We all know… I think… that Alpaca Wool is from these guys. What you may not know is how the wool from these guys is colored so brilliantly and woven into symbols, animals, and the softest, warmest wool. They use everything from bugs and plants, to earthen dyes. Quite a surprise to see this actually happening in a mountain town in Peru.
Dig deeper into the foothills of Cotacachi, Ecuador… you can see how the bricks to build the homes in the towns are made… by hand!
Off the beaten path in the Great Basin area of Utah and Nevada… a strange little town pops up out of nowhere. First thought was LSD exists here… or perhaps a government witness protection town?? Strange is a good term…
Baker, California… on the way back to Utah… flash floods in the desert… BIG SURPRISE!
If you know where to look… you can find some images from indigenous North Americans another desert surprise…
A Final Note: The Things You Need to Know But Probably Don’t Want To
- Whenever you travel in another country you must be prepared for the differences in culture and available creature comforts. Not just the trail, but the majority of the small towns and villages we visited had items not too pleasant for the pampered Gringo traveler.
- Of course drinking water from the tap is always a no no.
- TP in the toilets, also a no no.
- Running water in sinks to wash your hands, optional.
- Toilet seats, optional. TP, optional.
- This hike was challenging to say the least. The facilities on the trail were unpleasant but it is amazing that in the middle of nowhere there can be flush toilets and running water at all. Amazing ingenuity.
- Each camp had a few areas of sorta flat pads for the tents. The tents themselves were mostly waterproof.
- The altitude will kick your ass no matter how tough you think you are, or how hard you trained.
- The toilets were keyhole squat type that were the most disgusting things you can imagine. Getting up and down from a freestanding squat on wobbly trail legs and bad knees was a feat in itself.
- Personal hygiene is high priority or you will find yourselves getting something you totally don’t want on a skinny trail in the middle of nowhere.
- The only exit off the trail IS the trail.
The Camino Inka was both rewarding and absolutely took every ounce of every fiber of my being to succeed. I knew when we set out to do this hike it would be challenging, but I really had no idea what I was in for. There were times when you just would give up because it was just too damn hard and you had nothing left. There were times of triumph when after you gave up… something inside pushed you onto the next goal, even if that goal was just 5 more steps… the next bush or landmark. Bottom line… you only have two choices from the moment you set foot on the trail… move forward, no matter how hard it was…or turn back and face the same path as continuing forward… only on your own. Either way it was going to be hard as hell so suck it up sissy!
Would I do it again… at my age… HELL NO! I accept now my body is not it’s 20 year old self… but I had to try. What I saw can’t really be captured in pictures. What I went through can’t really be put into words. Let’s just say if you ask me about seeing Machu Picchu, if that’s really what you want to do…take the damn train.
After an early night the whole group was ready for the final push the next day. We called ourselves YOHO, You Only Hike Once. Most of us agreed this was a ONCE in a life time achievement and at this point all we wanted was to arrive at the Sun Gate, Intipunku, and ultimately an hour or so later set foot on the sacred city of Machu Picchu ( proper pronunciation “Machu Pict chu” the other way gringos say it means “big penis”… that explains why the porters would all laugh as we discussed the final push.
We had to get up at 3am and be packed and out of our tents by 4am so the porters could break camp and hike down to the train that would stop at 5am SHARP to pick them up… miss the train and it’s a twenty mile hike back into town. We were on our own today. No porters passing us up.
There was no breakfast except dry bread and jam, hot water for coca tea and that was it. We were given the last briefing and gathered outside for our last “let’s do this”! cheer.
A five minute hike and over an hour wait in a long line of eager hikers. The gates to the last part of the trek opened a 5:30am. We had to present our permits and then were allowed to proceed onto the last 2.5 miles of the hike.
This part of the trail has been regulated due to the amount of deaths that have occurred on this, the last push to Mach Picchu. In the past companies have left before sunrise and in the pitch black walked right off the narrow trail. Even in the light of day this was a tricky path. Four to five feet wide and 200 foot drop off on the side.
After about a two hour hike up and down we came to the “Monkey Stairs”. A set of stairs that looked more like a wall rather than a stair case. You literally had to climb on all fours or fall over backwards and break your little cabeza. It was about 50 feet tall and composed of uneven rock steps at about a 75 degree incline. At this point the lack of food, tired legs, and lack of sleep really began to pay its toll. It was quite humorous to watch us all climb.
The view from the top of the Monkey Stairs was almost 180 degrees of stunning jungle choked mountains and the last remaining morning mist clinging to the lower trees. The sun was just coming over the peaks of the mountains in the east revealing the lush greenery and the path ahead still clinging to the steep cliff sides.
