Saturday, November 05, 2005


I was back in the Sacred Valley near Chincero, getting ready to run off of a cliff. Most people would consider it a bit dangerous or crazy; I call it fun. It took about an hour to setup the chute and our tandem harness. Once we were airborn, I realized that this was a better experience than skydiving in many regards. This afforded me to take in the scenery, and float above the earth like a bird, as opposed to speeding towards earth at terminal velocity.

The length of the ride was not guaranteed, but my guide managed to climb to 5000 meters via thermals before we drifted back down to the ground. My ride lasted for about 40 minutes, as opposed to some of the girls I were with that had a 10 minute descent to the ground. I tried to take a movie of the flight, but I selected the wrong option on my camera. So instead of great video, I have a great sound clip of air rushing past a microphone.

I've now sampled South America and I'm eager to return, to journey farther into Bolivia, experience Chile, and Argentina. This was my last full day in Peru - I will be heading back into the office on Monday. Returning to the weekly routine of corporate America. While I'm grateful to have a wonderful job, taking myself out of a familiar situation, language, and culture has once again renewed my spirit, opened my eyes, and made me humble.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Nuevos Soles & Souvenirs

I had two goals for the day: to get a cash advance (I was quickly running out of money) and buy some souvenirs for my loved ones back home. It took me about 2 hours of negotiating Spanish instructions at the bank; there is a ticketing system where they call your number. I queued for the wrong services twice, until I was helped by an English speaking bank employee. This was a test of my patience, but I'm glad that it was a struggle. After this encounter, I had a renewed respect for anyone coming to the US and trying to do something as simple as open a bank account or get a home telephone from the phone company.

I strolled around Cuzco for the remainder of the day, buying t-shirts and carved figurines, browsing for paintings, and eating. I sent a few emails to family, had dinner, and went to bed early. I had a paragliding appointment tomorrow.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Shower & Sacred Valley

As can be expected, I took a long shower after not having the luxury of warm water and temperate weather for a week. I was happy to have the shower, but it meant that I was no longer exploring mother nature's landscape.

Today I was headed on another tourist must-do: a tour of the Sacred Valley with SAS Travel. We would visit Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chincero; arriving back to Cuzco in time for my dinner plans with Sanjay, Nirupa, Sunil, and Enov. I was touring with a small group; a couple from Seattle, a woman from Vancouver, another woman from England, and a woman from the Netherlands.

I was most impressed by Ollantaytambo and Chincero, but for very different reasons. Ollantaytambo had a great set of ruins, and the modern city still rested on an Incan foundation of hand cut stones. The ruins had been cut into a steep hillside which had gorgeous views of the valley.

Chincero, a small village of approx. 10,000 people, has been well-preserved (which was it's best attribute). The main square in front of the church was filled with locals selling handicrafts, so every 2 seconds I would hear 'senor' or 'amigo' followed by some Spanish that I didn't understand, but most likely meant 'buy my fine Peruvian handicrafts'. The church was impressive, but due to the preservation rules we were not allowed to take photos. The inside of the church is painted from ceiling to floor with frescos and adorned with gigantic paintings. The paintings had been here for awhile; the canvas was starting to deteriorate. Outside was the next great part of this town; the view. Chincero is situated on a plateau that is surrounded by snowcapped peaks and fields of red dirt.

I met up with everyone at 8pm in Plaza de Armas, and we headed to Mama Afrika where the 4 of them had already started drinking pisco sours. I had a blast - we were eating, drinking pisco sours, talking and dancing. Reminds me of great DMB lyrics: 'eat, drink, and be merry'.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Day 7: Trek to Machu Picchu

We were packed up, dressed, and fed by 4:30am - I was used to waking up early, but this felt like I hadn't slept. While I was lying in my sleeping bag, I was laughing at all of the people who would be waking up with hangovers from the previous night.

The gates to the last section of the trail do not open until 5:30am, so we went to stand in line for about an hour. Raul's planning couldn't have been better - we were one of the first groups in the line, and because of our extra days of trekking, we could keep a fast pace in order to stay away from the large group. Maybe our pace was too fast - Sanjay and I both looked like we were going to have cardiac issues. Think about mall speed-walking uphill at 3000 meters; we kept up the pace until we reached the top of a brutal set of steps leading to the famous Sun Gate (Inti Puku). While Sanjay and I didn't even realize where we were (it was extremely foggy and there was no way to see Machu Picchu), we kept walking.

Common sense caught up with our frantic pace and we decided to wait for Raul and Nirupa. Raul laughed at us when we saw him, as we were walking back towards the Sun Gate after noticing that there were no people following us. Raul assured us that we would have to wait another 4 hours for the clouds to burn.

When we arrived, it really felt like we had done something special. We set out to see this place 7 days ago and we were now surrounded by the majesty. The clouds were still moving over the face of the city, which reinforced the mysteriousness, and probability of being hidden from the Spanish several hundred years earlier.

Raul has impressed me during our trip; his knowledge of biology and history is incredible. While we've been on the Inka Trail, I've had to chance to listen to other tour guides. They've said a few words, taken pictures for their guests, and have then moved onto the next photograph. Raul has taken a different approach. Throughout our journey, Raul had taught us about ancient Inka culture. I saw all of these ingrained in Machu Picchu; the fountains for the gods/people/spirits, the shrine to the sun carved from the natural rock, the diamond-shaped stone that aligned with the points of a compass.

