Saturday, July 21, 2012

Peru/Brazil/Argentina Day 9: Huayna Picchu

May 11, 2012
Peru Day 9: Huayna Picchu

More hiking? Sure!

We are insane, but this was also a BRILLIANT idea. We came in yesterday to Machu Picchu, excited but full-on exhausted from the 4 day Inca Trail trek, and so we just casually looked around Machu Picchu yesterday and spent most of the day back in Aguas Calientes, chilling out and returning to some semblance of humanity. Today, we got up at "jerk 'o clock" again, this time "just" 5:15am!! That actually was sleeping in compared to previous days on the trek! Anyhoo we got up to a full free breakfast from our awesome hostel, it was great: eggs, fruit, yoghurt, awesome.

Up at 5:30am, again :) But to an awesome breakfast!
We headed to "downtown" Aguas Calientes and got aboard the 6:15 bus back up to Mach Picchu. We walked in the gate, and walked straight to the Huayna Picchu entrance, arriving there at 7:05am for our 7:00-8:00am ascent up Huayna Picchu... nice. :) Huayna Picchu is that big mountain behind Machu Picchu, and coming to climb this was awesome cause we got a really fantastic view of the mountains around Machu Picchu as well as back to the site itself.

Here we go!
"We have to climb WHAT?!"
And... up we went!

Huayna had some very steep climbs, and places where you had a rope on the side to help you get up the steepness of the rocks... but it was a damn cinch compared to the Inca Trail :) Not having our 25 lb backpacks and just rollin' up there with cameras and water only... WOW. What a difference. Also the altitude here is lower than Cusco, significantly, so this was pretty "straightforward". Of course it was still an insane hike with very steep steps and insane inclines at 7 in the morning, but compared to what we'd been dealing with over the past few days, this was a walk in the park. And what a glorious park it was!!! "What, only 45 min straight up?! Easy-peas!" You can see how we have actually gone crazy. Crazy with LOVE FOR THE AWESOME NATURE! Or something like that :)

Oh goodie, more stairs!
Sweet, merciful, glory... that is beautiful
Anyhoo, Christy rightly suggested I bring a 2.5L bottle of water given my epic water intake over the past few days and she was right as usual. I had to hand-carry it in a plastic bag, which broke part way up the hike, but that was fine. Soooooo much better than bringing my backpack. The hike up was steep but very nice, and everyone doing it was pretty fit. I ran out of laundry so I wore my "I survived the Inca Trail" shirt again today, what a show off :) There were some great views of Machu Picchu from above, and we took a whole bunch of photos. It was awesome to see the Sun Gate as well, the place where we came into Machu Picchu yesterday.

And her we are! Huayna Picchu, with Machu Picchu behind us
Machu Picchu, from Huayna Picchu. Sun Gate (where we arrived yesterday morning) on the far left
After some photos we walked back down the steep trail. We took photos around Machu Picchu and explored the various hikes around the site. It was all super, totally, epically, awesome. It was great to wander after a reasonable sleep and I was so glad that we were there an extra day so we could actually really enjoy it. Yesterday we were so tired and we wouldn't have appreciated this nearly as much. (Great call, Frank!)

And now back down!
Getting closer
Huayna Picchu mountain, we were up near the top
Awesome views at Machu Picchu
We wandered around some more and met up with Kev and Frank, who had done the last little extra bit at the top of Huayna Picchu, and continued to check out some more of the site. Particularly awesome was the aptly-named Temple of the 3 Windows and also the Temple of the Sun. All awesome.

The temple of the three windows, with the moon behind it
Temple of the Three Windows
Temple of the Sun
Amazing brickwork
Rounded edges, amazing work
Christy and Me, ready to head back to Aguas Calientes
After a few more hours of hiking in the heat of the day, it started to heat up even more and Christy and I decided that we'd seen a good amount and would probably be better off wrapping it up a little earlier than the other folks and getting out of the sun. Arriving so early allows us to wander before the throngs of tourists (not us, we were the "good tourists" - hehe) - but seriously it did start getting quite busy around 11 or 12, so that was a good time to head out. So back we went on the bus down to Aguas Calientes.

Christy and I went on an interesting romp through the city, attempting to successfully take money out of an ATM for Christy, and we finally succeeded on the 3rd and final bank. This was pretty fortuitous as the final bank was right near the train station so we learned that we'd though the train station was totally somewhere else and we had it wrong (good information as we were headed out the same evening). We also ran into the huge craft market and made a note to return with our friends and wallets.

Back we went to the hostel which gracefully let us crash all afternoon in the lounge area even though we'd already checked out. We sent some emails and asked the nice lady where to eat for lunch that wasn't as pushy and touristy as the places on the main square. She suggested a place called "Coricantcha" which was fantastic. Most of us got the "set menu" lunch. I got a stuffed avocado - amazing!!!! Also cream of asparagus soup, Saltado (chicken on french fries, so good!). I also got my new favourite drink, Chicha Morada. What an awesome combo, and it was only S/. 18?! Like $8. Crazy. And a free Pisco Sour!!!!!!!

