Peru: Salkantai - Cachicata - Machupichu trek

16-28 June 2013

Andrew Smith and Kim

As usual with my trips these days it's taken me a few months to start writing this up. In this case on top of having no time to spare the problem was that the trip was the biggest of my life, with so many experiences that even the thought of relating it all was overwhelming, and the number of photos only reinforced that feeling. But I decided to go ahead and make a webpage with just the highlights, and an almost-random selection of photos.


Preparation: Booking the trip

We were told by good sources (two previous trips, including a honeymoon in the family) that Llamapath are great. So we went with them. But not directly, we were foolish enough to use a travel agent. I don't know if this is typical, but the experience was terrible. I've never had a travel agent before and I am never going to have one again. Instead of helping and saving me time it cause massive headaches and at one point it seemed likely our trip would be cancelled completely.

Traveling to another country is certainly a pain, and planning it is hard for me, but honestly it would have been easier for me to do it myself, Llamapath aren't great communicators but I'm sure we could have arranged something good for us.

It turned out ok in the end.

Preamble: But first!

Before going to Peru you must get married. At least that seems to be the pattern. Kim's brother and his wife went to Peru on their honeymoon, and I couldn't think of a better honeymoon myself. So we got married on the 15th, and on the 16th in the morning the taxi picked us up from the hotel to take us to the airport.

Days 1-2: Flying to Peru

Got up at 5:30 at the Ritz. To be honest it isn't that fancy, the coolest thing was that our window looked out over the metro convention centre and we could see into the CBC building :) But they wanted me to pay for wifi, which I thought was unbelievably bizarre. I guess rich people think that if it's free it's no good or something :) Here we are having our last Canadian meal for the next two weeks:

Don't know why LACSA was on the airplane tickets - the airline is actually called TACA. Couldn't find it in the terminal, turned out they rent out the Air Canada counters.

Our rows C and D on the plane we had booked (an A320) are on opposite sides of the isle, luckily for us one middle seat was free. Took me so long to figure out where the headphone jack was (it's on the side of your seat, not the seat in front of you as you might expect) so I didn't finish watching the movie before we got to San Salvador.

I nearly fainted in the plane loading tunnel it was so hot, and I'm pretty sure it was the same outside, not just in that tin can. Was happy we weren't staying there.

The next flight was also an A320, though not exactly the same. Popular plane down there. This one had no individual TV but had more leg room instead, hard to decide what's better! The pilot's door was open, the nice guy waved at me, that was cool :) And there was some kind of smoke all over the plane, probably AC, I've never seen that before but noone else seemed in the least bit concerned so I wasn't either.

Apparently Cuzco (a.k.a. Cusco) is the tourist capital of Peru, but there are no flights into there from outside. So you pretty much have to go through Lima if you're from another continent. Despite that (or specifically because) lots of people feel they need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on their wedding and honeymoon we chose to pay half the price for the flights, which saved us a couple of thousand dollars but that also meant that the trip took two days, and we spent the night (20:30 - 5:30) in the Lima airport.

We had to get our bags and go through customs, which took us out to the airport entrance. Well, at least they didn't lose our bags :) Didn't seem to make sense to get a hotel (would have spent less than 6 hours there) so I found an out-of-the-way place for us to lie down and not be bothered. Then we'd take turns sleeping on our handy inflatable sleeping pad. Then other travelers got the idea and soon the entire corridor was full of campers :)

Staying awake when taking turns sleeping is much harder than I imagined it would be, but we made it through.

One of the really annoying things about airports is that you aren't allowed to bring your own water. What made that rule particularly annoying on this trip is the fact that in all of south and central America you must not drink tap water, you can get a very serious infection if you're not accustomed to it (i.e. you're too white). So we ended up paying 10USD for 1.5l of water in San Salvador, which annoyed me greatly.

Ah, speaking of annoying things - I'm pretty sure we got poisoned by the airport food in Lima. Food poisoning is another thing about traveling down there, so don't ignore your travel doctor's advice for vaccines, antibiotics, and other medicines, even though they aren't cheap.

Unfortunately sleeping on the bridge was not the end of the weirdness. We got to the checkin over an hour in advance, but could not check in, the lady couldn't help us either. Got called to the front of the line because our flight was leaving, then got passed on to another agent (the first one couldn't figure something out), and got our boarding passes. After all this, and after waiting for the bus to take us to the plane, and after getting on the bus - Kim heard my name being called.

