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Cusco, Pto Maldonado, Titicaca and Trujillo!

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Heading for lovely Peru in April and looking for suggestions for the confusing Cusco area. Not so much places to eat or stay but ways to sort out all the things to do. I'm a dedicated rider, advanced intermediate, so would love to hear anyone's recommendations. Some of places nearby charge $500 for a solo rider so that's way out of reach. Alternatives would be welcomed.
How have been your trips around Pto Maldonado? Your adventures around Cusco? What did you love there? What stood out from all the options?

Trujillo for me is all about the Pasos, a friend has a family member in the business. Any recommendations for great adventures in the Cusco neighborhood would be great. Also in the Lake Titicaca area, if anyone has done alternative trips to the less touristed areas, that would be great to hear about.

Thanks to all the experts and expats on here with super ideas!

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    can't really help with the horses. i didn't cover myself with glory on my last outing!! however, i do recall that there was a place in Ollantaytambo that was highly rated by people that new. you could try KB Tambo (hostaland tour operators) or maybe Apu lodge.

    Cusco is full of stuff to see. you could stay a week and not see it all, especially if you are into Inca Antiquities. for me just wandering the markets soaking up the atmosphere and trying the food stalls is a grey way to while away a day or two, especially some of the non touristy markets. worth spending a few days in the sacred valley to acclimatise.

    Anice hike is to get the bus to Tambo Machay and hike back down along the old inca paths through Puka Pukara, q'enko, Sacsayhuaman etc. into San Blas.

    a longer trek of 3 days i would recommend considering is from Lares to Ollantaytambo. fantastic scenery an not too many visitors.

    if you are heading up to Trujillo, a great city BTW, there is a lot to see, Chan Chan etc. ( well worth a couple of days) but you could also carry on up to Chachapoyas, a place mlgb suggested to me for our last trip and is now one of my favourite places in Peru and certainly doesn't see many tourists.

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    Crellston, as always, you are a gem. I'm going to put this into the pipe as they say and smoke it. I hope your Spanish is coming along. After coming back from Vietnam I've been impressing my local Vietnamese restaurant when I order Pho in complete sentences, and when they fire back at me too fast I can also say I don't understand in Vietnamese, which makes them laugh.

    If anything, there's going to be SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much for the senses, I daresay, that I'm likely to be overwhelmed. What a lovely problem to have!

    I very much appreciate your recommendation of the trek where there are fewer visitors. Thanks ever so much.

    Trujillo is for me about 8-9 days of total horse immersion. A friend has a cousin who married into the Paso breeding dynasty, I met him in Tanzania (talk about a small world indeed) and we are organizing day trips and longer around that whole area. I show up with my wallet and riding boots, hat, chaps, and sunscreen. Pure heaven.

    BTW heading back to ARG to annoy AVRooster and go visit Patagonia, and ride and ride and ride some more.

    Lonely Planet has much to say on this area around Trujillo which I am studying right now. I like that it's along way from tourist central, and has rich archeological values of its own. Travel well!

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    "Total horse immersion" - an expression not often heard! LOL . oh how I wish I could ride...sadly I doubt I will ever master horse riding much as I would love to. I think I will stick to motorbikes..

    sadly, I have allowed my Spanish practice to lapse a little since returning home but have started anew as we are returning to. Andalucia for a few weeks next month. Have also started reviewing my Thai language skills in preparation for a possible visit to Laos and Cambodia later in the year ( although I am also looking at. Columbia??) . I studied Thai at evening classes for a couple of years and got reasonably proficient and fortunately it is very similar to Lao so will come in useful. I am going to have to choose as there only seems to be room for one language plus English in my brain at a time!!

    ATMs are the way to go in Peru BNP and. Scotiabank seemed the most efficient and the cheapest in terms of withdrawal fees. You will also find money changers outside of the banks. They offered pretty good rates for USD and Euros. We used them a couple of times in Arequipa and. Lima without any problems.

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    Hi Jhubbel,

    Looking forward to your planning and insights. South America is on my radar for 2015.
    I'm also a horse lover, and horse rider, I think its a fine way to travel, beats elephants or camels any day. Not so sure if I can get husband to agree, he seems to be an anti-magnet to large animals.

    Greetings from Myanmar, and thanks so much for your entertaining Viet nam post.

    Cheers
    Caroline

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    Dear friends,

    Caroline you are so welcome. I've had so much to think about since Vietnam and believe me much was absorbed. Not talking about the pho. Crellston, I loved learning Thai, sawadee ka from Denver, and while I dare not try to type it out here I still recall how to say nice to meet you and the Thai people are beautiful. I love pulling those out when I meet someone on the road who happens to be Thai, it's an eye opener indeed. What I've learned. Crellston, is that once I've used that language in country and move on to the next, the same thing happens. Slow drainage. It's like I'm finding those words and phrases in puddles on the floor and it's very difficult to suction them back up again. However, once learned, they do come back fast.

    A question I wish to put out the community of Peru experts is about an NGO in Puno called Cedesos. I like what I've read but multiple attempts to contact have born no fruit whatsoever. I even had a Peruvian friend call, write, and he also got nothing in return. I don't even know after that if they're still operating. So two things- they give no pricing guidelines on their website (which is all in Spanish) and nobody talks about their pricing that I can find other than it's pricey. What is pricey? Hundreds? Thousands? I am determined not to do the Lake Titicaca tourist loop, so this is such an attractive, slow, excellent option. If anyone, anyone knows about these folks and can help with their vitality and their pricing I'd be so very grateful.

    Otherwise I am riding in Urubamba, and spending about 9 days riding near the breeding stables in Pacasmayo north of Trujillo. That pretty much defines heaven for me, and other than that, being immersed in the Amazon for five days and wandering around such a lovely country, using Crellston's suggestions for my extra two days in Cusco, are sounding pretty yummy right now.

    BTW Caroline, summer of 2015 I have on my horizon a three week riding trip in Iceland. That's if I can get my house sold and myself relocated, something I don't suggest to anyone who is leaving town for two of the next three months. As for your husband, if he is allergic to large animals, he'd not be comfy around Delilah, the ginormous Shire who lives next to the corral where I get my training mounts. Black, white socks, feet the size of dinner plates, she is as gentle as a puppy, but when she leans into when you scratch her ears, you better have something to lean into. That's about 2200 lbs right there.

    A different definition of Big and Beautiful.

    Thanks to you both. The trip is evolving and I leave in two weeks.

