Lares Trek to Machu Picchu – Day 3

After the long trek we had yesterday, I slept really well.  Perhaps the tea and rum mix also helped.  When I awoke and stepped out from my tent, I didn’t expect to see ourselves in such a deep and narrow valley.  Quite a sight considering that it was dark enough when we arrived that we didn’t really get to see what our surroundings looked like.

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After the long trek we had yesterday, I slept really well.  Perhaps the tea and rum mix also helped.  When I awoke and stepped out from my tent, I didn’t expect to see ourselves in such a deep and narrow valley.  Quite a sight considering that it was dark enough when we arrived that we didn’t really get to see what our surroundings looked like.

Looking up the valley from the campsite.
Looking up the valley from the campsite.
Someone had the perfect place for a warm tent, and it looks like we had a visitor.
Someone had the perfect place for a warm tent, and it looks like we had a visitor.

While most of the group was still asleep or in the process of waking up, I noticed a girl had perched herself nearby our tent with a local canine friend.  She seemed pretty shy and quiet but a couple of us approached her and purchased bracelets from her.  I hadn’t seen a design that I really liked until then.  I also realized I was still carrying some fruit and so I offered her some.

Seeing this girl got me thinking about how important education was to all children around the world.  It saddens me to see the potential and future of these little people going to waste because their families simply cannot afford to send them off to the cities to attend school.  I know progress takes time and things are gradually getting better but sometimes I wonder if it is those who get stuck in the transition stages that have the hardest experiences.  I hope at the very least, this little girl has the opportunity to learn to read.

This girl does not have the opportunity to attend school so she like many other children sell wares on behalf of their family.
This girl does not have the opportunity to attend school so she like many other children sell wares on behalf of their family.
The household that hosted our campsite.
The household that hosted our campsite.

As the sun continued to rise, people quietly began to come out of their tents and the packing up process began.  Since this was the last day of the trek itself, some supplies ran out — like toilet paper!  Fortunately, there were no emergencies.

It wasn’t going to be a long day of hiking so we leisurely enjoyed our breakfast and then continued our descent out of the valley.  The change in landscape and scenery was simply astounding — and weather became significantly warmer.  It was a bit of a challenge hiking downhill for so long and there were sections of the trail where it was just composed of lots of loose rock.  Some referred to it as the “Indiana Jones” trail.  As a result, I didn’t take many photos of the remainder of the trek.  Most of the trail to the end took us through wooded area deeper into the valley.

Looking back at our trek.
Looking back at our trek.
Saying thank you and goodbye to our pack mule drivers and chef.  Team Hakuna matata!
Saying thank you and goodbye to our pack mule drivers and chef.  Team Hakuna matata!

After the morning trek up and down through the woods and out of the valley, we assembled to share our appreciation with the pack mule drivers and chef who helped and treated us so well along the way.  They were brilliant people.

We had even planned a brief football match but I think most people were focused on eating lunch.  By the time we finished, it was time to catch a ride to the train station after dropping by Ollantaytambo to pick up some large backpacks that a few people left behind at their hotel room.

Waiting for the train to Aguas Calientes.  Almost lost my ticket.
Waiting for the train to Aguas Calientes.  Almost lost my ticket.

The ride on the train was quite luxurious and refreshing.  As we were lining up, I almost lost my ticket when the wind blew it out of my hand.  It almost flew under the train (thank goodness it didn’t)!  Once we were seated, there were some drinks and snacks that were passed around, and out came the deck of cards again.  There were some winning streaks to be defended or broken!

To our surprise, after getting off the train and walking into the town of Aguas Calientes — we realized that there were more hills to climb in town just to reach the hostel we were staying in.  For some, that was unbearable while I just thought it was amusingly ironic.  Soon after we reached out much pined-for destination, we got cleaned up (after three days of not showing) and head out to enjoy dinner and the nightlife before catching the early morning bus to Machu Picchu.

