Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dowsing in Nazca

September 1, 2012

Today is our last day in Nazca. Our schedule starts with an early morning to see the Aqueducts of the Nazca people. Why is this important? The Nazca people lived in the desert and were flanked by the Andes Mountains to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east. Not many options for a water source. But, nature always provides a way as long as you're willing to listen.

I don't believe these are actual UNESCO sites but they should be! They're amazing. Imagine the spirals going into the ground to be met by fresh water. The water table of the area is close enough to the surface that the 36 wells built are still in use today.

The wells have been rebuilt and they are in better condition than they used to be. It's nice to see the impressive design of these things. Why they're circular? Nobody knows, but it would make the most sense to me because it's just easier to get water in and out of there with having to climb out with a great deal of effort.

When we see the dried up riverbed of Nazca, I actually come to the realization that this place is truly a desert and that life here must have been very hard.

Antonio drops us back in town and lets us know to get ready to meet him for the bus ride back to Lima later in the day. We eat lunch at Rico Pollo--another chicken house. I swear AW was tempted to order a whole chicken to go because this one was even tastier than Roky's!

We say good-bye to Antonio thank him for his efforts and time and embark on another 7-8 hour bus ride back to Lima.

The ride is much the same as our ride down, to Nazca. This time, we notice different things... like the  luxurious activities people partake in: sand boarding. What a strange thing to do! I can't imagine falling on your face and just burning all the way down the dune :( but, that's the thing about the mining town... lots of people come from all over Peru to work there to make money to send home and some of them end up with riches beyond their dreams. Others aren't so lucky and we pass shanti-towns that looks dilapidated and sad.

When we arrive in Lima, AW suggests we check out the Kennedy Park.... the CAT PARK! hehehe This time I was prepared to pat every stray that would let me. By the time we had to head out, AW was dragging me out of there...

We had dinner at a contemporary restaurant called La Paz. It's our last pisco sour and ceviche on the trip. The conversation with the wait staff was fun for all of us, trying to guess what the other was saying. It's not particularly cultural but it is certainly tasty.

As we head back to the hotel, I reflect on our 2 week long trip and think about the things that we've experienced, learned and enjoyed. Peru is one of the most interesting places I have ever had the privilege to travel to. There is so much history and nature there; it pulls you away from our modern materialistic society and gets you to really put things into perspective.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nazca Lines and Gold Mining

August 31, 2012

It's 7:00am and I'm wide awake already... because a neighbouring rooster spent the entire night doodling non-stop. My head is spinning. I drag myself out of bed to get ready to go for the day: we're going to the Nazca Desert.

Breakfast is brief and both AW and I are ready to head out to the highlight of this portion of our trip. We're getting on an airplane to see the Nazca Lines. What are the Nacza Lines? They are essentially huge glyphs and lines scratched into the desert by the Nazca people by removing the reddish pebbles to expose the grey/white ground. They were discovered by a Peruvian archaeologist while hiking in the highlands and they've been dated to be made between 400 and 650 AD. One of the main reasons they've survived to date is because of the climate. However, until they were discovered nobody knew any better and a highway actually goes right through one of them! The most notable scholar who studied these lines during her lifetime was a German mathematician, Maria Reiche.

There are many speculations about the purpose of these ancient pictures ranging from the believable (religious or practical purposes) to the strange (UFOs!). Maria is a mathematician so her theory lies within these realms. Antonio believes similarly.

These are a bit difficult to see in the photos but here's a picture of the Hummingbird:

The plane is a 4 passenger propeller plane. This is the first time I've gotten into such a small vehicle... It's cramped to say the least. I am apprehensive about the ride not only because it's a small prop plane and that the risk is probably higher but because the way in which they will be flying has left many reviews from tourists that the experience is rather challenging for those who are prone to motion sickness... and even for those who do not suffer the same problem, this experience can bring out the worst in a person. There are little baggies on the back of the seat in front of me.

The flight is over quickly and I'm happy to be back on the ground. The experience brings back some memories of a trip to Disney World and the stomach churning ride that I insisted my brother and I go on because "we can handle it just fine"--yea right.

Antonio is waiting for us in the parking lot and tells us our next trip is to visit an outdoor museum with a sad and chilling history: Chauchilla Cemetery.