    Again thanks to the community for any help on Cedesos.

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    mlgb, thanks so much, just fired off an inquiry to them this morning. Their only limitation is their requirement for two people and I'm just one traveler. I'm happy to join a group- or sometimes they let you pay double- but this always depends on how many support folks they have to have to make an adventure happen. We'll see what they say!

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    To all, thanks to a delayed flight in Houston, I landed in Lima at 1:38 am. However, since miles give me a free flight and bad seats on the bulkhead in the back, it also means nobody else sits back there- so you almost always get two side by side. That means you can lie down and snooze! And you're also first in line to the loo, so it's not all bad news. Houston's delay also turned a potential OMG I only have 20 minutes to make this connection into a whew, I can get dinner, a snack, and relax for a couple of hours and recharge all the devices. Delays can be such a gift. Where we were on concourse E the shops served up some really healthy and yummy food offerings which were a darn sight better than what United served up for dinner, which was far too spicy to be edible. Everything worked out perfectly. And so did the weather, which was a touch overcast and soft.The sleepy guy at Enjoy Hostels in Miraflores kindly let me in and led me to a double bed next to the kitchen. Honestly I didn't hear a thing when everyone else was up and at 'em for breakfast, but I did hear the water guys hammering away.

    When I pulled myself out of bed at 10:30 to take a shower I was reminded that I'm not in Kansas any more when the trickle I got was not hot, nor warm, nor consistent. Back on the road again....So an amble to the front desk explained that hot water was indeed the issue of the pounding from above, and perhaps there might be some available in a few hours. No worries. I did the pits/face/you know where fast wash with the chilled water and dressed for the walk through this very nice neighborhood to get cash, get my bearings, get some papaya, breathe some Peruvian air and buy a really warm hat for the Inca Trail.

    The neighborhood is so clean it doesn't compute. Clearly this is a Lima showcase, as many of its pricey shops indicate. I've already fallen for a few unique wall hangings of alpaca (one of a kinds for a mere s/3600). It's easy to cross the street, I'm not dodging traffic fearing for my life. I soak in the beauty of the features of these lovely long haired women, their strong noses and the architecture of the cheekbones and the accented eyes, the strides of the handsome men, the humor of the young men on the streets. The bright red bike paths. The very solicitous girl at the Claro store works hard to get my little brick of a phone working and soon we're in business.

    Around a corner there's a supermarket and the moment you walk in you're greeted by a mound of papaya a mile high, which I want to embrace after a long Rockies winter, and the first thing I do is grab a basket and a papaya big enough to fill the whole thing. And pull my arm out of its socket. Then it's off to the yogurt counter where the fun starts, to inspect the flavors and options of a new country's interpretation of one of my favorite foods. Among other choices I pick a big bottle of passion fruit yogurt drink. The counters offer every kind of meat and cake, pastry and pre-prepared food. This is one fine neighborhood and this store caters to their tastes, and I take photos of all of it for a chef friend of mine to drool over. One counter features forty different kinds of sausage, which will send her over the moon.

    It's a touch chilly outside, the sun is behind the light fog, and while we are close to the ocean there isn't much for the sun bathers to enjoy today. As I walk down the broad avenue there is security everywhere: at the banks, in the nice stores, the moneychangers in their blue vests sitting outside ready to do business. In no time I've found an adapter, food for one night, things I want but won't buy, and am back at Enjoy for a critical meeting with a friend I met back in November in Tanzania.

    Jorge Cockburn was at Moshi when I was climbing Kilimanjaro, and he and I made swift friends. He promised at that time, since his family had married into the Paso horse breeding business, that he would do his best to help me find a way to do some riding in that world. He had done just that. We were meeting to finalise those details. We grabbed coffee and sat overlooking the foggy ocean as loads of skydivers lazily circled overhead. We talked about the upcoming trip, the details of the rides, and where to go for the best kinds of art to bring home. Jorge is a compact, energetic man who has just scored a job in America through his cousin, and my time with him tonight is the last I will see him in Peru if all goes well for him in San Jose were he is headed on April 8th. He has kindly put in hours organizing with local breeders in Pacasmayo, his hometown, where I get to meet his family, spend time with this magnificent breed, ride six hours a day (instead of the controlled two to four on tourist horses) and immerse myself in the Paso world. None of this is inexpensive- but it is an honor to be allowed into this unique world and have this extended experience this close to the very heart of the breed.

    It has always amazed me, the kindness of others who will do such things for people they me as we did. There is of course work on my part to be done, too, for the breeders hope that I will write very good things about them, and help bring them business. That is highly likely. But without Jorge none of this would have happened.

    I leave for Cusco tomorrow early am, and from there to Urubamba, where Jorge also arranged for several rides on Pasos to get me started. The good news, as we are moving into cooler weather now, is that I didn't make the same mistake I made in Vietnam this past January. I packed for the cold, and as the sun headed low this afternoon, it already cooled down fast. In the higher elevations of Cusco and on the Inca Trail it will be considerably chillier. Only on the Amazon will the fast wicking light stuff be useful. For those of you already familiar with this amazing country you are familiar with the challenges of packing for multiple climates!

    For anyone looking for a very well placed, friendly and nicely staffed hostel in Miraflores, I recommend Enjoy Hostels. I stayed in both a double room and a single room, both were fine, the double is next to the kitchen and the single is next to the street. Either way there's a bit of noise, but it's private, and the small intimate kitchen can get very friendly at times. But you cannot beat the price or location, you are close to everything here, and it's just a gorgeous neighborhood. I've had several of those wonderful, only-in-a-hostel conversations here already. Staff is uber helpful.

    For those of you who like to sit on my shoulder periodically as I pen these, welcome back. For newcomers, this is a month long thread, and we'll be going through a number of lovely areas. I don't review restaurants or food. I do tell stories. I take myself to task a lot and there is a very large part of my back pack set aside for a sense of humor. My Spanish is pretty bad but I try.

    Welcome along.

    BTW mglb, I did go with AllWays Travel, they sent me an itinerary that works. Thanks for the suggestion.

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    Happy to comply. Sitting on a sun splashed balcony in Cusco after eating a big fat tangerine, having speed walked the town streets (on purpose, just for training's sake). I leave for Urubamba at 5:30 am and ride Pasos tomorrow and the next day. Heaven. This is such a lovely town, and the altitude is not a big bother, even hefting big bags up steps. I do respect the Inca Trail, however, and the poles will come in handy on the long long downward steps. At least no vines this time.

