Tuesday, November 10, 2009

End of the Road

After a 5 day trek, we were so tired and slept in until well after 8:00am.We went to Jack's Cafe for amazing breakfast.Lisa, along with her Kiwi friends, Cam and Jodi booked a night bus to Bolivia for tomorrow night. It made me quite sad to not be going with them, as I've had an amazing time. Bolivia sounds amazing from what all the other backpackers have been saying. However, I am out of money (had to dip into my line of credit a bit at the end) and my work tells me they miss me very much. Hehe.After Lisa came back, we headed back to the police station to see about getting my official report for my stolen camera. We took a taxi there, went to the office. There were 5 people in the office. I handed them my citation, and the one guy in the office took charge. He was VERY rude, was not nice or polite to Lisa at all. He said the case has been closed because we never showed up on the days specified on the citation. Lisa explained to him that we DID show up in the 3rd, the first day specified on the citation, and were told that it wasn't ready, and that they didn't know when it would be ready. One of the girls went upstairs and got the official report, which was actually typed up on the same day we filed it, Oct. 31. He insisted that we didn't come, we insisted that we did. We told him that we were told that it wasn't ready, and that we could come back anytime and get it. He was insistent that his people would never say that, that we had to come at the specified times. He further said that when anyone comes to the office, it's recorded in a log book, and there's no record of us in the log book. Lisa fought with him, so hard, I could see her stress level going up! When we were there the first time, one of the people even wrote on the back of our citation a phone number that we could call. At that time, Lisa asked if it would be worthwhile calling first, then he said no, probably not, better to just come down. We pointed out the phone number, but was insistent that his department was perfect, and that we didn't come. The first time we were there, the guy also told us that we could come by anytime, it was open 24 hours and collect the report. However, today this guy was saying no, we had to come at the specified times on the citation. We didn't show up at any of the three times, so they closed the case. He even berated Lisa for speaking perfect Spanish but not reading the citation, which, apparently, says that we have to show up at the specific times on the citation. Yet, not one person, none of the police at the airport, nor the people in the office when we originally went, told us that....they ALL told us we could show up anytime and get it.Anyway, I guess they have a lawyer there at the times specified on the citation. When you go in, you are essentially cross-examined to make sure the story is true. No one told us that we had to be there at the specific times. I said to Lisa that it appears we're getting nowhere, so don't worry about it. Lisa was awesome, though, holding our ground and not giving any. And this guy was totally rude to her. I owe her a few Pisco Sours at the bar tonight. But, hey, Lisa got some more great Spanish practice. She remarked to me afterwards that her Spanish was just spewing out, she didn't even have to think about she was saying, it was just coming.So, on my Christmas wishlist this year, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 camera. :-)Well, there's not much more to report.We're meeting up with some of our trek group tonight at an Irish pub here in Cusco. Some shopping will be done today.I fly from Cusco to Lima tomorrow at 4:45pm, then I get to hangout at the Lima airport for 6 hours or so for my flight back to Toronto, then to Calgary. Back to work on Friday....gotta pay for my trip now!There will probably be no more journal updates.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Machu Picchu

