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Saturday, October 27, 2012

You don't see that every day!

Saturday traffic in Bogota is unbearable. Driving home from soccer practice this morning I breathed a sigh of relief that I was headed south into town rather than north to Chia with the 8,000,000 other Bogotanos.
Traffic was creeping along slower than molasses. In a glance across the median I saw people walking amongst the cars selling cotton candy. Long poles strung with bags of the pink fluff bounced up and down as the hawkers wove in and out of the slow moving traffic.
My thoughts immediately turned to I-75 on Labor Day weekend as the masses from Detroit head north for one final fling in the woods before the trees become bare and snow falls from the sky. Why not sell cotton candy along the side of the highway?

You don't see that every day!

Chad felt we should start posting some of the unusual things we see as we travel around, living in different countries. Sadly, the moment passes so quickly that we don't have time to pull out the phone camera so we usually don't get a visual to go with the explanation. So here goes!

Last night we were walking along in the park on our way home from dinner out. We saw two teenage boys walking towards us looking as though they were holding hands. As we got closer we saw that their hands were actually hand-cuffed together. Following dangerously close behind were two police men huddled close together on their motorcycle. Lights flashing they paraded slowly through the park herding their prisoners away.

- Kris

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Machu Picchu - Day 4

Day 4
Our crew that got us over the mountain
On day 4 we woke up at 3:30 am. We ate pancakes and then started the final part of the hike. Damon and I were quite excited to get it over with and get there first. While it was still dark we got into a long line with a lot of tired people. We waited until 5:30 am when they let us onto the trail, and the race to Machu Picchu began. 

Our first view of Machu Picchu 
Beautiful views after the clouds cleared

Damon and I immediately went ahead and hiked as fast as we could but we were pretty tired from the days before. We passed a lot of people that had been ahead of us in line and after about an hour we arrived at the sun gate. You were supposed to be able to see an above view of Machu Picchu from there but it was really cloudy. Mom, Dad and Maddie arrived 15 minutes later with the guide. Then we started the 30 minute walk down into Machu Picchu.

Tight construction of the sacred buildings

When we got to Machu Picchu it was cloudy and not a very good view, but soon it cleared up. The guide spent a lot of time talking about the Incas and their civilization but soon we got to walk around the city. Some of it was being preserved by archeologists but the guide said that 60% was original from Incan time. The construction was amazing but I think the best kind was the stones that were perfectly built to fit each other. They didn't use any kine of clay to hold it together but they all fit so perfectly. The walls after ... Of years were still standing, and in good shape too.
Machu Picchu was amazing and beautiful. The mountains surrounding it were huge and I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.

- Elena

Pachamama Explorers - the tour company we used.  I highly recommend them.

Amaru Hostel 1- Hostel we stayed at in Cusco.  Loved it!

1.  Dress in layers.  The weather is all over the place.  Short sleeves to raining, to chilly with a jacket and scarf, hat and gloves.
2.  I would consider taking the last train of the day into Aguas Calientes the day before Machu Picchu then getting into the ruins first thing in the morning.  With 2,000 people coming in each day it's nice to see the ruins with fewer people there.  You can get about 2 hrs. in before the trains start rolling in with hoards of people.
3.  Good walking shoes with a bit of traction so you aren't slipping on the stone stairs and cobblestone streets.
4.  Don't plan your days too full or rushed.  Because of the elevation you want to take it easy and enjoy each thing.
5.  Even if they claim it is Alpaca in the markets - it's polyester.  Nice and soft and cheap.  The way to tell a real alpaca item is it smells like an animal, has a slightly "wet" feel to it, and it is not cheap!  There are lots of nice shops all over Cuzco with beautiful alpaca items. 

Machu Picchu - Day 3

Porters on the trail
Many porters wore shoes made of old tires
Once again we woke up really early. This time we didn't have any water or anything in our tents. We had to hike over one peak, but afterwards it was all down. It was around 19 kilometers, and was definitely the longest day. We ate lunch at the top of the peak, and could see Aguas Calientes and some terraces. It was a very pretty view. 
Lunch break
After lunch we only had to walk down, but there were some very steep steps, then we saw some ruins. We didn't stop for long while our guide told us some history. We walked for a while more and Damon, Elena, and Dad went way ahead of us. They waited for us for quite awhile and made a bet on how long it would take us to get there. Apparently we were about a half hour behind. Damon was the closest at guessing when we would get there, so Elena and Dad each had to carry his pack part of the way to the campsite. 
Before we got to the campsite we came to the terraces; there were about four llamas walking around, eating on the terraces. There was one black one…the black ones were considered sacred to the Incas. The terraces were very big, and each step was about 7 feet high and 6 feet wide. Some of the terraces had 'floating steps', pieces of stone sticking out of the sides of the terraces to get from one level to the other. After we saw the terraces we finished walking the half hour to the campsite, and Elena and Dad each carried Damon's pack part of the way.
Inca Ruins of Runkuraka
Before dinner, we had snack. There was kettle corn and they somehow made a chocolate cake. It was pretty good (better than Colombian cake), and we were impressed. After dinner. Had a ceremony to say thanks to the porters, and tip them. They all seemed nice, and had made our trip good by cooking and taking care of the campsite and carrying tons of stuff for us.