    I'm continually surprised at how clean everything is kept. Again I am in the showpiece areas and that's probably maintained that way but it sure is a feast for the eyes. Flying into Cusco this morning was also green eye candy. The clouds parted and the green valleys and clay colored houses appeared, climbing up the sides of the mountains; lovely. I shot over to my trek provider and paid up for the Inca Trail trip, then found a taxi to find my hostel for the Cusco part of my stay. The rest of the time I've been walking all day, partly to see the churches and the architecture and the markets but mostly to get intentionally winded, if need be, to get used to the thin air. Didn't happen until I started really speed walking and at that point I was also thirsty and hungry.

    Back when Argentina, and most specifically Salta, was in my camera's sights, I had fallen in love with doorways. Entrances. This country has the same love affair with entrances. As you walk along a thin slice of walkway (one person only, you step off for elders), suddenly a space opens up next to you into...air. Or a restaurant. Or a courtyard. And almost always there is some kind of arch or welcoming door that invites you in, some treatment that makes it inviting. Sometimes there are several that open into each other, like going into a maze. It reminds me of looking down a forest lane with the trees making a delicate arch overhead, inviting you to take a walk. Go explore. I love towns that feature nooks and crannies that invite pedestrian exploration like that and Cusco is no exception.

    Today was a touch cool but the sun cleared off the clouds early enough to make my hoodie unnecessary by noon. The plaza had a big demonstration with the requisite showing of riot police. That lasted about half an hour and all dispersed peacefully.

    I cut a deal with one of the costumed girls who was carrying a baby lamb- they ask if you want a photo, you pay a sole, so I offered to pay her five to let me take several and I hold the lamb. She was a pretty child, and it's a tough life, but if it pays something to her family I feel better. As in Vietnam, however, I fell in love with their skirts, and made a point out of finding a few of these ethnic treaures at the artesan market down on El Sol, a nice walk down from the main plaza. The particular cubicle that features las faldas was not inhabited, so I waited until 2 pm which was the time she was expected back from lunch. No mujer. So it was up to her neighbors, who didn't want their neighbor to lose a potentially substantial sale, to haul down the various skirts and help me try them on, in the main hall, on top of my pants, with everyone holding court, including all the restaurant patrons, tourists and security guards.

    So there we are, the skirts are huge, black, full, wildly decoreated, they are big and they have ties on either side of the waist so that they can expand as you do (or not) and even through baby time. So there are long ties on both sides of this skirt. My waist is about 24". I step inside skirt #1 and one women wraps the ties from one side so that it sits on my hips. I can feel it slide. Then she does the same on the other side. Not good. She sneaks into the lady's booth and comes out with a makeup mirror. Well first of all I feel like a belly dancer and second, I can't see this thing at all, and third, it's not tied around my waist. We make adjustments, it's better, but not quite right. We try the next one. They inform me it's too small. It is, in fact, just right. It hits right at the knee, perfect size, tight on the waist, but it's kinda cheap. So is the price. I feel like Goldilocks as I eyeball falda #3. It's way up there, almost out of reach, but the other gal gets her reacher bar and snags it. This time it takes both of them to tie it properly. We now have an interactive audience. For some reason this little show has drawn a crowd that has decided to comment on the proceedings. The hiking boots take away from the flowers (you think?) The orange top doesn't go with the skirt (It's for camping meathead) What's that huge thing under her bra? (that'd be my WALLET and who asked you to look there anyway Sherlock?) I wiggle around like a Hawaiian girl at the Maui Sheraton and everyone giggles, and it strikes me that this skirt is really beautiful. The careful embroidery, the rich handwork. This is it. And they take Visa. Yes. Only....they can't do it for the shopkeeper. So I have to say what they don't want to hear. "I'll be back." When? Well, after I do the Inca Trail. That's going to be in about six days. Dark clouds over faces. All this and you're gonna walk? It needs to wait til I can do Visa. You sure you can't do this for her? Ah, no. Well. Sigh.

    Skirt goes back up. I walk out into the sun with many sets of eyes burning into my back. I walk fast. They know I might find a better one up the road. So do I. That's what happens when you take a four hour lunch.

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    This is just a great walking town, Cusco. After I left the artesan market feeling guilty I made my way through the winding streets and cobblestones back to my hostel where I was directed to the little market to get food. Now this isn't a supermarket like the very very fancy one I shopped in back in Miraflores. This is the local Peruvian market- where Peruvians shop. Local women in bowler hats and old men lying in heaps off to the side, a few dogs here and there. Great produce for the taking and this is my element. You're not going to find yogurt here but oh my, the produce. So a little wandering and I find this one stall where fresh fruit is piled high. I settle in and I start pointing and pretty soon this woman and I are having great fun- she's got herself a hungry customer and I want a load of fruit both for tonight and for my horseback rides tomorrow. For only 14 soles I walk away so loaded down with tangerines and a massive papaya and a big fat ripe mango, and she's got herself a big sale. There's great satisfaction in seeing the money go directly to these women, whose artristocratic faces crease into such wonderful smiles when we help each other climb and reach for the ripest fruit on the piles.

    I am in this country only a few days and already I am madly in love with Peru. It didn't take long. I'm swept away by the unbelievable beauty of the land I've seen so far, the beauty of the people, the brilliant native costumes, and everyone's graciousness. Of course I have far to go, but sometimes it takes a bit to warm to a country. Not here. This was love at first sight and I have many days to go. Today in a few minutes I take a taxi to Urubamaba to go riding, and I cannot wait. My hosts here at the hostel were kind enough to organize my ride with trusted providers and I have fruit for the hour long trip. Two more days before the Inca Trail!

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    If you haven't had one, pepino dulce is one of my favorite bits of produce to buy in Peru, since it's so expensive in the US. Taste wise a bit of a cross between a melon and cucumber. Very refreshing.

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    Well more on this a bit later, as I have some work to do first, but I just got in from my second four hour ride on Peruvian Pasos. I was given two horses con fuego, someone really listened to my request- but also when I walked up to the pair yesterday the fiery one chose me. The calm one didn't like me AT ALL. And they choose you. So up I went on Largo, who instantly gave me a taste of what it was going to be like- high action, a tossing head, and we would leave the guide behind. The guide was kind enough to periodically call out which way to turn so Largo wouldn't go paso-ing off in the wrong direction.