We drive into the desert (again) and drive by an Incan administrative office ruin! Who knew the Inca's influence went as far south as Nazca. But what a different place Nazca is, from what the Inca were used to.

We arrive at what seems to be, the middle of nowhere with a woven thatched roof over a small booth where Antonio walks over to speak with a woman and exchange tickets. We have arrived at the Chauchilla Cemetery. The story of Chauchilla is sad... nobody really knows much about the history or the truth about how the tombs are actually formatted because of grave robbers who desecrated the area when they found the riches exposed by an el nino effect one year.

The tombs are just recreations of what archaeologists think might have been. You can see in the sand, remnants of pottery, human bones and even hair. The boy who is in the next picture is Antonio's shadow during the tour. He must find us tourists so strange.

We understand why this town is as unusual as we have seemed to discover... it is primarily a mining town. Many miners here mine gold, among other things and it has made some of them very wealthy. And, since most miners tend to be men, we understand the reason for such a high male population. Our next stop is visiting a metal separating facility--specifically for gold in this case. It's done the old fashion way: with mercury. We realize that back home, these conditions would probably never be allowed for the miners in North America. It's kind of disheartening, actually.

We get a session from the owner about how the process works and then are escorted into a gift shop. Right on cue. I learn the the gold refining process is just absurd! Imagine 60 tonnes of dirt (what they consider "ore") and they process all that for maybe 1 ounce of gold. Crazy, right? Well folks, that's how it's done now. Gone are the days of the gold rush and the Spanish conquest of South America.

It's getting dark and Antonio has dropped us off at the hotel to find our way about dinner. We check out a small local restaurant that the guide book has suggested and I down it with another bottle of Inca Kola. Our evening spent strolling the street is a bit more comfortable and we see the streetfood vendors all out and selling their fare. Hamburgesa con quesa. Well, not quite but their version of it! Too bad we already ate... otherwise S.2/00!

This is our last night in Nazca and we stroll around for a long while while really getting to know all the streets and making sure we don't miss anything.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


On our visit to the farm lands of South Western Ontario in search of equine facilities this past weekend, AW and I accidentally found a local Elk farm: Coyote Creek Deer Company Venison on Trafalgar. We turn into this seemingly innocent residence, ring the door bell and are greeted by a tall grey gentleman with a cheerful disposition and giant smile. He's happy to see strangers... wow, I think. I tell him we've stopped because of his sign "Elk Open" and he nods and quickly tells us he's going to get a coat and shoes to show us what he's got.

We get into his double garage and he opens a huge freezer of neatly vacuum packaged meat. We're somewhat speechless and I think he senses this and says to us "why don't I take you two to see the animals. They're out back this way." Thinking about this turn of events while I'm writing, makes me wonder what we were actually thinking... this man is potentially a murderous psycho who kills and chops us strangers who stop by to innocently buy elk! But, we're so excited right now that we head to his back yard.

His dogs come bouncing out of their doggie door and follow us to the back fence. Our new friend's name is Dan and he tells us that the elk are probably near the back of the enclosure and that he'd take us on the entire tour. We grab the bucket of corn and hop on his tractor while he drives us out what seems like almost a kilometer. Now we see them... the herd of elk. He tells us that he's raising red deer and elk and the hybrids of the two.

We're in the enclosure now, and the herd comes running over and they are soon eating out of our hands (literally!) of the corn from the bucket. A few get really greedy and push themselves to eat directly out of the bucket!

Dan also raises pheasants to release into the area...

The conversation with Dan is really engaging and we learn a lot about the practices he's employing to raise these animals and the other practices that surround this endeavour. He even has a neighbour who's raising his own honey bees and we grab a raw, unfiltered, unpasturized jar of honey. I'm not sure if it's just the fabulous fall day that is making things seem so neat but I don't remember having had more fun while getting so dirty!

NB: Dan and Daniel Klein aren't the same person...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Horsin' Around this Weekend

Last Thursday, I couldn't visit Bonnie. I started taking English riding lessons a few weeks ago and I am really getting into it. Ok who are we kidding, everytime I think about getting out there to ride, everything is wonderful and rainbows. Amber, Dave and AW keep telling me that it appears that I'm really getting into this and that it's great that something could make me so happy. So, this weekend, I took the plunge and went to the 51st semi-annual Greenhawk warehouse sale to get suited up. That's right, SUIT UP!

