Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Salkantay trekking, Machu Picchu! (Day 5!)

This was the day it was all about, the end, but somehow it felt like it was just a part of the journey! Sleepily we got out of bed, and off to the lobby of the hotel. It was not even five o`clock yet! Maybe we could get a quick cup of coffee? And we did, and a piece of bread with butter and jam, and we were ready for this day!

Sarah was excited! And maybe a little bit more rested than the rest of us, and she had an incredible pace! Only Marco and Gordon could keep up with her. Johan and I took it slightly slower. As we were walking, the buses loaded with tourists were rushing passed us! But we were still walking, not cheating and sitting on the bus for 9US$ per person one way!

My legs couldn't`t believe the shock, when I pushed them to start climbing the too long and too high steps up the hill! I didn`t expect this. It was not so hot, but it was humid and we were sweating, but eventually we reached the top. The tourists from all the buses were queuing, and we fell into the long line!

We were here! We scrambled among the bodies of people to get to a spot, to take a photo, to see a little bit more! Nowadays there are a limit on all the people visiting Machu Picchu a day, only 2500 people are allowed.

We met our guide for a tour around, and were told a lot of things about these rocks, and the Incas. When I stood closer to some other groups of tourists, with their guides, I soon realised that there were as many stories and answers, and still no truth, as there are stones on Machu Picchu!

It was not long before we were on our own, and that was what I`ve waited for. Machu Picchu and only me and Johan and Marco! We walked around, touching the stones precisely laid on top of each other.

We saw the curve of the walls, allowing for seismic activity. We saw the fountains and the gutters carved out of the stone, bringing fresh water to the whole city.

 Marco sat on the steps moulded to perfection.

The "boys" pretended to be guards at the gate, watching over the King!

I touched a stone, looking like the Southern Cross, showing exact South! We walked over to the place where sacrifices were made. Was it a sacrifice of a llama, or was it a human sacrifice?

There was still archaeologists busy on certain spots, brushing and searching for answers.

About thirty percent of these ruins are already renovated. I looked around, and with utter shock saw something that would upset the Incas whoever built this majestic ruins. With all our resources, all our technology we are not able to restore these walls with the same precision, the same finesse! Instead of the huge lintels, carved and lifted above the entrances, three wooden logs are now placed above the entrances! Instead of carving and shaping or slicing the rocks with a laser beam to fit snugly together, mud are stuck into the empty spaces! Who is in charge of the quality of the restoration of Machu Picchu, I humbly ask?

Logs instead of the stone lintels, and unorganised stone work in mud!

The real stone lintels, just not on top anymore.

Mud filled walls, and loose stones stuffed into openings.

The three of us found a spot, far removed from people! We spend our time, drinking in the energy of this place with all its hidden secrets. It felt as if you knew, being over here, that you are a part of the hidden secrets. If you touch the walls of stone, you know you share in something more than what is known! We were enveloped by the pure magical energy of Machu Picchu!

There are so many theories, and still so many discoveries on what really happened in the saddle between these two mountains. What is very clear to us, while sitting among these stones, was that the Incas couldn`t be responsible for al of this! If I looked around the whole of Peru, nowhere could I find a trace of this pride, this precision, this perfection,  none of this exist in the mud houses of the world around me!

After resting for a while Johan and I left Marco somewhere, and we walked a part of the original Inca Trail, on its way to the Inca Bridge. This bridge was built to connect the two mountains, and also to control who crossed the bridge! It was amazingly built, all around the mountain, making sure not to disturb the Mountain God. We followed the path, and Johan waited for me, while I walked down all the way, standing in front of the bridge. I wondered who were watching this bridge, who were calling when they saw strangers coming around the mountain?  Who was walking over this bridge, where my feet were standing right now?

Reluctantly we walked back, and we found Marco sitting on the patch of  grass talking to The Women!

At last we met! She caught my eye, riding on her horse up the Salkantay Trek, ( three days ago) and she left me with a smile. The night in the hotel, I saw her at the desk, but she walked away. This morning before five, she rushed into the lobby, and I found her name! Jocelyn! Is what she said, and when I asked her about the white of her hair and the sun in her eyes, she smiled and said! They say I was born in 1939, you do the Math! 

And here she was sitting on the green of the grass with Marco! We hugged and shared our stories very quickly, knowing that we will meet again! Joss, is the Traveling Pilgrim and she is guided and accompanied by her spiritual Aboriginal guide, and we invited her to come and be with us in our country soon! She hugged us, she hugged Marco, leaving him with her greeting. "It was so lovely to meet you again, young man. We knew each other long before...."  And Marco went over to her tiny figure, and he hugged her close...

