Monday, 25 January 2016

Recommendations for hiking the Inca Trail

If you have come across this blog while researching hiking the Inca Trail here are some recommendations. They are based on my experience, obviously. I am 60 years old. I live in a very flat part of Canada. Although active I could never call myself athletic; I walk, bike ride, do yoga, sail but none of it to excess. I used to run (well jog) and ran a few 5km races and I used to horseback ride. Fitter than some my age, not as fit as others.

Training; unless you are one of those athletic and active people I would recommend you train. Walk a lot at a fast enough pace that you are out of breath (you might as well be used to the feeling because you will be out of breath). If you don't have steep hills to train on then at least do stairs, lots of them. You cannot train for the altitude, no-one knows how they will react to it.

Leave time to adjust to the altitude; I had 4 days in Cusco before starting the tour. The first day I had the headache and light headedness. I never really got over the breathlessness and increased heart rate with walking up even a slight incline. I didn't regain my appetite til I got home. I made myself eat but rarely finished a meal. I met one gentleman who arrived the day before he hiked the Lares Trail. He had to be given oxygen and took a break riding the "emergency horse" that accompanied that tour.

Try out your equipment; Break in your hiking boots and do some practice hiking with what you plan to take in your pack including your water. Some people had the camelback bladders in their packs others used bottles. I had thought that the folding plastic bottles would be nice and light but they were not tough enough for the constant bumping and ripped off the clips. Some people had the really cheap ponchos and they were fine as we were lucky with the weather and didn't use them much but if we had had the rainy weather that was forecast they would not have held up. A poncho is better than a raincoat as it covers the pack as well. Clips on your backpack are useful to hang various things off. I had a mount for my camera that fixed to my backpack strap when I wasn't wearing pants with big pockets it made it easier to take pictures on the go.

Clothing; Layers of course. If you are going with a tour the porters will carry your clothing but 3 kgms is not much. The other 3 kgms is the sleeping bag and mattress and the duffle bag itself. Changes of socks are essential. Light, wicking shirts are good. The cargo pants which zip into shorts and have lots of pockets are also good. There is no opportunity to shower so you just accept that everyone smells a little and focus on comfort rather than wearing something different every day. If you can, think out ahead of time what you would like to take on the 4 day hike and then weigh it. Remember it can be hot and humid, cool and damp, raining then sunny, all within an hour. If your clothing gets really wet you will be really uncomfortable so you need at least one full set of clothes to change into.

Snacks; On a tour you are given snacks on the first day to last you all four days. You might want to add some light weight snacks that you know you will like; nuts and fruit, chocolate bars (though we were warned this might cause diarrhea and you really don't want that!), cookies etc. Remember you have to carry it.

Sunscreen and Bug spray; At high altitudes the sun is much stronger and you are outside all day, exposed unless you are in the cloud forest. I don't tend to burn but I did in one day without sunscreen on. A hat and bandana (round your head for sweat or over the back of your neck for sun) are also essential. We didn't notice many bugs so I didn't use the spray that I had been advised to bring but Christine hiked in capris one day and in the afternoon noticed blood running down her legs from lots of bites. She didn't feel a thing when being bitten. At Machu Picchu I noticed some people whose legs were covered in bug bites. Better to be safe and spray it on.

Toilet paper and Wet Wipes; Essential. Enough to last 4 days. The toilets are "squatters" over a hole in the floor. So having the toilet paper already separated into "single servings" is useful. Wet wipes are great for washing hands after snacks, bathroom or just sweating while hiking. Just have to remember not to litter, all garbage has to be carried out with you.

Medication; I took Ibuprofen (anti inflammatory) 3 times a day as did the rest of my group. For me it was preventative and I was very pleased at the lack of pain every night when I went to bed. The other thing that I now swear by is Moleskin. This was recommended by my foot doctor and I think everyone in my group used it at some point or another. It is sticky backed felt and you stick it to your feet wherever a red mark is developing (before it becomes a blister). It is great stuff. I didn't get any blisters. One of our group used it on the palm of his hands where the hiking poles rubbed.

