Friday, June 19, 2009


We're home!

We surprised some of you...
We had a fiesta with others...
Thanks for following the blog. We feel so lucky to have visited these amazing places in the last few months. It has been great sharing little pieces of our adventure with you.
It is great to be home, let's get together soon.
Chris and Rebecca

Some "lost" photos:

We bought each other costumes for carnival in Rio and headed out to the street parties.

This is Chris' beard at the airport before we flew home from Lima. He had been growing it for 2.5 months!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Back at the ocean where the trip began! We are in Lima, our last stop. It feels good to be back at sea level. High altitudes take their toll on our bodies and we are happy to smell the salt air. It's warm and mostly sunny but there is a chilly wind so we are not beach bound.

There is a crazy shopping mall here in Lima called LarcoMar. It is built right into the cliffs that overlook one of the city's beaches. It was too chilly to venture down but some surfers were taking advantage of the huge waves.

Like in other south american cities, we spend our days wandering around with no particular destination, perusing the markets (we bought a hammock!), drinking expresso, and lounging and reading. Of course, for our last night we had a bit of a fiesta out at the bars in our neighbourhood!

It has been an amazing trip! We have mixed feelings about going home but for sure we are ready for a comfy bed, a hot shower, and some of our favourite foods we've missed. See you soon!!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Canon Del Colca and Arequipa

After an overnight bus from Cusco, we caught the first available bus from the city of Arequipa. We  bussed for 6 hours to the town of Chivay. The town is small and has almost no paved roads. We stayed the night there at a nice family-run hostel with a llama in the courtyard. The next day we took a taxi out to the hot springs where we spent the afternoon lounging in the warm pool and admiring the beautiful surroundings of desert and the beginning of the canyons. We then walked back to town for lunch before boarding the bus for a 2 hour ride to the next town, Cabanaconde.

The town of Cabanaconde is the jumping off point to hike into the Canon del Colca. We got a room for the night and got up early the next morning for a big day of hiking. We decided to hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon and back in the same day. The trail was a dusty gravel switchback path that seemed to go down forever. We could see the bottom but it didn't seem to get closer very quickly. That is because it is one of the world's deepest canyons at 3191 metres deep. While we were not at the deepest point for our hike it was still quite the trek. 

As a break at the bottom we swam in the "oasis" swimming pools, ate lunch and relaxed for a bit. We needed to make it all the way back up before dark so our rest wasn't too long before we needed to get back on the dusty trail.

Hiking up was tough work. We had the hot sun of the desert altiplano and little shade to seek a cool spot to rest as we made our way up, up, up, and up. A really steady climb uphill for 3.5 hours. We had a bit of a rough go and were really glad to make it to the top and back to town, food, shower, and bed. Such a beautiful hike though with amazing shades of browns and reds in the soil, greens in the vegetation, and blues from the pools, river, and sky.

After staying the night in Cabanaconde we caught an early bus back to Arequipa where we spent a couple days wondering the city, trying (without success) to watch game 7 of the stanley cup finals, and lounging before heading on our last bus journey (an overnighter) of the trip.

This is a rooftop shot of Arequipa, the biggest city in the region. It is flanked by 3 volcanos. 

We are off to Lima now...last stop!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu

The night before we left on the trip we had an orientation meeting with our guide and the other hikers. Our guides name was Silverio, and he was from Cusco and had been leading treks in the region with the same company for more than 15 years. He later admitted to us that he had done the Salkantay trek around 200 times. Six other trekkers were also going to join us: 2 girls from the UK, an Austrailian, a German, a Chilean, and one other Canadian.

Day 1:

5:30 AM - We meet up outside the SAS office and hope on a minivan headed to the trailhead.
We arrived at the trailhead and met the horseman and other trekking staff (cook and assistants) that were making our trek possible. We hiked for about 5 hours that first day, mostly uphill, to our first campsite, known as Soraypampa, located in a valley between several mountains. After the sun set that day we were amazed out how much light the full moon provided, and how it reflected off and seemed to light up Salkantay Mountain.

Our campsite on the first night:

Day 2:

6:00AM Someone is knocking on the wall of our tent, telling us they have hot coca tea ready for us. It is below freezing and we can see our breath attaching to the walls of the tent. We open the tent door and one of the horseman hands us some warm tea. We hope that every morning wake-up is accompanied with warm tea. We drink our tea and when we step outside our tent there are bowls of hot water to warm our hands. We are well looked after.