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu – Day 2

We started off with a hearty breakfast (artsy pancakes with cartoon characters and all courtesy of the chef!) and some coca tea for me.  Once we packed our snacks and refilled our water bottles, we hit the trail — eager to tackle day 2 of our trek.  I had felt tired already — didn’t sleep very well and was tossing and turning for parts of the night.  The pack mules and their drivers passed us immediately but I didn’t care — I was just focused on the amazing view around us.

It was hard to get to sleep last night. 

There was a major football game last night so we could hear the porters and locals watching or listening to the game.  Every time I was about to drift to sleep, they’d cheer.  I didn’t mind — it was a happy time and weather was co-operating.  It didn’t help however when one of the locals had a phone that just wouldn’t stop ringing.  We were surprised that they would get reception in such a remote area.  I figured we weren’t remote enough yet!

When I woke up, it still felt dark but then I stepped out of my tent and saw that the sun had already risen and was shining over part of the mountains.  Our tents were still sitting in the shade.

Waking up with the pack mules and horses to a great view.
Waking up with the pack mules and horses to a great view.
Passing by a small community in the valley.
Passing by a small community in the valley.

We started off with a hearty breakfast (artsy pancakes with cartoon characters and all courtesy of the chef!) and some coca tea for me.  Once we packed our snacks and refilled our water bottles, we hit the trail — eager to tackle day 2 of our trek.  I had felt tired already — didn’t sleep very well and was tossing and turning for parts of the night.  The pack mules and their drivers passed us immediately but I didn’t care — I was just focused on the amazing view around us.

Passing through the valley, we would see the village settlement and the buildings either established or in construction.  Due to the nature of the way buildings were developed here, it was important and vital for the people constructing the buildings to complete them before the rainy season.  I’m guessing the combination of clay and mud wouldn’t work out in very wet conditions.

Buildings were built out of clay and mud in this area so they had to be completed before the rainy season.
Buildings were built out of clay and mud in this area so they had to be completed before the rainy season.
We encountered a group of children on their way to school this morning so we stopped to greet them and share some fruit.
We encountered a group of children on their way to school this morning so we stopped to greet them and share some fruit.

Further along the route, we’d encounter women looking to sell their wares to us as well as children who were off to school.  We’d speak with them briefly and share some of the fruit we had.  Not only was it such a huge learning experience for us to better understand the people living in this region, the group of us also really appreciated the opportunity to give away some of what we had.  The bonus was also a lighter backpack.

There was a moment where the trail went from very quiet to super busy.  Apparently, there were alpaca trains (or packs of alpacas) just wandering around.  In addition there were also different pack mule trains heading in different directions.  I learned from our guide that there are actually multiple trails in the Lares Trek.  Although they do converge at certain points, there is a fair bit of variety in the experience.

Major alpaca crossing.  Everyone was going in one way or another.
Major alpaca crossing.  Everyone was going in one way or another.
Looking back at the small community down in the valley that we had just passed through.
Looking back at the small community down in the valley that we had just passed through.

The trail took us on a gradual incline for some time and during our ascent we spotted a number of pack mules ahead of us.  Something must have gone wrong because we suddenly spotted something falling off the mule and tumbling down into the valley.  We found out that it was actually a fuel canister so unfortunately the pack mule driver had to stop and go retrieve it.

As we began the major climb, our group which initially stuck together began to ascend a varying speeds.  I didn’t want to use up all my energy so soon so I was intent on pacing myself.  The sun was blazing so I would feel hot but as soon as the wind blew, I’d feel the arctic breeze — fortunately, my lightweight long sleeve seemed to do the trick.

It gets warmer and we begin our gradual ascent.
It gets warmer and we begin our gradual ascent.
And it keeps going...
And it keeps going…

The ascent was broken into approximately three stages.  We were out of the valley now and now up on to what seemed to be the mountain plateau area.  Every so often, we’d sit down along the trail and grab a snack or share stories.  Sometimes it’d be to listen to stories that our guide would tell us about the spirits and traditions of the indigenous people of this region.