    For those of you who have done this and who are also riders you can understand the sheer bliss I've been in the last two days. My fine little gelding gave me a sweet ride, and as soon as I found where my seat needed to be for the paso and got my back nice and straight, the my upper body was totally still. This is classic. If you're disciplined about your posture (and you damned well should be or you insult this fine animal) you can balance a champagne glass on your palm at a good speed. It's simply an honor to ride such a horse. More on our two days together a bit later, I have been immersed in the valley, horse sweat, steep trails, heavenly views and perfect, perfect weather.

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    I landed at Llama Pack Backpackers in Urubamba which is a little outside town- not far- this was two days ago, and Katie from Virgina was there to meet me, grab my gear and send me on my way with the driver from Hacienda Huayoccari (sp?) where Pablo Lambarri had two horses and a guide waiting for us. The sun was bright, the clouds were light, the air was gorgeous and the valley, which had revealed itself to my eager and hungry eyes as we made our winding way down the mountain roads, was as bountiful as expected. Green muscular striated mountains circled this small town with toothy and snow dabbed sharp peaks just beyond. A light wind promised a lovely day, and I strode to the car in my riding gear, well used chaps (thanks, Tanzania) ready to go. We headed out of town and wound our way up some very narrow cobblestone and dirt roads into a grand hacienda( not the restaurant) which was protected by massive trees surrounded by the most emerald grasses I'd ever seen. Waters flowed nearby as we passed slowly, then stopped where the animals were tied to a wood fence. There Pablo waited with my guide.

    The first Paso, a chestnut, smelled my proffered hand, laid his ears back and lurched backwards. Well, that's a howdy do. I gave him a wide berth and approached the grey gelding right behind him, of the long mane and fine legs. Largo smelled my hand and put his nose toward mine and we breathed each other in. He let me work my hands on his muscular neck, find those wonderful OOOHH I love it spots near the ears and under the chin, and he nuzzled my side. Now that's more like it.

    Pablo then came out and informed me that the chestnut would be mine for the day, and I explained that the choice had actually been made by the horse, if that was all right, and he kindly allowed that to proceed. Largo danced sideways a bit as I swung aboard, and found my seat in the unfamiliar tack. Instantly he came alive and his energy shot up through me, and I got those lovely chillbumps you get when you know you have a live one. And I had a LIVE one. I was about to get a first taste of the paso gait, right away, and as soon as we directed our animals down the grassy trail Largo introduced me to the sweet cream of riding heaven.

    My tushie never left the saddle- not for four hours- no matter what speed, what altitude, going up or down, even when he occasionally shied, this animal was what I've heard others call a fine warm liquor. His mane flowed, his head was regal, and I periodically looked down to watch his foot action. There it was. I would follow the guide across bridges for safety but Llargo would have none of following. The moment we were past an obstacle he would bull ahead and lead, and my kind guide would call out left or right when we hit a fork.

    Largo had huge liquid eyes that missed nothing, sharp curved ears that swiveled everywhere, so active and alive. It was a great practice ride to maintain perfect position, the upper body so still you could balance a champagne glass on an open palm. Hell I can't but a real Paso rider could.

    We rode up and down around the town, through groves and past irrigated organic farms, past vantage points which begged photos, and we periodically got hailed by old men whom I suspect had a Paso or two in their long lifetimes. The women here wore their unique black hats slightly to the side on their heads, their skirts plain, their shawls brilliantly colored, often holding a tiny child with an equally colored cap on its head. Lunch came at 12, and we rode the horses up to the real Hacienda, where Pablo met us again.

    This time he escorted me into the Hacienda's fine small pre-Inca and Inca museum of pottery and fine art, which I wandered to the sound of choral music. The art led you eventually into the large eating area, which that day was empty, so I was alone for the lunch hour. The table was on the window which looked out over an effusive garden full of the last of the summer flowers. The view was lovely and it was about to change to a shower, as my attentive waiter brought a big plate of fresh cut fruit as an appetizer.

    A big salad came after that, and at that point I was done. However the kitchen wasn't going to let their only guest slip out after two courses. There was corn soup, a main of an omelette and a huge mound of fresh veggies, and omg dessert, which was chocolate mousse. Oy. I ordered the barn to bring a wheelbarrow to carry me back out to the horses, and Pablo was kind enough to supply a bright blue poncho to deal with the cool rain.

    We switched to new animals for the 2-4 pm ride, and I climbed aboard a new chestnut whose name I don't recall. This one also had a good bit of fire ( I guess the word got back to the stable, which is very kind of them) And so off we went. This new horse had a more nervous nature and he didn't like anything tin, or concrete, or standing. He would walk close, eye it carefully, then suddenly plant his feet hard or shy sideways which gave me a start the first time, then I got with the program. His constantly swiveling ears gave him away, and I got to the point where I could see what was coming about 10 feet away. He also really didn't like any gestures on my part- so nothing dramatic from the back of the horse. I tried to point ahead to ask where we were going at one point and nearly got myself tossed in the irrigation ditch. Having learned my lesson, I kept my movements very close to the heart after that.

    We got our share of light sprinkle, but it didn't at all ruin the day, if anything it lent the experience character and sweetness. The kangaroo chaps did precisely what they were advertised- they shed the water, and it wasn't appreciably cooler for the rain.

    The taxi picked me up right at four with a promise to get me again at 9:30 for another epic ride the next day. Katie was gone for the night. And with a tip of the hat to Avrooster, I did it again. When I got in the dorm room, which I had all to myself, in fact I had the entire hostel to myself, I couldn't find the key to my backpack. Nowhere to be found. Now given my prelediction for this kind of thing you'd think I'd search every single pocket. I have lots of them. Nah. I didn't. Well I cant't take a shower without getting into the backpack and I really needed one. So. Now. How to break the little lock.

    Search the house, which is cold and there's not much light. No tools. No hammer. I look everywhere. No neighbors. No one to call. No phone calls to be made. (My cell phone did indeed get lifted this time, it isn't lost.)

    I find a big rock. Ummmm, I don't want to break the zippers,too. Well, I take the backpack out on the outside step and balance it to get to the zipper. BANG. the bag slips. Crap. BANG! the lock gets bruised. Nothing happens. BANG! Nada. I give up. Drag the bag inside. Rock is just too big.

    I wander. Wandering gets me another rock. I look through the kitchen drawers again and find a wine bottle opener. An idea forms. I drag the bag back outside, place the bottle opener just so to force the hinges open, with the smaller rock go
    BANG and instantly it opens.

    Um.Good news, bad news. On one hand I'm glad it was easy to open, on the other hand I'm really not glad it's so easy to open.