After a quick breakfast we set off hiking and leave the cooks and horseman behind to pack up camp. After about 3 hours of hard hiking we arrive at Apacheta pass (4950M). The pass is close to the base of Salkantay Mountain and the view is breath-taking. It's chilly and windy at the height of our hike. We took photos and then gathered with Silverio and our group for a coca leaf ceremony. The people who live here worship the mountains. They believe that giving offerings to the peaks assures the mountains will be kind in return. We each take 3 leaves, one each for the sky, the earth, and the underworld. We turned them to the four directions and blew on the for good omens and placed them with a rock we each carried from 100m below onto a growing pile. Silverio brings each of his groups to the same pile for the ceremony an it has grown to be half a metre tall.

Here we are gathering in front of the rock pile before the ceremony with our guide Silverio:

One story about the beliefs of the people who live in this area. The Salkantay mountain is one of the tallest in its range. It is the female and there is a male counterpart nearby. The people of the altiplano hold these two mountains in the highest regard. Following this, they are not accepting of people who attempt to climb the mountains. To them, that is a sign of ultimate disrespect for the power the mountains yield. In the mid-nineties a group of Argentinean climbers ignored this request and began climbing Salkantay. As if to prove the point of the altiplano people, there was an avalanche on the mountain and the climbers all perished.

Day 2 was our longest and hardest day. We hiked around 20kms, mostly all above 4000 metres. At this altitude its easy to be short of breath and lethargic. It took us all day and we were exhausted once we arrived at camp. We are really thankful for all the hard work of the horses, horsemen and the cooks. They walk the same trails as us but make it to camp 2-3 hours ahead of us and everything is ready once we arrive. We ate a massive dinner and are in bed by 8pm. Soon after, we fell into a deep sleep.

Check out the red lichen on the rock in the bottom right corner of this picture:

Our campsite for night #2
Day 3:

Day 3 is a downhill day and as we make our way down it gets warmer. Like the end of Day 2, we are walking through cloud forest. It is lush and green here and we hear birds chirping all around us. The sun warms us as we walk and soon we come to a bridge and a waterfall where we stop for a rest by the water. 

We follow the river for most of our walk today and end up at a little village where our team has set up camp by the river. We walk a shorter time today, only 5 or 6 hours. We are tired once we arrive at camp and go to the river after lunch to soak our feet and wash up a bit. The glacier water is too cold to swim in though. We nap and lounge the afternoon away with some beer and a game of cards with our fellow trekkers.

Day 4:

On day 4 we got to sleep in until 7am! We ate, packed, and said goodbye to the cooks and horsemen. Today they would return to our trailhead to meet another group the following day. These guys work hard and they work a lot. We ate like kings and queens with them; they are good at what they do and we were lucky to have them with us.

Day 4 started with a 1.5 hour ride in a van to the town of Hydroelectrica. It is the town on the other side of Machu Picchu mountain. There, we ate lunch and then set off for the 2 hour walk to Aguas Calientes. To get there we walked almost the entire way along the train tracks. Aguas Calientes is the village at the bottom of Machu Picchu. It is extremely touristy, but otherwise alright to wander around the markets and streets. 

Silverio at the train bridge:

At one point a train came by:

We arrived in Aguas Calientes in mid afternoon and we used the rest of the daylight to climb up to Putucusi Mountain. Once at the top we had a clear view of Machu Picchu from across the valley. We had to work to get the view though as the trail was made up of a series of ladders and big Inca stone steps. Definitely worth the view and it was also our first glance at Machu Picchu. Incredible!

Here is Chris with our Chilean friend at the bottom of the longest ladder- 70 metres!

The view from part-way up Putucusi:

Our group at the top of Puticusi with Machu Picchu in the background:

Our first view of Machu Picchu:

That night we stayed in a SAS hostal in Aguas Calientes and went to bed early- there was an early start on Day 5.

Day 5:

3:40AM Wake up call - Silverio is knocking on our door. It is time to go down for breakfast. 4:15 - We leave the hostal and set out on the road which leads us to the base of Machu Pichu and a trail where we begin walking up steps that zig-zag their way up the hill. Most people are wearing headlamps and we need to take breaks regularly to catch our breath.

