Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Old Mountain

After a stairmaster torture session starting at 4:30 am we reached the summit gates just before the first bus arrived. The company that owns Machu Picchu doesn´t open the sight until 6 am. We were the first through and then we booked it up the back side to the famous hut where you see the famous photo of the Incan ruins. We made it up there before the crowds were able to swamp the scene. More to come...

In through the Backdoor of Machu Picchu - Part Three

After a two and a half hour hike along the tracks, we finally came to the small, incredibly touristy jungle town of Aguas Calentes. It was late and the town was still. I saw this chef putting back his kitchen utensils as he cleaned up for the night. After much discussion and debate, we opted not to poach the famous Incan ruins and paid 120 soles for the entrance fee. Still we were getting there cheaper than any other tourist that slept in the town that night. We found a cheap hostel and passed out in anticipation of an early morning hike to the summit.

In through the Backdoor of Machu Picchu - Part Two

After reaching Santa Teresa, we took a cab ride to the town´s hydro electric plant where we would begin our hike towards the town of Aguas Calentes which sits near the base of Machu Picchu. At the tracks, numerous families have set up shop there to sell the few backpackers that head that way, food and beverages. As we passed through, a group of little children were excited to see me carrying my 30 kilo backpack and formed a parade behind me while tugging at the funny straps that hung down from it. They saw my camera when Eric shot the picture, that they instantly wanted to have their pictures taken and then see themselves on the LCD screen. I´ve never seen such excitement over a picture.

After insisting that we needed to go see the mountain, they waved goodbye and we set out on a 8 km hike along the train tracks. We were following scribbled directions that Eric had found on the internet. Nighttime had set in as we walked blindly over the rough rocks following the two steel rails into the darkness of the jungle.

In through the Backdoor of Machu Picchu - Part One

Our journey to Macchu Picchu started with a bus. Actually a couple of them. From Cuzco we purchased tickets for 15 soles ( a little under 5 dollars) to Santa Maria (a 8 hour bus ride) and then splurged another 10 soles to Santa Teresa (another two hours). The journey takes you through numerous little farming towns where banana trees tower over the road, coffee plants are abundant, and the ever presence of coca is spread throughout. This was actually the first time I had seen the coca fields myself. The buses make numerous stops to let locals off or bring new ones on while local women rush to the bus windows to sell their fruits and goods. From Santa Teresa on, Eric and I were traveling in a small van packed in with locals and two other backpackers from Spain and Brazil.

This concept of picking up random locals is pretty common in Peru. But it was one in particular woman that stood out. This woman had six large burlap bags filled to the brim with something we couldn´t see. She proceeded to start handing us bags into the bus and numerous passengers kept them on their laps. It was an instant recognition from the strong smell coming from the bags, she was transporting a lot of coca. Conversation changed to her crop and through process of elimination, she wasn´t planning on taking them to market for chewing but in fact they were destined for the local cocaine lab. The funny thing was that the guy sitting behind the driver was a cop. The driver whispered to him, ``Hey are you going to do anything about this?`` and the cop replied that he wasn´t because it was his day off and he wouldn´t be paid for the bust. Scary. It makes you wonder about the impact our government is having on the war on drugs.

We dropped her off and kept making our way towards Machu Picchu.

Cuzco, Peru

Cuzco is probably most well known as the epicenter of the great Incan Empire and even today it lays claim to being the oldest and consistently occupied city in South America. It´s existance dates back to the 12th century. Nowadays it maintains it´s strong heritage by being the diving board for tourists interested in emersing themselves in the Incan history and to the numerous Incan archeological sites that are scattered across Peru. The bread and butter of these sites being the infamous Machu Picchu which Eric and I set as one of the must see activities of our trip. The only problem is that we were quickly running out of money. To hike the famous Inca trail up to the sight required a couple months notice reservation and about $400.00 US. Another option was to take a train and bus combo for a couple hundred dollars. Neither of these options were in our budget.

Through the grapevine of the backpacker world, we came across another option. Apparently there was a way to take back roads and hike train tracks towards the Incan city. These details also described a way to poach it. We were intrigued and set our plans in motion to get there on the cheap. It would prove to be a very long adventurous journey.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rummy Score Update

It has been a while since Eric and I battled on the fields of rummy. A long time. Almost a month. So when we started picking up games again a couple days ago, Eric somehow unleashed the fury against me and has closed the gap on our scores. With only five weeks left of our trip, the drive for rummy dominance is going to heat up. Stay tuned.
Mike - 10230
Eric - 9965

The Road to Peru

From La Paz we took a bus to Copacabana to the banks of Lake Titicaca enroute to the Peru border. Instantly you can tell a difference in the wealth of the country once you crossed the border. The mudbrick buildings of Bolivia turned to established two story concrete homes in Peru. You still get the random locals hoping on the buses to play for money. But it was a warm welcome of Peruvian music as we came into the land of the Incas. Today we are in Cuzco planning our way into Machu Pichu. Tommarrow we tackle one of the seven wonders of the world.

