A Travellerspoint blog

Machu Picchu

Trail to the Lost City of the Incas

sunny 73 °F

Hola!

We hope all is well with everyone and that you enjoyed Halloween! We spent Halloween with an 8 hour layover in Lima (so we headed to Larcomar –a massive outdoor Cliffside mall (thanks Bart for mentioning it). It was cute to see that all the kids there trick or treating in the mall going from shop to shop and just shouting “Halloween!!!”

The big adventure since we left Pisco Sin Fronteras is that we did the classic 4 day Inca Trail trek. First we arrived in Cusco, Peru from Lima to acclimate for a few days...we found that burgers and beer helped the acclimating process. We really enjoyed Cusco after our time in Pisco. The central Plaza de Armas area of the city was so beautiful - very european-cobble-stone streets and little alleys. It´s the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America.

The Inca Trail was AMAZING. Truly some of the most breathtaking scenery and it all felt more fulfilling knowing we were working our butts off just to be standing just under 14,000 feet in the sky overlooking the Andean mountains. Our first day started off rough with a downpour and heavy winds, but by the lunch break the rain had stopped and the temperature had risen significantly. Basically each day we woke up between 5:30am and 6:00am to our wonderful porters tapping on our tent offering us morning tea. Dress, pack up sleeping bags and sleeping pads and clothes, eat breakfast and begin hiking. Hikes ranged from comfortable inclines to deathly peaks and valleys. Weather would go from cold to hot to freezing in no time at all. It was all gorgeous, difficult, and fun.
The start, rain and wind won´t stop us

The start, rain and wind won´t stop us



Our last day we only had about 2.5 hours total to hike into Machu Picchu. Our agency had us up before all the other companies so we could be the first ones in to the Sun Gate. That meant we were up at 3:00am and hiking to the checkpoint at 3:30am. We then sat at the checkpoint for 1.5 hours waiting for it to open at 5:30am just as the sun came up. Tim and I played cards with our dorky headlamps on the whole time. As the sun rose high in the sky we all cued up and we were up front. Then someone shouted, “ Sh@#! Look at those spiders!" and 50 heads looked up to see about 4 massive tarantula-looking spiders just above the ticket window (only 5 feet above where I´d been peacefully sitting playing cards). I screamed (only one to do so) and as soon as my guide handed my ticket over I sprinted through the entrance gate. We kept up the pace for the next 45 minutes arriving at the Sun Gate about 35 minutes ahead of schedule. Tim arrived at the Sun Gate in Second Place, and I was close at his heels.

The trek was ridiculously difficult at times, but it was well worth it. We met some great people in our group from London, Canada, Germany and, of course, the U.S.

We had two days back in Cusco to rest before Rio. We will follow up with a Brazil post shortly (we LOVE Brazil).

Lots of love,
Kate and Tim

Cathedral and Plaza de Armas

Cathedral and Plaza de Armas


Tim´s winning photo

Tim´s winning photo

Kate and Cusco streets

Kate and Cusco streets

The trail begins

The trail begins

First night campground...amazing

First night campground...amazing

Porters and group

Porters and group

Tim, toothbrush, and moon

Tim, toothbrush, and moon

So pretty

So pretty

Kate found a dog to love on the Inca Trail!

Kate found a dog to love on the Inca Trail!

Tim

Tim

Look at Tim and then look at the tiny red line in distance - those are our porters!

Look at Tim and then look at the tiny red line in distance - those are our porters!

Pretty

Pretty

Our victory routine

Our victory routine

The High-Five

The High-Five

The low-five

The low-five

Follow through

Follow through

Feeling like winners

Feeling like winners

The group

The group

Hiking

Hiking

Arriving at a peak that was in a cloud.  Cold and cool.

Arriving at a peak that was in a cloud. Cold and cool.