Hiking Poles; Some people where doing the trek without these poles but most were using them. They help in terms of support to your joints (hips, knees, ankles mostly) and steady you on the uneven stairs. It helps to practice using them before you go as it takes a little time to get into the right rhythm and to be comfortable with using them on stairs. Shorten them when going up, lengthen them when going down. They can be rented in Cusco. They must have rubber tips on them and I bought extra with me which I used as it was not unusual to find a tip had gone missing while hiking.

Extra shoes; These are heavy so will eat into your duffle bag weight allowance or you have to carry them yourself. I took a lightweight pair of hiking sandals and it was lovely to take my hiking boots off at the end of the day and slip them on. They wouldn't have been useful though if it had been raining and muddy so I'm not sure whether to recommend that or not.

Headlamp not a flashlight; I don't get up in the night to go to the washroom so figured I didn't need a headlight and just took a little flashlight. Well on the last day you are hiking in the pitch dark! You need a headlamp that's the only thing that is really going to work for those circumstances.

Your pace; Everyone says it "Go at your own pace". My pace was very slow and I worried that I wouldn't get there before dark or that I was holding up my group or that I was inconveniencing our guide. After a while I realized that my body wasn't giving me any choice but to go at my own pace and worrying about it was just effecting my enjoyment of the trip, so I gave it up. There is no hurry, the trek has been set up so that it is manageable within the time frames that your guide outlines. He has seen people slower and people faster and will make sure you get to the points you need to get to.

Last minute things; If you are with a tour they will probably rent you a sleeping bag, air mattress, hiking poles and Cusco has lots (and I mean lots!) of camping shops to buy or rent what you might have forgotten.

Reflections on the Inca Trail and Peru trip

I had a strange reaction to this trip and I'm not sure quite why. I tried to articulate it on the phone to Peggy but, "its complicated".

There were a number of firsts for me;
  • I had never before flown to a foreign country alone. I've done some travelling since George died but always either with someone or with someone there to meet me. I had arranged for G Adventures to pick me up but was still pretty anxious about that happening - it did.
  • I had never been to South America before.
  • I had never gone on a tour before.
  • I had never done anything this physical before or this "out of my comfort zone". Hiking in the past had been "walking" really, except perhaps the 6 Glacier Hike with Chris about 17 years ago and I don't remember that as being too tough.
  • I had never dealt with high altitude before.
  • I had never "prepared for" a trip like I did for this one; walking, training (?), buying equipment, reading about the hike and the equipment.
What happened was, that after it was all over, it still sort of possessed me. If my mind wasn't occupied with something it kept going back to the hike. It filled my head before I went to sleep and when I woke I knew I had been dreaming of the hike - and it was always uphill. There was no strong emotion attached to either the daytime thoughts or the nighttime dreams but it was just always there. It was a week and a half before other things began to creep in and I no longer felt that it was the only thing in my life.
Photo by Danny or Fiona
So maybe it was because I did so much prep. or maybe because it was so different for me or maybe the zone that I got into when hiking just wouldn't leave. I don't know (and I'm not happy about that statement either). I like having memories of trips and mentally, bringing them out to look at them now and then and I hope I can do that with this trip because it was fantastic and the scenery was stunning but I am very glad that it no longer consumes me.

So that having been said, here are some other thoughts;
  • It was very nice to be on a tour. To have someone to pick me up at the airport, someone to ask questions of, someone to help me with my lost baggage and someone to help me shop if it hadn't turned up. The tour itself was well organized and went like clockwork (except for the New Years Eve glitch when the briefing started well before the stated itinerary).
  • South America was fascinating and I hope I have the opportunity to go to Peru again. The people were friendly and cheerful. The culture was colourful and different than Spain or Mexico although there were certainly elements of each. The Andes were beautiful!
  • Cusco is a lovely little city it has parks, squares, fountains, museums, churches, restaurants (at every $ level), markets, artisan areas and all around, the mountains. I always felt safe even walking alone at night. The abundance of "tourist police" may have helped that.
  • The group you are with can really make or break a tour and ours was great. There were just the 7 of us, so essentially 2 families. The Australian family were lovely. Ryan and Casey were energetic, kind, enthusiastic, interested, involved and conversed with us as adults. Never a complaint or bickering with each other even though they were sharing a tent or a hotel room. Fiona and Danny were all of that and exceptionally considerate to me too. The first night we talked at length about where they lived in Australia, aboriginal issues, education etc etc until we realized that the porters were waiting to sleep in the dining tent. After that it was bits and pieces of conversation as location allowed. On the last day as we all finished up shopping and prepared for the next stage of travel they shared all their pictures with me and made sure they were at the hotel to say goodbye. A lovely family on an exciting adventure and I plan on staying in touch.
  • G Adventures met my expectations. They ran a good tour and I found that I enjoyed and learned. The Planterra Foundation locations were very interesting and they didn't make a big deal about the funding aspect, not tooting their own horn, just a statement that the people were able to fund their community projects with the money they made from these tourist businesses.
  • I wish I had had more energy on the last day to really explore Machu Picchu. I hope to go back sometime and do that. I will be one of the clean, sweet smelling tourists who take the bus up and walk around without a pack on my back and spend all day there, sketching and taking pictures.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Peru 2015/16 - G Adventures, Inca Trail - Day 4, Machu Picchu !

