Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hiiiiiiiigh Andes!

Hello from Bogota! (okay, we're now in Medellin by the time I've finished this post!)

Sorry for the long break in updates to our Team Sud America blog, but we were a little busy crossing the Andes... on foot! Yes that's right, our little team ventured out in the high alpine region of the Lares Valley in Peru for a 4 day trek, that brought us to Monchu Pichu. Needless to say, it was an amazing experience because of the difficulty of the hike and coping with the high altitude, the many native Quechwa villagers we encountered, the way we shared our adventure with 14 new friends and fellow hikers, and of course ending at Monchu Pichu. So, here's a synopsis of our trek!

Our first day of the trek began at 5 am when the alarm woke us up from our comfy hotel beds. We got our hiking gear together, ate the typical breakfast of ham, cheese, and bread, and put our extra luggage into storage for a few days. We got onto the bus with our fellow travelers, which was loaded with our gear for the next few days, and had a crazy ride into the mountains. We were going up these really steap switchbacks, climbing at one point to 14,000 feet. The dirt road wasn't a deterrent to our bus driver, who liked to pass every car and truck in front of us. We had a short stop in the town of Pisac where we had some breakfast and picked up some candy and presents for the children we would see at a local market.

We got to the start of our hike, at a small mountain village where the little kids came running up looking for candy and little presents we had brought with us. Our hike was not the famed Inca Trail, which is loaded with tour groups, and so we passed through solitary little villages that hadn´t changed much in the last few centuries and probably only see a handful of hikers for a few months of the year. So we started our hike around 3,300 meters and instantly the altitude was a problem for a lot of people. One group member lost his lunch, some of us had shortness of breath, I had a pretty bad headache as we slowly made our way higher into the mountains. But it was okay because they kind of know that is going to happen and are very helpful and we took many breaks to regroup. Hernaldo was able to hand off his pack to a porter, who slung it over his shoulder with no trouble! Apperently, they recently changed the hike to become the hardest hikes in the area, which almost none of us knew! But altitude sickness aside our trail was taking us through a very beautiful place. We could see glaciers high up in the mountains all around us, passed through famers tending to their llama herds, met lots of adorable little kids, and hiked our buts off! All of the people we saw were dressed in traditional red ponchos and sporting colorful hats. They don´t even speak Spanish mostly, and still speak the Incan language, Quechwa. But we had two great guides, moved at a slow enough pace for everyone, and everyone had an amazing trip.

We had teams of llamas and horses carrying most of the gear, I just had my pack with a sleeping bag and clothes to worry about, but at that altitude even that was tough. The porters would of course move faster than us, setting up camps for lunch with huge meals of rices, meats, salads, potatos, and lots of coca tea. When we would arrive for lunch, they would have bowls of warm water for us to wash up, cups of juice ready to go, and of course the huge meals. It was pretty awesome. Same kind of thing when we would arrive at our camps at night... the tents were all set up, with hot tea and snacks waiting.

So basically, our first day we had a pretty steady hike to our lunch spot at a high alpine lake, where we had a big feast and a short siesta. We then continued a steep ascent to our first mountain pass at 14,200`!!!!!! It was a tough push to the top and I think everyone was feeling the effects of hiking at such a high altitude. Needless to say though, the views from up there were just amazing.

We had a pretty long descent the first day to our camp, and everyone was pretty beat so after a big dinner and some conversation with our fellow travelers we had an early night in our tents. There were so many stars out because we were so far from any major populations and it was a pretty cool sight to behold way up in the Andes. It was pretty cold at night, but we had great sleeping bags to keep us warm.

On the second day, we woke up at dawn to watch the sun rise on a distant peak and glacier that glowed red from the sunrise. Once we got hiking into the sun, things warmed up and we had a great stop in a Quechwa house, seeing how the native population lives. After a few hours got to our second pass, at 14,100 feet! Again, all along the way little children would come up to us hoping for more candy and pens and pencils to use.