The group

The group

Speed racer up the trail

Speed racer up the trail

Tim and ruins along the trail

Tim and ruins along the trail

Beautiful glacier peaks in distance

Beautiful glacier peaks in distance

Ignorantly playing cards beneath massive spiders

Ignorantly playing cards beneath massive spiders

Arriving triumphant (and sweaty) at the Sun Gate

Arriving triumphant (and sweaty) at the Sun Gate

The mist enveloping Machu Picchu as we hiked in from Sun Gate

The mist enveloping Machu Picchu as we hiked in from Sun Gate

More of ruins

More of ruins

Kate and Cave

Kate and Cave

Playing in the Machu Picchu Rock Quarry

Playing in the Machu Picchu Rock Quarry

Machu Picchu - the postcard shot

Machu Picchu - the postcard shot

Llama - sort of - Tim got better

Llama - sort of - Tim got better

Llama at Machu Picchu (Tim put in great effort for this shot)

Llama at Machu Picchu (Tim put in great effort for this shot)

Night on our Cusco rooftop

Night on our Cusco rooftop

Being fancy at the Monasterio Hotel

Being fancy at the Monasterio Hotel

Fireworks in Plaza de Armas (we´re pretty sure these were for us finishing the Inca Trail...that or Day of the Dead)

Fireworks in Plaza de Armas (we´re pretty sure these were for us finishing the Inca Trail...that or Day of the Dead)

Kate with her second(!) bullseye!

Kate with her second(!) bullseye!

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Posted by PetCon 04:04 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

Pisco Sin Fronteras

Two weeks para los niños!

sunny 80 °F

Volunteeers and Marta's family

Volunteeers and Marta's family

Hi All!!

Well, this time I think some of you have already had a peek at what we've been up to for the past two weeks because we posted another photo album to facebook. Tim and I spent just under 2 weeks volunteering in Pisco, Peru with an organization called Pisco Sin Fronteras (PSF) (www.piscosinfronteras.org). PSF has been working in Pisco for just about 3 years now after a 7.9 (but probably bigger, as Peru would have been obligated under UN international relief guidelines to declare a major disaster and provide increased relief contributions for any earthquake 8.0 or higher...) earthquake hit the city basically leveling it. Around 200 people were killed in the church alone, as the earthquake struck during evening mass, leaving hundreds dead, thousands wounded, and the majority of the city's 110,000+ population without a proper home.

PSF was formed out of an org called Burners without Borders which I incorrectly assumed had to do with fire department/disaster relief volunteers. In fact, it's a group of people from the Burning Man festival (big hippie kinda art music festival in the cal/nevada desert) that got together after Hurricane Katrina to help in 2005 and conitunues going to disaster areas to offer help. Anyway, they came to Pisco in 2007 to help and have no plans to leave. All the money they have to buy equipment and materials and pay the housing rent and buy food comes from donations from volunteers - anywhere from 5-15 soles per day (about US $1.45 - $3). We were so happy to find them because the group really has a strong commitment to the people affected by the catastrophe, and it was an affordable way for us to volunteer and live in a city for a bit to meet the people and to really pitch in.

Each morning would begin with a morning meeting to figure out what projects everyone would be working on that day (there were 85 volunteers there when we were there, a number which fluctuates daily because volunteers just roll in and out). Tim cooked dinner with 3 others the first day...sounds easy, but cooking for 85 is hard work - lots of chopping and peeling. I broke up wood palletes to save the good wood to be used to construct basic modular homes - I was handed a chisel and hammer and just told to hit the wood as hard as I could without splitting it. Over the next two weeks I volunteered twice at the "Ludoteca" which is a small daycare center that PSF built for children so they would have a place to play that was not a dirt floor and that had actual toys. We also had the opportunity to do computer literacy classes with 5 local fishermen who met us at the Pisco Fishermen's Association. They were eager to learn how to open, save, and edit word documents, and how to use email.

The primary mission of PSF is to build homes for the people of Pisco. Most of the families that lost there homes in the earthquake are still living in these makeshift shanty towns with dirt floors and walls made of "estera" which is just heavily thatched together bamboo strips. That means these houses are super hot during the day and freezing at night...and not particularly sanitary either.