    Tonight is hairwash night, after eight days, so a shower really is important, and after fiddling with the recalcitrant and fussy controls (flip the switch up (wear shoes) turn the knob just this far, if it goes cold turn it off and start again, keep the pressure low, more heat the less pressure yadayadayadayada). Hot hair very cold house. I raid another bed for a second comforter. Heaven.

    Oh, and the key to the backpack lock?

    In my down vest pocket. Classic. Say what you want, Avrooster. It wouldn't be my trip if I didn't do this at least four or five times.

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    Tonight I am recovering from the Inca Trail. Somehow the calendar had it there were two days of R&R, silly me, there was one, and I sure would have loved another day to take a turn around town. There were chores to do, and more sunglasses (really good ones) to lose. I am on tear, Avrooster, I managed to lose two pairs of very expensive ones, and one while shopping for a pair that had just been stolen at the San Pedro Mercado. Ah well. Whaddya do. Whaddya do is watch where the hell you put your stuff, that’s what you.
    I am well behind, and the plan is that during the nights I am supposed to have to myself in the Amazon, and depending on the power availability, catching up is on the agenda. Tomorrow at about 9 am the taxi takes me to the airport for Pto Maldonado for five days in a hot place, and I am definitely looking forward to the difference in the climate to where I’ve just been. Urubamaba (get back to that in a minute) was as sweet a place as can be in April, and the Inca Trail is just what it should be at 14k feet, although I could easily have taken my 0 degree bag which was a pound instead of renting that 5 lb monstrosity that put me so far over the weight limit it cost me another $150 porter. Hey, live and learn. It did, however, do the job, and that’s all that matters. Oh, those cosy nights.
    I left off with my second day with Largo, when Pablo was kind enough to allow me to ride him all day for the trip to the Moray Ruins and the salt mines, and all around the mountains which meant coming down some very steep trails. The reason this is so fine doing this on a Paso is again, you get to see why this animal is so versatile. In Mendoza, Argentina, I had the chance to ride a very agile criollo horse which is another fine animal for mountain work. They are tough, hard workers and very able in high country. So are Pasos, but we’ll come to that.
    Today the pleasure was in the fine weather which Pachamama was kind enough to give us all that day. Pure blue skies, and as we climbed the road, the Sacred Valley below stretched out to reveal its beauty in astounding panoramas. The Urubamba River wound through like a great vein, and the green muscular hills surrounded the valley like a band of brothers protecting a treasure. Beyond the great peaks glistened with the snow and light clouds moving fast, and a light breeze blew the sweet clean air across the face. After we fixed a bad horseshoe on Largo, he paced beautifully up the hill with skill and speed, and I pushed my sleeves up my arm to enjoy the sun. Which El Sol promptly turned into bacon, because I had used SPF on my face and not my arms. Ahem. Like a novice sitting in the Florida sun. Here’s the rub- I had a tube right in my shirt pocket.
    The Moray ruins at the top of the hills were in sight by about midday, where we rested our horses and ate lunch. Largo didn’t much care for the green apple I snagged for him, and spat it out promptly. I took a walk around: the typical tourist offerings, a bano (always bring TP!!!) and a ticket office. For 15 soles you walk down into what looks for all the world like a massive ant eater crater, bright green with grass, with rock outcroppings at various spots- but not all the way around the circle. It’s quite big and quite impressive. Busses arrive regularly, and while this is one of those few places where there are no handicapped facilities, Peru has made most of its heavily touristed sites available for wheelchairs. I should say I didn’t see access, as it might be out of sight.
    Afterwards we rode off onto different and attractive hills, new territories, sometimes on the road and sometimes off. The afternoon took us to the ancient Inca towns, with the high mountains in the background, where the clop of our hooves were loud against the very old clay. We shared the road with all kinds of vehicles giving way up or down, and always had to allow for potential agitation from our animals with big construction trucks.
    When you are so high, looking out onto the valley from the perch of the hill, there is a fleeting conceit that you are alone, you are the first, you are the conqueror. Here you are on this amazing animal and the first to see this awesome sight. Trust me it doesn’t last long. But Largo had a way of making me feel uplifted even if it did get blown away with the next pretty breeze or the next “Scuse me, mind if I take a shot here?” Reality has a way of taking the air out any egotistical balloon. But it’s the reason why it’s just such a wonderful way to see the area- the Paso adds this little extra oomph to the experience that is a great deal more than poking your head out of a tourist bus.
    The Incan Salt Mines were also an amazing site. It was a work of art that we approached from on high. The salt was in pools, the pools were of clay, many of them stretch down the valley, and they were many different colors. It made for quite a sight. For a small fee of perhaps 7 soles, we rode along the top and were able to get an excellent view of the size and scope of the mines, as people walked alongside them well below. As we descended, we came quite close and I was able to take excellent photos of the pools and make out salt crystals in the water.
    From here, it got very exciting. The trail became quite steep, and in many places washed down to rocks by many rains. I figured Largo would slow down and take his time, but I was wrong. He actually sped up. I gave him his head thinking he knew precisely what he was doing, and leaned back for balance. The trail was exceedingly narrow and repeatedly turned back on itself, always heading straight down. Largo’s ears were pricked straight forward, and I just relaxed. The turns were hairpin, some so tight I couldn’t see around them at all. This went on for about forty minutes, until we came out at a bit of a wash and could see more of the valley. The downhill trip had been a heart stopper but again, the Paso is as surefooted as any criollo I ever rode in the Andes and there was never a slip or a slide or misplaced hoof. He was such a joy to ride.
    Where we came out the mountains almost had a blue color, and it was getting later in the day. Many of the trees here are eucalyptus, all from Australia if I hear it correctly. There are 800 different kinds, from what I saw I recognized strip bark and ghost eucalyptus. They are remarkably hardy and also produce valuable products. There’s a lot of Aussie folklore around the tree, I’ve seen them all over South America. Here and there I’ve noticed the beginning of the changing for fall as well.
    We finally made it back to a small parking lot where I had to say goodbye to Largo, pay for my time with him and tip my guide for his willingness to let me ride in front and not feel like a tourista for two days. Those things mean a lot. We took a few more photos and I headed back with my driver to the hostel, a solid night’s sleep and a return the next day to Cusco.

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    On April 6th, Katie from the hostel had organized a driver to stop by Chinchero, where he drove right up to the market and found a spot on the crowded street. Now I don't know which day is market day but this day was pretty lively, and I had to walk sideways pretty often to move around. That told me that I probably hit on a good day, and since there were more locals than tourists it really felt lucky.