I spent 2 weeks strategizing the plan of what I need, get and how much I'd save and which one would be the best deal. Not being partial to any specific brands helps at this point. Two weekends ago, I even made a preliminary trip to Greenhawk to try things on so I'd be prepared for the big day: Saturday Oct 20th. Not only was a bunch of stuff on some serious discount, but there was a Gate Crasher deal of taking an additional 30% off any clearance item. I look at the receipt and see that the original purchase would have cost me over $600 but I've managed to spent just over $250.

What'd I get?
  • Ariat Heritage Paddock III boot in chocolate
  • Elation Crochet Back Gloves in cream
  • Aerion Ladies Multipurpose Shell Rain Jacket in teal
  • Grand Prix Hampton II Low Rise Breech x 2
  • Mondega Super Suede 1/2 Chap
  • Aerion Men's Tech Polo x 2
Now I'm ready for my next lesson to ride in proper schooling style!

Sunday had some more equine activities...

Greyden is super far for me to go during the week so I've been thinking about looking at schools  closer to the city. But let's face it, there is no such thing for something like this. I made arrangements to visit Meadowlarke in Mississauga first thing in the morning and how excited am I? I'm so excited that I'm up 2 hours earlier than I need to be. Unfortunately, there isn't space for additional students at Meadowlarke for the month of November so after getting some fee and lesson information, I head out.

When AW and I return to the car, we figure that since we're out this way, we could go see if Greyden is open to give him a better idea of the facility I'm going to now. The drive during the day is scenic and relaxing. Possibly also because I'm not stressed out about arriving on time for my lesson. It's too bad that when we get there, they tell us that they have a clinic and don't have time for visitors today. Oh well.

It's back home for us... after we visit some more stables in the area! I stop at one that I didn't expect to stop at and I find that I really like this place. But, we'll have to see if the trek is worth it since it's almost as far as Greyden and with the winter coming up, the drive seems like an unnecessary trip to make. I'm looking for a solid place that is reputable and somewhere I feel comfortable with the schooling, instructors and the schedule. Afterall, jumping from place to place doesn't build consistency in your learning and skills.

I'm working on completing my comparison chart of the schools and have a few more to see before I make a decision...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Last Arm of the Trip: Nazca

August 30, 2012

We have the morning to ourselves. This is "Day 1" of our Nazca tour. Since this part of the tour actually starts around noontime, we rise early and head out on the town to check out an local artisan marketplace.

The marketplace we find is HUGE. It's got everything that you could think of, for souvenirs. Some tacky and lame and others that seem to be a great gift. We pick up some really nice shot and liquor glasses. AW grabs a vibrant nativity scene made out of a gourd (!) for his mum. Amazing prices for such ethnic souvenirs!

Anyways, we're on a tight schedule and need to return to the hotel to meet the (Client Experience Officer) CEO Miro. The day is overcast, foggy and cool. When Miro picks us up, he tells us that there is yet another local festival in the city and certain streets are closed. Our conversation with Miro is interesting since we discover that he's actually a Peruvian-American. He's not like our other G-Adventure guides/CEOs since his English is near perfect and even his mannerisms are a little different... more North American it seems. And, he's got a Dallas Cowboys logo in his car. He tells us that while in the US, he was grew up there and went to school but returned to Peru for his carrier since the marriage of his ethnic and cultural backgrounds make him a prime candidate for being able to relate to tourists like us and the locals.

He takes us to the bus station. He helps us get oriented and put together so that we are ready for our bus ride along the coast, to Nazca. Let me tell you, traveling by bus is an interesting endeavour in Lima. It's quite westernized and we get on the blue double decker bus and sit back to view the coastal scenery for the next 7-8 hours. The scenery is vastly different from the metropolitan city of Lima, the ancient mountain region of Cusco and certainly different from the Jungles.

The bus lulls us to an uncomfortable sleep and we wake to eat a served meal and then out again so that we don't get sick from the swaying of the bus. I don't think I like these double decker buses at all.