Up at 3:30, we all met at the main square at 4:00 and started the hike up to Machu Picchu. You can also take buses, but they don't start leaving until 5:30, and odds are you'll get up there too late to get a pass to Huayna Picchu.It's a steep climb and really hard on my feet. After 4 days of trekking, they were screaming "leave me alone!". The hike up also included lots and lots of stairs, which are very exhausting.We got the entrance gate about 5:15, and waited outside. The site doesn't open until 6:00. When I arrived, there were maybe 25 other people waiting as well. As we waited, more hikers were showing up. Around 5:40, one of the workers started handing out tickets to Huayna Picchu. They only allow 400 people every day, 200 at 7:00am and another 200 at 10:00am. Our guide told us we have to take the 10:00am time slot, so we could do our guided tour of Machu Picchu with him. We got our 10:00 time slot no problem, then exited the line and waited with the rest of our group for our guide. Shortly before 6:00 the buses started showing up, out guide was one of the first ones. At 6:00, the gates opened, we waited for the line to clear a bit before getting in line. One other couple from our group took the bus as well (he had injured his knee yesterday during the hike), and they ended up getting passes to Huayna Picchu anyway, so we didn't need to be in that big of a hurry.We got back in line, and ahead of us was this old lady from the other group. She just asked her guide if she should climb Huayna Picchu, and he told her no, not to do it. A second later, the dude handing out tickets to Huayna Picchu had ONE PASS LEFT. He was going down the line, trying to get rid of it. She stuck out her entrace pass and said she'd take it. A moment later, another guy came up and wanted it. She took the LAST HUAYNA PICCHU PASS, despite her complete inability to trek, and just after her guide told her not to, taking it away from this other guy, who wanted to go up with is buddy, who had a pass.Cesar (our guide) took us on a 2+ hour tour of Machu Picchu, showing us everything important, explaining how the Incans broke apart the stones and how they had engineered the water systems, and how they knew about astronomy, and they had designed buildings and windows so the sun would shine through at the just the right angle during summer and winter solstices, etc. Very interesting.At about 10:30, we headed for the Huayna Picchu entrance gate and did the very difficult and steep hike up Huayna Picchu. It gives some amazing views of the Machu Piccu and the surrounding mountains and valleys.We hung out on top for a bit, then back down and hiked up to the Sun Gate. There were 8 official entrances to Machu Picchu back in the day. The Inca Trail that everyone hikes is one of them. The Inca Trail comes up over this pass, at a gate called the Sun Gate, then down to Machu Picchu. The people doing the Inca Trail don't get to see Machu Picchu until the last day, when the come over the pass and pass through the Sun Gate. And, let me tell you, the view from the Sun Gate, looking down at Machu Picchu, is amazing.After the Sun Gate, about 2:30, I decided to make the hike back down to Aguas Caliente. Lisa and Kieran wanted to rest their weary legs for half an hour before heading down. I headed down, went back to the hostal where our bags were stored and had a shower at the hostal (cost me 10 soles!), then picked up our train tickets, and met Lisa and Kieran shortly after 4:00 and we went to a restaurant for expensive pizza, but were famished.We headed to the train station at 5:40 for our 6:10 train to Ollantay, where we got off and got on a bus back to Cusco. Got back to Cusco about 10:00pm. Lisa and me headed back to the hostal, checked in and went to bed.Machu Picchu didn't disappoint. I had two highlights on my South America trip, Galapagos was top of the list, with Machu Picchu second. Both the Galapagos and Machu Picchu were way beyond my expectations. What a way to start the trip (Galapagos) and a way to end the trip (Machu Picchu).If I were to recommend Machu Picchu treks, I would recommend doing the Inca Trail, not Salkantay. Salkantay isn't as much of a trek, as there's bus travel during parts, and you're staying in towns and hostals for part of it. During the Inca Trail, you're taking an actual trail, built from stone by the Incans hundreds of years ago, into one of the official entrance gates of Machu Picchu at the time. It would be awesome to come over the pass at the Sun Gate and see Machu Picchu in front of you. The stone path needs to be maintained nowadays, but it was discovered after Machu Picchu was discovered. Unfortunately, you need to book it months in advance, which is not necessarily possible when one is travelling for a year....you simply won't know where or when you'll be there. That's not to say I didn't enjoy Salkantay, it was very good, but it would be way cooler to get to Machu Picchu the way the Incans did.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Salkantay Trek Day 4

So hot last night, down in the valley is much warmer than up on the mountain. Lisa and me got up around 7:45, packed, and breakfast was at 8:30.Started hiking around 9:30. Sunny and hot today. It was about 2.5 hours hiking on a road to the train station at a hydro-electric plant. On the way there, we saw a massive waterfall coming out of the side of the mountain, we suspect the runoff from the hydro-electric plant. Also along the road, we entered the Machu Picchu park border. As we were registering, there was a massive boom and the ground shook beneath our feet. Dynamite in the area!We had lunch at a restaurant at the train station, then hiked along the railway fro 2.5 hours to Aguas Caliente. Nice walk up the valley, steep canyon walls on either side, and a roaring river. But walking along railway ties is hard on the legs and feet, so that part of it wasn't particularly pleasant.We got to Aguas Caliente around 4:30, checked in to our hostal, at 5:20 we went to the train station to get our baggage. The horses turned back last night, so all our baggage they were carrying had to be brought here via bus and train. The cooks brought them up on the train.I showered and used internet, then at 7:30 we all met at a restaurant for our last supper together.Aguas Caliente is a massive tourist town. It's the town closest to Machu Picchu, and is very much like Banff, huge expensive hotels, expensive restaurants, shops selling everything that are hugely overpriced. Some of the lodges here are like the ones you'd find at ski resorts in Panorama.Tomorrow we're getting up at 3:30am for a 4:00am hike up to Machu Picchu. The mountain that you see behind Machu Picchu in all the typical photo's of Machu Picchu is called Huayna Picchu, and they only allow 400 people to climb it every day. You have to get to the top early to get a ticket to climb it, and we all want to.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Salkantay Trek Day 3

