Saturday, August 09, 2008

Inka Trail and Leaving Cusco

I am sitting at the free computer in our four star hotel in Cusco, Peru. When we got back from the Inka trail, which I will describe presently, we decided there was no way in hell we were returning to our original (loud, hot-water-free, run-down) hostal and sprung for a luxury suite that I bargained down to $100 a night. We just handed in the key and are sad to say goodbye to our home for the past three days, where we have veritably lazed around watching cable TV and, as of yesterday and this morning, the Olympics. Perks include a delicious breakfast, a free book exchange, complimentary hot beverages 24 hours a day, and free airport and bus terminal transfers. Robyn and I will be taking advantage of both the former and the latter today, as she prepares to head back to the states and I gear up for an 11 hour bus ride to Arequipa to round out my vacation before another 10 hour bus ride (2 hours at the border) to Arica, Chile, where I will fly back to Santiago. Matt also took advantage of this service yesterday morning, but unfortunately this has been the trip of "Matt can't catch a break" and his flight to Lima was delayed due to fog, causing him to miss his flight to Sao Paulo, potentially causing him to miss the wedding he was going to today. We have yet to hear the final results of his disastrous travel day...

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Last I wrote we were off for the Inka trail, a four-day trek ending at Machu Picchu, one of the seven NEW wonders of the world (hence its increased popularity of late). The night before we left we had a group meeting with all 17 of us in the group as well as our three tour guides, Hilbert, Oscar, and Mauro. There were two other 30-something couples who we noticed right away because one of the husbands was wearing UW gear - they are all from Washington state. We would find out during the course of the trip that all he OWNS seems to be UW gear. Others in the group were a south African couple, the dude being cool and the girl, for some reason, having a personal vendetta against American Me; two loud but funny Irish blokes; two American girls in graduate school (the youngest in the group at 24); a cockney-speaking British girl with her mysteriously smelly South African boyfriend; and a woman from Tennessee (the oldest in the group at about 50) with her never-stopped-complaining-or-sucking-in-his-gut-for-pictures Puerto Rican boyfriend, both of whom were nurses. We also had a doctor in the group, the non-UW wearing husband of the two Washington couples (the wives were sisters). All in all we felt very medically prepared, which ended up coming in handy later on.

Our lead guide, Hilbert, seemed a bit abrasive during the meeting, but our secondary guide, Oscar, hardly said a word. This ended up being because he wasn't very comfortable speaking English, and other than Puerto Rico I was the only Spanish-speaker in the group. The few words Oscar did say, however, are forever ingrained in our minds: every morning, when they woke us up anywhere between 3:30 and 5:00 a.m., Oscar would make the rounds saying in his deep voice (he was really tall and looked not unlike Benicio del Toro), "Goood mooooorning, hellooooo, goood moooorning, cohhhca teeeea." Yes, they served us tea in our tents at the ungodly hours they woke us up, and then proceeded to stuff us full of an amazing breakfast of quinoa oatmeal, pancakes, toast and hot drinks. In fact, ALL the food was amazing. You would not believe the quality OR the quantity of what we were served, three times a day. My favorite was our first lunch, which consisted of fried potatoes, stuffed avocadoes, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers plus an antipasto plate with cheese and olives, stir-fried beef, stir-fried vegetables, and rice. The most ridiculous part of all was that they GARNISHED these dishes! We had 20 porters carrying all of our camp gear from one stop to the next, who would set up our personal tents and our food tent, wait on us during meals, clean up after us and do the dishes, then break it all down and carry it on to the next stop, and here they were worrying about garnishes?? We were blown away. All of us except, of course, poor Matt, who became sick on the first day and hardly ate a thing. He quickly deteriorated until our trusty group doctor, on the end of day three (that is, the night before they woke us up at 3:30 to hike the rest 0f the way to Machu Picchu itself) gave him a round of antibiotics to clear it up. Luckily he was feeling well enough the next day to enjoy himself and take plenty of pictures of the site, and even at his worst moments he never once complained. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Robyn and I opted for a personal porter to carry our stuff, which ended up being the best $100 we ever spent. By the end of day one, with the sun beating down on us (but otherwise a fairly easy day in comparison) people were groaning that they had not made the same wise decision. Day two, of course, was by far the worst of it. We hiked for 10 solid hours and crossed two mountain passes, although the guides were really good about stopping and resting and letting the rest of the group catch up. Matt and Robyn tended to be in the front, but I took my sweet time and held back for a lot of it. It's not that I couldn't have gone faster, but I found it a lot more enjoyable to walk slowly and it had the added advantage of letting me be alone for a lot of the time on the sublime trail; this surprised me, pleasantly, as I had heard it would be overrun with hikers, but we were for the most part on our own during the day. Plus, I was never the very last person as the doctor was a big guy who didn't seem to have prepared himself very well, mentally or physically, for the trip. i have to give him credit, he never complained. (Incidentally, they took the trip after reading about someone else's adventures in Peru in the Seattle Times travel section.)