Eventually we found ourselves passing by a very remote farm and were invited into the woman’s home.  As soon as we entered and seated ourselves, we heard squealing and the pitter patter of little animals running around.  It was hard to see in the dark home but I realized that those squeals were coming from all the guinea pigs in the house!  We must’ve excited them because the women in the house quickly shushed the guinea pigs and the little critters soon calmed down.

I know guinea pig is a delicacy in Peru but it’s nice to see that they are treated rather well and have the opportunity to run freely in the home.  I knew guinea pigs are generally quite social but I didn’t realize how social they could be.

We stopped by a woman's farm and were invited into her home.
We stopped by a woman’s farm and were invited into her home.
Group shot with our very generous and friendly host.
Group shot with our very generous and friendly host.

I have to say that it was such an eye-opening experience and honour to be welcome into someone’s home.  Looking back, this also changed my perspective on the way we live in Canada and the way I’d like to live.  It was simply amazing to observe how these people and their families live from day to day.  Apparently, the older woman’s daughter was visiting and they had some members of the family either working in the cities or attending school.  The distance to make that sort of visit is astounding in contrast to what I’d be accustomed to. 

Those who are fortunate have the opportunity to attend school but it still comes at a cost as many cultures and societies have experienced the eventual rural to urban migration.  Will the livelihoods of the people who stay in these regions remain the same or improve?  Will their beliefs and traditions be kept alive?  Some believe tourism is in a sense a sustainable economic engine that may help cultures stay alive.  Whether this may be the long-term outcome, we’ll have to see.

Sharing fruit with a shy little girl peering at us from the rocks bordering the woman's home.
Sharing fruit with a shy little girl peering at us from the rocks bordering the woman’s home.
The major climb begins here.
The major climb begins here.

After wishing our hostess farewell, we set off to tackle the mountain pass (Pumawanka).  This was the toughest part of the trek with the peak altitude reaching about 4800m.  From a distance, this thing looks reasonable.

That is, until you begin to hike it.  Then every step you take — it almost feels like it would your last.  The key is really your mind. Your body is constantly telling you how hard and tough it is; how nice it’d be to sit down for a break.  No time for that so your mind is really what dictates the outcome in this scenario.

The trickiest part about these sort of ascents is the type of terrain you have to set foot on.  Typical mountain terrain is loose gravel with plenty of large stones to step over.  It’s a pain but the end is worth the struggle.

Altitude sickness begins to kick in for many of us.  Every step is one huge effort.
Altitude sickness begins to kick in for many of us.  Every step is one huge effort.
One step at a time we all struggle up to this mountain pass.  At a certain point, our guide is trying to get us to go faster -- not that it makes much of a difference nor does it really help.
One step at a time we all struggle up to this mountain pass.  At a certain point, our guide is trying to get us to go faster — not that it makes much of a difference nor does it really help.

As usual, for every hill you tackle on a mountain — there is another one awaiting you.  The one thing I had learned from hiking mountains in general is to never really expect the end nor should we focus on it.  The focus has to simply be on the next step to ensure solid footing and to embrace the challenge that is in the present moment.  Thinking about reaching the end will often just frustrate a person.

As much as this section was painful and my lungs were constantly asking for more air and to take more breaths — I loved the tranquility of this mountain pass, and the power that it demonstrated over us — such relatively minuscule forms of life.  I speak of that in respect to not only in physical size but more so span of time.

Reaching the snow-covered mountain pass.
Reaching the snow-covered mountain pass.
We made it! The highest point in altitude for the hike.  We will begin our descent from here.
We made it! The highest point in altitude for the hike.  We will begin our descent from here.