Up at 5:30 to coca tea, breakfast around 6:20 and we started hiking at 7:20. Down the valley into nice cloud forest, very green.We hiked to a bus that was waiting for us to take us the lunch spot, we got there about 1:15, then drove on to Santa Theresa for the next campsite. Crap campsite, essentially in someone's yard in the town of Santa Theresa, ugly and dirty.As we pulled up to the campsite, they were butchering a cow. Lots of good pics! They even found a baby cow (perhaps 2 inches long) inside. They didn't know she was pregnant, or they probably wouldn't have butchered her. Some local came along and bought the four hooves and feet for 5 soles.There's also this crazy monkey at the campsite. Loves to jump around and just get in the way, but doesn't like kids too much, as all the local children like to harass him. He'll often jump up on an adult to get away from the kids.We got setup in our tents, and about 4:40, drove to the hot pools just outside of Santa Theresa.WOW!!! Very surprised by the hot pools. I expected some small, muddy pools, but instead was treated to this huge pool resort with this massive warm pool (almost olympic size), and a smaller, much hotter pool, with a small cold water pool, fed by a natural waterfall off the mountain. It's a huge complex, very touristy, tons of people around, both gringos and Peruvian tourists. Although not very trek-like, it was a nice surprise.We got back from the hot pools about 7:30pm, had a snack, then supper. Then Kieran and me walked to town and hit a small bar/restaurant for a couple of beers. We got back to the campsite about 12:30. Once again, not very trek-like, but whatever.Very nice day again today, coolish, cloudy and no rain.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Salkantay Trek Day 2

Up at 5:00am with coca tea (the same plant they make cocaine from) delivered to our tent. We packe and had breakfast (pancake) and then a family get together where we learn everybody's names, including the cooks and the horsemen. It was a cool 8 degrees last night in the tent, according to Lisa's thermometer.About a 3.5 hour hike up the Salkantay Pass, at an altitude of 4750 metres, then the down the other side for 2 hours to lunch.After lunch, we hiked down into the valley of cloud forest, much warmer and lots more vegetation, very green.We got to camp about 4:30, I bought a beer and put it in the stream to cool off. Very nice campsite tonight, in a farmers yard, a little toilet and even a (cold water) shower.This morning, everybodys shoes were still soaked from the rain yesterday. Some people just sucked it up, others put plastic bags over their socks to prevent their socks from getting soaked. Me, I hiked in my Crocs! Crocs are amazing. All day, everybody kept asking me how my feet were...."Fine, gracias!" It was a super nice day today, nicely cool, mostly cloudy, and no rain.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Salkantay Trek Day 1

Up at 4:00am, put our big packs in storage at the hostal and waited for our pickup, which came at 5:00.Took a bus to Mollepatta, where we got the horses packed with our stuff and headed off maybe around 9:00ish. A total of 14 of us in the group.Lots of shops to buy water, snacks, soda, chocolate, beer, etc. on the way.After 3.5 hours hiking, we stopped for lunch, which was awesome. The chef did a great job of a hot lunch.After lunch, it started raining and hailing and we hiked through the storm, our shoes getting soaked. Even people with waterproof shoes were soaked.While we were hiking, we were talking to our guide about Salkantay versus the Inca Trail. He mentioned that horses are not allowed on the Inca Trail, so you have to either carry everything yourself or hire a porter to carry your stuff (including extra clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping mattress). Of course, porters have be hired to carry all the food, tents and stuff like that. Lisa's friends, Jodi and Cam, chose to carry everything themselves when they go on the Inca Trail tomorrow.We got to the campsite about 4:30ish. The tents got setup in a huge shelter, which was cool. We got to eat in the shelter as well, out of the wind and the rain.Based on first day, this tour is pretty good, including really good food. The prices for Salkantay ranged as high as $475, and we paid $190, so we weren't sure how well it would be run.We had tea around 6:00pm, then supper around 7:45 and to bed after 9:00 sometime. Supper was amazing, a chicken drumstick with fries, rice and some veggies. Very tasty.A family lived at the campsite and had a little store there. There was also a cat, very friendly, who loved to hang around the tourists and sit on their laps and stuff. At supper, the cat was really aggressive at trying to get some chicken. He jumped up on Thomas's lap and started trying to get his chicken leg with is claw, meanwhile Thomas is freaking out, holding his chicken leg way up in the air, trying to keep it away from the cat. It was hilarious. Finally Thomas managed to swipe the cat from his lap, and he's like "Man, I almost lost my chicken."When we started the trek, another smaller group from another tour agency was also starting their trek. They had a really old lady from Brazil in their group of 7. We hadn't even walked out of the town of Mollepata yet, not even a kilometre into it yet, and she was already huffing and puffing and WAY behind the rest of her group. She would literally walk no more than 5 steps (going up a slight incline in the road) and stop for 10 seconds and catch her breath. Her group had to wait for a long time for her to catch up, even at the very start of the trek. We hiked past the other group as they were waiting for the old lady and continued on. The other group (minus the old lady) passed us again on the way to lunch. A few hours later, as we were getting close to the lunch place, a motorcycle drives by with the old lady on it. Hahaha. She was the laughing stock the whole trip. The guide of the other group had to call a friend of his and ask him to come with his motorcycle and drive the lady up the mountain. The other group had to wait for over 30 minutes at the lunch spot before they could eat, waiting for the old lady to show up.After lunch, after the road had ended, the old lady was on a horse. Unfortunately, the horse can't do certain, rocky parts of the path with weight on him, so she had to walk a lot of it. When we stopped at the campsite, one of the guys in the other group who had walked ahead was LIVID that this old lady was even allowed to come on the trek. The other group had to wait 1.5 hours before they could eat supper, waiting for this old lady.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Sacred Valley