I should mention here that, at some point during day one, Oscar and subsequently Mauro became oddly infatuated with me. At first it was humorous but it quickly became obnoxious, since I didn't pay so much money to have my guides hitting on me nonstop, and it was also awkward because they weren't very good at hiding it and the rest of the group quickly took notice. Each one of them started the day asking me, about five times, how I had slept. They commented on my mostly black wardrobe (highly convenient for travelling, I pointed out) and told me that such a pretty girl should wear colors. One day I took off my black fleece to reveal a pink t-shirt and Mauro exclaimed, "You are so beautiful, like an orchid!" (Orchids grow on the jungle section of the trail.) Robyn insisted on calling me the orchid for the rest of the trip. They were also occupied with how on earth I did not have a boyfriend, and didn't I want one? By day three, Hilbert had caught on and started playing along and teasing me, I think because it amused him. (Everything amused Hilbert, especially Hilbert; I have never seen a man laugh at his own jokes so much.) They would ask me to walk with them, joke about sacrificing me on an Inka temple, and on night three when there was a bar and Mauro got a bit lit, Robyn and Matt swear they heard him yell, slurred, "Eliiiizaaaabeeeeth!" outside the tents. When the trek was over and we made plans to go out as a group (which we ultimately missed because I wasn't feeling well, though that was more a convenient excuse than anything), Hilbert told me, "You are a very pretty girl, but tomorrow, make yourself more pretty. And take a shower."

Day three was pretty easy, we hiked until 1 and then had the afternoon to enjoy ourselves. When the wake-up call came at 3:30 a.m., after Matt had been awake all night, shivering and sweating and other pleasant things, he was surprisingly pleasant about waking up. We ate a zombie-like breakfast and then hiked a short distance to wait in line to get access to the end of the trail. It was so dark we could still see the stars, and there were quite a few shooting stars while we waited. Of course, once the gate opened, people's true colors came out. There was a frenzy to be the FIRST one there, even though it was an hour away, in the dark and early morning light, over slippery and uneven rocks. One boyfriend was literally dragging his girlfriend behind him and Robyn heard her say "I can't go this fast!" When she passed me, though, and I said, "What's your hurry?" in a pleasant tone, she shot back "I want to BEAT YOU." We were blown away. I mean, thousands of people see Machu Picchu every morning. The sun had already risen so there was no chance of catching the sunrise. What did it really matter being first, that one insignificant day? When I arrived, about 30th, I still felt a great sense of accomplishment having hiked there rather than taking a bus or a train. I had been concerned that after all the build up it would be a let down, but it was such a relief to get there and it was such a priviledge to actually see it that I was thrilled. During the tour itself, however, we were all so exhausted that it was hard to appreciate it to its fullest. We were just... spent. Walking up three stairs made me want to sit down and nap.

When we finally got on the first-class train to take us back to Cusco, however, our serving staff had ideas in mind other than us napping. We were first regaled with a native dance, and then there was an actual, alpaca FASHION show. On the train. It was probably the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen on a train.

We got back, checked ourselves into this fancy hotel, and pretty much did nothing else but sleep and eat and watch TV. I think Robyn has read 5 books. Today we have to part ways and I will be sad to be on my own again. I am already looking forward to seeing my friends again in Santiago.

I realize this post is scattered and I have probably left a lot out that I would like to say, but we have limited time left and we are hungry, so I will come back and edit it again later (and add pictures!)

I hope you are all well. And, please, leave comments so I know what you think!!


Renée said...

Wow, Elizabeth! The trek sounded awesome! Now I feel all lazy for taking the train and bus up. :P

I can't wait to see you back in Santiago and hear all about the rest of your trip. Miss you, chica.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Elizabeth for the great detailed story about your recent treks (including the hike to MP with Matt and Robyn). I'm making a copy to read to Matt's grandad! I can't believe the 'not so good' events that happened to Matt...poor baby! But I know he's having a wonderful time (now in Brazil). Have a great time on the rest of your journey! Nancy (Matt's mom)

Robyn said...

ok, a few preliminary things that crack me up when i think of them that should be included.

1. hilbert cracking himself up
2. Gordo's patch and rubberband
3. hilbert "shaving" with tweezers
4. Sacha and her children are starving in africa comment
5. the boys asking you if you slept well 500 times a day
6. the bathrooms and how you couldn't go near one.

i think about some more.