The photo below shpws the road the busses take to the entrance of Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. If you look carefully you can also see some of the trails that connect each zig-zag. This is the route we took to get to the top. It was an hour and twenty minutes of steady walking up steps. A bit early, but a great workout!

5:45AM We arrive at the top, out of breath, and join the 50 or so people who are already lined up at the gate to get into Machu Pichu. We made our goal of beating the first bus up the hill.

6:00 We are let in to Machu Pichu and quickly make our way to the base of Huayna Picchu to get our pass stamped so that we (and only 200 other people that day) are allowed to hike to the top of Huayna Picchu later that day.

6:15 Although the sun is still hiding behind the far mountains, we start our tour of Machu Picchu! Silverio has been a great guide for our trek so far and this morning is no different as he lead us around this magical site from the Inca empire.

The Inca made their doorways  and windows this shape for strength. Peru is known for earthquakes and this shape holds up through the tremors.

This is an example of high-quality stone work. This part would have been where the elite people in the village of Machu Picchu lived and spent their time.

More doorways and walls with Huayna Picchu in the background:

The roofs of the houses and buildings would have been made with straw. They are re-created on some of the structures as examples (like the building in the left of this photo):

A view of the courtyard and part of the site with Huayna Picchu in the background:

More of the's huge!

After our tour with Silverio it was time to for our time to climb to the top of Huayna Picchu. It is one of the mountains that stands beside the Machu Picchu site. It also has ruins on it and built into the sides of it. To get to the top we had to climb for about an hour up extremely steep and uneven stone steps. A lot of the had rope to help pull ourselves up. It was definitely worth it for the amazing view! Not only of Machu Picchu but also of the mountain range that surrounded us.

We had a little bit of time to explore the site on our own after coming down from Huayna Picchu. By that time we had already been awake for 10hours so we were pretty tired and hungry. We found a nice spot on the grass and had a little rest before catching the bus down to town and back to our hostal for a delicious lunch.

That evening we boarded the train to go back to Cusco. We had an amazing time on our Salkantay Trek. Machu Picchu was beautiful but even more so was the 4 days leading up to it on our hike through mountain passes and cloud forest. 

Peru Fun Fact:
Coca leaves are used for more than ceremonies like ours at the Salkantay pass. People in the altiplano often chew the leaves to aid with digestion and altitude sickness. Our horsemen usually had a big wad in the side of their cheeks. They chew it for a while and then spit it out and re-load. The leaves are also used in teas and lots of candies are coca flavoured.

Monday, June 1, 2009

World Famous City of Cusco

Cusco is a city steeped in history, tradition and myth. It was once the foremost city of the Inca Empire, and is now the undisputed archeological capital of the Americas as well as the continents oldest continously inhabited city. Massive Inca-built walls line steep, narrow cobblestone streets and plazas. We stayed one street behind the Plaza de Armas(main Plaza) in Cusco so that we could be close to all the action.

A rooftops view of the cathedral in the main square of Cusco (taken from our hostel room):

Our first couple of days in Cusco were mostly spent shopping for an agency and a trek that would take us to Machu Picchu. Before we arrived in Cusco we had already decided to do an ´alternative trek.´ The Inca trail is usually booked more than 6 months in advance and is reportedly dirty, over-crowded and over-priced. We eventually decided on the Salkantay Trek which is a 5 day-4 night, more gruelling and scenic route that ventures to Machu Picchu.

Next decision was on an agency - with more than 600 located in Cusco alone the choices were endless, but...we did some research and 4 or 5 soon topped our list. Many agencies and company´s are less than reputable, and we eventually decided upon SAS - probably the largest and one of the oldest agencies. A date and time were set and all we had to do now was enjoy Cusco.

While we were in Cusco we visited an internet Cafe and Rebecca noticed that a friend from Public School had posted on facebook that she was in Cusco. A sleury of emails ensued and we met up with Sarah Ackworth and her new husband (they were on their honeymoon) for drinks. Facebook - bringing people together!

The evening before we left for our trek we wandered down to the main plaza for dinner. To our amazement, we were greeted by a procession of dancers and bands that had totally shut down the streets in the main plaza. The dancers were dressed in full costume and represented different schools in the region. Children as young as 4 or 5 danced in processions.