    The mercado was laid out simply. In the center were produce, foods and places to eat, and on the outskirts were the textiles. My primary interest was to find a particular textile that caught my eye, and not a blanket. I use down comforters, and a blanket is just too heavy to hoist around for another three weeks. The choices were remarkable in their variety, although there was a recognizable pattern after a while. Some were wall hangings and others were purely functional. I found a white alpaca sweater which I tried on, light as air. Forty five soles. Really? The girl saw my surprise and misread it, and dropped it five soles in a heartbeat and I grabbed my wallet. Almost too good to be true. Wool is impossible for me to wear without a turtle neck- it's far too itchy and that means alpaca, all of it- but a cotton T and this is a find. For nearly nothing. I slung the bag over my shoulder and realized I could be in serious trouble if I looked for too long.

    I spotted a man sporting a load of what looked like what I wanted over his right shoulder, then he disappeared into the crowd. I walked around a bit, then I had another problem. As I walked, somehow I had lost my driver. I kept walking, looking, walking, looking, I bought some tangerines, looked some more. Couldn't see him anywhere. I was stumped. I thought maybe he had gotten something to eat. Then I turned around and ran right into him, nearly knocking him over. Poor guy. Never occurred that I was leading him on a wild goose chase! So I handed him a tangerine and told him what I was trying to find, then we both spotted the man with the textiles. He was near the gate, and we headed that way.

    The textiles were a simple rectangle but a set of the most colorful stripes. I have come to see Peru as a hugely colorful nation, in the art and the colors of the skirts and the clothing. So this was part of what I was looking for. The piece wasn't cheap, $100, but I was happy with it. The man's wife instantly wanted to sell me more (the Peruvian "want fries with that?") but I know when I'm done. Maybe not with sunglasses but at least with this.

    We packed away my goodies and headed off for Cusco.

    The driver left me off for my second stay at Hospedaje Turistico Ricoleta, a place that I chose as my home hostel in Cusco. I have come to love it here for the wonderful staff and the only sour note so far is the fact that the laundry company that was supposed to deliver some 12 kgs of laundry (including my foul camping gear from the Inca Trail) is now nearly two hours later. They aren't answering phone calls and this is making me a bit nervous as I want to go to bed very early and finish packing. It's not the hostel's fault. They have no idea what is going on.

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    Ok so here's the fun update. The laundry- or I should say everyone else's laundry arrived. Mine continued to drive off around Cusco in the laundry delivery bus. So I pad downstairs at a little after 9, and there are the bags. I think GREAT. Until I go through them and recognize nada. Hm. Not good. I mention this to the guy on duty (who also sent me on my way to the Inca Trail at 4 am with a smile) so he makes a few kind, but strong phone calls about making complete deliveries, and says the guy will be back in five. And this time he will bring the bag up.
    And he did. I love this place.

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    Ok the final word on the laundry. I'm now down to one bra for the whole trip. Now women will appreciate this. That may be light traveling but damn. :-)
    Those of you (and this is all of you) who have to move from one climate change to another in country will also appreciate this conundrum. It's chilly outside at altitude right now, necessitating a layer or two and a jacket and I am heading off top steamy jungle where blessedly none of that is necessary. So the classic what the hell do I do with all these layers comes up, so this morning I'm writing in bed all bundled up under these colorful blankets (about to sprint for that lovely heavy duty shower which gets the bum rush starting at six) and the finalizing the packing job before their lovely breakfast. Yesterday the tiny girl laid into me with a big bowl of papaya and banana and a few other fruits covered with yogurt and a coffee that could have been confused with high performance motor oil. I poured three mini carafes of cream down into that black morass to absolutely no effect. Impressive. So was the effect on the heartbeat. Jeez.

    The only regret, and it is a significant one,is that I didn't plan enough time in Cusco.I had gotten the mistaken impression- and yes it is tourist central- the mistake I made was that while it may be tourist central this lovely place does not behave, smell, taste or largely feel that way, and in that way simply is a beautiful and engaging city with its own perfectly gorgeous personality without all the unfortunate side effects that a big touristy city usually has. That is saying a great deal. That's not to say that there are not tourist agencies and backpacker shops in every nook and cranny because there are. What I am saying is that where I rather thought that the flavor of Cusco might have been ruined because it is so important to so much of what goes on in Peru, I was dead wrong and very happy to be so. It simply acts as a most active hub. I didn't find the panhandlers and bad actors here that I have in other cities- and yeah well I did lose a few pairs of sunglasses, and so who doesn't on the road. Cusco seems to have maintained its elegance, its beauty and personality while still being a humming central location for pretty much all that is tourist for Peru. I admire that very much. I could easily spend a week or more here and explore just the city and do more day trips, because not only does this hostel provide such a wonderful home, there is so much to see within just a day's drive and the Manu Amazon is so close by. The Sacred Valley deserves much more than just two days and I would love to see Pablo's horses again. So while I have much more to explore, it's with real sadness that I say goodbye to lovely, charming, eminently walkable Cusco this morning. It makes me think so of many places in Argentina, where you could walk for hours and stick your nose into so many doorways because of the smells of flowers or cooking, and never ever be bored. I used Cusco more as a stop off point. It deserves so much more;

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    The Inca Trail - and I went some good guys, Peru Treks, which I do recommend as a tour provider- was one of those ya gotta do this experiences. We all know you can get to Macchu Picchu the easy way, and tramp around, and take pictures, blahdey blah. That is great if you can't climb or hike or have time. However if you can do these things and have the time, the Trail really is requisite, and not to be missed. During high season, I can see where it might feel like a bit of a cattle drive. During the shoulder season and because the Peruvian government has made an effort to limit the number of people on the trail (and the trash etc) the experience has improved for all those making this trip. So it turns out to be most worthwhile. It is not for people who can't deal with altitude or for whom a goodly mountain hike is beyond the pale.
    We're talking 14k and and some challenging up and down hills. While it's a wonderful trek, And millions have done it, it's a good idea to do a bit of preparation, like for any other climb.
    I had done Kili back in November and a brutal training period of about six plus months up to that point, and then some hiking in Vietnam as well. I sustained an injury or two and found myself recovering from a pretty fun fall off a running horse but still managed to get in substantial stair work at altitude in preparation for this trek. What is always challenging, and we all have our preferences, is climbing conditions. I'm a climber and will always prefer uphill.
    Others prefer downhill, and I really dislike downhill, with the challenges of loose stones or scree. As a long distance runner for years I've turned my skinny little ankles so often they don't do the job they used to be able to do so they give up the ghost every so often. Which brings me to my point. Sometimes we have to make some allowances, and for the Trail, it's good to know in advance that there is, on one day in particular (Day Three) a full three hours of downhill, which for me was not a lot of fun. But the downhillers among us were thrilled. They were the ones struggling going up Dead Woman's pass while I was enjoying myself immensely heading up, vive la difference.