When we arrive in Nazca, it is dark and cool. Tired and stiff from our journey, we stumble off the bus, grab out bags and look for our local guide--who is to be waiting for us at the bus station. Many local guides of the area are seeking tourist attention since many people have come out this way completely unprepared with a tour guide. We spot ours and he introduces himself... Antonio--like Antonio BANDERAS.

He is of a cheerful disposition and tells us that we're in luck because the city is celebration a local festival (again) and that our hotel is nearby so we can certainly check out the main plaza to see what's going on.

First though, we're starving so we pick a restaurant across the street from the hotel: Roky's. They serve roast chicken family style. It's a westernized rotisserie with a huge cartoon flare about it. We have tonnes of trouble ordering because most of the servers speak VERY limited English.

We finish and head over towards the plaza... the streets are busy and the night is cool. Many people are out enjoying themselves and just having a good time socializing with their peers. As we stroll down the main street, we notice that we're getting some unusual looks from passer-bys... Something's not quite right, I think, without being able to place my finder on the exact issue. By now, AW and are are both feeling uneasy and decide to head back to the hotel. No, we weren't mugged or harassed.... but man, there was a strange vibe going on. It suddenly dawns on the two of us as we're quickly making our way back to the hotel: the population is seemingly 70%+ male! We arrive at the hotel, look at one another recognizing the twilight zone we just left, nod in agreement and turn in for the night.

Tomorrow: ready for the prop plane doing pivots in the air over the lines.

Monday, October 15, 2012

It's Just Like Home

August 29, 2012

Today is the last day we spend the jungle... and really, that's an over statement because we get up only to get ready and head to the airport. We are only heading back to Lima with Mark and Dane as the others have a different itinerary than we do. A few are staying behind longer and others are heading out to the Inca Trail or otherwise.

Unfortunately, we spend a good chunk of the day in transit.

We arrive at the airport of Puerto Maldonado and we realize that we've had it really lucky with the humidity and it's only now starting to heat up. We sit outside of the airport with Mark and Dane to just relax and decompress a bit more before we have to head into the airport to get through security. I crave Inca Cola out of a glass bottle.

The flight back was a connecting flight that stopped in Cusco briefly to pick up new passengers who are heading to Lima. We only see Cusco again from our seats.

We arrive in Lima in the afternoon and the day is overcast and cool. Our bus picks us up and takes us back to the same hotel we've stayed in before (Hotel la Castellena). I don't like it when days are spent in transit because nothing really comes out of it. I mean what did we accomplish? I didn't even manage to snap any photos because the time spent in the airport was uneventful.

Arriving at the hotel was a relief because we get to decompress. Mark and Dane are heading out the next morning and tell us that they've had a great time and we'd reconnect via email once we've all returned home.

Like most days where it's just AW and myself, we're out exploring and looking for something to eat. The thing is, we're still in our outdoorsy outfits and not in any particular fashion to be walking into any fine dining establishments. That's the thing about being tourists though... nobody really cares because they already know you aren't one of them (although in Peru, there is a very high Japanese and Chinese population). So, we decide to check out their mall: Larcomar. This mall is really neat because it's open to the outside and it overlooks the Pacific Ocean. At night, the view is stunning.

We check out Vivaldino. A fine dining establishment where we're (yet again) under-dressed.

The wait staff are friendly and humour our poor Spanish and help us select wonderful meals. Living by the sea must have its benefits... since we each had a poo-poo platter of seafood, each. Clearly we got way too greedy.

After spending so much of our time in the very cultural places like Cusco, the Sacred Valley and the Jungle, Larcomar is a flash of Western lifestyles with families in malls eating at Chilies or purchasing clothing at Western style shops. It's a little disappointing but, I'd say we recognize that this is part of the idolization of Western lifestyles. We have such bounty and unusual norms. We're kind of removed from nature and simplicity of it all. The ironic thing about it is that AW and I have come out this way to experience the native culture and ways. Instead, we see exactly what we'd see at home.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Jungle Life

August 28, 2012

I wake up feeling the most refreshed I have in ages. I might consider purchasing a jungle sounds for sleeping. Anyways, we get up to head to the main cabin to have breakfast to get ready for a day time jungle hike.

We pile into the boat to head to the trail where we're looking for some black caiman and other wildlife. We're told that this area of water we're walking to was part of the original Tambopata river but closed off from natural changes in the water levels from rain.