The Death Road - Part Two

The Death Road - Part One

We returned to Samaipata amd took a bus to La Paz, the capital city of Bolivia. It is a beautiful place with plenty of tourism things to do. Except that we had no intentions of finding out what those were. Eric and I had only one thing on the agenda, to tackle the famous death road on mountian bikes. We said our goodbyes to Sanne and Arjan, and signed up at a local hostel for the trip that would drop us on a 70 km ride descending from 4633 meters above sea level downward over 3300 meters to the small town of Coroico.

The road itself was used for years as the primary route between La Paz and Coroico winding and twisting through steep jagged mountains on a muddy, narrow, single lane road. It´s name was rightly deserved. Numerous buses, cars and bikes have slipped off the side of it plumetting over a 1000 meters to the rocky bottom. Not four days before we arrived an American died when he lost control of his bike and went off the edge.

Now the old road exists as a tourist mountain biking adrenaline destination. A new paved road has replaced it as a commercial truck route, to our disapointment, but a few cars and tourist company caravans can still be found driving it. We couldn´t wait to begin.

In the Shadows

So upon our return to the lodge after our numerous hikes, we made a quick dinner, sipped some whiskey and prepared for an early bedtime. Everyone was doing their normal pre-bedtime routines. I was putting out the fire and brushing my teeth, Sanne cleaning her face, Arjan starting to clean up the dishes and Eric went off to use the bathroom. The shifts changed and I went to use the bathroom when I lifted up the seat and noticed this guy not a foot from me. I called everyone else in to see it and Eric gave one of his notorious yell/laugh/screams realizing that this thing had been right by his face when we was in the dark using the toliet. Pictures never really give an accurate indication of size. This spider was the size of my hand roughly 7 inches in diameter. It moved quick like a wolf spider but had visible fangs and big glowing eyes.

I wouldn´t say that we were a bunch of gringos suffering from Arachnophobia, but not one of us would get a good night´s sleep knowing that these beasts were crawling around our heads at night. Infact our guides said that these particular spiders like to bite into your lips at night. Yeah. Not having it. The straw that broke the camel´s back was when I discovered one on my bunk bed post inches from my pillow. We would sleep until every one on the building was dealt with.

Arjan, Eric and I proceeded to search the rest of the lodge for these spiders. Shining out headlamps in the rooms, we would spot them from the glow of their eyes or from their dark, hairy, large sized body standing out from the white drywall. Armed with wasp spray and a long handled broom we circled the lodge and hunted every room for an hour and a half killing over thirty of these things. Confirmation of success wasn´t guaranteed until Arjan made them crunch under his boot. That night we all dreamed of big spiders chasing us. Luckily we awoke still in one piece without a scratch. A close call avoided.

Day Hikes

We took numerous day hikes around the area of the eco lodge. Some came to waterfalls that dropped down into muddy rivers where our guide caught small anchovies with worms and we spent the afternoon jumping off rocks into the sandy bottom water. Other hikes took us to the tops of mountain ranges where peeling our wild oranges, sitting atop a ridgeline, your eye would dance from one lush green mountain top to the next.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cravings in the Wild

Throughout our three days in the Bolivian sticks, we hiked a lot. On our first day alone we hiked a little over 25 km up thick steep jungle trails. Needless to say we worked up quite an appetite and the prospect of having just plain pasta didn´t intice any feeling of comfort food. So when we came across our guides home, we immediately saw the numerous plump, chickens running around the yard. The four of us inquired about buying one and 35 bolivianos later we had a live chicken in a sack and fresh herbs from his mother´s garden. Now all we had to do was kill it and figure out a way to cook it. Thank god we had machetes. Chicken has never tasted so good.

Welcome to the Jungle

Stepping into the Bolivian jungle for the first time is a step into another world. Life is exploding in a blinding green everywhere you look, thick and lush. It is a weird feeling to know that you no longer stand at the top of the food chain here. It is here you can be knocked off by any bug or animal along the ladder of life. It makes you watch every step you take so as not to disturb something potentially poisonous or with teeth. Once you get over that pressing concern, the jungle blossoms into one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Wild flowers and orchids are everywhere. Our guide points out wild fruit in droves. Hundreds of unfamiliar birds can be heard throughout the forest canopy but you only briefly catch glimspes of them. As we chopp through the dense forest floor, we move through clouds of exotic butterflies the size of my hand as they flutter around looking for a mate. It is hot and muddy and wet and perfect.