Palta Rellena (stuffed avocado), my new favourite thing!!!
Steak and awesome chips
Christy got this epic taco thing
"Bromo Saltado"
I don't need much mayonnaise, maybe, say, 10 cm cubed.
Back we went to the hostel for a bit and took a photo for our buddy Jake to post on his Facebook wall for his birthday.
A tip of the hat to our buddy Jake Brooks for his birthday
Then it was off to the market, were I found some cool lounge pants in funky colours. I also got one of the funny ear-flap winter hats, but it's quite a lot lighter material than a Canadian one. It looks funny and has some cool colours on it too. I also got a Chicana necklace.

After another "drop off stuff at the hostel" moment, we got some chocolate in advance of the train ride and went to this cool lounge place for Happy Hour, for 2-for-1 Pisco Sours. They were pretty mild but it was a nice vibe there and they let us chill out for a while which we really needed.

Me and Grrrrrrrrrrrits
Chillin' after the hike for 2-for-1 Pisco Sours
Then back to the hostel one more time to pack up our stuff and head to the train station. We said bye to the nice lady at the hostel and the funny dog there who was wearing a sweater! We got to the station and hung out there for a little bit before boarding the train. We got on the train, started writing our journals and generally reminiscing about our crazy adventure together. That was great. But the fun was not over!
Back to Cusco we go!
Frank and the crazy French tourists behind him
The Peru Rail was awesome. Nice and comfortable seats, free snacks, crazy funny elderly group of French tourists who were silly and throwing paper airplanes around... but more importantly... THE MUSIC ON THE LOUDSPEAKERS. Oh. MAN.

They had some sort of ethno hip-hop thing going on, and we were so damn tired and underslept that we just started laughing uncontrollably. It was AMAZING. The music was certainly Peruvian sounding, sounds of pan-flute in the mountains... that was all kosher. But then came this club-style breakbeat in the background of the pan-flute and we burst out laughing. For like 20 minutes. It was so funny and awesome and SO LOUD. We were envisioning in our minds the idea of who might be responsible for playing this absurd music... the teenager controlling the station, just rockin' to the beat so hard and keen to teach the foreigners something about new-age funk Andean fusion rock. Oh man. As we listened, they brought us out 2 tasty yet undefinable snacks, which made the uncontrollable laughter continue. "Salty Bean" and "Confited Peanuts". Confited?! Yeah, no idea. They were GREAT though. The tracks kept getting weirder too, and we started to make up stuff to describe this strange combo of music we were listening to.

"Simon and Garfunkel, on pan-flute"
"Loud ethnicy elevator music" - so loud and weird
"Jazz Flute/Acid Jazz pan-flute jams"
"Cross between sheep farmers and Tron 2"
"Kraftwerk meets Coca Tea"
"If Peter Frampton was Peruvian..." (Robot Voice & Andean Highlands music?!)
"8-bit Alpaca Slow Jams"
"Turn this shiz to 11!!!!"
"Andean Beastie Boys" (Sounds like "Flute Loop!")

It was glorious and so awesome. It was like elevator music but someone loved it so much they had cranked it up! It was about 10x too loud!!! I was crying I was laughing so hard.

Then we saw our friend "Train moth", cousin to the "Sauce moth". We had a lot of random moths in the dinner tent and one dive-bombed our sauce one night and we called him "Sauce moth". His cousin, "Train moth" was just a moth that had attached himself to the window and was hopping on for a ride (and, presumably, to rock to the beat). Awesome :)

So that train ride was a glorious silly time and we really enjoyed it. We got off the train at Ollantaytambo and followed the group to a random parking lot. We walked towards our first "Collectivo" - a sort of shared ride van. Well... that was an experience...

The worst van ride of our lives
The van charged us about 10 soles each or something, super cheap. They packed a bazillion people on there and off we went like a bat outta hell. We were weaving back and both between lanes, driving alongside other cars in the wrong lane to pass... it was insane. Right as we took off there was a POLICE BIKE deemed by our driver to be driving too slowly, so he honked at him and overtook him on the wrong side of the road... taking forever to slowly drift our 20-person bus back into the correct land before one of many potential close calls with traffic coming in the opposite direction.

He pulled that trick many times, pulling alongside other cars in the other lane and drifting VERY slowly back into the correct lane after passing them... sometimes driving directly alongside other cars for several minutes in the wrong lane. It seemed like this was common... in fact most people seemed to be doing this. (Later we saw a sign saying that was legal, we think). The driver was honking his horn very lightly, like all the time. That seems pretty common around here, I think it's instead of paying attention to any traffic laws, the horn is like a "hey, I'm gonna pass you now" sign... or something.