    Well let's go back to the beginning. At the start, you are given a chance to hire a half porter. This brings up thoughts of a half person carting your bag up the mountain, but what it means is that someone carries about 6 kg of your gear. You go over that, you pay more. What isn't obvious is that is you rent one of their monstrosities of a sleeping bag (I did) that adds five pounds to this total, and then they add the mattress, so all of a sudden your puny 6 kg isn't very much any more. Since I'm on a special diet and I bring supplements, that added up, so bang I was up there at 15 kg right away. I ended up paying for a whole additional porter at $150 for the trip- and no matter, I used every single thing I brought. What I did find out was that the one pound zero degree bag I'd just bought would have been perfect. And saved a lot of weight and trouble too. Lesson learned, and a good one. This is all just good information.

    Donkeys and horses all leave with us at the same time, and you learn very fast to hug the mountain side. People have taken ravine dives not respecting these rules. The fast moving porters have right of way and they take the outside path. The animals don't go all the way but they do go part of the way up, I recall them up to the first campground but not afterwards.

    There are water and supplies (including cigarettes!) all along the way. This is a market economy. Certain things you use and must have like water (which you guzzle if you're smart. I use Octane which has electrolytes and many other excellent properties- google this- and it tastes superb- in my Platypus. Water starts out at about one sole and goes way up the higher you get to about 2 soles, and it has everything to do with how much it costs to transport it that high. AND how badly you need it up there. Same with toilet paper.
    and baby you WANT toilet paper. Trust me on this. At most rest stops there are smiling people hawking Gator Ade, and coca leaves and some kind of tar you mix in with it. And yes indeed you will.

    For those you take Diamox and I do, the altitude just does not bother me, partly 'cause I live and train in Denver and partly because it just doesn't seem to be a problem. For others, coca leaves curled into a cigarette form and placed like a wet tobacco chew between the gum and cheek and sucked on provides relief from all kinds of symptoms. I did it like everyone else. There was no cocaine high. Nothing at all. It did seem to help with tiredness, achiness, and energy levels. This is not something you do for drug value.

    As for speed. I had two lovely guides on Mt Kilimanjaro who were with me the whole time on the Inca Trail; August and Ignas talked me every single step. The saying in Swahili is "Pole pole," slow slow, and it goes for any high altitude hike. Unlike Kili, here you start high and continue high. The demand is considerable. Baby steps, slow and steady. We had one man, a really handsome 48 yo guy named Eric from Canada who timed himself going up Dead Woman's pass. Now I'm sure this is important for some people, and on the first day I did push myself on one leg to see what I could do with a heavy pack. I beat the entire crew and gave myself a whole extra ten minutes with a sweet natured dog at the check point.
    For what? Bragging rights? Because I proved what?
    And this is my point.
    There are something like 400 different species of orchids here- and Eric pretty much missed all of them, which I'm sure he didn't mind. 'Sokay, orchids matter to me. And so does hearing the roaring Urubamba, and listening to the birds, and hearing the frogs, and the conversations of the porters as they whisk by. Man, life is fast enough. You pay a lot to be on this tour. Why rush it? To prove you're not getting older?
    Crap, I'm 61, doing it fast won't change a thing.
    I heard so many kids arguing, parents bickering, people talking about everything BUT what was all around them- some of the most breathtaking country God has ever created. Enough to make you weep. Come on man, wake up.

    Our tents were roomy, two to the tent. I was lucky enough to inherit a budding author, a journalist Brit who has quit her job and was adventuring for a while. She was most patient with my habit ( I admit, I cannot help it) of waking up at least half an hour to an hour earlier than wake up time to write, prepare a supplement drink, and generally develop that ridiculously disgusting good nature that early morning people have that night people deeply resent. I don't blame them one bit. More later, taxi is here for the airport.

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    Inca Trail Trip

    Friends: I'm adding this as a later report as details on the Inca Trail trip now that I can refer to the notes taken on the trial. This was from April 7-10.

    One of the things our group of 17 got lucky with on our trip was weather. The sun was just perfect every day for the most part, and while on occasion it did rain at night, the thunderbumpers were regulated to dreamtime. I have to admit though, sometimes at our various campsites the placement of the loo, or whatever you want to call those appalling places we had to utilize, was just a wee bit too far away. On one occasion I was simply not going to make it that far so I turned off my headlamp and found a bush not far from my tent. I was taking care of business just fine thankyouverymuch when one of the porters decided to shine a flashlight in my direction. Instead of flicking the damned thing off right away, which would be the courteous thing to do, he decided to shine it on me for a moment. I of course acted like I had just found something intensely interesting in the dirt- god what a fascinating rock here…amazing how I found this in the black of night! - in order to avoid giving him the one finger salute. Finally he turned the damned thing off and left me to complete my business. Come ON man, sometimes the path to the pot was so steep and rocky and long that you needed to hire an extra guide just to get there. And you didn’t want to go there in the first place!
    So Day Two, Edwin told us was going to be SO hard and SO difficult, and it got SO much billing as the hardest day. Oh it was this and that and the other. There is a point past which you get your patootie on the trail and just start walking. You have your water and your snacks and your sticks and you Just. Do. It. The truth is that it’s just plain breathtakingly gorgeous. There are many climbs in Colorado much harder than that one. It is challenging if you’re not in shape, and it is high, but there are steps, which there aren’t on most mountains I’m aware of, and plenty of very pretty places to take photos and heroic shots. It’s also very fun to turn around and photograph the path. With the backdrop of those valleys and mountain peaks and glorious green, oh what a National Geographic shot.
    When you get to the pass you get a really cool shot of the mountains on both sides, there is a signpost and it tends to be windy. It may also rain or snow on your punkin head. I had shared the walk up with a very nice Argentinean man from Patagonia who was kind enough to give me lots of tips since I’m heading there next November. This was very cool because my iPod died, and this was the only reason I’d brought it, for this days’ climb. Didn’t matter, I had my friend from Argentina which was far more fun anyway.