Up early, Lisa didn't sleep hardly at all last night. I slept awesome. Up about 7:00am, we went to Scotiabank to take out money to pay for our Salkantay trek, then back to the hostal for breakfast, then waited for our pickup for the Sacred Valley tour.First stop was a market for everyone to buy stuff. I'm looking for ideas for gifts.Next was Pisac, site of a very impressive Inca ruin. When the Spanish arrived in the 1500's, it's estimated that there were about 16 million Inca people. In 1803, the first official census, only 2 million Inca's remained. The Spanish were deadly.Next was a delicious buffet lunch. To walk-in customers, the buffet costs 38 soles, but it was included in our tour, that we paid 45 soles for.Next was Ollantaytambo for another very impressive Inca ruin. They were amazing stoneworkers, so precise. And the manpower needed to move the stones from across the valley would have been humoungous.Last was a stop in Chinchero where we got a demonstration of traditional Inca weaving with alpaca wool and how they get the different colours.Back to Cusco about 6:30, went to the Salkantay tour company and paid up. Then we went to a camping store and rented sleeping bags and bought a few snacks for the trek.Lisa and me went to Jack's Cafe for supper at 8:30, then to bed at 10:00. Our Salkantay pickup is between 4:30 and 5:00 tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Dealing with the Police

Slept awesome, up about 7:25, Lisa slept until about 7:45. Usually she's up early.We met the others in our group for breakfast shortly after 8:00, then left for the airport at 10:00 for our 12:30 flight.When we checked in, the lady at the counter asked us if we changed our flight (we did), then she asked us if we had paid the change fee in Cusco. The change fee was $80US each. Lisa lied and said yes. She asked us if we had a receipt for the payment, Lisa said no. She accepted it, and took her a bit of time to get things figured, then we got our boarding passes and they took our luggage. Cam and Jodi had accidentally bought a return ticket to Lima instead of Cusco, so when they checked in, they said they were going to Cusco. We went to a restaurant in the airport to kill some time, then we headed through security. There was a guy from the airline there checking our boarding passes, and Lisa and me thought we were busted. They were looking for Jodi and Cam, though, because their flight was back to Lima, but when they checked in, they said Cusco. They had to go back to the ticket counter and pay the change of $80 US for each of them.It was a very quick flight to Cusco.Back in Cusco, we checked in to the same hostal (Procurador del Cusco), then Lisa and I took a taxi to the plaza where the police station is, and where my citation said to go. I need to get the official typed copy of the police report. When we got there, I showed the citation to various people, and they pointed us in the second floor. We found an office with three people in it, I gave the citation to a woman in the office. She looked at it, said something in Spanish, handed it to another guy, who looked at it and gave it to the third guy. After skimming it, he tried to give it back to the woman, but she wouldn't take it. They talked for a bit, then one of them asked us to have a seat outside the office. Lisa said that none of them wanted to deal with it, that's why they kept passing it around. After a bit, one of them went upstairs then came back down and told us (in Spanish) that it wasn't ready yet. Lisa asked if we came back tomorrow night if it would be ready. He shrugged his shoulders and said maybe or maybe not. Lisa remarked that the police at the airport said nothing has ever been stolen from the airport before. He rolled his eyes and said it does happen a number of times per year. He then asked if the police at the airport charged us anything when we were there. (Nope.) He said that was good. I guess there's probably some corruption in the police force yet.We headed back to the main square, did some shopping for day tours of the Sacred Valley tomorrow and bought a tour for 45 soles.At 7:30, we met up with Kieran and Jodi and Cam. Kieran has a Salkantay trek lined up for $190 US. He hadn't bought it yet, but he had a recommendation for this tour from a guy in Huaraz that he did the Santa Cruz trek with. We headed over to the tour company and checked it out, and we were happy with it, so we signed up for it. It's a 5-day, 4-night trek and goes out on Nov. 5.Headed to Jacks Cafe for a gringo supper, then the fice of us went to a bar for a 2-for-1 happy hour drink. Got back to the hostal after 10:00 sometime.Lisa got an email from Jason today. Lisa had emailed him about the Colca Canyon, and how we did it ourselves without a guide, and where we stayed, and how easy it to find the paths. Well, I guess Jason and his dad got lost in the canyon and wandered around for 12 hours. They would have been for sure wandering around in the dark, I guess Jason had to carry both his and his dads backpack, his dad was having a rough time of it.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Amazon Tour Day 3

