I’ve been overly negligent of both my blogging and my running. Since overcoming the Around the Bay 30km race in March, I hadn’t planned anymore races until early fall. Sad… I know. But there have been other things occupying my time – one major thing that just happened about a couple of weeks ago. I took my first trip to South America – to Peru to be more specific. I flew from Toronto, ON, was laid over in Miami and then finally touched down in Lima. It was an awesome experience and a large reason as to why my blog has been so pitiful.
During the time leading up to my trip I hadn’t been following any training plans because I didn’t have a race in my sights. I continuously ran 8 to 10km and switched my attention to muscle strengthening at the gym. This was all fine for me, two and a half months to relax before my big trip or any races. However, after awhile I began to fall into this routine and I wouldn’t push myself further. I’ve reached the minimum, so who cares about the maximum? I care about the maximum!! Me! Hello!! – that was my brain talking… maybe even yelling. Then June came… it was almost time to go to Peru! Being the fitness junkie that I am I worked out whenever I could, which is almost everyday, up until I left on June 20th. Everything thing I thought I knew about street smarts, water, physical activity and breathing would be rocked like the earthquake that hit Lima two weeks prior to my arrival.
Andy and I arrived around 9pm, so by the time we collected our bags, got a cab and checked in at our hotel, San Augstin Miraflores, it was close to 11pm. Our first night in the city would be spent in bed, no doubt. The staff at this hotel spoke little english… so that didn’t help Andy, but they were all very nice and super accommodating.
Lima is broken up into about 47 different districts and we were in the district of Miraflores. There was little adjustment to be made since Lima is a mix of progressive and historical; and is spread out along the Pacific Coast. On our first day we visited a pre-incan adobe/pyramid ruin site called Huaca Pucllana. In the Quecha language it translates to, “a place for ritual games”. This site looked like a large pyramid surrounded by small rooms and hallways. Back in the day it was used for ceremonial purposes. It was super interesting to see how they crafted all of these structures upon fish bones and broken pottery. There after we went to the local markets and saw all of the artisan products, along with mountains of Alpaca blankets, hats and socks. An Alpaca blanket was one personal souvenir that was a necessity.
Corresponding to our swift adjustment, we were pretty spoiled when we came to discover where the closest Starbucks are :)… I think Starbucks is where Andy felt most comfortable because he could easily order his reconizable food and drink. Oh! Also, we went for ONE whole run while in Lima… and I almost twitsted my ankle; fun right?
Being in Lima gave us a small taste of the Peruvian culture shock that neither of us had ever experienced… only we weren’t even aware of what was to come after Lima.
We took a five hour bus ride to head further south to the city called Ica. This area is well known for a few things… their wine and pisco production and the desert oasis of Huacachina. Here we stayed at an airbnb, our host Luis, showed us around Ica and took us to Paracas National Reserve – along with the other house guests that came all the way from France! In Paracas we went on a boat tour to see all the islands and all of the wildlife that domainates them. It ranged from pelicans, peguins, sea lions… we even saw some dolphins!
The next day we visited some wine and pisco production bodgeas where we were given free samples of various types of Peruvian wine and pisco. Despite the fact that I had gotten sick I was still determined to go out to taste and experience the different flavours of Ica. We saw the old style and the industrialized style of pisco production; it was awesome seeing the differences. In addition, I easily decided that pisco is not for me and that I would rather stick with my wine!
Later that evening our host Luis took us to downtown Ica to try some street food, such as cow heart, chicken, picarones, chocolate! My favourite were the picarones, a fried peruvian style donut make of pumpkin and sweet potato, topped with honey. Mmmm! The following day my stomach was still a little unsettled so Andy and I decided to go check out downtown during the day. Not sure if it was the best idea, but you never know unless you try! Downtown Ica is the equivilant to the Canada, US border crossing on a long weekend. There are tons of people, tons of cars, too many noises and smells. I still cannot get over or comprehend why drivers persisted to honk and honk… and honk again. “I don’t need a taxi!!” I would exclaim numerous times over our afternoon in the city. It was a chill afternoon amidst the noise and grind.