The hike takes us into the jungle and Ricardo shows us lots of bugs and identifies calls that we hear. It's a really neat hike since we learn about the various plants that the locals have always used and western medicine has started to discover. Unfortunately, with such a large group, it's less likely that we see animals. This butterfly is super awesome! It's got transparent wings:

We hike and see the jungle trees. There are so many strange trees that have unusual habits and characteristics. Compared to the boreal and broadleaf forests that I'm used to, some trees here are not trees at all and are a parasitic vine that strangles and suffocates a tree and eventually kills it through growing all around it. Others are capable of moving from one spot to another, in order to get sunlight. Then you have those which bear very large and unusual fruit--such as the canon ball tree. Don't walk through a durian orchard at night? better not to walk through the jungle at night!

We find many fruit trees and one of them happens to have dropped clusters of its fruit--apparently a favourite of our rescued friends back at the lodge. I climb into one of those vine-trees and get to the center where the original host tree had died and rotted away...

When I look up and around me....

There are shrubs which tribes use for painting their bodies with--we get initiated into our own little tribe when Ricard paints our faces with this red pigmented leaf. Our group takes a photo in front of a big wide tree which I've already forgotten the name of! but it's wider than our group is!

We feed piranha at the little "pond" from a big canoe and get to see a flock of the stinky bird (AW must remember the name of these birds... he wanted to see them very badly) that can regurgitate their meals back to chew them... kind of like cows? Ugh. Kind of gross if you ask me.

I'm so glad that the weather has been moderately cool (by jungle standards) since we were asked to wear full long pants (see mosquitos!) and long tops. It's nice to return to the lodge and get some time to relax and have lunch.

We are greeted by our lodge friends with excitement since we brought back a jungle treat for them...

Our afternoon activities? We have options to visit a local fruit farm or to head to the interior of the lodge lands and check out the mini river tub. They have built a small pool area where the river water flows through and you can soak yourself in mineral rich river waters. Note "mineral rich" doesn't always mean clear water... hehehe

We decide to check out the local fruit farm.

Do you like cashews? This is why they're so darned expensive: 1 seed per fruit

This is an indigenous fruit of the area and it's called "ice cream bean". We eat the fuzzy cottony part that surrounds the bean.

Then we take a guided tour of the orchard where all the fruits are being grown together: pineapples, noni, avocado, banana, star fruit, hot peppers, cassava root... This is called polyculture. In many countries, this practice has been found to be more productive than the traditional monoculture we use in North American commercial farms.

Do you know how pineapples grow?

 What about avocados?

Or bananas...

The noni fruit is indigenous to Southeast Asia but does very well here. It's particularly useful in the medicinal realm and many seek it for its phytonutrients and other nutrients. It isn't very tasty though...

This is a hot pepper bush with extremely hot peppers that make my mouth salivate excessively while thinking about them!

And, since he could, he kept chickens.

What an interesting day! Call me nerdy but I really enjoy the educational parts of a trip when I learn about the nature and the people. Time to head back and relax.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Welcome to the Jungle!

August 27, 2012

The next morning, we get up pretty early and head down for a continental breakfast and get ready to meet Mark and Dane to get to the airport. Mark and Dane are two American tourists whom we meet during the trail and they happen to be doing the same trip we are. We pile into the van and chat up our driver and learn the colours in Spanish... azul--like the sky. Rojo like the matador's blanket. Verde like the rainforest we're going to see. Blanco like the snow capped glacier mountains. Negro like the fertile soils. And amarillo like the Inca Cola of my previous day's lunch.

The trip is short and when we arrive, I anticipate humidity and heat--there is little of either. The airport is small and we find our check point person and pile into a Winnebago and start on our trip to the lodge. Our first stop was at the gate of the airport as we see two people zipping by, to make a U-y and one of them jumping off and climbing into the Winnebago. This is our jungle guide: Ricardo.

He briefs us that we will be heading to the Tambopata eco-lodge's office to drop off our bags in secured storage and bring another duffel with us, into the jungle. We quickly make the exchange and pile back into the Winnebago. The drive over to the port is bumpy and dusty. We are experiencing their dry season and it hasn't rained in so long that the large umbrella-like leaves are coated in red dust from the roads.