It rained off and on through the night, may even have thunderstormed. I was warm and dry in my tent but slept fitfully. Woken at 3am with the offer of hot tea and warm water. We packed up quickly and had a cold breakfast.
Picture by Fiona
Starting the 4th day in the dark.
David had given us the itinerary last night and said that he had never been able to get a group going fast enough to get benches at the check in. Hah! We got benches at the check in! I found out why you needed a headlamp this morning (I didn't have one, just a flashlight) as we were hiking out of camp and down to the check in, in pitch darkness. Fiona and Danny both shone their headlamps on the stairs so I could navigate them (so kind).
We waited at the check in as the rest of the groups gradually amassed. Not a lot of noise, shuffles and whispers. We brushed our teeth and adjusted our packs and were glad we didn't have to sit on the ground.
End of the Inca Trail, start of the hike to Machu Picchu
As it began to get lighter there was movement. I hadn't noticed but David must have established himself near the front of the line because he was calling us through.
There was still hiking to be done, up and down, stone steps in the mist and light rain. At one point (David had warned me but I hadn't really believed him) I had to climb very steep stairs with hands and feet (like a ladder).
At the Sungate (a pass in the mountain where you finally get to see Machu Picchi) the cloud cleared and we had a good view (no sun though). Everyone got their pictures taken there and it was a crowd of good feelings.

Crowds at the Sungate as everyone took pictures there.
Still more hiking down to the site itself.
The clouds were swirling around making the stone stairs wet and slippery. Sometimes
it was actually raining.
We were still quite a hike away from the site. On the right is the river in the valley below
and in the middle the switch back road that the bus takes to Agua Caliente.
As we neared it there were people coming up, walking to the Sungate. They were clean, smelled good, had stayed overnight in Agua Caliente and taken the bus up that morning; I had a strange resentment of them, they hadn't worked for it, they didn't deserve it. A hiker, back at the hotel, had articulated this to me before we left and I had laughed but I now understood. I had to give myself a bit of a talking too about how not everyone had the time, fitness or inclination to do the trail and they still should get to see the site.
Machu Picchu is a truly impressive site and I only appreciated this as we arrived and
looked down at the buildings, terraces, ruins, deep valleys, steep mountains and clouds drifting below us.
Last group picture. We made it!
My Argentinian "Fan Club". It was a great boost to hear them chanting my name
whenever they saw me.
Photo by Fiona
Next stop was the restaurant for breakfast (we had been up and hiking for hours) and the washroom (aaaaah)
David gave us an hour and a half tour and then told us we had about 2 hours of free time before catching the bus down and then the train.
We sat on a terrace while David talked about the site in general.
Everywhere I looked was worthy of a photo.

Temple of the Sun from below with the cave underneath.
and from above.
Discussing the doorways and doors
It is believed that it was a royal estate and could accommodate thousands of people.

Evidence of earthquake damage
More earthquake damage. David told us that it is believed that the site was abandoned before
it was finished. There are sections, like this temple where spaces were cut for beams on one
side but not completed on the other. In addition there is still a quarry on the mountaintop with
partly carved stones.
A worker cleaning of lichen with a small scraper. Painstaking work. (He was wearing a Habs cap)
Temple of the Condor
There is evidence of animal sacrifice and that the blood ran down to the Condors beak.
After David's tour I was too tired to sketch (my original plan) and it was damp. I didn't want to face any more steps (and the whole site is on a mountainside). So Chris, Jason and I wandered for a bit and then headed down to the bus. It is my only regret from the trip. I was too tired to really enjoy the site. Normally I would have spent a whole day there as it was we spent about 3 and a half hours.