Tim and I spent the majority of our time working together on the same project jokingly referred to as "Marta's Empire." Marta and her husband and three daughters live in a sort of "compound" where the perimeter is formed by the existing brick walls of their neighbors, as well as a rat infested, improvised landfill behind her property (there were many such "improvised" landfills throughout the neighborhoods in which we were involved). Unfortunately, the family lost their facade during the earthquake. Within this space, the family shares a cramped area consisting of a small cooking/eating area, a vacant front room and a "back yard" containing bits of rubble and building material mixed together. While all of these rooms are dirt floor, PSF was able to provide the family on a previous project with a smaller modular bedroom with a cement floor and a fairly sturdy roof. Before the earthqake Marta ran a restaurant, so the focus of our second project with the family was to rebuild the front facade of the space, lay concrete flooring, and provide another walled space in the rear of the house where Marta could reconstruct a proper kitchen. Ceilings would either need to be a future project, or completed by Marta on her own due to resource constraints. PSF generally provides the free labor of the volunteers and on certain occasions will help buy the materials for the families ("Miracle Projects") because the families are in such desperate need. Marta's family was able to afford the materials so we just acted as labor doing whatever she and her husband asked. Jorge, Marta's husband, was super quiet around us, unlike Marta who acted as the foreman some of the time. However, Jorge was definitely a hard worker and often we would leave for the day at 4:30pm and come back the next day at 9:30am and it was clear that work had been done throughout the night.

Eash day we headed out after morning meeting to the worksite. Our mode of transportation was either the back of the PSF pick-up truck or the oh so comfortable "tuc tuc" (moto with a little cage attached to it). Our work consisted mainly of removing the contaminated old dirt floor (which consisted of both rubble and sea debris from the raised sea levels that followed the earthquake) and replacing it with fresh dirt (tierra buena), digging three to four foot deep trenches, cutting and preparing steel beams, and pouring concrete to set the foundation for the floor and walls to come. We also had the chance to just carry rocks from one side of the property to the other...sounds simple, but it's definitely tedious and tiring (and gross when you uncover a village of cucarachas, spiders, and rats).

Marta's middle daughter, Rosio Cristina, is 7 years old and was there with us most days just content to watch and chat while we worked. I was often asked to come into the house and carry around Elisabel, the 4 month old baby girl who was quite a little gordita, but so incredibly happy - she smiled and giggled constantly. Marta was totally dismayed that Tim and I are married and don't yet have kids. We tried to explain that if we had kids we wouldn't be able to be there helping out and she said that was no problem and we could start our family in Pisco. We politely declined.

PSF was a lot of hard work. We truly did learn the definition of back-breaking labor. But it was also really fun. Every night after dinner people just go buy beers (from the "cake lady" who also, believe it or not, sold lots of cake and pastries) and hang out around the firepit. Occasionally people really went all out and went to the clubs in Pisco (Copa Cabana for Pisco Sours followed by dancing at Afro Cafe). Dancing arm in arm with about 40 volunteers from all over the world while belting out "Hey Jude" at the top of our lungs was an awesome highlight.

All in, our time at PSF was well worth it. We were humbled meeting the locals and families who were so tragically affected by this earthquake but who are proud of the homes they do have (or are in the process of building) and so appreciative of the help PSF offers.

We arrived in Cusco yesterday and spent the day resting and wandering around. It's a beautiful city (oldest continuously inhabited city in South America). We have a few days here to explore and acclimate to the altitude (11,000 feet) before we head out EARLY Tuesday morning for our 4 day Inca Trail hike to Macchu Pichu!

Lots of love!
Tim & Kate

Kate and Cement Mixer

Kate and Cement Mixer

Tim and sunset

Tim and sunset

Tim and Kate at site

Tim and Kate at site

Posted by PetCon 15:18 Archived in Peru Tagged volunteer Comments (3)

Pura Vida in Costa Rica

From Sand Bar to Suenos: 3 weeks meandering Costa Rica

semi-overcast 79 °F

Well it´s been a whirlwind two weeks for us since we left our isolated volunteer spot on the Carribean coast. Since our departure, we´ve been able to raft down the Pacuare River, soak in the hot springs in Arenal, zip line (and tarzan swing) through the cloud forests of Monteverde, wade and drive through torrential downpours in Mal Pais, pad around in tropical forests in Manuel Antonio and swim at its beaches, and finally, accomplish as little as possible while staying at Los Suenos Resort in Playa Herradura.