We bid Raul farewell after the tour; we had 3 hours to explore the ruins before the bus back to Aguas Calientes. Sanjay was feeling ill, so he stayed with Sunil & Enov (friends from NYC). Nirupa and I were determined to climb Huanay Picchu, the peak overlooking the entire site. We reached the top in 45 minutes. On our way up, I was thinking that this would be illegal to climb in the US. The trail was narrow, the pitch was somewhere around 55 degrees (this is just a guess), and someone could fall to their death with a misplaced step. The view from the top was breathtaking; I took several photos that capture the great views of the valley, Ururbamba River, and Machu Picchu draped over the spine of the mountain. Nirupa and I took 20 minutes to relax and enjoy the world splayed out below us.

After carefully climbing back down, we took the bus to Aguas Calientes for lunch. Sunil and Enov took us to a wonderful restaurant, where we had great food and jovial conversation. I agreed to meet up with them in Cuzco in the upcoming days - I was blessed to have such great people accompany me on the trek.

As with all great places in this world, to be here is to experience it. I could study pictures for years and still miss the essence of this mountain. My eyes could see the beauty, my skin feel the breeze, my legs feel the ache, my hands touch the ancient stones. This place was remarkable, and to think that people travelled such a distance to arrive in this majestic city. There's a cliche that I cannot recall right now, but here's something similar. All great things are meant to be earned, and only then can you appreciate the work invested in the endeavor.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Day 6: Trek to Machu Picchu

Our third day on the Inka Trail was rather easy - 4 hours from our camp to Wayllabamba. It was easy in the sense that I didn't feel exhausted; I think that we decided to approximately 3000 meters, and probably walked a total elevation change of 1000 meters. Excited about being less than one day away from Machu Picchu, and really wanting to shave, Sanjay and I jogged the last 20 minutes to the camp. We started shaving without mirrors, and by the time I saw myself in a mirror I was horrified. It looked as if a one-eyed drunken hillbilly had shaved me with a butter knife. I was a disgrace to my family and modern man.

I've mentioned that our meals were extravagant and savory; but our last lunch was beyond what I ever dreamed could be cooked on a portable gas stove. Telivio had 5 different dishes and he had carved various vegetables into flowers. We ate like kings (and a queen), before heading into the bar. Yes - there was a bar at this 'campsite'. As depressed as I was about having to stay in the same campsite as 200 other people, having modern facilities didn't make this feel like the adventure that we had set out on 6 days ago.

After Inka Kola, Cusquena beer, and lots of card games, we crept back to our tents in the dark to get a good night of rest. Unlike our previous campsites where I had to negotiate the terrain without a torch, this environment was far more dangerous. Instead of gently sloping hills, there were steps just waiting to trip me up. When we got back to the tent, the worst part of the trip was upon us. What do we tip Raul, Telivio, and the porters? We debated about it for probably two hours, and countless conversations during the previous days. Our issue wasn't that we wanted to give, the problem was giving a reasonable amount of money that wouldn't be thought of as outrageous. We ended up tipping our group $300USD, Sanjay's water filter, watch, and North Face hat. We wouldn't miss any of the money once we returned to the States. And to Sanjay's point - giving the extra amount will only increase our karma.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Day 5: Trek to Machu Picchu

Today was the last difficult day of walking; our total elevation change was 1770 meters. Unlike the dirt paths of the previous days, the trail was made of stone steps, which wrecked havoc on my feet, knees, and butt.

In the middle of all of the walking, we visited two Inka sites; Runkurakay and Sayaqmarka. Runkurakay had a great view of the Inka trail from Dead Womans' Pass to the Paqaymayu campsite. Raul retold the history of the ruins; the structure was once used as a lookout tower, then an observatory, and lastly as a hospital. The site was a link between the highlands and the lower elevation where coca was grown. Did you know that novacaine is made from the coca plant? An alkaline from the plant is extracted and processed so that I don't have to feel my teeth being operated on.

We arrived at Sayaqmarka at 3pm - I was thanking Raul for getting started so early in the morning and pressing on. When we arrived the site was shrouded in fog, and we were the only people there. The fog made the site mysterious and made me feel like we were just discovering the ruins. Raul showed us a very small water canel that used to bring the glacial meltwater all the way from Salkantay - 12 km away!! The Inkas routed the water all the way from Salkantay because the mountain was believed to be sacred and holy.

Water plays an important part in the Inka culture, as it does in supporting any other life. From Salkantay, the water was routed through stone channels that ran along the top outer walls of the structure. The water was diverted into a fountain, which in turn drained underground to a second fountain, where once again is drained underground to a third fountain. The water in the first fountain was meant to worship the gods, the second fountain served the people, and the third fountain was used to worship the spirits of the underworld.

After an hour we were reminded that we were on the most travelled trail in Peru. The next two days on the Inka trail will be more crowded and noisy - lacking the solitude and contrasting with the beginning of our journey. I've been pleased with Raul and Q'ente; my expectations have been surpassed.