Turns out these jerks gave us "waiting list" boarding passes. I kept showing them my printout which clearly said "confirmed", but you try to explain something to someone who speaks a different language. Another agent showed up, and someone who looked like a manager, they kept talking about something I don't know what. Eventually there was just the one lady left and finally we got boarding passes to a slightly later plane, but not too bad. They also gave us a voucher for "breakfast" and I insisted on a calling card to call the hotel. Somehow I managed to figure out how their phones work and called the hotel, told them we'll be on another flight. Could barely hear the guy on the other side, so wasn't quite sure he got the message.

If we weren't so tired from the wedding and the trip, this whole experience would have been extremely stressful.

(Liz was our "travel agent").

The last plane on the way there - A319. Someone down here got a deal with Airbus. The air strip in Cuzco is right in the middle of the mountains, that's got to have been the most exciting landing I've ever experienced (short of my skydiving adventure).

When we got to Cuzco we didn't see anyone waiting for us (we thought someone was supposed to, but weren't quite sure). Turns out the guy was waiting for us outside the airport building, lucky he had a sign cause he didn't speak any english whatsoever. I tried to remember as much as I could of my one spanish course years ago, but couldn't really communicate.

Cuzco reminded me very much of home, I'm not sure why, maybe it's all the stone and stucco and the skinny streets. The poverty too - not shameful, just matter-of-fact. I got immediately nostalgic :)

Our hotel was in a great location and we got probably one of the best rooms, with an amazing view:

We loved pretty much everything about the hotel (Casa Encantada), I highly recommend it. Our room was made available quickly, even though it was only 10 in the morning. We planned to have a 1-2 hour nap but slept till 19:00 instead. No problem, we had 3 days to acclimatize and were in no rush whatsoever.

Took an aspirin for my headache, didn't help. But the delicious tomato cream soup we had in the tiny restaurant downstairs did help. Went for a short walk to get some water before going back to bed. The short walk was good, all we could handle. In the middle of the night Kim woke up with a real nasty headache, took a couple of ibuprofens and I gave her a head massage. Even though Cuzco itself isn't very high up - the headaches and the fatigue were caused by the altitude. I haven't experienced that before.

Saw a hummingbird feeding on flowers in the trees, the first I've ever seen. I was later told there are plenty of them around but this was the only one I saw, and I didn't have time to make a photo of it.

Day 3: Cuzco, Saxay Woman

View from our window in the morning:

Had nice buffet breakfast at the hotel. Some cereal-like things with milk, yogurt, fruit chunks, bread with jam, sandwich, and coca tea. Coca leaves are the raw material they make cocaine out of, and you'll get in serious trouble if they find any number of such leafs on you at the airport, but apparently in Peru they have an exemption for personal use - you can make as much tea out of it as you like. It doesn't get you high or anything, tastes like any other herbal tea.

We used our tourist map to go for a walkabout, the Google Maps printouts I made before leaving didn't very well distinguish drivable streets from mere alleys in this historic part of Cuzco. More than a few times we've seen walls made of dirt. I didn't know if it was some special kind of dirt or (more likely) it doesn't rain enough there to make a difference:

The historic part of Cuzco truly is historic, everything is either old or old-school. It's small enough that you can walk out of it into the new Cuzco, which we've done once, but that's much less interesting.

But Kim did manage to find a Starbucks in the main square :)

Completely coincidentally a huge festival started just as we arrived. Parades all day long for several days, great to watch, but a little challenging because there were only a few stairs you could sit on. So we didn't see the whole show but did see many interesting dresses and great moves.

The beetle is a popular car here. Very cute! And lots of motorbikes too. We both got a couple of hat ribbons from a lady in the watching crowd (that rainbow is the Cuzco flag):


As we were sitting around we (and especially Kim) got accosted by dozens of people selling jewellery and drawings. Mildly annoying but not the end of the world if you're immediately clear that you're not interested.

Stopped by the Llama Path offices (it's in the historic downtown) and had a short chat withe a lady about the upcoming trip. Had to leave a 40$ deposit for the bags they'll bring tomorrow night. The guide is to visit us at 18:00 tomorrow and give us an "orientation" and explain how much to tip. She said something like 100 soles per person which is 2.5 times more than we budgeted - slightly annoying, but not the end of the world.