Danny, Fiona, Ryan and Casey walked to the Inca bridge, up to the top again and over to the other side of the mountain. Oh to have their energy. I was just too pooped.

After taking the bus down to town we found the restaurant where we were to meet the others and pick up our duffle bags. I had a coffee (my first in 4 days) and a glass of wine (my first in 4 days) and I have to say they both tasted delicious. The rest of the group joined us and we had lunch.
It was a very smart and comfortable train.
Photo by Fiona
The views from the windows were of mountains and the rushing river along the valley we followed.
After the train we boarded a bus that took us back to the Ollantaytambo hotel to pick up the souvenirs we had left there and then on to a bus to go back to Cusco.
Peru provided a goodbye rainbow.
Back at the hotel it was all I could do to shower and quickly check my e-mail before I fell into bed.

Bald on the beach

Woke up this morning to find that I wasn't the only one who enjoyed the ice mounds on the edge of the lake.

He sat out there long enough for me to run downstairs and grab my camera, take some shots and watch him for about 10 minutes until he flew off over the lake.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

We interupt this Peru programming for some updates.

It has taken me quite a while to do the Peru posts. This is mostly because I have so many pictures to choose from (Danny and Fiona took at least 500 and I took 100s too), some of it is because the internet has not always been co-operative (rural internet!) and some because I have had a hard time figuring out my reaction to the trip (I will do a post about that too). In the meantime life goes on at Long Point.
Last weekend was one of our regular biannual (not really that regular but we try to be) hooking weekends. Unfortunately Peggy, Lynn and Leslie couldn't make it but Heather, Pam and Pat did. As usual we ate well, drank in moderation (yeah right!), chatted up a storm and hooked and knitted for 2 days. I needed the peer support to get me hooking again as I had not picked it up since before Christmas and have 2 projects that I want to complete for the OHCG Annual.
Pat is between hooking projects so was working on this colourful, lacey shawl/sweater.

Pat also helped me with a dying project which was a real learning experience for me. I have dyed in the past but not with any kind of enthusiasm or desire to learn enough to do it myself but now I am finally ready to get into it. Pat predicts I will get hooked. I loved the colours of the wool we dyed but it is not close to the wool we were trying to match. Pat has offered to try again at home, so kind.
Heather finished this little mat hooked with veragated wool. Swirly in the centre and a straight line border.
Then she moved on to another Santa, this one with a tree.
Pam was working on another variation of her wiener dog pattern.
Aside from the dying and working on whipping a hooked cushion, I had  Pam there so she also helped me with a knitting pattern involving cabling.
It has been 2 weeks of very variable weather at The Point and I have to admit I have been a bit of a hermit. After all the exertion in Peru I have given myself permission to be lazy and the weather has given me added excuse but today was lovely so I had to get out and walk the beach.
Sunny, about -4, a light North West wind, lovely.

The late fall and early winter storms have blown up a lot of driftwood.
The topography is in layers. Wind and sun have again exposed the sand on the beach.
Next comes an area of ice and sand "boulders"
Then a stretch of relatively flat ice, frozen in ridges, like waves.
A low line of ice hills and then a mass of ice chunks pushed together to make a solid mass.
The day that this section was formed it was cold and there was a breeze from the South West. It pushed all the ice floating on the lake in to the shore, where it froze together.
Next there is the most impressive section. More wind and waves break over the ice edge and form mountains of frozen droplets. Some are as high as 15ft.
The volcano look alikes are formed when the waves push up from below and break through the hole, looks like a geyser.