Was this why Machu Picchu was there? For loving and hugging and sharing, and maybe remembering?

We slowly walked down the steps of Machu Picchu, knowing that we will never be here again in our life time. We kept the three stones we picked up from the ground, and I will save it for Marco to return our stones one day!

 Ps. I have to officially state, that I walked the Salkantay Trek, for three and a half days with these two fashionable baby blue babies! Too often I smiled when people around me, geared to the teeth, in their "Due South" and "North Face" or  well known brands, couldn`t help but let their eyes drop right down to my feet! Never did anyone ask me about my hiking boots!


Monday, October 29, 2012

Salkantay, Day 4!

It was still dark, and already I could hear our assistant chef, still in his blue sweat pants from the first day, by the way, opening our tent flap with our tea! All I could remember was this high silver hot flask, and the thought that I am standing at the small silver cup!

It was not so cold, and I could feel the excitement creeping into me! But we were a broken family going up the Llacctapatta  Mountain today. Sri was still in his tent, not able to walk a mountain today, and he would be going back to Cusco asap. Sri might never know, but Marco had a tough time saying good bye to a dear friend he made! We left Sri in his red tent with our healing wishes, and hoped to see him soon.

Sarah, was also still snugly in her sleeping bag. She didn`t feel well, and decided to go by taxi or bus to Hydro-Electrica, where she will wait for us.

After grabbing a piece of bread, and trying to eat a bit of the banana and pineapple on the table, Jabu was already calling us to get going!

Together with him, it was only Gordon, and the three of us who was going to challenge the mountain. We set off at a steep pace. It was cool under the trees, as we crossed a bridge. Soon we reached the starting point, and for the first time we set our feet on the Inca Trail, on our way to Machu Picchu.

Johan was feeling a little bit low on energy, and when I told him to tap energy from the beautiful trees, he said that he was already told to eat some leaves! I dugged into my bag, and found my coca stash, and soon he was chewing away, and about twenty minutes later he started feeling the energy seeping into his body.

We passed one dangerous area, with the rocks slipping away as we walked. But nothing stopped Gordon and Marco way ahead of us. We stopped a while to enjoy the beauty at the shelter, but they were heading forward, snacking away.

We stepped into a fairy tale. We sat on the damp tree trunks, listening to the flute filling the air again, and I closed my eyes. It was as if the elfs and fairies were dancing to the tune, softly giggling.

Jabu was waiting for us, and we could see the disappointment on his face when he pointed to something behind the thick white clouds. Nothing!

I knew I didn`t climb Llacctapatta to come to a layer of clouds covering the miracle! I stood there for a moment, closed my eyes, and asked Jabu and Johan to close theirs and to concentrate....  softly I blew, and blew, feeling the movement of the clouds....and Jabu started lifting his hands, higher and higher as if lifting a load....  Johan took the photos to show you what happened. The thick white of the clouds started lifting, and lifting! And there in the distance, was Machu Picchu, sitting in the saddle of the two mountains!


I stood there with my cheeks so wet, just looking at this Wonder! Thank you, thank you, thank you...

A while later we sat among some ruins, just looking ahead at Machu Picchu, enjoying the sun on our faces. Slowly we started going down, with Marco and Gordon speeding with their momentum! Marco had so much fun! And I was still going strong with my baby blue crocs!

Eventually we reached the river. As I was taking the photo of Marco and Gordon sitting in the middle of the bridge waiting for us, a beautiful Azul Mariposa (Blue Butterlfly) flew around Johan and me.  It was almost as if it was saying to us, "Good for you! You did it!" And we walked over the blue bridge, to the river to soothe our warm and tired feet in the ice cold water!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       We left at four that morning and it was almost lunch time! We knew Sarah would be waiting for us. It was still quite a walk until we reached her at the train station, but at least it was flat, no up hill or down!

But Jabu had a surprise for us! No lunch! Sorry, the chef left with Sri, and he has not returned! We were not impressed. After getting up at four this morning, grabbing a quick bite, and not receiving any snacks from our guide as usual, walking over a big, big mountain, this was not funny! He took out a plastic bag with squashed flat bread, with a grey cold cooked patty, and served us lunch! I asked Johan to give me a smile, but he surely was hungry and tired and not in the mood! Gordon didn`t even bother to try eat his flat bread, and shared a piece of his chocolate bar with all of us!

But Jabu called us up again, after hardly sitting down, and we had to walk another three hours following the train tracks! We did have the option to take the train, but none of us felt like paying the 18US$! Interesting enough the locals only pay 5sol per person or 2US$! Same train, same route!