Once we reached the top, we all sipped a bit of whiskey to celebrate the success of our journey over the highest point of this trek.  It was quite the slog up to this point but we had done it and now it was to deal with the descent which made for a potentially risky challenge.

The way down the mountain pass was slushy and muddy (in contrast to the side we came from) so we brought out our hiking poles and began tackling the switchbacks … slowly … down the mountain.  There were some slippery moments but we all seemed to manage alright.

After reaching the lake, we were famished.  The running joke throughout the hike was that we were eating condor or puma.  Either way, lunch was fortunately prepared for us (with checha morada for dessert!) just as we arrived but we were so tired that a couple of the guys kept lightheartedly requesting a ciesta.   Surprisingly, our guide agreed and gave us a 30 minute break to just chill.  We just sat around chatting amongst ourselves or in some cases, napping.  I’m sure the pack mules didn’t mind the break too.

After the descent to the lake, we break for lunch and request a ciesta.
After the descent to the lake, we break for lunch and request a ciesta.
Looking back at the mountain pass we descended from.
Looking back at the mountain pass we descended from.

As we proceeded further down the trail, I took a look back at the mountain pass.  It’s always stunning to me when I look at what we had achieved physically.  It wasn’t as if we were all in tip-top shape but we each tackled it and persevered.  I shake my head when I think about it — not necessarily in disbelief — but sometimes in admiration.  A reminder to myself of a matter of will.

We were no longer in the mountains and gradually kept descending into the valley where it became greener but also darker as the day went on.  Some of the greens I saw just put me in awe.  They weren’t vibrant but they had a characteristic about them — maybe wisdom — particularly some of the trees we passed that were so very old, yet their size didn’t reveal their age.

Hauntingly beautiful trees.  These are apparently extremely old despite their appearance.
Hauntingly beautiful trees.  These are apparently extremely old despite their appearance.
Passing by an interior lake.  This was the last photograph I took before I got too tired to document the remainder of the journey.  We also didn't have enough light once deeper into the valley.
Passing by an interior lake.  This was the last photograph I took before I got too tired to document the remainder of the journey.  We also didn’t have enough light once deeper into the valley.

We stopped for further breaks along the way into the valley and listened to the stories or history that our guide would share.  Eventually, I didn’t have enough light to take more photographs as we got deeper into the valley — and I was too tired to persist with making adjustments to accommodate lighting.

By the time we arrived at the campsite — it was dark, windy, and cold.  We quickly unpacked and rested for a moment before we huddled in the dining tent together over some hot snacks which reminded me of apple and cheese turnovers, but better.  After dinner, we enjoyed a sweet tea mixed with rum (té machu) that kept us warm while we shared scary stories and played card games into the night (we were hooked and competitive!).  It was definitely one of the memorable highlights of the trek — just the zaniness and hilarity that ensued after a long day’s hike.

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu – Day 1

We started off the day by visiting a local market.  Lots of hustle and bustle with practically everything you could think of being sold — perfect in case you didn’t have a rain jacket or forgot something when packing.  Our guide encouraged us to pick up some fruits and fresh bread as small gifts for the local children or families we’d encounter on our way into the remote area.

In September 2013 when I had set out to see Peru, I hadn’t originally planned to go on my own.  My intention was to travel with a couple of friends but that didn’t work out.  We wanted to hike the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu but since they weren’t able to make it, I was on my own.  I didn’t have time to plan for this trip on my own but I just knew I didn’t want to hike the Inca Trail with so many people — so I opted to join the Lares Trek group offered by G Adventures.  I had read from numerous sources that the Lares Trek was slightly shorter than the traditional Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu but would allow me to learn more about the people living in the region.

We started off the day by visiting a local market.  Lots of hustle and bustle with practically everything you could think of being sold — perfect in case you didn’t have a rain jacket or forgot something when packing.  Our guide encouraged us to pick up some fruits and fresh bread as small gifts for the local children or families we’d encounter on our way into the remote area.  Most families in the area would be raising alpaca or growing a type of potato or grain but most would have very little access to fruits and vegetables.