One thing that Andy and I were looking forward to the most, aside from Machu Picchu, was sandboarding in Huacachina. This area in Ica is the last of the seven desert oasises where tourists come to sit by the water, laze in the desert sand, eat and drink and obviously dunebuggy and sandboard. The other six have long since dried out. Our group consisted of just Andy, myself and the dune buggy driver. He would drive us up, over, around and then he would stop so that we could surf down the prestine sand dunes that stretched across the horizon. My first instinct was fearless, “Awesome! Lets do this!”, as I strapped the sand board to my feet. While Andy had a slightly more concious instinct, inspecting the height of the sand dunes. They were extremely steep. But, after our first sled style run down the dune, we each forgot about the dangers and strapped the boards to our feet. I don’t think I need to tell you that I ate a lot of sand; sand was everywhere!
I’m going to fast forward a little bit because I’m sure you don’t want to hear about our 17hr bus trip that went up, up and around and around and around – all the way to Cusco! Luckily it never turned out like this…
Once we got into Cusco our AirBNB hosts, Lyle and Lily of GringoWasi, picked us up and took us to their place in Huarocondo; about 45mins from everything! They were awesome hosts! We felt comfortable, welcome… just like home in some ways. During our time in Huarocondo, we met a friend named Thai. Happy that all three of us hit it off we decided to go on a few adventures together. For instance, in the town of Maras there are two major tourists attractions, the Maras Salt Mines and the Moray agricultural ruins. The salt mines were intensely beautiful! When you drive there you are presented with an outstanding, arial view. The salt deposits are tucked into a large, mountainous valley not far from town. Intertwining the salt deposits are a form of irrigation systems in which water will flow down from the mountains providing one of the two necessities for harvesting salt. The other, the sun. Once the depositis have been filled with salty water, the farmers will wait for the sun to dry up the deposits; thus creating a coarse, rock like lining of the deposit for the farmers to harvest. The agricultural ruins of Moray tell a different story. Here the Incans created a unique farming technique that can be seen across the southern portion of Peru. As oppose to our flat Canadian plains [as far as I can see,] the Incans built terraces that were dug into mountain sides or in the middle of a hilly area. In this case the terraces are circular levels that divide each crop and the ground is held in place by large rocks that create a type of wall. After seeing these two amazing sites, our friendly cab driver and his daughter Chaska, took us to Chinchero where we met up with our host Lily. Chinchero is a very simple town. All of the women are dressed traditionally, life is simple and the artisan work is amazing. We took a walk around town taking in the Sunday market, the culture, the after Mass drinks and more hiking. This town has a path of Incan ruins that are similar to that of Moray; only here there are rectangular terraces as oppose to circular. One really cool thing about these ruins is that you can see where the rock was cut out to make each of the terraces. Each cut is clean, smooth and mysterious. It’s interesting how developed the Incans were, yet we in 2014 can’t seem to work out all of their secrets.
The day after our little adventure to Maras it was time to tackle Machu Picchu! I’ve honestly been waiting since grade six to experience this treasure. I’m not exactly sure what grabbed me about the Peruvian culture, but this was obviously up there. Our day started at 4am – dark and early. We got up, showered, dressed and headed out the door with our host Lyle who drove us, rather took us off roading, to the town of Ollamtaytambo where myself, Andy and Thai would catch a train to Aguas Calientes. Also, I was happy to start my morning off right with a Peruvian hot chocolate; something I had been craving even before landing in Peru. We took an hour train ride with Inca Rail up to the tourist town of Aguas Calientes. The staff were all very nice and the views from the train were awesome. I loved being surrounded by all the mountains, greenery and for a lack of better words… calm. Upon our arrival we had to weave our way through local market stalls to the bus station where we would go to drive up to the ruins. One thing I’ve learned since having been to Peru is that you have to travel during travel to get to all the cool places – no matter, it’s worth it! Another circular and vertical bus ride… up, up, up! When we entered the ruins we were close to the clouds.
The three of us planned to hike up Machu Picchu mountain and left Wayna Picchu for another time. At the entrance of the ruins there are groups of guides that will vie for your business – however we knew we had about a three hour hike ahead of us and figured we would start now to avoid the heat, make time for the rest of the ruins and to amuse ourselves in a unthinkable place. The guides are very knowledgable, but go with your gut feeling.
