28 July 2008

Part VI

In which Steve changes the title of the blog to East Africa by Slacks and goes to, you guessed it, East Africa (Nairobi to be exact).

13 July 2008

The Navel of the World

According to my boys the Incas, the city of Cusco in Peru was the center of the world which goes a long way to explaining why it translates as "The Navel" from Quecha. Somewhat odd body part reference aside (though in honesty, much better than New Jersey which translates as "The Armpit"), Cusco is a great town that combines Incan history, Spanish colonialism and a good tourist infrastructure while maintaining authentic, South American feel.

The flight into Cusco on Friday was wonderful, after breaking through the clouds in Lima got some great views of the sun lit Andes. I stayed at the Amaru Hostal which was great ($29 for a great single room w/ bath, well located, helpful staff, good breakfast included). Spent most of the afternoon preparing for the trek, buying the obligatory alpaca knit hats and then met the Griffiths (my 3rd Denver in South America connection) for dinner.

Saturday did a Sacred Valley day tour which was a good introduction to the area and its Incan history, though apparently its better on Sundays when the Pisaq market is on. It is incredible seeing the buildings and terraces built into the sides of mountains that have lasted thousands of years. Watching the sunset over the mountains from Chinchero was also a highlight, followed closely by the rock concert that greeted us on our return to Cucso on the steps of the Catedral in Plaza de Armas.

Sunday through Thursday did the Salkantay trek and by Friday I was determined to do absolutely nothing. I pretty well succeeded, spending most of my day reading in the different plazas. I also wandered into the Cusco market which is pretty much the most incredible, lively and fascinating (and a tad disgusting) place on earth. Its a covered square city block encompassing thousands of stalls selling really PICT0423 smallfresh raw and prepared food, kind of like a developing country's version of Whole Foods but not yuppie or... clean. Papayas, pineapple, oranges and aloe plants? Check. Papayas, pineapple, oranges and aloe blended together in front of your eyes into a liter of smoothie for less than a dollar? Check. A hundred varieties of potatoes? Check. Raw chicken, pork, lamb and fish? Check. A really gross aisle with brains, snouts and feet? Check. Spices, grains, beans, cheeses and milk? Check. Chicken soup, ceviche (fish cooked in lime juice) and probably 700 other dishes I couldn't/didn't want to identify? Check. Anyways, I absolutely loved it and I swear to god it rivaled Macchu Picchu for the most impressive thing I saw in Peru.

PICT0011 I also got myself one of those hot foam straight razor shaves which is something I love (especially when they cost a buck). I had drinks with some folks from the trek and then met Justin and Julia for a dinner of guinea pig (surprisingly, not that good). Saturday was my last day in Cusco and I checked out Catedral. It was actually very cool and well done with incredibly ornate altars, really impressive architecture, the original cross from the conquistadors, a black jesus and probably the only painting of the last supper where the meal is the aforementioned guinea pig.

I caught a late afternoon flight to Lima  and tried to meet up with some folks for dinner during my 7 hour layover. The restaurant they said to meet at was closed and there was no sign of them (thanks Katherine!) so I ended up enjoying a great dinner of ceviche and scallops by myself at the city's nicest/most romantic restaurant (Rosa Nautica if you are ever in that neck of the woods). Caught my first of two red-eyes at 1am and arrived in BsAs early in the morning. Packed the rest of my stuff, grabbed a last steak sandwich and caught the second red-eye to the ATL followed by a quick flight back to Denver.

So that does it for this trip to South America. I'd really like to go back and see Colombia, Ecuador, Patagonia, etc but for now I am "working remotely" in Crested Butte and getting ready for Africa (check back in a month or so, I'm gonna use the same blog).

Jambo Jambo!

11 July 2008


Here's a quick recap of the 5D/4N Salkantay trip with Q'ente. All in all it was quite good, the people were fun (backpackers from England, Oz and Holland, a Swiss and Dutch couple and Ze Germans who were always in the lead), the food was tasty (if not particularly plentiful) and the rum was cheap (if overly plentiful).

Day 1: Cusco - Soraypampa (3900m)
After a two hour ordeal to round everyone up, we finally got rolling about 9am. We headed out of the city on a dodgy one lane mountain road (under construction of course), picked up some last minute supplies (coca leaves) and then met our cooks and horses to start the hike. We followed a dirt road for about 3 hours, enjoying views of the foothills and a bunch of soaring birds. The road ended at a really nice looking hotel and after two hours we got to our campground in the middle of nowhere right under Salkantay mountain. When the sun set the temperatures plummeted (hot water in Nalgenes in sleeping bags = awesome) but we had one of those spectacular nights where you can see 5 billion stars and actually make out the milky way.