The local market in the Village of Calca.  I enjoy how markets are almost always so colourful.
The local market in the Village of Calca.  I enjoy how markets are almost always so colourful.
On our way to the hot springs before beginning our trek.  Crazy switchbacks for the driver!
On our way to the hot springs before beginning our trek.  Crazy switchbacks for the driver!

We ended up with over a kilogram of fruit and bread.  Not quite what I anticipated when preparing my daypack so I ended up with additional weight to lug on the trail.  The luckier folk ended up with only bread in their pack and as much as I wasn’t too excited about the idea of carrying so much fruit, I felt that it was still worth the challenge and the opportunity to meet people along the way.

After enjoying the hot springs (which was very a busy place despite its remote location), we ate some lunch and then set off on to the trail.  It surprised me that the trail was literally just a short walk away from the hot spring resort.  The valley started off very green and we’d stop every so often to listen to stories that our guide would tell us.  He introduced us to the local beliefs about nature and Pachamama (earth/time mother).

As a part of an offering and a wish, we each took three small coca leaves and fanned them out in our fingers holding them together, and then blew at them in different directions.  These were then set underneath a rock.

No sooner we set off to trek deeper into the valley, we began encountering children on the way.  Apparently, many of them were off to school with some children helping their family with chores or business part of the day and then heading off to school.

A few of the first children we encountered along the way. They were heading the opposite direction to school.
A few of the first children we encountered along the way. They were heading the opposite direction to school.
These girls were fast. As soon as they saw us, they ran across the valley to sell us stuff. Beer too!
These girls were fast. As soon as they saw us, they ran across the valley to sell us stuff. Beer too!

Not all children we encountered were off to school.  We encountered girls along the way who would spot us from a distance and come running across the valley to sell us their wares.  Often these would be some handmade bracelets, water, soft drinks, and beer!  Surprisingly, no one opted to pick up beer but I have a feeling it was a matter of weight.  No one really wanted to carry something that heavy.  Glass + Water is pretty hefty!  I also learned that the colourful clothing worn by the local people often helped them identify one another.  I wonder what sort of pattern I would be able to wear.

We’d also make some non-human friends every so often with some curious alpacas that would wander over.  They weren’t super friendly but they were definitely intrigued.  I figure they must be domesticated or quite accustomed to humans passing by.

Passing by some curious alpacas
Passing by some curious alpacas
After speaking with the woman who was taking care of her baby, we trekked on into the mountains.
After speaking with the woman who was taking care of her baby, we trekked on into the mountains.

Our guide reminded us that this was merely training day for us.  It wasn’t an extraordinarily tough hike on day one but it was certainly one that made us hungry.  I also hadn’t been training as much as I should have over the summer so I knew I wasn’t as prepared for the hike as I should have been but I was okay.

Regardless of how much exercise we may have take on back home, it really dawned on us how it paled in comparison to the fitness level of the children who ran up and down the hills and mountains of the valley as if it were merely just walking down a flat street.  We would watch as we trudged into the village the many children who spotted us and would scamper across streams and over large rocks from a distance just to come greet us.  It was both a bewildering and wonderful feeling.

More children who spotted us from a distance rushed across the valley to greet us.
More children who spotted us from a distance rushed across the valley to greet us.
A little girl who greeted us as we arrived at a small household that took us in for the night.
A little girl who greeted us as we arrived at a small household that took us in for the night.
Arriving into the campsite.
Arriving into the campsite.

Once we hiked to our campsite which was set up in the middle of a yard, it was a perfect time to simply chill out and wash up before dinner.  We were really fortunate to have our gear and food carried by pack mules so we ended up with food for a fantastic dinner which then led to some fun card games and hilarity between the handful of us until everyone decided to call it a night.  It was going to be a long day of hiking tomorrow — the longest actually for the Lares Trek.