Speed Limits may-as-well have not existed as we passed through the space-time continuum due to our warp speed. There was some blatant ignoring of all posted limits by all drivers on the road, including us. 35 kph?!??! Yeah, right. How about 135??!?! Ugh. This was treacherous-feeling and we were NOT psyched to be in the huge van, hauling some major ass along insane highways with some cliffs on the side at times that we would have preferred to have been a little further away. We were very tired too, so we hoped and prayed (quite literally) for the best and... actually... in reality despite this crazy "experience", it still felt like the driver knew the roads extremely well, as he probably does this drive a couple times a day at least, and probably has been for 10 years or something. So it was nuts, but ultimately we expected we'd (probably) arrive in one piece.

Anyway, that was an ordeal and a half, but you can't argue with success! We got back from Ollantaytambo to Cusco, a supposed 2 hr drive, in... 1 hr 20 minutes. 40 MIN EARLY. Jeez. We got out of the van at the Cusco main square and never looked back. Exhausted, we just went straight back to the hostel. We hit the showers and also I shaved my "hiking beard". Kev, Frank and I had a hiking "beard-off" contest... Kev had won with flying colours as his scruff was the longest. Nice work, Kev!

I unpacked and sorted out all my dirty clothes, and got my duffel bag that the hostel had kindly kept for us while we were on the trek. I put on a hoodie and walked up the stairs to the common area in the hostel. I sat outside for just a little bit, calming down and chilling out after a heck of an epic adventure (the hike and the traveling over the last few hours!). I chilled out in the sitting area for a bit, sending a "I'm safely done the Inca Trail!" email to family and friends. After that, it was straight to bed. Ahhh... comfortable, real beds! So nice.

Here's the email I sent, it's pretty telling about the satisfied and relieved mood I was in that night after truly surviving the Inca Trail trek!
Hi all,

Back in Cusco now after the 5 days of hiking. My quads and thighs in general are epically overworked and tired but good. No issues on the hike but WOW it was hard. Each day we were up at 5am and hiked for 8-9 hours per day. It was beautiful and a crazy truckload of exercise.
If I didn't lose that weight I would have been miserable- it was good that F, J and I all followed through on our health goals well in advance and really respected the complexity and physical requirements of this hike.

Managed to measure my pack at one point and I was carrying approx 11kg or 22 lbs including water. This was on the low end- one of our fellow hikers had nearly 50 lbs, that is insane.

My equipment worked out perfectly- Dad as always your advice on gear was A-1!!! The boots were rock solid (pun intended) - carrying me through mud, water, wet rocks, insane steps upwards and hours upon hours of descents too. No twisted ankles, no blisters, it's like magic. They even kept me well gripped to the cliff side with sheer drops on one side and of course, no safety or handrails. Thankfully not toooo many of those situations but I was glad to have the right equipment. The backpack was stellar as well- lightweight but strong as an ox. The Nalgene water bladder turned out to be essential- enabling me to stay hydrated much better than most of my fellow hikers due to the ease of consistent sipping of water all day. I averaged about 4 or 5 LITRES of water per day. Insane. The Merino Wool hoodie was perfect, warm and a good insulator in all the conditions we had. The smartwool socks were solid. The REI trek pants with zip offs to shorts proved to be very useful as well and allowed me to minimize the load I had to carry. The dry fit shirts also were a lifesaver, and now I understand why "moisture wicking" is so damn important when you're sweating for 9 hours straight. Truly stellar equipment, it served me very well.

The down parts (there were MANY, one they called the gringo killer - 3000 steep downhill steps in 3 hrs) were a cinch compared to the uphill, though some people with bad knees or ankles had problems with downhill- it was fine for me thankfully. Uphill was another story. Breathing method was VERY important as was hydration and sun protection. This was just tiring in general to go uphill, but came to a pretty hard peak at the, well, peak of the hike :) the peak was 4200m, about 14,000 ft and the 1.5 hr or so between 13k and 14k ft was my most challenging part. Others had trouble too but it was by far my hardest challenge, physically and mentally. The air is so thin up there and we had already been hiking for 5 or 6 hrs (carrying 22 lbs) at that point. The steps got harder and harder and my energy was so drained but I had to keep pushing and pushing onwards. It was intense. And a hell of an awesome reward to finallllllly reach the peak and high five the other members of the team. Everyone was so supportive and helpful and our guide was top notch, making sure we got the right words of encouragement and humor at the right times. Amazing.

And it wasn't JUST insanely hard and tough!!! It was very beautiful and I took a gazillion photos. The cloud forest was epic as was the sun gate and walk towards Machu picchu. Truly unbelievable. Our guide taught us a bunch of amazing things about the Incas and cultural and spiritual history. We hiked with 15 people total and they were all amazing, I made some great new friends.

Back in Cusco now and friggin exhausted. Need another good sleep tonight. So I'm off. I'll post the blog starting when I get home in June. Oh yes, and so glad we went with Peru Treks- the food was just amazing. The porters were amazing too. What a great experience. Ok I need more sleep now. ;p

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