Terraces for farming
- Maddie

Note from Mom:  Another killer of a day.  You wouldn't think that walking down a mountain could be so painful.  A lazy, meandering trail may not have been too bad, but we walked down steep, ancient steps for hours and hours.  Before the last hour was completed my legs completely froze.  The muscles stiffened and I found myself clinging to the sheer rock wall as I slowly lowered my body each step careful not to topple off the precarious edge.

Machu Picchu - Day 2

We woke at dawn, 7:00am, packed our bags and put them in a pile. We filed into the tent we always ate in and sat down for breakfast. Half an hour later we snatched up our packs and hit the trail. 
Note trai:  uneven steps, wet, continual steps.
This was the easy part of the trail today.
Day two was forecast to be the most difficult and that was in the back of our heads as we began to walk. The trail started as an incline and did not stop. We continued to climb the relentless incline for five hours. Breaks were occasionally taken and we exchanged optimistic remarks to one another and also some pessimistic ones. 
I (Damon) was the first to summit, followed by Elena and eventually Dad, Maddie and Mom. To better understand those five hours you can simply use a stair stepper for five hours while breathing through a thick straw. The air was thin and each breath was less fulfilling than the last. The peak of our climb that day, and for the whole hike, was 13,700 ft. 

I had glorious ambitions of getting a family photo on the summit.  But I was too exhausted.  Collapsed in a heap on a rock, I managed to lift my camera to get this shot of Chad.
We stopped at the top and rested while enjoying what view the clouds permitted. Then we began again, what goes up must come down, and we went down for a long time. Soon I hated going down more than going up, luckily down is faster and we reached the camp in an hour. Lunch was waiting for us and we ate it greedily. Rest was the only thing on hour minds until dinner. After dinner the sun was setting and there was little more we could do than sleep, and sleep we did.
Blasted by cold, rainy air we crossed the summit and head down the mountain.  

- Damon

Note from mom:  I had no idea how hard this day was going to be.  No one warned me.  After an interesting night of little sleep with dogs barking, pigs rooting about and snorting, roosters crowing, and horses munching grass a few feet from my head, plus rain leaking into the tent, I awoke a bit sleepy and starting out cold and wet was a downer.  For five hours we hiked up.  As we went up, the ability to breathe went down.  I am forever thankful that we were already adapted to breathing thin air living at altitude in Bogota.  I am proud of my kids for their great attitudes and endurance and even more proud of myself for dragging my butt over this mountain.  Oh, did I mention the people who couldn't make it over being led away on horseback?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Marching to Machu Picchu - Day 1

I had been looking forward to this trip for a long time. I'm not really sure why as I didn't know much about the Incas or Machu Picchu itself.  I think it was the hike. I love being in the woods and have been a bit starved of time in nature and I hoped this would carry me though to our summer visit home. 
I also wanted another memorable family experience. I am pretty much guaranteed that the kids will not forget this time together.
We woke at 5 am, ate breakfast and boarded a van for a two hour ride to Olleyentambo.  The kids slept. I looked out the window seeing dry roads and mountains pass by. Houses made of mud bricks with metal roofs filled small communities.  
After a short stop in the quaint town we drove a bit further to reach the trail head. We unloaded in a parking lot where we met the rest of our team.  We consisted of five Fabers, one guide, a cook and seven porters for all our gear.  Yes, that sounds outrageous but there are strict limits on the amount of weight each porter can carry.  
We got in line with the 500 other people with trail permits for the day (that includes all hired staff), had our passports verified while the porters packs were weighed and were on our way. 
Porters waiting in line to have their packs weighed before entering the trail.

Across a bridge and on the trail we learned that we would not be joining with the original Inca trail until 1/2 way through the second day. Our first day of hiking was though mountain desert.  Relatively flat the hiking was easy. Cactus and scrubby bush dotted the landscape. 
We stopped to observe our first set of ruins across the river. Our guide thus began our education of the Inca way of living.  Porters steadily passed us keeping up a fast pace.  When we reached the lunch site they had a tent set up to cook and eat in, water warmed to wash with and a delicious warm meal prepared.  

Llactapata Ruins


Desert mountains 


We ate, rested then set out.  The porters tore down camp, passed us on the trail and had tents and bedding set up when we arrived at camp for the night.  A warm snack then a three course dinner was the perfect way to finish the night before burrowing into my sleeping bag for a good night's sleep.
Night Camp

- Kris