I am not usually appreciative of winter. I consider it a season to be escaped but on days like today I am reminded how beautiful it can be and love the diversity of this location.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Peru 2015/16 - G Adventures, Inca Trail - Day 3

We were up at 5am, surrounded by a cool mist; we were in the clouds. A quick breakfast of scrambled eggs with ham and cheese, bread with butter and jam and hot tea.
Above the clouds. The clouds swirled around for most of the morning, sun peaking through sometimes.
We were up this early as it was to be the longest day of hiking.
Picture taken by Danny
Start of the third day.
We were off and walking by 6:15 and walked up hill (again!) for about an hour and a half.
Photo by Danny or Fiona
Looking back at last nights camp, way below us.

Picture by Danny or Fiona
I managed the "up" portions a little better. Perhaps it was because we were lower or
because I knew it was for a shorter distance. It was still pretty steep and intimidating
but the views were stunning and I kept reminding myself that I was in the ANDES!
Our first stop was at another Inca site that would have been a way station (lodging and supplies) for the Inca runners that took messages along the trail. They ran for a certain distance and then passed the message on to the next runner.
Photo by Fiona
David talking about the site.
Another 45 minutes walking took us to where we had a snack break. There was an optional extra walk up to another Inca site. The rest of the group took those extra 100 steps up and 100 steps down. I did not!
The porters passed us on a downhill bit, at a run.
This is the site I didn't go to. Everyone else in the group did and I have seen their pictures.
It is very impressive with fabulous views, but my legs just were having none of it. I believe
it is called Sayaqmarka but I just though of it as the "200 step site".
The trail went by this site but by now the Inca sites were so plentiful I hardly
even stopped to look at it
Quick pic. though.

From here the trail went up and down hill, mostly through cloud forest, which was nice and cool in the beautiful sunny weather. It was supposed to be the rainy season. According to Daniel, this area of Peru has 2 seasons, wet and dry. We had wonderful weather although it could change rapidly from hot and sunny to cold and damp when a cloud suddenly surrounded us.
At this point on the trail it was impossible to build into the mountainside so
the trail went through a tunnel.
The lunch site was on a hilltop and from there we could see the mountain we had to climb tomorrow, the river valley and glimpses of Agua Caliente (the closest community).
They went all out for lunch. Soup first then rice and zucchini, salad and Lomos Saltados (Beef
stew served over french fries that we had had in Cuzco) and
pizza. Followed by
cake! Two layers, icing flavoured and coloured with Tang. It was all delicious.
The part that I was most excited by though was not the food. It was a little tent that had been erected near our lunch spot.
A real seat and a compostable bag inside it.
We couldn't believe that we had had to use those disgusting toilets while all along someone was carrying this lovely device.
Laughing at me for taking the toilet picture.
We were introduced to our "support staff", the porters and cook, and they were introduced to us.
Our group of seven, 12 porters and a cook. David took the picture.
After all that food I just wanted to have a nap.
Just below the lunch spot, another Inca site.
Water fountain still working
Boy, those Incas could build for the long term and
they had some great views.
After visiting the Inca site just below our lunch spot it was another 3 and a half hours of walking. It was mostly downhill and quite steep. Through another tunnel in one place. We could hear the sounds of civilization, the train whistle as the railway in the valley goes to Agua Calientes. I had got used to the quiet. The only sounds had been wind, birds, the click of the treking poles and the chatter of other hikers.
Another sign that we were returning to the real world; Davids instruction to "be sure to stay to the left near the pylons". He said the hydro line had recently been put in to service a hydro electric dam. No machinery or helicopters were used though, everything was carried in on peoples backs and then erected on site.
Hydro pylon with the Inca agricultural terraces behind
The terraces were magnificent, climbing steeply up the mountainside
with views across the river valley to more mountains, some with snow.
We could see the Inca agricultural terraces for a long time as we came down the hill towards them and the camp was just another 20 minutes further on.

This huge open space was a great place to sit and just absorb the history and the
location and many hikers took advantage of that, sitting quietly on the terraces.
Looking up at all that stone.
Looking down at camp for the 3rd night.
Llama keeping the grass under control
We asked to have the portable toilet set up so we didn't have to use the community ones - priceless!
After supper, Danny thanked the porters and cook on our behalf and we gave them their tip envelope as they would pack us up early in the morning and then rush down the hill to meet the train. We were in bed early knowing we would be up well before dawn the next day.
We had hiked 16km. It had taken me about 10 hours. It was, so far, the most enjoyable day with so much to see and so many different environments to explore.