Costa Rica has been an amazing experience for us. I think that the primary take-away from our time in Costa Rica will be the wild abundance of nature that this country has to offer. Though there were brief times when we felt the tico ("pura vida") lifestyle may be a bit slow (and rustic) for us, these times were consistently eclipsed by planned and unplanned moments of complete awe for our surroundings. Long drives on rocky roads that made even the toughest stomach car sick would be interrupted by two monkeys crossing the road and a macaw flying over head...pretty incredible.

Now we prepare for the next leg of our trip – building houses in Pisco, Peru. We fly to Lima tomorrow and take a bus on Saturday to Pisco where we will stay for about 12 days to build houses with an organization called Pisco Sin Fronteras.

Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna

Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna

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Hot Springs at Tabacon in La Fortuna

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"Cow Crossing" on way to Monteverde

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Ziplining in Monteverde

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Ominous, but beatiful, clouds rolling in in Mal Pais

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Little roadblock leaving Mal Pais and the reason we had to take the alternate "road" through a river

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Amazingly scenic back road

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More of the open road

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Tim and his trusty steed...drove through a little river in this - very impressive!

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Ferry ride sccenery from Nicoya Peninsula to Puntarenas to continue drive south

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Drive from Puntarenas southbound, passing through Jaco and cross this bridge...to see some very big crocs below

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Vistas in Manuel Antonio

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Quick! It´s a Sloth! :)

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Monkey! One of about 3 dozen we saw in Manuel Antonio

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Hiking in Manuel Antonio!

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Sunning in Manuel Antonio!

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Fancy room at Los Suenos..and our laundry drying on the balcony (keeping it classy)

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View from our room

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View of Los Suenos from the Marina

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Haircut in Alajuela (town nearest the Int´l Airport) afternoon before we depart

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Cathedral in Alajuela

Posted by PetCon 16:30 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (6)

To save the turtles and back again

One week of doing Good, and smelling Bad

sunny 92 °F

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Hello!!!!

We are back in civilization and excited to update you all on the adventurous week we had! So, we thought we knew what we were getting into with this whole turtle conservation project but I (Kate) was not quite so ready to be literally in the jungle in a very remote and practically inaccessible (only by a 25 minute speed boat ride) part of the caribbean coast. The project site is on a sandbar known by the locals as Isla Pacuare just north of the mouth of the Rio Pacuare.

Just to give you an idea of our first impressions of the place...we arrived by boat where were greeted at the dock by a half dozen dogs and all the other volunteers who had been there from anywhere between 4 days to 9 months. Everyone had a slightly dazed and vacant smile and we couldnt help but begin to make comparisons to Lost and the Dharma Initiave..it felt like we were arriving at the Other´s camp when they were pretending to be roughing it except these people were not pretending...(sorry for the Lost analogy for those who didnt watch it..there may be more to come). Anyway, we started with a safety talk that began with a briefing about what to expect and life at the project...dangers included scorpions, giant spiders, the most poisonous type of snake in costa rica, giant crabs, poisonous toads, bull sharks in the water near the river mouth, and, of course, the infamous current and vicious rip tides. Kate´s reaction - #$%@!!!! Then they told us how they had not had rain for 2 weeks and we would need to fill buckets up in the canal in order to flush the toilets and to watch out for crocodiles...mind you all this was relayed to us by the project lead who kept a completely straight face throughout the entire "indoctrination" process. We both searched her face for some hint that she was just kidding about all of this or at least some of this...and got nothing. Needless to say, we walked out of this welcome meeting and I was pleading with Tim to leave...only problem was there was literally no way to do so because the boat only came and went on Mondays and Thursdays.

We spent the next hours settling in, meeting the other volunteers (about 10 total), and Tim trying to keep my spirits up by telling me that I was brave and could do this and that he would protect me from all the spiders...then I saw the spiders and wanted to cry. My first day was not my best, I was literally tip toeing around the place trying to avoid webs, crabs, and frogs which there were plenty of. Luckily, we actually never saw a snake or a scorpion. The other volunteers quickly understood I was not kidding about my fear of spiders and helpfully pointed out all the webs of the giant Golden Orb spiders who they said never left those webs and were also not poisonous so there was nothing to worry about...but that their bites did hurt like hell.