Walked around some more:

Found a real Bazaar! I haven't seen one since I was a child, even back home when I visited they turned into more modern stalls, but this is an old-school food market. One difference from the ones back home when I was a kid is here you can have a seat and drink or eat. We didn't brave the food, but did get a couple of freshly made juices (very tasty).

On the right in the distance was the innards section with tongues and snout and other yummy things. I was trying to figure out what the suspicious sacks with balls with them were when I hit my head on some plank. I am very tall for Peru, their calculations mostly didn't account for giants.

Payphone on a stool. You think I'm joking? That's why I make these photos :)

I wanted a nap but Kim was more hungry than tired so we had lunch at a tiny place completely packed with natives. We figured that's evidence that it's good. Ordered pretty much everything on the menu and it was all very tasty. Paid 12.5 soles for the two of us, extremely cheap.

Lunch was followed by a two hour siesta. Following which we decided to climb up to Saxay Woman (yep, that's how it's pronounced too). We didn't really know what to expect except that it seemed to be one of the big attractions here. I don't know where we found the energy, but we climbed the hill

and found some massive old ruins. It cost us 70 soles per person (day pass) but it was worth seeing:


Those massive stones chiseled and fitted to perfection are incredible. Supposedly the stuff was being built when the spanish invaded and now noone knows how they managed to do it. Or at least that's what they tell the tourists, I haven't looked into it further.

Now that I write about everything we've done - I have no idea where we found the energy to do so much in one day, I seem to recall we were very tired when we arrived. For the final feat of the day we decided to climb down from the ruins and up a neighboring mountain with a large idol on top. I guess we really wanted to see it because it's visible from everywhere in Cuzco, especially at night when it's lit up.

And back down in historic Cuzco, while looking for a place to have dinner:

Found a place that looked nice  and full of people and had a menu without hamburger on it (my request). A bit on the pricy side but the food was good. There was even some live music though we couldn't see the performance behind the corner.

Also stopped at an exchange place and got rid of almost all the remaining american dollars. Will likely need a cash advance to have enough.

Saw several groups of teenagers dancing in the main square. Don't know if it was practice for the festival or perhaps they didn't even know each other, kind of cool to see. Watched them for a bit from inside the very expensive

Day 4: Cuzco

Got up, had breakfast downstairs again. Both slept well for the first time here but had strange dreams. Feeling lazy today.

This ended up being a more relaxing day, continuing our acclimatising. Did a bunch of walking but nothing to extreme, watched some more festival, a bit of shopping. One lady shopkeeper got very excited about dressing us up (without any prompting from us), we let her:

At one of the stores we bought a sweater, a bag, and hair elastic - would have cost us double if we paid using a credit card. On the way to the square del Armas saw an ABM in the white people grocery store (it looked like a north-american convenience store that didn't belong in Cuzco). It claimed not to charge any extra fees so I took 250 soles out of it to avoid using the credit card in the future.

You thought the ghetto payphone was weird? Check out the Peru Postal Service mailbox :)

Festival still happening today:


Kim found the massive tasty cookie she's been hunting for 3 days and we finally found a local coffee shop (there aren't many around). At the market all we got was a "cafe con leche" - mostly leche (milk) with a teaspoon of instant cafe.

Stopped at a painter's shop we saw yesterday and haggled a little for the two paintings we wanted. Got them rolled up in tubes. At a neighboring store got the blankie I wanted and that completed our touristy shopping list. The shop right next to the hotel had 3.5 sole 2.5 liter bottled water, the same thing but about 4 times cheaper than at the hotel.

Awesome, electricity for the masses. I wonder how many of those guys are getting it for free :)

By the evening we set ourselves up by the fire (which they blow up using a tube and feed using candle stubs), waiting for our guide. Marcelino scared us well, apparently temperatures will go below 0 which we are really not prepared for. Also it is not the Salkantay trek but something different - he said that except for the first day there are maybe 7 groups a year on this path so we'll be alone most of the time, neat!

So we went back to the shop and bought:
Tips are 100 soles per person, double for the cook, and he didn't mention himself but probably also 200 for him.

So I got another 400 soles from the ABM, should last us the rest of the trip unless there are more surprises.

Had dinner and realized that I left my credit card in the ABM. Went to see if someone gave it to the teller but it was closed. Asked downstairs to call and cancel it but no luck. Not sure if those numbers are unreachable from Peru or the concierge had no idea how to dial them. Logged in to my card's website and wrote them a message asking for cancellation. Should be ok (it was).