We're told that the only way to arrive at our final destination of Puerto Maldonado is by boat: jungle boat. In this video, we're also getting our lunches. NB the volume when you're watching. **unedited video**


I'm looking mighty bad-ass in my orange PFD.

The river is over 400km long and flows from the eastern Andes into the great Amazon River and is also less than 60km from the boarder of Bolivia. This area of the rainforest is some of the most pristine and wild.

The boats don't travel in a straight line as the river is shallow in some parts and we have to avoid becoming a river projectile. But, many of the boats are zipping by at full speed ahead! NB of the volume while watching. **unedited video**

Our first stop is the check point to the Tambopata National Reserve where we sign in and get our passports stamped.

After this, we head back onto the boat and continue on our way. We stop to see some wildlife such as the caiman, turtles and monkeys.

When we arrive at the eco-lodge, we're provided a brief orientation, an evening itinerary and an introduction to some of our happy lodge friends: Banana, Homer and Mimo. Some rescues which have become residents of the lodge. AW and I head to our lodge to check it out and get settled in. The sounds of the jungle are all around us.

Following dinner, we head out on a night walk to see all the night life. Not the "night life" that we're used to... it's become a bug walk. I mentioned I didn't like camping, right? While the primary reason is the bathroom situation, the second (which is often tied with first) is the bug situation. I.hate.bugs.

While this is not my favourite activity to start the jungle trip, we do get to learn about all the creepy crawly critters that come out at night. Spiders, ants, flies... The jungle is teeming with life even in the dark! And, the sounds of the jungle haven't stopped, despite the sun going down. I wonder how I"m going to sleep tonight...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Our Last Days in the Andes

I left out the end of our journey to Machu Picchu in my last post for impact. I mean why distract from the mysticism of our trek and the climax in Machu Picchu? After having enough of the rain, we left on a bus down the mountain to end up in the most touristic town in all of Peru: Aguas Calientes. Our packs from the trek have been dropped off at a restaurant's second floor and we rush upstairs to get changed into dry clothes.

While eating lunch, a band comes by and they set up stage and start playing. The most awesome part? the one guy who's playing the ukelele is simultaneously playing the Peruvian flute and he looks like Mick Jagger! I wish we still had money to grab a copy of their CD.

Aguas Calientes is still up in the mountain so we're on our way to head back to Ollaytaytambo. We're scheduled to return to our hotel in Cusco so we still have a ways to go. We take a train to Ollataytambo and then hop on a bus back to Cusco. The bus ride is surreal in its own right because we're in the Andes Mountains and we're driving through during sunset--it's just stunning. No pictures do this justice.

After we return and thank our two wonderful tour guides, we head to our rooms to get cleaned up. The plan is to head out on the town with everyone to grab dinner and have our last evening together before we each part for the remainder of our own journeys. A few of us are on a month long trip backpacking it around South America and others are ending their journey to head home. It's been a memorable 4 days.


August 26, 2012

We get one more day in Cusco. Today, we finally get to explore Cusco on our own time. I'm determined to find something that I have been thinking about, since I arrived: the toritos de Pucara

(photo courtesy of Lonely Planet)

These religious relics are a fusion on Incan and Spanish tradition. They decorate rooftops as a pair and it’s said that these bulls bring good luck, keep the house safe and ensure health and wealth for the family that lives there. The bulls also face the mountain gods. You can read more about these interesting items in the link above.

While we didn't learn about these ceramic bulls by our guides, the moment I saw them on rooftops, I knew I had seen them somewhere. When I was little (we're talking over two decades ago), my uncle returned from his own trip to South America and gifted my family one of these cows and it has since sat in our living room in a corner, hidden. I was determined to find one to "return the favour".

Today, our plan is to head out to the main market find and eat the remaining local delicacies and check out some of the churches and just walk around to take in the Incan capital.

Our first stop is the market, where I would compare it loosely to Toronto's St Lawrence Market. Vendors sell fresh food, cooked food, sweets, crafts, clothing... you could probably find anything here. But what is this? a street food vendor area!

I'm holding a grilled skewer of anticuchos topped with a peruvian potato.