In about 20 minutes we reached The Sun Gate. The Sun Gate was used to tell the exact day of the summer Equinox. The sun would rise and shine threw these stone pillars onto a certain wall on the Temple of the Sun in Machu Picchu. I found a secluded stone on the edge of this site a released the remaining ashes and Faye will forever be looking down on Machu Picchu and the stunning surrounding mountains.
After photos we set out for the final push to the city of Machu Picchu itself. There were two more stops on the way down to the city perfect for photo ops and closer views of the city from above. Ten more minutes and we finally set foot into the city proper.
Unfortunately the older members of our group, Chris and I included, had to wake up an hour before the rest to hit the trail. This was a 10.8 mile hike which started with another two hour hike straight up.
It had rained all night and continued into the morning with only a slight break that allowed us to get a drier start. As with the day before this pass was at over 12,000 feet and done at 5:30am with little to no breakfast, my altitude sick stomach, and cement legs. We arrived at the top, a 1500 foot gain, in just under the two hours allotted.
I was the first to summit and therefore the first to begin the ascent down the other side. This day was different. We started out before any of the porters so we had the trail to ourselves, the four of us the only ones on the trail for two hours. Soon I was passed by the first, second, tenth and and more porters… one finally stopped and told me I was the first gringo on this part of the mountain. I smiled.
The rain was relentless. It was steady and the mountain engulfed in clouds and mist. Every plant was saturated, the stone path wet and glistening. I watched each porter as they danced across the rocks to see which were safe to step on and which to avoid. A fall could mean a broken ankle, leg or even tailbone. Ouch.
I made it to the bottom of the mountain in good time, this was called the Gringo Killer. I came upon a ruin that I thought was a break area, waited over a half hour before the younger members of our group, and finally Alejandro showed up. I was sopping wet and beginning to feel a chill. No break here I was told, not for another twenty minutes.
Hiking the trail this day in the cloud forest high above the valley below was like hiking in an unfinished painting. The left side was brilliant greens speckled with fauna, the stone path in the middle and the right was trees and vines, to the far right was a blank white space, devoid of any color, shadow or shape. You could hear the birds and river running deep below but the sound came out of a void in space.
By lunch, almost 1pm, the relentless rain had stopped. We were all soaked through to the bone. We arrived and the porters were all moving around feverishly to assure we could warm up, dry out and get a well deserved meal. I of course was still feeling the nausea of early mornings and lack of a good night sleep and probably a bit of altitude sickness… so no food for me. The porters made us a cake that took a whole day to cook on the trail. It read “Congratulations YOHO!” It was so special to know that each of them was pulling for us.
After lunch the clouds parted and by the time we reached our next break, Winayaywayna, another step filled ruin. The view revealed where we had been hiking all day in the stark nothingness. Another history lesson, picture session, and off to our last night camp. P.S., this was a 13 hour hike for Chris and I, but it was by far the easiest day!
After spending 12 hours in airports and on airplanes we arrive at our destination, Peru. When everything goes as planned it makes for a lovely journey. Of course I ate too much and sat still for way too long.
Arriving at Lima Airport our bags arrived in as timely a fashion as we did. Walked through customs without issue and were whisked off by our driver to our quaint hotel. Checked in and off to dreamland for us weary travelers.
La Castellana Hotel is a small boutique hotel with solid plaster walls, dark wood accents and as few creature comforts as needed to be fairly comfortable. This is what true “locally owned” establishments look like. The room rate is reflective of the sparseness. There is no “European” frills here. The beds are small, there is dark wood accents with years upon years of dark paint spilling over the edges of the panes of glass in the windows. A small squeaky oscillating fan is mounted to the ceiling and moves the damp air around nicely for a bit of comfort. The only thing in the room that doesn’t fit is the 28″ flat screen TV chained to a small shelf in the corner of the room.
The sounds of the city of MiraFlores at night consist of nothing but the dull hum of the street lamps and an occasional cat fight on the tin roofs of the tightly packed buildings. The morning light arrives at 5:30 and the streets wake up to the bustle of cars, traffic cop whistles, impatient horns and the street vendors selling the fresh produce and catch of the day.
We had a breakfast of bread and thee best damn coffee made on Earth! Back to the room with the normal get ready things which fortunately included a HOT shower and fluffy white towels. Put away everything of value and out the door for a “walk about town”.
In a country you are not familiar with there is a battle that arises between fit in and be safe but not look like a tourist. The things you see are so unfamiliar and yet hold a beauty of their own. You want to capture every moment with the camera, not necessarily the physical but the one of the mind. I only wish my mind had the memory of a camera.
We came upon a Central Park that was the home of at least 50 stray cats all lounging about. There was a circular pit that posed as the meeting point for college students, lovers, travelers, musicians and cats. We all sat around the pit and listened to the musicians sing and play, watched the lovers cuddle, petted the strays vying for whomever would give them a scratch, and the travelers and locals, faces planted I cell phones, share their deepest experiences with the unseen world around us…and a smaller world it is becoming.