27 May 2010

Machu Pichu

I don't know how many times I told Kristin this, but I remember reading about Machu Pichu in Ms. Murad's Social Studies Class in sixth grade. The pictures were so stunning that they became permanent fixtures in my dreamy vision of our world. Not until visiting Machu Pichu, though, did I fully come to appreciate the precarious physical setting, the massive engineering feat, the laborious construction precision, and the sheer beauty.

Being in Machu Pichu was an amazing personal experience. Actually getting there was a completely different story. It involved taxis, buses, and extremely overpriced and inconvenient trains. Every year the park and train prices are raised. I hope this trend stops, because I believe that the cost is approaching a price point that is beyond what the normal traveler is willing to pay. This is true of all of the sites near Cusco, where many entry fees have DOUBLED in three years. Traveling in this particular region is getting prohibitively expensive.

The same can be said of the famous Incan Trail. This four-day trek costs $400 or more and is limited to 500 people per day. Guides and porters are required, so the actual number of backpackers is more like 200. Alternate treks are available, but those are also getting too expensive and will probably soon have daily quotas as well. For die-hard backpackers like us, it is a true shame that such wonderful trails are off-limits to budget travelers or those who would prefer to hike without an entourage of guides and porters. I'm glad we spent our time hiking near Huaraz instead. Thanks again, Mark G. for that advice.

Enough about the sad state of affairs surrounding Machu Pichu - let us instead focus on the beauty of the park itself.

The train ride was quite fun, even if it moved at a snail's pace. The views of Urubamba Valley were spectacular.

The Incas utilized existing boulders for their structures. 

I want one!

Alisa - your hat is still going strong. 


A chess match between a Peruvian and a Russian. It was really neat to come upon such an odd mix - you don't often see chess matches, let alone female chess players, let alone in an Incan city! Oh, and it should come as no surprise that the Russian won. I congratulated her in Russian. 

On our way out of the park, the lamas blocked the trail. It was the highlight of my day as they showed no fear in walking close to us, or getting close with each other. 

The classic Machu Pichu view. 

26 May 2010

The Sacred Valley

The Incas thought of Cusco as the center, or naval, of the world. They certainly made it the center of their world. Within a hundred kilometer radius of Cusco lie a plethora of Incan ruins. Their gods and royalty all lived here. The structures remaining bear witness to the architectural achievements of these people. The Sacred Valley is the epicenter of this mesmerizing realm of rock wonders.

First, we made friends with the locals and their alpacas and llamas. Well, except for the llama in the back right of the photo.

Intensive Incan terracing allowed the farmers to produce enough for themselves and help supply Cusco.

Mountaintop housing was reserved for the royalty.

Another site in the Sacred Valley, illustrating the perfect landscaping layout and intensive terracing.

Local colors. The braided hair signifies that she is single.

Uncertain weather at the end of our day. This is just outside a church that has am mix of Catholic and indigenous beliefs. 

A stone wall that was part of a former Incan compound. As usual, many Incan sites were destroyed by the Spanish, and then many of the stones were used for construction of Catholic churches. 

Enjoying the soft, flat ground and the breathtaking views afforded by the high location of these ruins. 

25 May 2010


My mom was supposed to visit us in Chile/Argentina over Christmas and New Years. Two days before her flight, she hurt her leg and had to go in for surgery. Within the few minutes of that heartbreaking phone call, I realized it would be a long, long time before I saw my mom again. We didn't know how serious the injury was, and in turn, we couldn't have known that she would be in cast for months and then many more months of physical rehabilitation.

Kristin and I are nearing the end of our travels in South America. We thought we might leave the continent before my mom fully recovered. While still wearing a soft boot/cast, my mom, and her friend Conrad, managed to meet us in Cusco for a week of eating well, touring the Sacred Valley, riding horses, visiting Machu Pichu, and having a really fun time.