Day 5: Cuzco - Mollepata (2870m) - Soraypampa (3840m)

Got our wakeup call at 4:30 and got ready to go pretty quickly. Drove for a couple of hours, the last half an hour on a crazy mountain road. Not scary but very impressive driving. Had breakfast in town, the restaurant had a map of the region:

I asked Marcy if we have a map for ourselves, he seemed confused by my query, but said he'll get me one. Later he came back with this:

Heh, better than nothing I guess :) The altitudes and peak/pass names in this writeup are from those papers, so are probably completely inaccurate.

8:30 We're off.

The views are already incredible. These are serious mountains!

10:30 End of Mollepata, going into Soraypampa.

Climbing this is very challenging, and not for the reasons I expected. I thought what I needed was muscle and endurance, but on the entire trip my muscles were never seriously challenged.

What slows you down (and knocks some people out) is the altitude. We didn't have any serious reactions to it but our energy level was at 30% of what it normally is. The same hill I could climb back home in 5 minutes would take me 15 in Peru. But the trek was designed with outsiders in mind and the campsites are spaced accordingly, mostly :)

12:45 Got to lunch place. Our chef Raoul and his assistant Ernesto made an awesome lunch for us: broccoli and cheese appetizer, pumpkin soup, rice with veggies, guacamole, trout, peruvian mint tea.

14:00 We're off again. At this point we're hiking but the Raoul with Ernesto are on the bus, on this road you can see in the photo. This, awesome as it is, is still easily accessible by bus, but it's a good warmup for us:

17:50 Arrived to the campsite. This must be some kind of funneling out point, there are a bunch of large fenced areas for camping.

Day 6: Soraypampa (3840m) - Humantay glacier lake - Pampa Japonesa (4600m)

I woke up probably around 4:30 but had nothing to do so waited for Kim to move. We both got upat 6:30, walked around for a bit to warm ourselves up.

The headache I've had since we arrived to Peru is gone completely, feels very nice not to have one. Kim has a light back neck pain.

That's a group of guides in training:

The guide offered us an option to go on a two hour detour to see something interesting (p.s. it was called the Humantai glacier lake), we went with it since we felt pretty good.

There are a bunch of cows in the mountains, hard to see at this resolution but those little white and black dots near the top are them. They're not supervised at all, they leave them there to roam free and they'll catch one when they're ready to eat it.

And sure enough we had to climb all the way up there too. Seemed impossible but we got there bit by bit.

My lungs were having a hard time. Yesterday Kim and I went pretty quickly. Marcy told us to take frequent breaks but didn't set the pace. At the end of the day he said that was just to see what we've got, and for the rest of the trip we'd be going a lot slower.

So today we started getting used to the correct pace - really really slow. It took me a couple of days to get used to it, the temptation is always to go faster but that's not sustainable, especially at this altitude.

That's a condor - a rare but popular bird in Peru, that float in the festival (day 4) was a condor.

Once we got to the top it was obvious why this was a worthwhile detour:

That's where we climbed from, those little green rectangles:


That's the biggest pig I've ever seen, the size of a small cow. I was legitimately afraid of getting any closer to make a photo:

Ah, yes - how could I forget about this :)

The rest of the climb for the day was pretty uneventful. I did feel like dying several times but on the way we passed a group who were legitimately done for, unable to walk at all and being carried on a horse. That made me feel a little better about my lungs and my speed.


This is what the setup for our meals looks like: a large tent where for some reason our half (me, Kim, and the guide) was separate from the cooks', I would have actually preferred to not have that barrier. The cooks and horsemen are way faster than us so they always set up the tent and started cooking before we got there.

At first I thought "what kind of princess do they think I am" but eventually I understood why the six horses, two horsemen, two cooks, and a guide are necessary - it's such a tough trek that you don't have any energy left to deal with cooking in unpleasant environments.

These were the surroundings where we camped, wow!

Day 7: Pampa Japonesa (4600m) - Inca Chiriasca pass (5100m) - Tocto pass (4821m) - Calacocha pass (4667m) - Hillpo (4399m)

I followed my annoying habit and woke up two hours before anyone else. Just before 5:00 we all got up and started packing.