We had a beautiful descent passing more alpine lakes and seeing a few more small villages. At this point, we had a small horse with us that we were taking turns leading to our lunch camp. We had another big lunch and afterwards got some time to rest. Somehow, Carlos and Hernaldo scored massages from some fellow travelers!

After lunch, we had a long trek to our last mountain pass, climbing in elevation and racking up the kilometers along the way. Although it was a tough push, we arrived at the top and felt awesome about reaching the high point of our trek at 14,600'! It was waaaaaaaaay up there, and the views were amazing.

The descent to our camp that night was beautiful as the sun set on us walking past more llama herds and alpine lakes. We got to camp and had a really fun night talking with our group of travelers. There were 16 of us total: Mike and I were the only Americans; Hernaldo and Carlos hail from Nicaragua; Joanna, Jock, Peter, and Ronan made up team Ireland, Louisa, Alexandra, Allistar, and Charlie were the English chaps enjoying their gap year, Dinesh was from India, and Helena made the trip from her native Australia. We also had two excellent guides, Roberto and Salvatore, who told us all about the areas history, culture, and geology as we walked. After another great dinner, we had a few beers we were able to purchase from locals who came to our campsite, and then a bottle of rum was passed around to add to our tea! We were having a great time telling jokes and thinking about the hike we had finished. The stars were out in full force again and our guides and fellow travellers pointed out the constellations, both the modern ones and the ancient Inca ones. It was cool being in the southern hemisphere, because all of the constellations were different.

The third day was an easy one, and we had about a 3 hour descent to a cool town way out in the mountains where we were to meet a bus to take us on our next journey. While we waited, we of course had to play a game of football (soccer), and I hate to admit I was the goalie that let in the only goal. I guess it´s not just my sport! We took a cool bus ride to an ancient Inca town Ottoytomboa where we had a good lunch and some time to explore the area. Mike and I went to check out some ruins high up on the hill, structures very similar to the ones from the Peublo Indians like Cliff Palace and such. We had the place to ourselves which had amazing views of this small town set in the Andes. We then got on a really cool train ride to take us to Agua Calientes, a town close to Monchupichu where we stayed the night in a hostel with hot showers and comfy beds! Me and my friends and the Irish group had a really fun night putting a dent on the restaurant's beer cooler, but we didn´t stay up too late since we had an early start the next morning.

We got up on the last day at 5, had a quick breakfast, and borded a bus to take us up some really steep switchbacks to the lost Inca City of monchupichu. We arrived before dawn and the crowds were pretty small. That´s because there is no road to the site, just the train. The only people that can get there so early are the ones who stay in the small town... the first train doesn´t bring people until 10.30. So our guide brought us way up on these terraces where he explained how this city was a type of Inca university that was abandonded when the Spanish began conquering the area, and it was left untouched until 1911.

It is on a mountain plateau, surrounded by incredible mountains. To see the sun rise on this place was just unbelievable, and it was really one of the most amazing experiences I´ve ever had.

We had a great tour with our guide who told us all about the different temples and structures for about 3 hours, and then we had some time to explore on our own. We did two hikes from the top to check out some other sights, the Sun Gate and the Inca Bridge. The former is a gate at the top of a mountain pass that the Inca trail passes through with amazing views of Monchu Pichu.

The Inca Bridge was a very narrow trail with a few hundred meter drop off to one side! After those adventures, Mike and I decided to walk back to Aguas Calientes down a thousand steps through dense jungle! It is was as amazing as it sounds! We had a great last lunch with our guide, then we went to the hot spring in town for a good soak for a few hours! Just what we needed after all that hiking. We had a late night train back to Cusco, the main town where I last wrote from, and after a few celebratory beers with the group, we went to bed at our hostel.

Phfewwww.... that was a long one and I hope I did our amazing trek justice! We've just finished a great week in Colombia and are looking forward to our next adventures in Costa Rica!

Ciao, Joey

No comments: