Uros Floating Islands | Peru

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Our next major destination was Lake Titicaca, the largest freshwater lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world (elevation 12,500 ft / 3800m). Besides being known for its size and high altitude, it's known for its islands, and that's what we came to see. We booked a boat ride and two night stay on the islands with a guide.

Our first stop was at the Uros floating islands, one of the craziest civilizations I've ever seen. A long time ago, the Uros people were in conflict with their neighbors, so they retreated to the lake. And stayed there for good. They constructed floating islands out of reeds that grow abundantly in the lake water. Then they made homes out of reeds, boats out of reeds, and basically every other household item they could think of. Humans are so clever and resourceful when they need to be. Out there on the water, the Uros were left in peace. That is, until tourists heard about them.

Over the last few decades, the floating islands have been moving closer to shore and closer to Puno, a large city on the lake, and accommodating tourists more and more. When we got off the boat and stepped onto the island, the locals gave us a demonstration in building the floating islands with reeds, and with the rest of the time, worked really hard to sell us handicrafts and trinkets. It was pretty obvious that nobody actually lived on this island and everyone who was there was catering to the tourists. Apparently the truly inhabited islands are further out on the lake, far from tourists (yes, they can be moved, just like a boat). I don't blame them.  (source)

While it was really cool to learn about the history of the Uros people and see the floating islands in person, the really special experience came later, when we visited a couple of real islands (not floating islands) and got to stay in the homes of the locals there. That post is next.

- Julia

Banff for Spring Break

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A little break from regular programming to catch some of you around your spring break.

We were recently featured by Women on Their Way from Wyndham Worldwide. When asked what our ideal spring break spot would be, we thought Banff, Alberta was the perfect spot to get some adventure in a short amount of time. Check the link below to read more about Banff and five other spring break ideas from various bloggers.

Women on Their Way: Spring Break Destinations

Coming up next are the small islands we visited in Peru.

Inca Jungle Trek | iPhone Photos

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sometimes whipping out a giant camera is too much effort, and you just shoot it with your phone instead. Some shots, like riding downhill on a mountain bike or a selfie with a llama just wouldn't be practical with a chunky camera. Here's a collection of our iPhone snaps from the 4-day Inca Jungle Trek.

Machu Picchu | Part II

Monday, March 30, 2015

From Machu Picchu, you can continue to hike up to two different peaks. We hiked up to Machu Picchu Mountain, the taller, less popular of the two (the other peak is Wayna Picchu).

This hike was more difficult than the one we did to get to Machu Picchu from the city. Again, there were uneven stone stairs carved into the side of the mountain, that got steeper and narrower toward the top. The views were amazing the whole way up, and it was kind of mind blowing that it kept getting better and better.

From the top was an incredible view of the Machu Picchu ruins below and surrounding mountain vistas in every direction. The scenery was so green and lush, and I could have stayed there for hours. Unfortunately the peak closes at a certain hour and we had to hurry down.

The hike to Machu Picchu Mountain takes about 3 hours round trip, with 2,139 feet (652 meters) vertical gain from Machu Picchu. The elevation at the top is 10,111 feet (3,082 m) above sea level (source).

After coming down from Machu Picchu Mountain, we were pooped. Four days of hiking, and this day had the earliest start. We found a field of grass and took a nap in the sun before exploring more of the Machu Picchu ruins. We slept like babies that night.

- Julia

Would we recommend the Inca Jungle Trek? If you like traveling in groups and having a guide, yes. If you are a more serious hiker and want more independence and less crowds of tourists, no. If we were to do it again, we'd go straight to Aguas Calientes, and do a one day hike from there to Machu Picchu and up to Wayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. Then do a multi-day camping hike somewhere more remote and less touristy in a much smaller group, or without a guide at all.

Back at the bottom and time for a nap in the sun.

Machu Picchu | Part I

Friday, March 27, 2015

Day 4 of the Inca Jungle Trek. We finally made it to Machu Picchu.

We woke up at 4:00am, ate a very mediocre cold breakfast with a bunch of other half-asleep people at the hostel, and sped down to the entrance at the bottom of the mountain so we could get in line before the others. We were at the entrance around 4:45am and in the darkness, there was already a long line of eager hikers who beat us.

You can pay for a bus ride from Aguas Calientes, the city we stayed in, to Machu Picchu. That would really defeat the purpose of a 4-day trek, so we chose to hike up.

It takes about an hour with 1,280 feet elevation gain to get to Machu Picchu by foot. Most of the way up is irregular stone stairs, illuminated by flashlights/phones. We were hiking pretty much single file, with a whole lot of people trying to get to the same place at the same time, to see the sunrise. Along the way, there were clusters of people taking breaks and shedding layers along the way, and passing them up made you feel like a winner for a second. At the top was an even bigger line at the entrance, where the hikers and the bus passengers merged. Sigh. That's what happens when a place gets listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Once we were inside, the area is large and people scattered. It was such a relief to be away from the crazy crowds. Our Inca Jungle Trek group reconvened for a short tour around the ruins with our guide, and then we were set free to roam around. There actually wasn't much of a sunrise because it was overcast, but I think the fog drifting through the mountains and ruins was even better.

We love nature and hiking, and we also love history and learning about other cultures. Machu Picchu really satisfied all these loves, and we were pretty darn impressed by the whole thing.

We have one more post to share from Machu Picchu, with photos from the top of Machu Picchu Mountain (not to be confused with Machu Picchu itself).

- Julia

Inca Jungle Trek | Part III

Friday, February 27, 2015

Day 3 of the Inca Jungle Trek.

After breakfast, most of our group went zip lining, which we chose to skip since we did something similar in Costa Rica, and we didn't want to pay extra for it. Instead, we took a post-breakfast nap until we were kicked out of bed by the housekeepers at 8:45am. Talk about an early checkout time. We got coffee and read on the patio of a cafe until our group was back.

We spent the day walking from from 10am to 4pm, Hydroelectrica to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu  I say walking instead of hiking because it was a flat trail, mostly along the train tracks. There was a 2 hour lunch break (way too long) somewhere in the middle during which our guide went missing. We spent a lot of time complaining about the guide, being in a group, and how busy the entire trail was. We just aren't made for group tours. I kept reminding myself it'd be worth it once we made it to Machu Picchu.

The scenery changed dramatically in one day. It was cloudy, drizzling rain, very jungly, and lush, as opposed to sunny, hot, and dusty the day before. The foliage was incredibly beautiful. I went overboard photographing the tropical flowers and crazy hanging ferns.

By the end of the third day, I had developed 3 big blisters despite wearing hiking boots that were well worn. Nothing could dampen the excitement to see Machu Picchu though.

Aguas Calientes is a pretty big city, compared to the ramshackle towns where we had overnighted the first two nights. It was buzzing with excitement—half the people in town preparing to see Machu Picchu the following morning, the other half having just come down from seeing Machu Picchu. It was fun to guess who was in which group.

- Julia