This looked interesting, I couldn't figure out what it was, I thought there's no way there's a lake there, and in fact there was not:

Today is especially exciting, we are to climb to the highest point on the journey: 5100m. Even Marcy said it's the highest he's ever been. Should have enough energy for it - we ate well both at dinner and breakfast. Had a massive platter of fruit with pancakes this morning and took some extra snacks just in case for lunch.

7:10 An hour after leaving we got there, photos from the Inca Chiriasca pass:

As you can see the mountains go higher than the pass, but they don't look climbable. I asked Marcy and he said people sometimes try to go up on the snowy walls but mostly they don't survive. Hm, I wonder about that, maybe the problem is there is nothing up there other than a challenge, unlike the trail we're following which is actually used by the locals for transportation.

This turned out to be a stressful day for Kim, it was much later that I realized she was very uncomfortable on paths like this with a mind-boggling drop on one side.

Sometimes you can see the path far in the distance, and sometimes that's an illusion. Don't be fooled, I have many more photographs where the path is completely invisible :)

There's our caravan!

9:30 We got to the second pass of the day (Tocto). Am starting to get tired. We ate all our snack, good thing we brought extra with us.

The couple of hours so far today we were hiking on a snow trail, sometimes deep enough that I worried if it got any deeper I'd get snow in my boots. The temperature felt cold certainly, but not deadly so. Also it snowed on and off all day - sometimes nice snow and sometimes that melting crap - the latter particularly unpleasant because I didn't need my mittens to get wet, there's no way I'd be able to dry them in this weather.

Hm, in retrospect I can see why this can be nerve-wrecking, though at the time I was much more excited than worried:

12:30 We can finally see our lunch place. Apparently the one we planned for didn't have clean enough water. My guess is we hiked an extra hour, hopefully not [too much] out of the way. Marcy really needs to communicate better, wondering if he's lost isn't a pleasant thing to think for hours while climbing mountains covered with snow :) That red dot down there is our garage-sized lunch tent:


14:35 We're off to climb the last pass. We're told 3-4 hours left, probably will be dark by the time we get there.

15:30 Up on the last pass (Calacocha). It's very cold and windy up here. Marci went for a very long washroom break, turns out he doesn't know the way. Wrong turn here would be a very bad idea, you have the choice of going up the mountain on the left, up the mountain on the right, or down between the two. So we waited 30 minutes (Kim says longer than that) and the rest of the group caught up, sent us down the middle:

The grasses you can see in the photo above get significantly taller and thicker. Going through them at night will be impossible (you'll break your legs for sure) so we will stop earlier than planned.

The campground was really nice though, look how high above the clouds we are! So I wasn't too upset at the end of the day. Tomorrow we'll push harder and try to make up for hours lost.

Chef Raoul had a very nice surprise for us, a homeymoon cake :)

Day 8: Hillpo (4399m) - Chusquenay (4630m) - Ococasa (4686m) - Huayanay pass (4630m) - Ancascocha (3700m)

Left at 6:50 or so, had to rush a little because noone ot up at 5 as planned.

7:35 At first pass.

Cloudy day today, except the clouds are below us and we have to climb down into them :)


8:20 Got to the bottom of this massive canyon, but there's a cloud in here and we can't see the way. Will wait, hopefully cloud goes away (there are mountains on the other side of the cloud and we need to climb one of them).

We didn't feel too bad about waiting. Last night was the first when neither of us had headaches and we both feel great. Must be the climb high sleep low trick we've read about before coming here.

8:40 Our guys got here and rescued us, we followed them on.

Not steep at all! :)

11:00 Top of the seconf pass. A very long, very hard climb. Finally we got to the red rocks I've seen yesterday. I think the reason the mountain looks like that here is the wind, it's blowing really hard through this pass, blew my hat off several times.

11:30 After a long flat part got to Waynay glacier.

11:55 Got to lunch spot. But first we almost became lunch ourselves for these dogs:

Five of them I think. I was a little worried but not too much since I had my walking sticks and I wouldn't mind (in principle) fighting with some dogs, so we let Kim go in front while Marci and I stayed back and walked backwards and I bravely charged at the dogs occasionally to let them know to keep their distance.

Later as we were waiting for lunch three of them were camped up on the slope above us barking. I moved slowly but intentionally towards them and two ran away almost immediately, the third took a minute of jedi mind tricks to drive away. Or maybe it just decided to follow its friends.