The first night we didnt do any work..biggest task was just falling asleep on a bed that was permanently damp from the humidity and reaked of mildew, but our second night Tim had a shift in the hatchery with a long-term volunteer Marlena from Germany from 10pm-2am and I was from 2am-6am with Tim W from England. Both of thse volunteers were long-term and endearlingly excited about the bugs, eggs, turtles, crabs, everything. The duties at the hatchery (or "The Hatch" as we began to know it) included checking the 40+ turtle nests that the project had for flies, maggots, ants, and anything else that could infect the nests, and then cleaning them out if we found anything. It was not so bad, but kept you busy.

Over the next days and nights, in addition to "Hatch" duty and other assignments, we patrolled at night with the local Tico guides - most of whom were former poachers themselves. These patrols generally followed the pattern of waking up to the alarm in the middle of the night, groggily tiptoeing past the crabs and poisonous frogs, and meeting up with one of the local guides to begin a moon-lit march 7K up the coastline before turning back for home. It was a bizarre but educational experience to get up in the middle of the night to walk 14 km in the dark of night with a local man who spoke no English and smelled of a mix of marijuana and cologne. It was definitely good that we spoke some Spanish. Don´t get me wrong, the guides were nice and very respectful of the fact that I am a married woman there with my husband. The somewhat intimidating part was passing the poachers (hueveros (direct translation - eggers)) on the beach. There was a very strict no confrontation policy which we thought indicated that it was a very amicable relationship between poachers and conservationists, but in reality, the rule had to exist because as we were told most of the poachers were addicted to crack and carrying machetes and it would be very dangerous to talk to them and start something because there were way more of them on the beach than there were of us....again, sweet.

Luckily, the first night was the only patrol Tim and I did separately, after that, we were assigned to the same time slot and guide. The patrols consisted of walking the beach simply looking for turtles who had emerged from the water to lay their eggs. We saw many tracks of turtles that were either dragged off by poachers or some that just returned to the sea without laying their eggs (usually because something spooked them or they couldn´t find a good spot). On Tuesday night Tim and I had the 9pm - 1am patrol shift. At 10:20pm we actually spotted a turtle coming out of the water, it was amazing! She was massive! She slowly made her way up the beach toward the brush line and we saw a poacher in the distance (luckily we had dibs because we were closer). We got closer to her, but made sure to stay out of her line of sight or she would have just started to return to the water without nesting. We sat with her for over an hour before she finished selecting her spot and digging the nest, and then she began to lay her eggs. The guide used a giant plastic bag that he placed inside the dug up sand and catches the eggs as she lays them. She laid 130 eggs!!! This is a lot! She was also huge for a green turtle (just the shell was 116cm x 105 cm). Another patrol shift came along and carried the eggs for us the 5 km back to the hatchery while we stayed and waited for the mama turtle to go back to the sea. This whole time the poacher stood in the distance and would have killed her if we left her alone. It was really exciting and fulfilling to witness this act of nature.

I am so grateful to Tim for putting up with my yelps, clinging to his shirt, whining about my rank bed, and making him escort me to the outdoor bathrooms in the middle of the night. It was a very challenging week, but we are very happy we did it! Now we are ready to explore the rest of Costa Rica! Tomorrow we go river rafting on the Rio Pacuare and then get dropped off in La Fortuna (Arenal) to hang out in the hot springs and go on a tour to the Arenal Volcano.

Sorry this update was so long...we will try to keep future ones more succinct!

xo,
kate and tim

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Posted by PetCon 21:32 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (6)

San Jose - check

Looking forward to the turtles!

semi-overcast

Well we've been in San Jose for a day and we've celebrated Costa Rica's national Independence day by viewing a student marching band parade, over paying for a traditional CR dinner, and witnessing a police chase on foot through the crowd. San Jose - check. We look forward to adding our next post from the "Amazon of Costa Rica"!

Posted by PetCon 17:20 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (10)

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