Day 2: Soraypampa - Salkantay Pass (4600m) - Colpapampa (2600m)
After a decent nights sleep, we got up early and were treated to the best pancakes I had in South America. We got on the trail and after three or four hours of huffing and puffing got to the top of the pass and had some phenomenal views of Salkantay, the surrounding ranges and the Nepal-esque rock chortens. We went down a bit, relaxed and enjoyed lunch basking in the sun under the mountains. Another three or four hours of going down into the jungle and we arrived at Colpapampa, a really small village complete with horses, chickens, pigs, Cusquena beer and Chica (some sort of odd fermented corn concoction).


Day 3: Colpapampa - Playa (2200m)
Woke up bright and early with the roosters and had an easy five hour walk to our campsite outside of Playa. The scenery was nice and different from the last two days, banana trees covered the slopes of mountains and we followed a river valley as we passed through plantations growing bananas, passionfruit, avocados and coffee. In Playa we hit up the local hotsprings (which somehow didn't smell like sulphur) and we relaxed while the clouds rolled in over the tops of the mountains. It would have been a great way to end the evening but I decided I needed to show that I can still drink like 19 year old backpackers, so we bought two bottles of shit rum and played Kings until everyone was thoroughly shitfaced (incidentally, two great rules for kings are that you have to end every sentence with "in my pants" or "England is shit").


Day 4: Playa - Aguas Calientes (2000m)
Woke up at 2am curled up around a 5 gallon drum in my tent. Thanks guys, I really appreciated that. Passed back out till 9am and then woke up, felt like shit. Had breakfast, felt like shit. Started walking down the railroad tracks, felt like shit (fyi if anyone in a railroad engineer, you really need to space the ties at a comfortable walking distance, they are either way to close or too far apart, especially when you feel like shit). Anyways, met some girls who go to Colorado College and made it to Aguas Calientes. Had a hot shower, some terribly terrible pizza and was in bed by 9.


Day 5: Aguas Calientes - Macchu Picchu - Cusco
Woke up at the bustling hour of 4:30am to catch sunrise over MP though even that hour didn't get us a seat on the first bus up to the entrance. Still, got there in plenty of time and though the sunrise wasn't particularly clear, the fog and clouds lent the whole scene a cool, mysterious feel. Had a two hour tour where we checked out the huge terraced fields, the sun temples that do nifty things on the solstices, some still flowing fountains and a lot of three level things (sun/gods, earth and then the inner world). Did the forty five minute climb to the top of Huyana Picchu (the big mountain in the background of all the MP pics) which was really good - but if you want to do it you need to get an entrance ticket by like 8am, they only allow a certain number of people up per day.

Spent the next five or six hours taking pictures, hiking around, taking pictures, going to the Sun Gate, taking pictures and generally taking pictures. Macchu Picchu was really impressive, it would be amazing to put such a huge complex on top of a mountain in modern times, yet alone nearly one thousand years ago. It also was not as crowded and full of tourists as I'd expected, so that was a pleasant surprise. So anyways, after something like 10 hours there, I headed back to town, grabbed lunch, hopped on the tourist train to Ollyantambo (which costs about 30 times as much as the local-only train) and then finished off the trek with a somewhat painful and mundane two hour bus ride back to Cusco.


04 July 2008

Feliz Cumpleanos America!

Quick shout out to the USA, hope evryone is having a great Fourth of July. I´m back in Cusco, Peru after a good five day trek. It was great, climbed a 4600 meter pass under 6000+ meter Mount Salkantay, ate fresh avocadoes and passionfruit, drank weird corn beer and rum (mucho mucho rum) and then ended at Macchu Picchu which is incredible in its own right. Had a good group with Brits, Aussies, Dutch and some Swedes which means two things: realizing that drinking games are universal (asshole, bullshit, kings) and I´m back to using silly words like devastated, proper, mad and buff.

Anyways, I´ll post pictures and stuff in the next few days but for now I´m off to celebrate the 4th Peruvian style which I´m pretty sure is going to entail eating guinea pìg and then I´m back in the US in 3 days.