After crossing through the enterance gate, we made our way to the path to Machu Picchu mountain – I believe our sign in time was about 9am. As most of you know or could have probably guessed from reading my previous posts… I consider myself to be a fairly active and fit person, however that hike made me doubt and think otherwise. The path UP (I emphasis that with a vertical inflexion and exaggerated hand movement) was a long, vertical staircase made of rocks and boulders that stuck out of the ground. How and why someone would dedicate their time to create such an excruciating path… my mind is boggled. With Thai leading the pack we hiked on. Since Andy and I weren’t completely acclimatized this hike proved to be very difficult for us. Being just over 7000ft above sea level is daunting alone, but the way your body reacts is even more intense. You become tired, thirsty and your heart rate is just off the charts. I was so close to the top and I thought I wasn’t going to make it. With the help of an orange and some fellow Canadians I told myself I would make it to the top… potentially die there and come back to life to celebrate my success with the friends we made climbing up that ridiculous mountain.
Then we made it. The view from the top was UNREAL! Everything was in plain sight and you are literally in the clouds. The ruins below looked so small and the town of Aguas Calientes, tiny. The view kind of reminded me of Avatar, only instead of flying up to the top we had to huff and puff our way up.
Once we started making our way down we quickly discovered that going down was only slightly better than hiking up. I say that because on the way down your legs are shakey and fatigued – the stairs are unpredictable and steep. Our hike plus our mountainous rest stop took us about four hours and who knows how many calories. It was time to take to the ruins and embrace the architexture and historical appeal that is Machu Picchu. Without a guide we took photos, explored, relaxed with an alpaca, caught small snippets of tours explaining how important the Sun was to the Incan civilization. The Sun was there god, it would rise and fall, give life and provide power and strength to their crops and spiritual beliefs. From hiking in the sun all day up top of Machu Picchu I can tell you that the sun is a major influence; it radiates through the clouds and onto the back of your neck for hours. One sweet, sweet relief we did find was water running down from the mountain. By just scooping some of that water into your hands and rubbing it on your arms or neck you feel an million times better. Thank you mother nature!
After our long day up in the clouds we desended back down to Aguas Calientes for some dinner and shopping before our train back to Ollantaytambo. All in all, a success aside from the extensive travel and exhaustion – I would do it again… only Wayna Picchu would be my next target.
The next day Andy and I packed up our things, said good bye to our friends at Gringo Wasi and headed back to Cusco for our last few days. We had booked another AirBnB with a Quebecois man named Denis. He was very hospitiable and knowledgable of different remedies to help an upset stomach or sensitivity to altitude. This would come in handy later. But during our short time in his beautiful apartment in the San Blas area we did a lot of resting and staring at the view of Cusco from our bed.
Unfortunately the only things we were able to indulge in while in Cusco were an American inspired restaurant where we each enjoyed a burger, a few artisanal shops where I bought some alpaca socks for my brother and friend Lily and the short but long hike up into San Blas… it was unfortunate because I fell rather ill and we had to come home two days early. In Huarocondo, Ollamtaytambo and Machu Pichhu the altitude didn’t bother me as much as it did in Cusco. I don’t think I will ever know why, but man was my body ever happy to be home!
A few words of advice:
1) Over stock on Pepto or Gravol tablets – the airport in Lima sells more designer watches than pharmasitical products.
2) If you are travelling in the winter pack for fall weather.
3) Always go to a travel clinic before departing.
4) Make friends and don’t be shy.
5) Don’t think too much about costs because it is all worth it and actually more inexpensive than you think.
6) Don’t drink too much Pisco.
Reflecting back on this adventure I miss Peru, however I would rather miss a place than be in a constant state of dream and desire to be some where else. I had many new experiences on this trip that many people may never have the opportunity to do. For that I am grateful that I was able to go and immerse, experience, breath and be in a country where I always felt welcome, safe and intrigued.
I hope you enjoyed this brief post about my trip, I’ll write again next week with something related to runner… I’m getting back into training and I want to shake it up!