13:40 Going to leave soon. Looks like my boots are finally dry, I was worried they'd stay wet for the rest of the trip (which is what would have happened in Ontario). Despite all the clouds we had no rain so far today, would have been much more annoying if we did.

Getting to the last pass was completely a piece of cake. Feeling very positive, good weather holding up.

Spent almost an hour hiking on the side of (yes side, not top or bottom of) a canyon, a hike that culminated in incredible views.

Unfortunately it started raining and I couldn't photograph a really really tall skinny waterfall. Like 30 times taller than Niagara falls.

Oh, this was fun: it looks like a solid path but it's made of those horrible slippery little flat rocks and when you don't sink in you slide down, freaky!

Some kind of coconut!

A super soft and fluffy looking plant, which is actually a cactus with very, very strong and sharp spikes!

Enjoying the heights:



At this point it was getting close to 17:00 and the sun was going down but the way looked flat and there was a village down below so I wasn't too worried.

And then I saw our caravan on the other side of the canyon. These dudes really need to communicate better, our guide's "we're almost there" turned into a crazy and unexpected adventure.

So far the day has been already stressful for Kim, she didn't like the steep drops on one side of the path, but now she nearly reached the breaking point. See that red sandy-looking slope? The path runs across it and it is not for the faint of heart. Not only is the drop very steep and pretty high, but the slope is made of gravel.

Imagine a 45% slope covered with knee-deep gravel with no support whatsoever. It wasn't gravel, reminded me more of concrete screening, but you probably don't know what that is. You step into it and immediately two things happen:
  1. You sink in over your ankles, and
  2. You start sliding downhill together with about a half a meter of slope below and above your feet.
The quickstone (I'll call it that) part of the path was only about 3 meters long, and I immediately saw the solution to this puzzle, but Kim pretty much freaked out.

What you have to do cross this successfully is go across quickly, ignoring the fact that you're sliding down together with part of the hill. The crossing is short enough that even in the worst case if you keep moving you won't fall too far down and you can recover on the other side.

But to do that you need to believe it. If you hesitate and stop or consider going back - in that moment you'll slide down farther, you'll freak out more, you'll do something stupid, slide down some more, freak out more, you see my point. We managed to convince Kim to come over after both Marci and I went, and she did it but I think that broke her for the day.

To add insult to injury at the bottom of the canyon we had to cross was a rather fast running creek. Fast enough that I seriously worried I may fall in, even though I crossed many such little rivers on my canoe and kayak trips. This was very powerful, very cold, slippery, it was getting dark, and we were tired. I did take my time and took the boots off, didn't need wet boots on top of everything. We both crossed without any incident but at this point even I started to get annoyed with Marci.

You see that was not yet the end of the day! I have no photos of the end of the day because it turned pitch dark and we had to walk in complete darkness for 30 or 45 minutes.

How did we find the way? At first we followed the path and got to an old woman's hut. She had a bunch of sheep. I guess she told Marci which way to go (he forgot to tell us anything about what was happening). So we went, and went, and went. I got my flashlight out, but I'm not sure that helped much except to make Kim feel better. Finally we saw another light, one of our guys came back to get us.

That night was hard on Kim, and so was hard on me as well. I think Kim was ultimately hardened by the experience, as for me - I was simply more annoyed at the guide. All I wanted was to know what was going on. If I knew what decisions he was making and why - that would have been much better than what I was imagining in my own. Perhaps Marci thought that not knowing exactly where we are or where to go is something he should keep to himself, but we already knew that, so the only things he ended up keeping to himself were potential solutions to the problems. Not a good decision on his part.

Day 9: Ancascocha (3700m) - last peak (3940) - something else (3525m)

Woke up on time, packed.

6:35 Done with breakfast. It's supposed to be a long day today but not too steep. Marci says climb till lunch and go down in the afternoon.

8:40 Taking a break, taking all the warm stuff off. Finally the sun is out and it looks like it may stay for a while.

Isn't it something to be able to look at those mountains in the distance and say "yeah, I've been up there, piece of cake :)" ? And yes, those are horns on my head.

Ah, we managed our traditional shadow photo, couldn't have asked for a better one!

Made a wrong turn at some point but only wasted about 20 minutes and got to the top of the last pass.

Looks like coming back to civilization!

Had a water-free lunch on the top of the mountain, very tasty beans and chicken salad. Tried to make photo of everyone (Marci was taking it) but I don't remember who's who any more :)

The way down was insane. See that crack? That's the path, down on the bottom of it. What's missing in the photo is a good sense of scale.