Next on the list? Chicharrons. The lady hands us a plate full of fried pork belly rinds, potato, mint leaves, giant corn kernals (they're the size of quarters!) and onion slivers. We stop and she looks at us and goes to a grab us forks from... a bucket filled with liquid and dirty utensils. *face palm* oh well. C'est la vie. We sit with Quechua speaking peruvians in the square and dine with them.

Another one checked off our list.

Then we head off to the market to search for my bulls and other souvenirs. But guess what? we still have food items on our list! Caldo de gallina accompanied with the effervescent yellow Inca Cola and some more (you guessed it) ceviche.

Different kinds of ceviche line their food vendor's countertops in large platters. We order a plate and devour it. The only thing we forgot to try is cuy, again. Cusco is known for their cuy.

We stroll the streets....

And after relaxing in the plaza with the other citizens, we head for higher ground to get a panoramic view of the plaza de armes of Cusco.

Dinner isn't too big since we already ate so much food during the day... we get ready and pack up for our next stop: Puerto Maldonaldo.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about dancing in the rain

We return to the Inca Trail today...

August 25, 2012

Today is the last morning. I don't know about AW but I spent the entire night dreading the next day. It rained all night and some things in the tent are wet too. This really disappoints me: I hate when things are damp. Our wake up call is right on schedule: 4am and we're being asked to get up so that we can get going. Breakfast is short because the porters need to pack things up quickly and get going because they have to catch a train to return home--they won't be joining us in Machu Picchu.

Thing is, we still have some ways to hike before we actually arrive at Machu Picchu. The hike is quiet as most of us are still groggy and unhappy about the wet weather.By now, my legs are really feeling it. I can't walk properly up or down because my muscles are so sore. But I plug on because I don't have a choice. The scenery around us is so...  mystical looking because there are clouds and trees in the mountains. The mountain faces are covered in trees and look like they're straight out of a fantasy novel. The altitude is lower so I notice that my face and extremities aren't as tingly as they've been feeling previously. Despite this, I'm experiencing some vertigo when I look out from the trail.

The weather is alternating between drizzling and outright rain. I have my rain jacket and rain hat and for now, it's doing the job fine. We keep walking after we get to the check point where we get our passports stamped and continue on our way.

It's been 4 days since we saw more than a dozen or so, people in one area. The trail has a limit people who are allowed to be on it, on a daily basis--this includes the porters. We arrive at the Sun Gate. Dimas tells us the story and hypothesis about Machu Picchu and tells us that we have arrived at the Sun Gate and in the space behind him is Machu Picchu. It's still foggy and I look out to the space and see nothing. The rain picks up a bit now.... We wait and wait and nothing comes out; we get a little bit but it's still not grand as we hoped. The ideal moment is coming here as the sun is rising and then looking out and once the clouds part: the mystical city of Machu Picchu is revealed to you.

We continue down to reach the tourist gates of Machu Picchu. There are tourists everywhere. Many come by train to visit the site itself and forgo the 4 day hike.

At this point, we're pretty wet and this has become significantly less enjoyable for us. Dimas tries to get us into the guided tour and I really wanted to get as much information and history as I could. But, when your underpants and socks are wet, you pretty much just want to go home.

Dimas is beaming with information and history. He asks us what type of tour we want. Most of us tell him we want the most extensive summary at each point, he could give. This was before we broke. There was so much that was just fascinating from so many perspectives. One of the most memorable monuments was the Intihuatana. It is believed to have been designed as an astronomic clock or calendar by the Incas. The lives of the Inca was very much related to nature and studying various aspects of nature in order to exploit the best conditions for agriculture. Afterall, at this point, the Incan people were no longer a tribe... but an empire with many mouths to feed. We're all intently entranced on Dimas' lecture about the Incans and their Intihuatana while the rain has turned to sheets coming down sideways.

In keeping up with the very seismically active area, we learn of some of the architectural features that the Incans employ: trapezoid shaped windows, mortarless stone walls...

We try very hard to maintain our attention but it is soon clear that we're all miserable. Saoul leads the way back down the mountain and the interesting thing to notice is that all the drainage systems of Machu Picchu are intact and functional. The rain water that is pouring down is being funneled through their various eaves. We see llama casually mowing the grass up here and just living it up.