We walked, and Sarah joined us, but all of us were just slightly grumpy! About an hour later, it started to rain, and we were in our ponchos again. Jabu suddenly walked passed us with such a speed, and we tried to keep up with him, but only caught up when he stopped at a shelter next to the rail way. He told us to wait there for half an hour, so we sat under the shelter sipping on our luke warm water by now. We didn`t notice that our guide disappeared until Sarah was asking for him. Marco spotted him, sitting at a table at a restaurant about 50m from the rail way road. I looked, and looked! I could not believe it! There he was, sitting and having a plate of warm food, while we had to wait for him. No invitation to a plate of food either...

Oh boy! This was not good, and I will not give you all the detail about Johan, my beloved Scorpion, going down to the restaurant to confront our guide, and to ask for our food as well. I will not tell you at how upset he got when people from the restaurant were trying to keep him from going down to our guide! Our guide could not hide the plate of food fast enough, and Johan got our group together. We were off!

We were wet, we were tired, we were hungry, but we still had to walk another hour and a half to Aguas Calientes, the little town where a lovely hotel room was waiting for us! Jabu caught up with us, but none of us were in a friendly or forgiving mood.

It soon became dark as we walked into Aguas Calientes, and we were stunned when we saw our guide now limping like crazy! But of course none of us felt like handing out sympathy! Along the same road he told us, to walk all the way to the train station to get our own red duffle bags. Believe me, I did not have the strength to do that! Johan as politely as he could, told him that we will not walk all the way to the other side of the town to fetch our bags. We will wait for our bags as was arranged by our tour agent, in our hotel rooms! The sore foot didn`t help!

Alas, it was not over yet! As soon as we got into the lobby of the hotel, and slumped down in the chairs, never to get up again, our guide told us, that we had to get our bodies up again! This hotel was fully booked, and we had to walk to the next one! Boy, oh boy! How do you not book hotel rooms for six people if you are their agent? But we didn`t have any fighting spirit left, and we got up and followed him to the other hotel. We could not believe the power of healing, as our guide ran up the flight of stairs of the hotel behind the girl, checking our rooms!

Ok, none of the two hotels did not look anything close to the photos on the agencies website, we did not get a matrimonial bed as booked, and Sarah and Gordon had a cold shower, but we were looking forward to food, for the first time since before sunrise!

Aguas Calientes looked like a beautiful little town, but we ate and went back to our rooms to sleep like babies! Tomorrow morning we had to be up before five to get to Machu Picchu just after sunrise, and before all the tourists!

What a day!

Ps. Still, my truth is that this day was the best of the whole trek sofar! It was challenging, but it was the most rewarding! It was filled with magical moments to last me this life time!


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Salkantay, Day 3!

You would think that I wouldn`t have much to say, except, that we walked from here to there, but alas!

It all started the night before, at the candle lit dinner, still trying to safe the moths, and with the thunderous rain coming down! Jabu, our guide spoke to us, in his broken English. He moved the one silver cup next to the huge silver hot water flask, with another silver cup on the other side, all three in line. We sat there watching his finger trying to walk from the small silver cup, up and up the tall silver hot flask, and then quickly running down on the other side to land on the brim of the small silver cup! We have to make a big decision. Do we really want to suffer up this tall mountain, and then suffer down the other side for something like 11 hours?

We can take a short cut, and just take a taxi for 15 sol per person to the other side, Hidro-Electrica. It felt like our guide really thought this to be the best option for all of us. We actually felt it before. At our briefing with the manager, Rider, at Bioandean, he also hinted towards taking a short cut if the weather isn`t in our favor.

But I was not made for short cuts in my life. I could not do this! I paid my 390US$ for the full Monty! I was here to suffer, I was here to climb mountains, I was here to walk with my baby blue crocs all the way to Machu Picchu!  Somehow I sensed the rest of our group feeling exactly the same.
But we did not make a decision, we decided to wait and see what the weather would hold. It was great with me, because I already knew, the weather would be perfect!

We got up the next morning, around five after a night with thunder and lightning. Our tents were storm proof, and we sipped on the coca leave tea at the flap of our tent. We were on our way!

But soon we realised it is going to be a speed walk today! We sensed some kind of atmosphere in the air, as our guide left as far behind, walking like crazy! Our "family' had a great day! we stopped and enjoyed the beauty, and somewhere along the road we found a women selling a bag filled with passion fruit! To me it was like an oversize grenadilla, and I so wished my Dad could be alive to taste this with me!

We washed our hands in waterfalls, and Gordon wet his hair, and we walked and walked and walked. Eventually we got to a little place, called La Playa, and stood amazed at how this people live their lifes among these mountains.

