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

Inca Jungle Trek | Part II

Monday, February 16, 2015

A continuation from our last post. Here are more photos from the second day of the Inca Jungle Trek. It was a long day of hiking along an Inca pathway—10 miles (16km) and 9 hours, first uphill, and then a little easier toward the end when we walked along the river. Most of the hike was very hot, sweaty, and dusty. It was hard to breathe, and our guide stopped for too many breaks.

The craziest part of the day was crossing a river in a man-operated cable car. In other words, we flew across a raging river in a wooden crate and then waited for someone on the other side to reel us in by pulling on a rope. At first it was a native boy, probably around 10, who was pulling us in (we paid a small fee to cross)! After he struggled for a while, a couple of the guys in our group took over.

At the end of the hike, we arrived at a big hot springs with several steaming pools. We were so satisfied soaking our tired bodies in hot springs as the sunlight disappeared. It wouldn't have been nearly as wonderful if we hadn't traveled 10 miles by foot to get there.

After the hot springs, we piled into a bus for a short ride into the small town of Santa Theresa and spent the night in another hostel. That night we had dinner at a restaurant with our group and stayed late this time to have drinks with everyone and get to know them. I just love backpackers. Everyone was very kind, open-minded, and interesting. Our group consisted of a bunch of Chileans, a handful of French, a couple Swiss guys, one Norwegian girl, and a Dutch guy. And us, Ukrainian-Americans. Where else can you get this much diversity but a common interest in traveling and adventure? Despite the fact that we come from such different places around the world, speak different languages, we could easily be friends with any of them. Of course, the fact that everyone knows some English helps immensely.

One more day of hiking, and then Machu Picchu!

- Julia

Inca Jungle Trek | Part I

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Machu Picchu was kind of a no brainer when in Peru. The traditional Inca trail was booked out months in advance, so we had the option of just seeing the ruins on a day trip, or doing the Inca Jungle Trek, which is a 4-day hike + adventure on a different route. We went with that.

The first day, we met up in Cusco with a group. We each brought a backpack we were willing to carry on our backs for four days, and piled in a van to begin the journey. We were dropped off on the side of the road at 13,800ft (4200 m) elevation. Here we put on protective gear, hopped on mountain bikes, and barreled down the mountain for a 6500ft (2000m) descent. The view was green mountains and fog, the entire way down, with some small villages toward the bottom. I really, really wish we were able to take more photos, but we were going downhill so fast, there was no way I could pull a camera out, and we had to keep up with the group, which only stopped once for a break. The temperature was freezing and windy at the top, but at the end of the 3 hour ride, it was sub-tropical weather and foliage, and we all threw our clothes off as fast a possible.

We ended with a nap in our hostel, where our entire group was staying, then dinner at a small restaurant in the town.

The next day, we began our first long day of up-hill hiking. Again, it was freezing in the morning, but as soon as the the sun came out and we were climbing uphill, we were shedding clothes and sweating buckets in the humidity. Zhanna and I changed into summer dresses, which was surprisingly the most comfortable hiking outfit. This was the warmest we had been since arriving in Peru (remember, it's winter there at this time), because we were at a lower elevation in a more tropical environment. Being with a group was often times really frustrating because we had to stop and wait for people to catch up and take breaks when everyone else was taking a break. But being in nature and hiking trails that the Incas hiked was pretty incredible and put things in perspective.

There was a lot of excitement in the air with anticipation to see Machu Picchu, and it kept us going.

- Julia

Day Trip - Salt Terraces and Pisac Market

Monday, February 9, 2015

The elevation in Cusco is 11,200 feet (3,400 m). It's highly recommended to stay in Cusco for a couple days to get acclimated to the high elevation before doing any hiking (like Machu Picchu). We all had headaches, bloody noses, and were drinking a lot of water and coca tea. Luckily we weren't puking or incredibly sick, like some people we talked to.

We didn't have any plans in Cusco, so on one of our free days, we hired a taxi for the day to take us to a few nearby spots that looked interesting.

Our first destination was the Maras Salt Terraces in the Sacred Valley. There is a natural spring of salt water that comes from the ground. To collect the salt, the people there make small ponds or terraces in the side of a mountain. The salty water is funneled and then then sits and evaporates, leaving the sodium behind. The people of Maras use the same method as their ancestors, the Incas. It was fun to walk around the the small ponds and to taste the salt. We bought some small packets of salt herb blends to take home. We were told by our taxi guide that each of these ponds (some own more than one) belongs to a family and it could have been passed down many generations.

From there we headed to the Pisac Market; we heard that it was one of the biggest and best markets around. When we got there, they were already closing up shop so we didn't see much. Lots of alpaca knitwear and since this was just the beginning of our travels we decided to hold off on buying anything. We were hoping on doing a short hike to check out Inca ruins above Pisac but it was getting dark and our taxi guide wanted to get home. We made a stop just before getting to Cusco to take some photos of the city at dusk from a great viewpoint.

Cusco is an amazing city, although our first day here sucked (at least for me) getting used to walking up steep hills and winding stairs at 11,200 ft. with luggage, left me with a pretty bad headache. But a little Mate de Coca helped eased the pain.

Next we head on a 4 day adventure to Machu Picchu.

- Yuriy

Around Cusco, Peru

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cusco is the historical center of Peru. It's the most visited city in Peru because it's the home base for Machu Picchu and lots of other surrounding ruins.

I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting terracotta roofs and white walls, connected by steep, narrow streets of endless stairs. We spent one day soaking it in, walking around with our cameras, talking about what we wanted to do in Peru. 

When we flew in during the afternoon, we were surprised by the mild temperatures. It was winter in South America, and we were afraid it'd be colder. When we stepped outside the following morning, the freezing temperatures took our breath away. Now we understood why the locals, particularly the women, were wearing so many layers. For the rest of the trip, we couldn't shake the cold feeling. Not one of us had packed a proper winter jacket. 

The next day we hired a driver and got out of the city to see some sights. That's coming in the next post.

- Julia

Arriving in Lima

Monday, February 2, 2015

We flew into Lima to start our South America adventures. We found a neat little Airbnb with an amazing backyard garden, a roaming peacock, breakfast in the morning, and a treehouse up in a massive fiddle leaf fig tree. Winning, right?

We arrived at the place sometime between midnight and 1am after a long day of traveling and crossing international borders, and it was the sweetest welcome to see my dear friend Zhanna already situated in our room (she got in a few hours before us)! I had never traveled with friends prior to this trip, and I was so happy to have Zhanna along as our (treasured) third wheel. You'll see lots of photos of her on this trip.

I had made a list of places I wanted to go in South America, but we hadn't actually planned or booked anything yet. That night, around 2am, we realized that we wanted to head to Cusco next, and it was either a 26 hour bus ride (a detail I completely overlooked) or a 1 hour flight. So we bought tickets right there from our beds, for a flight the next afternoon, in about 10 hours. That's how most of our travel planning goes.

Here's a handful of photos from the property we stayed at for one night in Lima. The next morning we were off to Cusco, the historical capital of Peru, and that post is coming next.

- Julia