After returning from our trek we spent a couple more days in Cusco. On our last day in Cusco we decided to visit several ruins and sites located around Cusco. Instead of paying an exorbanant entrance fee, our guide from the Machu Picchu trek, Silverio, introduced us too a local horseman named Manuel who was happy to take us around the to the sites on horse-back and explain them. A fellow canuck from our Machu Pichu hike named Rafael joined us.

The first site we visited is still a bit of a mystery to us. Along an ancient inca road leading out of Cusco we found a series of rocks with seats carved out of them. The seats were stategically located to give the seated person a view of carvings in rocks located opposite to the seats. On the walls located across from the seats, supposedly, were carvings made by the Incas of monkeys. With a little imagination we were able to see the monkeys. Can you?

Along the same Inca road we visited Qénqo wich means ´zigzag´. The site is a large limestone rock riddled with niches, steps and extrodinary symbolic carvings including channels that were used for ritual sacrifices. At the base of the large rock is a subterranean cave that has been carved out. Inside the cave are many alters and steps hewn into the rock. Around the rock researchers and archeologists are currently locating and excavating the foundations of buildings built by the Inca´s.

We ended our horse-back tour with a panoramic view over the important Inca ruin known as Saqsaywaman: The name means ´Satisfied Falcon´, though most travelers refer to it as ´sexy woman.´ The site of the inca ruin is located 2km at the top of a hill overlooking Cusco. The site still has great importance too the people of Peru and many cermonies that celebrate the sun still occur hear every year. Right away you can see the intricacy of the stone work, and how large some of the stones are. One of the larger stones is more than 6 m tall and an estimated 120 tonnes. What is most amazing is that the stones were brought from a quarry located more than a kilometre away. Although Saqsaywaman may appear huge, what we see today is only about 20% of the original structure. Soon after the conquest, the spaniards tore down many of the walls and used the blocks to build their own houses- many of which are evident in the the city of Cusco.

Saqsaywaman from the top of the hill:

In front of Saqsaywaman:

Cusco is an amazing city with lots to explore and never-ending Inca sites. While it´s pretty touristy, it is also pretty laid back. Time to continue on to Ariquipa and canyon country...

Peru Fun Fact:
In Peru, EVERYTHING is Inca. You can buy t-shirts, hats, mugs, paintings that all say Inca or are in the shape of an Inca. You can even get an Inca massage (our trek guide joked that this meant getting hit over the head with a stick!). We avoided all of these products, except one that we just had to try: INCA COLA! Inca Cola is a bright yellow soft drink that tastes like bubble gum. It is super sweet and reminds us a bit of cream soda. OK to try once, but we wont be bringing any back.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Peru Bound: Puno and Lake Titicaca

After exploring the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, it was time to bid Bolivia goodbye. We boarded a bus that took the road up the south and west side of the lake to a town called Puno: our first stop in Peru. So far, Peru looks a lot like Bolivia. Women wander the streets in their multi-layered skirts and boler hats and handicrafts made of alpaca wool are sold everywhere.

From the port of Puno we took a little boat trip out to the floating islands of the Uros people. The islands are built using layers of buoyant totora reeds that grow in the shallows of the lake. The reeds are used to make their homes, boats, and crafts. The island reeds are constantly replenished from the top. In the wet season they replenish once per month and in the dry season (now) it is only necessary to do so every 2-3 months. Below is a model of a island village that our hosts built to show us how the islands and buildings are made.

We made our way through a river of the reeds to the group of 45 separate islands on the edge of the Puno Bay. Each island houses 5-8 families of 4 or 5 people each. They have houses and cooking spaces, and kitchen huts. They catch several different species of fish (including lake trout introduced from Canada!) for their own diet and to sell at the Saturday market in Puno. Tourism is also a necessary component to their survival and they warmely welcomed us to their island to show us thier way of life, clothes, and crafts.
This is the kitchen for the island we visited:

Some fish out drying so that they can take them into town to sell at the Saturday market:

The women of the island we visited signing us a departure song in the local language, Q´uechua

Boats made of reeds and shaped like pumas:

Peru Fun Fact:
At our first meal in Peru we noticed something noteworthy on the menu: the local specialty of cuy (guinea pig). We´ll let you know if we decide we are brave enough to try it!