Even here, you can't really tell just how incredibly massive those cliffs on the sides are. They're so high I don't even know what to compare them to. How the horses made it down those slopes I have no idea.

We stopped by an old temple in a very cool location right on top of a hill with grand views. I don't remember the story that supposedly explained its location, something to do with priests and offerings to mountain peaks.

From the top we heard a storm but I guessed it's headed in a different direction (it was). The bottom of the valley you can see here is still a day away:

The horses did like me very much, I guess I haven't been putting any effort into building a connection. Shame, I rather like animals, but had other things on my mind at the end of the days.

There was some debate among the guys about where to go (in their language I couldn't possibly understand). Eventually I guess they agreed to camp on the nice place up here and send a horse downhill to get water for cooking.

Rain started just after our tent's been set up. Not long left now!

Day 10: Cachicata stone quarry - Ollantaytambo - Machu Pichu

Kim got up on time all by herself, or maybe it was the hour and a half of talking next door since 4:30.

Had the biggest breakfast yet. Best for the end! That's not a bad policy, since we had little appetite in the beginning.

Said goodbye to the horsemen, gave them 100 soles each as a tip. They are headed back to where we came from, but Marci says it will take them a day and a half to get back rather than six, and they will start by climbing that crazy mountain I was sure they wouldn't even be able to go down on :)

Cute tree:

Wild cactus. Cactuses attracted my attention because I never lived in a place where they grow, I only ever saw them in pots inside. Later I'd see much larger ones.

The rock quarry was quite impressive. The rocks we saw from far above, and they obviously fell naturally from the side of the mountain but equally obvious was that these were not naturally straight cuts. Again, noone really knows how they were made. The theory is that they would be rolled someplace else to build something.

Oh, exciting! Marci said the elongated sculls were what noble inca did to their children by tying up their skulls. Interesting idea. Kim wasn't a fan, and I didn't feel comfortable messing around there too much because Marci seemed to have some strong feelings towards the tomb. So be it.

This was apparently made by the spanish for grinding something, not an old inca thing:

Stick bug! Aloe! More cactus! Marci says I make as many photos as a chinese tourist (his story was that the chinese are the worst in that regard, making photo after photo after photo :)

The hiking might be over but not the excitement! The bridge is out but our bus is on the other side!

Oh yeah, no problem, there's a rope :)

Actually there are two ropes. One just over the water to hold on to:

And one far more exciting one :)


We didn't see them any more but the horsemen came down here to drop off our stuff while we were waiting for the bus. It arrived eventually (being a spanish country noone is in a hurry here) and had room for 30 but we were the only passengers.

Got to the lunch place pretty quickly, around 12:00. Ollantaytambo is 100% touristy, and very pretty. Definitely prettier than Cuzco but perhaps less authentic. For example toilets here have toilet seats (at least the one at the restaurant did) - the first we've seen in Peru except our hotel :)

Lunch was being prepared (still by our chef) at the Huatakay restaurant (it might actually be a hotel, it's probably both) and we used the time to go for a walk around town.

Fascinating mailbox placement, especially since typical people in Peru are about half a meter shorter than Kim :)

Hmm.. tea:


Sadly no. Guinea pig is a delicacy in Peru, but I never tasted it. I considered it in Cuzco but Kim didn't want any and I wasn't hungry enough to eat a whole one of those. Should have tried!

Anyway, lunch was very tasty as usual, prepared by Raoul with Ernesto's assistance. We said goodbye to these two as well. I think we tipped the chef 200 soles and the assistant 100.

Car ride to the train station was very quick. I tried to film the way and ran out of space on the card. Who would have thought, I figured there's no way in hell I could fill it up, well sure enough there were over 400 photos on it. Chinese tourist. Spent some time at the train station and in the train deleting stuff (some videos made by mistake, lots of useless festival photos) and made room for 80 more photos, should be enough for the rest of the trip. I hope.

Train ride was ok but not much more than that. Views would have been magnificent except we've seen all that from much better angles in the last week.

This is what we came down from yesterday, behind the big black one:

Came out of the train to find only 2 out of our 3 bags. They must have stuffed it in some special place, maybe hoping we'd forget about it?

Hotel concierge made photocopy of our passports and immigration paper. It's hard to ask why if you don't speak the language. Well at least he didn't try to take our passports.

