next post will be a doozy, one of those ¨nothing worse could happen right?¨ stories, complete with a bout of altitude sickness and hitchhiking.
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