Up at 6:30, packed, had breakfast and headed back to Puerto Maldonado on the boat at 7:45. Got back to town about 9:45, checked in to our room and lounged in the pool.Had lunch at noon, awesome steak. There's a three-toed sloth that hangs around the lodge, he moves so slow.At 1:00, we went to Sandoval Lake, a very cool jungle lake with lots of wildlife. We saw Watsons (clumsy chicken-like birds), a black caimen, howler monkeys, other smaller monkeys and tons of other birds. We went around the lake in a small wooden paddle boat.Got back to the lodge about 6:00, watched TV until supper at 7:30, and then to bed around 9:00, watched TV until 10:00 then fell asleep.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Amazon Tour Day 2

Up at 3:30, at 4:00 left on the boat for the clay lick, about a 1.5 hour boat ride up the river.The parrots and macaw's here can't eat the green fruit, it's toxic to them. So, they have to come to the clay lick (an eroded cliff along the river that exposes some sort of clay), to eat the clay, which gives them the minerals they need to eat the fruits safely. Lots and lots of brightly coloured macaws, red/blue ones and light blue/yellow ones, the parrots very green. Very timid, they just hang out in the trees until they feel it's safe to come down. We waited for over 30 minutes, and they weren't coming down, so Sonia, our guide, took us on a jungle walk for 45 minutes or an hour. Periodically she would take her binoculars and peer back at the clay lick. She finally said that the birds are getting ready to eat, so we headed back. Sure enough, just as got back, the first of the macaw's started eating, but the parrots (which are more scared than the macaws) were nowhere to be seen.We left the clay lick about 8:00, went back to the lodge for breakfast, then some rest time. The lodge has a resident macaw that they are rehabilitating. He's not tied down or in a cage or anything, he just hangs out in a tree at the lodge, and is very friendly. I went over to his tree, and as I walked over, he was eyeing me up. He was probably 25 feet up, on a branch. I stood under the tree with my arm raised, he sized me up for about a minute, then decided to make his was down. He can't fly yet, so he climbed down in the rope with his two claws and beak. Took him about 2 minutes to get down. He climbed on my arm, and he loves to be rubbed on the back of his head. After a few minutes, I tried to get him to go back, but he wouldn't. So hung out with him for a few more minutes, then tried to get rid of him again. This time he was more willing to part with me, and he climbed back up into the tree.At 11:30am, headed to a cascade for some swimming. The cascade was super muddy, Lisa wouldn't even go in. The shore was all muddy as well. Because it was so muddy, we moved to a different swimming area on the Tambopata River, with a beach. The Tambopata River is quite murky too, but nice and cool, and Lisa swam too, despite the stories of the orifice fish and the threat of piranhas.We went back to the lodge at 1:30 and had lunch, some rest time, then did a jungle hike at 3:30. Our guide, Sonia, explained a lot of the plants in the jungle and what they're used for.At 7:00, we had a boat trip to look for caimens, similar to crocodiles. At night, they hang out on the banks of the river, and you can see their red eyes reflecting in the spot light from the boat. We'd go up to shore, but they'd usually retreat into the water when we got close. One little guy didn't retreat, we came right up to him, and Sonia tried to go on shore and catch him, but he skirted into the water pretty quickly.Big storm approaching, lots of lightning, this evening.Had supper at 8:15, chicken cooked in a bamboo shaft. With my diahorea, my appatite comes and goes, so didn't eat much tonight.