I met the sheep, was he for Xmas? He was enjoying the luxury of the flower bed.

I met the turkey, was he for Xmas? But he had a name! I was introduced to Jose! I stood there, cackling, remembering to feel like a little girl again on my grandma`s farm, cackling in the mornings with her turkeys, enjoying the noise they could make.

We reached our camping spot in the day light, and we were looking forward to a good peaceful afternoon after lunch. It was the first time that we had some time to relax, and not sleep for the dead in our tents!

Johan discovered a banos! And in the banos, a shower! It even had warm water! I wasn`t thinking about food anymore! I got into our bags, and found the plastic bag with all our smelly socks! I could wash them and dry them in the sun! My gift, my pre-Xmas gift!

We enjoyed lunch, with lovely stuffed chicken breast, and traditional raw trout in vinegar, called cerviche!

If you are friends with Gordon and Sarah....did you know? Ok, I won`t share their secret, but I will share this photo of them with you!

We spoilt Marco with his favorite treat, as  we found a packet of Tim Tam`s in Cusco! He would never have thought of sharing it, but today with these new friends coming over mountains, he shared them all! But he had to teach these Canadians the proper way to eat them! Bite of the two ends, and suck your coffee right through the juicy cookie! So now you know...

We enjoyed the green grass, and just to be for a while, with only Marco using our walking stick as spears, fighting the invisible enemy!  Sri joined him, not with the spears, but he found a ball! Do you know the game, The Name Game? Sarah wasn`t sleepy, and joined them. They were laughing and jumping and trowing the ball at each other. But they didn`t stand a chance against the Sri! This is the photo before......

And this is the photo after.....

Sri jumped towards Sarah, and she saw him slowly going down! He twisted his ankle, and soon it started swelling. Jabu, was great with his patient, and our assistant chef was chewing fresh coca leaves and placing them on Sri`s ankle. Jabu was dipping them in alcohol and placing them on the ankle! Something has to help!

While Sri was resting, we sat down with the locals on the grass in front of the TV, and watched their soccer final with them. It was Peru against Paraguay, and Peru lost! but we enjoyed the people more. The men sitting on the only bench were sharing a big bottle of beer, with one glass between them all. One of them would pour, handed the glass to another, who downed the glass in one big gulp, and then he got the bottle to pour for the next....until the next and the next bottle! But only one glass among them all!

We were squeaky clean with fresh socks, and at dinner we decided that we would walk over that huge silver hot flask tomorrow! Jabu, thought he would scare us, by telling us that we had to be up and ready at four o` clock the next morning, but we just nodded, and headed for our tents as soon as possible!

Salkantay, Day 2!

I survived our first cold night, and I couldn`t complain. I was so warm in my thermo sleeping bag, and also in between Johan and Marco, no cold got to me. I was awake before the man came with three silver glasses filled with mate de Coca!  It was just after five o`clock, and Marco didn`t feel like drinking this stuff with the leaves inside, but reluctantly did swallow when I told him that it will help for the altitude and give him good energy. Well, that was exactly what I was hoping for!

We deflated our matresses, rolled our sleeping bags, and then organised our day bags, with the absolute necessities, like snacks and water. We carried about a litre each, and an extra litre in our Dad`s bag! We could drink some of the boiled water, but we didn`t want to take any risk of getting sick. The boiled water reach boiling point at about 86 degrees, and I was too scared of what would be still alive in there. We did get the opportunity to buy some water at the lunch points, but being in the mountains, we had to pay almost four times more!Still it was better buying this water, than carrying the weight, so remember to take some money with.

A good breakfast was served, and amazingly I was so hungry and devoured what was offered. We were layered for the day. It was cold! We wore our gloves and our Alpaca beanies, and I followed the white spooky smoke coming from my nostrils. We slowly headed for the white snow mountain, and for the first time we used our walking sticks.

We were zig zagging up the mountain, crossing streams, stopping at a small lake. Our breaths were burning in our lungs, but no one seemed to notice. It was breathtaking, walking among these mountains, climbing higher, reaching the summit of the one, only to start with the next.

We reached a spot among the over towering mountains, and got rid of our back packs immediately. It was shocking how heavy even our water bottles got. A little girl was standing close to her father, selling some gloves and warm scarves to a couple of people with red noses. I caught her eye, almost got a smile, and I walked over to her. I searched my pockets for my packet of cookies  received the morning for my snack. I got my smile, a wide white smile in her brown little face, clutching the cookies to her chest. Marco didn`t get a smile, maybe because he didn`t share his cookies....