When my mom first arrived, she drank five cups of coca leaf tea. She thought the leaf was from the cocoa tree, when it actually comes from the same plant that cocaine is made from. Drinking the tea doesn't cause any ill-effects, but locals chew the leaves which supresses hunger and provides a mild stimulant. Anywho, we found a shop that made delicious chocolates (free samples!), cookies and brownies - all with coca.

Conrad, my mom and I rode horses for half a day. Somehow Conrad and I ended up with the smallest horses of the group. The riding and the views alone were great, but out adventure was remarkable because we were riding from Incan ruin to Incan ruin.

A trip to Peru is not complete until you visit the artisenal market. Here Kristin is modeling the latest fashion in outdoor winter clothing - the wool balaclava.

Our hostel was only one block from San Blas Plaza, where we were entertained by local musicians and shopped for handmade crafts.

Our last dinner together at an Indian restaurant, where we had one of our most delicious meals in South America.

After my mom and Conrad left, Kristin and I toured the rest of Cusco. We visited numerous museums and a few church. Most interested (to me, at least) was this collection of skulls. The Incan royalty used wood planks and rope to permanently deform baby skulls. These four adult skulls show the extent to which the Incas were able to achieve this effect. I thought this was just a myth perpetuated by Indiana Jones

17 May 2010

Alive and Well

Kristin and I are back in Huaraz after seven days of backpacking the Huayhuash Loop, which many say is one of the best treks in the world. Well, we certainly took enough pictures that give some credit to that claim. I cannot say I've hiked enough to be able to rank treks on a global scale. However, we camped above 4400 meters (14,400 feet) every night and hiked over numerous 5000 meter (16,500 feet) passes. We saw several locals, only two other backpacking groups (with guides) and zero independent hikers in our week on the trail. As I can edit and upload photos, I'll start sharing our tale.

As for me and Kristin, we are enjoying our last day in Huaraz. We have been staying with our gracious friend, Gary, and his family. Tonight we take an overnight bus to Lima. We will spend half a day there, buying food, checking out the Miraflores District, and trying not to get shot. Then we have a lovely 22-hour bus ride to Cusco. Luckily, I have plenty of photos to edit, emails to catch-up on, and books to read.

My mom and her friend are meeting us in Cusco, which is the nearest city to Machu Pichu. After a week of exploring Incan ruins, Kristin and I will continue south to Arequipe, where we'll trek through the Colca Canyon. Then it's off to Lake Titicaca, across the Bolivian border, a week in La Paz with Brady, south through the Andes to the great salt flats (Salar de Uyuni), into Chile via San Pedro de Atacama, and finally arriving at Santiago towards the end of June.

Our itinerary for the next five weeks is actually planned because we have a flight from Santiago to San Francisco on June 23. That's right, we are flying home! We are very excited to see local friends and family. However, we will not stay long as we want to head west, over the Pacific, to wherever the wind takes us. Email me if you'll be around. Hope to see you soon!

Until the Huayhuash travel posts are ready, here is a little eye candy to tide you over:

More stunning sceneries with glacial lakes and dramatic peaks.

More bad weather.

And more macro shots.

Also, on the right side of this blog are the Stats Page, which is current as of today, and the TarpTent Love Page, which shows our camp spots over the last eight months and is updated as of the Santa Cruz Loop.

12 May 2010

Cordillera Blanca - The Santa Cruz Loop

Peru has three very popular treks: the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu, Colca Canyon, and the Santa Cruz Loop. We just returned from the latter of those three and had an absolutely amazing time. I don't know that the Santa Cruz Loop is ever really crowded. However, we were able to escape the main trail by exploring the seldom-visited side valleys. (Thanks Mark G. for the advice!) Also, our timing was perfect: too early for the high-season crowds, but just late enough to have good weather. We camped by ourselves every night. Despite hiking more miles, we finished the hike easily in four days. In fact, we only hiked two hours on the first day and one hour on the fourth day, meaning we only hiked for 2.5 days. The normal guided trip is 5-6 days, even with the help of mules. The scenery was breathtaking, as I hope these pictures convey a small percentage of what we experienced.