We make our way to the public bus that takes us down the mountain to Aguas Calientes where all our stuff is waiting. I'm just glad I can get out of my wet clothes and into dry ones. Good thing I brought my flip flops! I dread wearing wet shoes.

This is a long 4 days and I think most of us are pretty tired (and perhaps somewhat demoralized from the lacklustre performance at the Sun Gate). I don't regret not taking more photos or even staying longer. I saw what I could and I knew that the decision I made was following my best attempt to make the best out of a wet situation. I'd say I danced in the rain until I didn't feel like dancing anymore.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Childhood Dream Come True

Every little girl wants a pony.

And every woman was that little girl at one point. You know what though? The desire never goes away... EVER. It gets distracted and set aside... but it doesn't take much and you'll have that little girl out in the open squealing with delight at the very idea of riding a horse.

That is me today. All week I spent counting down the days until I was scheduled to head out to Erin, Ontario to Greyden Farms for an English Riding lesson. I have never been more excited about anything in my life.

I haven't had the opportunity to get on a horse and have full autonomy since I was a child. I took riding lessons (western) during summer camp and those experiences probably stuck in my memory forever. But, as most things go... this is a rich man's sport and I'm not one of these rich people. But I'm lucky that NR found this place (despite it being so damned far) and we headed out that way. It a 1 hour drive north of the 401. This is the only time I wished I lived in a suburb subdivision.

The lessons are a refreshing change from the trail riding I've been doing the last few years--I have the opportunity to do as I wish (well, with an instructor) and actually become one with this majestic beast. I got on a sweet mare named Bonnie. She's described as "Kind and willing with a great mind." Sounds like my kind of horse!

NR got a funny boy who was giving her a run for her money as he decided that he didn't feel like doing much of anything. What giggles. Bonnie had an issue with turning a specific way.. kind of like Derek Zoolander.

I didn't get a chance to tack Bonnie but I helped her clean up and put her out in her pen. Really, I was squealing with delight the entire evening. Who cares that I got lost on the way up there and there was nobody for miles to ask for directions... or that a charter bus broke down and I got stuck for ~20 minutes on the 401 at 10:30pm. I was just SO EXCITED.

Monday, October 1, 2012


I hope you're not upset. I'm inserting a brief intermission to post about my weekend. We'll come back to Machu Picchu and the remainder of Peru in a few.

Soooo what's so exciting that I decided to interrupt my awesome Peruvian train of though? While Amber spent her weekend itching for answers, I was in Dwight, ON.

Nope, there's not a single pixel that has been post processed--that's the real deal. Of all the vacations I take, I look forward to and enjoy this one the most.

The past two years, we've stayed at Oxtongue Lake Cottages in 4-people cottages. This location is great because it's steps away from the park's west entrance and you're right off hwy 60. And, if you've got pets, this place is pet friendly.

This year, we mixed things up and stayed at Bondi Village. Though Bondi is a bit further from the park's entrance, the resort includes a farm area! How excited was I when I saw someone giving English riding lessons ~100m away!!! They also keep chickens here and in the summer, have fresh vegetables. This is my idea of getting away!

I went with members of my dragon boat team and we enjoyed hiking and just being still with nature. I saw a porcupine and deer and admit, being a city slicker makes all these critters neat. Han and I got really excited when we got to retrieve eggs for Nancy--while she was probably a-ok with us doing the work. Look at Han: what a chick magnet.

On Saturday, some of us head out to complete 2 short trails and get fresh air.

I have to take it easy this year because last year, following this trip, I got so sick that I was pretty certain I wouldn't make it. To this day, nobody's been able to tell me exactly what happened since the docs all said it wasn't viral or bacterial; seems like my "body just had a reaction". To what? Nobody knows... *dun dun dun*

When you stand there looking at the forest, it appears to be a cohesive piece of art... firey reds, oranges and yellows all painting a landscape of Ontario. But, when you're walking through the forest, it strikes you that each individual leaf contributes to the picture that you see--kind of like a living Monet.

Littered through the trails, there is a blanket thick with autumn leaves.

The most invigorating experience of the weekend was not hiking or even arriving at the lookout point on the Track and Tower trail. It was the peace I felt while standing on the edge of the dock in the dark with nothing but the stars and (full) moon shining on me basking in the silence of nature.