Our guide got us together in a tight group, and took out this plastic bag full of green leaves, and the grey chalky stuff. He shared with us the ritual of chewing coca leaves!  He took his time, searching for three perfect leaves among all, and slowly walked away a couple of paces.  He put the three leaves together at their stems, and placed them under a little rock facing south. It was his offering to Mama Pacha! (Mother Earth!)

Then he turned around, and it was our turn. He folded a bunch of leaves together, and among them the chalky stuff. I read that the grey chalky stuff is some lime, the inside of shells, and by using that together with the coca leaves, helps to release the potent alkaloids to give you energy, and to help your red blood cells absorb the oxygen.

We all needed all the help we could get, and Johan and Srie chewed away, like old coca chewers. They gave us black and green stained smiles up the mountain. Even Marco placed a bundle of leaves between his teeth and his cheek, and together with his saliva the flavor and juice was released. He managed to keep this new strange taste in his mouth for quite a while, before he spit it out. He prefered the coca candy I bought him.

Very slowly we progressed, heading for the 4629 meters above sea level, Abra Salkantay,the highest point on the Trek. It felt as if there was just not enough air, and even though I tried to drew in the oxygen really deep, I didn`t know how much reached my lungs, and I didn`t know how much crept into my veins. All I knew was that nothing reached my legs! But I wasn`t the only one struggling, a young man from another group was literally putting one foot infront of the other, really suffering.

The mules were the champions, they were walking these trails knowing exactly where to put their hoofs. They were passing us every now and then, giving us the opportunity to take a deep breath.

Close to the summit, Marco`s lips turned white, and his Dad got him to take it slow. A couple of minutes later he was smiling again, and reached the summit way before us all!

It felt good to be on top, and so quickly I forgot about the steep walk, when I stood there without words. It was breathtakingly beautiful! I still have my little blue Instamatic camera, and I surely hope that my photos will share a touch of this beauty with you.


We found a quiet spot, dropped our bags, and enjoyed being close to the white of the clouds, and the heat of the sun warming our hands and faces.  The white snowy mountain was so close, Salkantay! The Mountain God! While I sat there I could understand how people could believe it to be a god!  I felt so small, but so lucky to be there. We sat there, hardly breathing, listening to the sounds of the mountain. Every now and then we could hear a cracking sound, the sound of ice moving, breaking, echoing in the depths....

And then I heard it! A flute? Was it part of this God Mountain? The gentle sounds filled the air, mixed with the green and blue colors of the huge glaziers. No one was moving. Our eyes and throats filled with emotion, tears of being here. Tears of being touched. Jabu, our guide was sharing his gift with us! Thank you, thank you, thank you...

Slowly we got up, building our own altar, with the grey rocks, one for each one of us, and one for all! We followed in the steps of the Incas, admiring the huge builders moved to create a 4m wide path. Apparently messengers were running these paths!

The decend began, and I don`t know which was easier. Our knees and toes were having a hard time, and the walking sticks came in handy just to keep your stride steady.

Marco was so full of adrenaline. He was right ahead of the group, and together with Gordon they had a great time. They were flying down the mountain. When he heard that lunch was ahead of him, it sped him up even further!

And then it happened! I lost my concentration for a second, and I kicked my big toe straight into a rock!  It hurt! And while still sulking I did it again, and this time I felt the nail, and it didn`t feel good!  Oh no! Now I am going to have a black big toe at Carnival in Trinidad next year! That was my one and only thought! I knew that I had to carry on, and that this toe can`t see day light now! It was still a couple of hours down this mountain. But between you and me, it was sore! I tried my best to kick my foot back in my shoe to take the pressure from my toe...

The scenery slowly changed to more jungle, with trees and shrubs, and water streams running from the mountain. It was still down hill all the time, and hours later we reached our camping site.

We reached the flat area on our way to food, and for me, on my way for taking my shoe off! Lunch was served in a tent, like royalty.

We were all so tired, that we just ate, and were looking for a place to sleep just for a while! Sarah, was also complaining about stomach cramps.

Johan and I found a spot, and I took off my shoe. It was not a pleasant sight, but I decided not to think about too much, and I strapped it tight with some pink plaster. But I couldn`t get my foot back in my shoe, and I had to embarrass my whole family for ever. I was going to do the rest of the Salkantay Trek with my brand new baby blue crocs! (Johan insisted that Marco and I bought ourselves a pair of these ugly things as extras!)  By now a big blister was appearing at my heel!

Just before dark we reached our tents, and sat down for a candle lit dinner. But soon the moths were circling the flame, and a little bit later the rain started pouring down in buckets. We all sat there holding thumbs that our tents would be rain proof!