Not a bad lunch stop. This was after three colectivo rides, but before we hiked along the road, then hitched with an American family, then hiked more, and then hitched in the back of a chicken truck.

The start of the trail weaved through a small pueblo, where we were often greated by farm animals or scruffy kids asking for candy (carmelos).

The line at the pit toilets.

The clouds danced through the peaks all day long.

Almost to the top of the 4750 meter pass (Punto Union).

Another fantastic timed-photo with the help of my Gorillapod (tripod)

The view from our tent at sunrise. Just one of the many 5800-6600 meter peaks within view.

It is OK to be silly when no one is around. We had this entire lake and valley to ourselves. And yes, I need a belt. I think I have lost a bit of weight in South America.

And just how high were we? Why don't we check my handy altimeter watch. Over 4400 meters! We camped just below this lake, which would be like sleeping on top of Mt. Whitney in terms of altitude. Thanks Lauren for delivering this watch to Janie, who then mailed it to us.

We got off trail for a while and started hopping around these meandering river branches. The water was crystal clear.

We set up the tarp for our lunch break to protect us from the really intense sun and UV rays that are present in the high altitudes of the Andes.

Sunset from our campsite on the last night, high on a ridge and away from the trail but within earshot of the thundering river rapids. 

09 May 2010

My Poor Mom

I think I make my mom nervous. I remind her of this fact every Mother's Day. I think I was climbing Mt. Shasta the last four years on Mother's Day. I once called her from above the chutes at the Red Banks at about 12,000 feet. Luckily she couldn't see where I was.

This year Kristin and I are in a decidedly different locale, but still find ourselves lost in the wilderness on Dia de Madres. We are heading 120 kilometers south of Huaraz to the Cordillera Huaywash (pronounced: why wash). This range is only 30 kilometers long but is supposed to be one of the best treks in the world. Very rugged, remote and with many mountain passes over 15,000 feet. The entire loop is supposed to take 10-12 days to hike, even with mules carrying  your food and gear. We are bringing 8 days worth of food but hope to complete the loop in 7 days.

So, mom, I am sorry I won't be able to call you on yet another Mother's Day. I hope you understand. If it makes you feel any better, Kristin can't call her mom either. And maybe, in the bigger picture, I'm doing you right by living my dreams, just as you taught me. Happy Mother's Day. Love, Danny.

Mom: Can't wait to see you in Cuzco in two weeks!

03 May 2010

A Mountain Dream

Four months ago we were struggling through flooded rivers and knee-deep mud, trying to cross through the Cochamo Valley into Argentina. While stranded for a few days in the womb of the granite walls, we met a kindred spirit named Gary. He insisted we visit him in Huaraz, Peru. He said the trekking was spectacular and endless.

Well, here we are. And Gary was right. In only a few days I can tell this place is amazing. We could spend months here and never tread the same trail. My friend, Mark G, did exactly that. He spent 3.5 months in Peru, using Huaraz as his home base for a good part of that. World-class hiking, he said. More than 600 glaciers and 35 peaks over 6000 meters tall. How could we go wrong?

Unfortunately, we have only 2-3 weeks here. So without wasting any time, tomorrow we start the famous Santa Cruz Loop, which we hope to hike in 4 days (normally 5-6). After that, we head a little south to do the 10-day Huayhuash Loop (pronounced "why wash"). I can't tell you how excited Kristin and I are!

Oh, and we somehow managed to bring the "Cochamo Curse" with us - it has rained every day that we have been here, despite being the dry season.

Wild flowers in full bloom, brightening up an otherwise dreary day.

Friends at the end of the trail.

Wide-open views.

Following an ancient irrigation channel carved through the rocks at 13,500 feet.

Gary and Kristin with big smiles . . . just before the storm.