Our room was on the 2nd floor, facing the railway. probably one of their best views.

I really liked this coat hanger in our room (except for the plastic hangers part) and made a photo to use as inspiration for the Peru corner I was already planning to build. Here it is in Peru and in our home, and I can show it to you because I am writing this 10 months after we came back, so I had lots of time to build it:

The two paintings are the ones I mentioned in day 4. I framed them myself. The coat hanger wasn't hard to build, made of pine with I think oak pegs I bought premade at Home Depot (they were exactly what I needed and I don't have a lathe). The runner was also purchased in day 4 and I built the cabinet because we needed one and it fit well in the design.

The only things not Peru-inspired here are the cowboy hats, which Kim brought back from Calgary. Calgary, Peru - close enough :)

Had dinner later at a restaurant we picked ourselves (Marci went somewhere else and said he'll meet us in the morning. Came back and had a shower, with soap. My hair was so dirty that the one package of shampoo I had wasn't nearly enough to clean it. Whatever.

Day 11: Machu Pichu

Hotel had a nice view but man is it noisy. The town is clearly 100% for tourists, I wonder where the locals live. Marci said it was the most expensive place to live in Peru. No wonder since tourism is probably driving the entire economy here :)

Marci gave us a tour of Machu Pichu and it was interesting but I don't understand why people say it's a must see if you go to Peru. They have plenty of old castles and fortresses on top of mountains just as old and impressive all over Europe.

Here's the #1 tourist photo spot, where you have to line up and be quick about it :)

And the rest is photos of various parts of the fortress:

At some point during the tour I learned that this was actually all rebuilt by a european who found it accidentally. That was pretty disappointing, I would have thought all this stonework could survive on its own, I guess not.

We said goodbye to Marcellino here. Gave him the same tip as the chef (200 soles), he seemed to hesitate a little taking that, not sure if he expected more or didn't expect any. He gave us bus and train tickets. I asked for a phone number to call in case we don't find the person waiting for us at the train station but he said not to worry about it. I didn't argue (but should have, see below).

The far more interesting part of the day was climbing Wayna Pichu. That's the peak on the right in the photo below and the climb is as crazy as it looks:

There are a lot of places where you can hold on to cables, but not everywhere, and I'm not sure how much trust I would put into those cables anyway.

We made it all the way up in 25 minutes, and that's despite being held back by annoying slow people much of the time. Here's Machu Pichu as seen from the top of Wayna Pichu by this awesome couple:

There were a bunch of lizards in the tree at the very top, I can only find one in this photo:


Going down this steep stuff is actually a lot scarier than climbing up and probably took longer too. It feels like the steps are twice taller than they are deep, pretty much a vertical drop with nothing to hold on to:

Very cool!

The train had the windows open so we didn't suffocate, much better than the train in. Also got a couple of surprises on the train - a dance with a dude dressed in a costume and an El Paca fashion show.

Got to the destination, no problems with the bags this time (despite having more than 5k per person). And.. there was noone waiting for us at the door, damnit. I waited around while Kim went farther out and found someone speaking english. The guy said there's a Llamapath bus in the bus parking lot and I think went to fetch him.

We waited 5-10 minutes and the driver showed up, out of breath and confused. I think he said he was expecting us at 6, not 5:30. Whatever, except in a minute it turned out he wasn't there for us at all, he was waiting for a group guided by Javier. I guess good thing we had the Llamapath bags or else he may not have believed us. Anyway, half an hour later (time he spent on the phone) we were off, on a long, very bumpy and twisty road to Cuzco. Not a chance to sleep on the way.

Days 12-13: Cooldown and flight back

After coming back to Cuzco we've allocated one day to relax before jumping into the airplane/airport craziness. So it was a lazy day. We did find a playground to show off in :)

I stopped at the Interbank where I left my card - they said that whomever came to open up the ATM cut the card. Good, that's nice, though I'm not 100% sure that was the truth.

Dropped off the bags at Llamapath, they had trouble finding our deposit (this seems to be a theme with these guys). Had a couple of naps.

The next morning our taxi picked us up on time for our 8:00 flight. The route was the reverse of arrival, with stops at Lima and San Salvador. But this time only one day, arriving to Toronto at 22:00. Nothing interesting happened on the way, or maybe something did but we were too tired to notice.

The end.

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