Peru – Training for Trekking

This is the first of three posts describing a trip for which I was the US representative from Zephyr Adventures, which runs their Royal Inca Trail Trekking adventure with local experts from Apumayo.

On my own

To help make sure each person who signed up for this trip has an outstanding Zephyr Adventure,  I have studied maps, a calendar, and Zephyr printouts during the three flights it took to get here from SFO.  I also added a little trekking checklist to each gift packet assembled today. My first morning in Lima, the steaming hot milk and strong coffee made a great breakfast along with scrambled eggs and a croissant. How to drink coffee in Peru: first pour a tablespoon or less of steaming hot milk into the cup, then add thick black coffee (and water if necessary) to just the right color of tan. With an afternoon of free time, I explored Lima’s famous Kennedy Park, did some shopping, and had a very tasty ceviche lunch before returning to the hotel to meet my fellow trekkers.

Grouping up

Dining in Lima
Dinner in Lima with native Teo Capcha

Meeting up at Casa Andina we all agreed it would be fun to share dinner. Pam from Florida was my roommate,  I’d bumped into our three Canadians in the hall — Randy, Olive and Heather — and then I called Californians Randy and Marie in their room. Meanwhile, I’d also left a note on Teo Capcha’s Facebook wall, and was delighted when the Lima native I’d gotten to know at my favorite ski area in Tahoe telephoned not long after. He fit right in with this friendly group, from our first toast with Pisco Sours to the last. What a great start for our Peruvian vacation!

Touring the Sacred Valley

(See related password free photo albums on Picasa.)

Santiago, the guide I knew when I was a customer in 2008, was waiting at the gate in Cusco. As he and our driver Antonio  loaded our luggage atop the van, a costumed Peruvian lady made a few sales of coca candy and knit hats and gloves. We drove into the center of town, past the Plaza de Armas and up several narrow blocks to Plaza San Blas where we stopped for lunch at PachaPapas. We dined on traditional dishes in a tiny courtyard while a man played a harp next to the the wood burning oven.

Urubamba, in the Sacred Valley

Urubamba, in the Sacred Valley

Driving from Cusco to the Sacred Valley, we stopped to snap photos of it from the altoplano above. The Casa Andina here has a spectacular glass-walled main area offering natural lighting and views of the grounds and mountain backdrops all around. Tethered llamas trim the grass, and four costumed ladies plant themselves and their wares in an unavoidable section of walkway to our rooms. During our dinner the electricity went out but the lit candles saved the day to beautiful effect. Our one-man pan pipe band played on.

On Tuesday we tried not to stuff ourselves at the buffet breakfast. I was glad to hear that all the high altitude headaches are gone. We drove back up to 11000 feet and toured the Moray ruins, where the “flying steps” presented a challenge for some, and the hike back uphill taxed our breathing. As we hiked towards the village of Maras, we enjoyed vast views of tilled fields and distant snowy peaks frosted by clouds. The sun was quite warm when it came out. Hernando had a tasty picnic waiting for us in a tent set up in Maras, with pretty woven tablecloths. He wore a chef’s hat and tunic, so cute!

Bags of harvested salt lined up next to the salt pools in Maras
Salt for Lima, harvested from the same pools used by the Incas

To avoid two hours of optional hiking, we hitched a van ride to the salt pools, and all but two of our group hiked down the salt-encrusted trail alongside the pools. The light was so incredible for photos! Heather has a fear of heights so she shadowed Santiago in the narrowest spots.  Our incredibly delicious and elegant dinner was in the village of Urubamba, which is still digging out the mud after a chunk of glacier broke off above town, flooding its narrow streets with the snow melt.

Ollantaytambo and Cachiccata

Skulls in a nitch in an Ollantaytambo home
Honoring the ancestors in a kitchen nitch

Cottony clouds and a deep blue sky brought a morning glowing with the promise of good weather. We loaded up the van and made a stop in Ollantaytambo square. We strolled up a narrow cobbled street  to the neighborhood where modern-day Peruvians occupy homes built upon the foundations left by the Incas. No mud here because of the Incas’ beautifully laid mid-street drainage canals. We toured a villager’s home and several of us purchased souvenirs, taking care not to step on the small herd of cuy (guinea pigs). They are called cuy because of the “cuy, cuy, cuy” sounds they make.

Ollantaytambo ruins
Ollantaytambo ruins

Sun graced our tour of the Ollantaytambo ruins, which made for great photos. After that, we visited the porter village of Cachicatta, which overlooks the emerald hued north end of the Sacred Valley bread basket. It took longer than expected to heat the rocks for our pit-roasted potatoes, lamb and chicken, so we went down the road to the restoration project that Apumayo sponsors and planted a sapling in the nursery to be moved to an erosion-prone hillside after it grows tall and strong. We were glad to pay a $10 donation to the village to get an “adoption” certificate with our tree’s name. As we shared our lunch table and roasted victuals with our staff of porters and a few of their family members, Santiago had everybody introduce themselves with name, age, marital status and number of kids or siblings. The Peruvians were surprisingly not shy, especially the mammacita who was nursing her child at the lunch table as she took her turn to speak.

It was finally time to hike to our first trekking campsite!  Starting from Cachiccata, we descended into the Sacred Valley until we were on the western shore of the Urubamba River. Piskacucho at km 82 on the railroad line to Machu Picchu is a very nice campsite, featuring showers and bathrooms with sinks and toilets with seats (which is not always the case).  Our simple meal of soup, trout with a sauce, and choice of rice or mashed potatoes was completed by a dessert of sweet red corn pudding. Just before we climbed into our tents, the clouds cleared and snow-capped mountains glowed under a near full moon. Gorgeous!

Amazingly, I slept an uninterrupted 8 hours on my wonderful air mattress, a full length Thermarest. What I thought was the 11 pm train whistle turned out to be the 5 am. Clear skies today! Now I have a gorgeous view of snowy Mt. Veronica and my coca tea is steeping.

Mt. Veronica's snowey peak
Click this image to see all of my Peru 2010 photo albums

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