    The other thing that I took up this long mountain were my beloved guides Ignas and August from Tanzania, whose sage advice, Pole pole, stuck in my head every single step.

    Well I bade my buddy goodbye and started down. And did precisely what I knew I shouldn’t do. Being a climber, my confidence is finding my feet going up and using the strength in my legs and lungs to take me to the clouds. What sometimes doesn’t do well for me is to look around when I am descending. On this trek it is nearly impossible not to. Going down into this new valley was magnificent. The trouble is that the descent is very long, and it’s on steps that are varied in shape and size, and that means you must look at each of them when you come down. So you either stop and look around, or you look where you are walking. I tried to look and walk. Not wise. So my right ankle found itself between two well shaped rocks and that was the end of it for several key ligaments and I felt ‘em rip as I went down.
    Now there’s someone on Fodor’s who took me to severe task about this in January and accused me of not being an athlete because a) I fell and b) I had to slow down because I had walloped my knee on a rock. Well, according to her twisted logic then the guy who walked up to me to help and who did precisely the same thing and landed hard on his ass would also have been no athlete, and he was in excellent shape. This is what I find hilarious. We both were, according this this gal, “danger to the guides and everyone on the tour.” Hell’s bells. People fall. We both got up, dusted off, and kept going. I had hours to go, so did he, I spent the rest of that day – like he did- watching where I put my feet. When I wanted to look, I stopped and looked. Now I dunno about you but to me that’s just a fine reminder about being present and do what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Sure I damaged my ankle, sure it slowed me down. What I had on this trip that I didn’t have on the last was professional strapping tape, the right meds and everything else I needed to keep right on going. Stuff happens, you keep going. Most who goes on such a trip takes the materials along to handle contingencies like this.

    Day Two ends in a valley, after a goodly bit more downhill, and we put to bed ( I skip dinner for the sake of a longer sleep) and we all sleep the sleep of the dead.

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    The second night was also the coldest of the series, and we had all been right glad for our monster bags. I’d also slept in four layers given my propensity for being chilly. By this time, my poor tent mate, a sweet Brit and fellow journalist who aspired to be a writer had discovered her roommate’s tendency to automatically wake up at least a half hour to an hour earlier to mix a supplement drink and take pills and start packing for the day. Now Kate made it clear she was not a morning person, “more of an afternoon girl “ as she put it, so I did my level best to put my headlamp on low and move with the least amount of noise. Anyone who has ever camped knows how loud zippers can be in the early morning and smells wake people up. She was most patient with me and I’m fortunate she didn’t clobber me with the back of her boot. We did have very early calls, however, and that extra half hour was priceless in getting a head start on getting things packed up and prepared for the porters. If you do take extra drinks and supplements they do take extra time and that requires you to get up earlier, like it or not. The mornings are black, and they are cold, and most often where you are does not have potable water, so you have to find a way to pack along the water required to mix your personal potion and do with minimal noise and and interruption. And while I still recommend Vitargo for those of you looking for a very high value drink, its tendency to clump when you can’t produce ice water (okay like I’m going to have that on the Inca Trail) as required and its mucousy consistency both sometimes leave me a little wanting. But it goes down fast and it definitely does the job. I took a tea bottle- glass, because of the wider mouth, easier to mix AND to clean, the weight is minimal- and it worked just fine.
    Camp sites – and this is something you adapt to- were crowded, you are sharing them with multiple teams. The loo is overwhelmed. There is usually running water which is icy. At the Day Two camp there were also icy showers, which I skipped in preference for the ever handy bathwipes that I used nightly to clean up the sweat and everything else that gathers on the body during an epic hike. I love them, two do a fine job of sweetening you right up without freezing you like a shower does at altitude, and you can tweak your toes and scrub your nose with them and end up smelling right nicely while your roommate is out doing whatever. Two packages of eight each came along and I had more than enough. I had face wipes too for sanitary use but hardly used them.
    What was utterly priceless was the Black Diamond Headlamp I’d bought specifically for high altitude use. This one has a battery pack that you strap to your body to keep the batteries warm, this prevents them from freezing. Now you may not ever need that, but I found it comforting knowing that I’d ALWAYS have light no matter them temp. There is one down side. Unless you are a hell of a lot more adept at these things than I am, when you take this mass of wires and straps out of the mesh bag that you carry it in, it will have somehow gotten itself hopelessly tangled. You have to untangle it. If you attempt to do this without light, and there is something pressing upon you ( a necessary urge if you get my meaning) this could lead to unhappy circumstances. Here are your options: Put the damn thing on before it gets dark. Bring a Mag lite so that you can untangle the unholy mess and get it on in the dark and get it all set up (which is what I do). Always, always, put it where it is very close in reach when you get to camp, because of Murphy’s Law, by the time you get there it might be so dark you can’t figure out the tangle, so see the options again and consider what works for you. I like having a Mag for a backup anyway.
    I took loads of chocolate, chocolate bars and snacks. I didn’t eat them. I ended up eating my apricots and my almonds. Instead, I visited the porters and handed out handfuls of my best chocolate to these guys who bust their butts, and this additional little courtesy was really appreciated. In one case, whoever was carrying my extra bag somehow angled the chocolate almonds towards the sun. What came out was a mass of fused chocolate and almonds and the bag had burst, leaving not only quite the mess but also the challenge of how to suck chocolate and almonds out of the sack before the chocolate hardened in the cooling air. It was fun. Tasted the same but different challenge.
    Our cook, Jesus, did a fabulous job of varying our diet each day, providing us with an excellent array of foods and soups which kept everyone interested in eating. I’d brought a good bit of my own food, but to his credit Jesus keep me loaded up with fruits and veges and eggs and chicken, so I snuck him a big fat Cadbury’s.
    The second day involved a full three hours of downhill travel. This is significant only to those who have questionable knees, a funky back or some other limitation. You have to keep in mind that along the way are multiple, amazing, gorgeous sites which Edwin, our guide, always would stop, talk about, draw an explanation about and let us explore. We’d find a lookout point, OOOOH and AAAAAAH, and take ma y many photos. The day would reward us with crisp breezes that would whisk away our sweat, and we’d look down into the valley at some great set of stone outlines of a city, or clamber over the remains of a lookout with military uses. At all times there were plenty of opportunities to take a moment and take photos, be swept away by the history, the grandeur, the experience. What Edwin repeatedly emphasized- and this was his real message- was that MP was going to be very busy with tourists. The point was the journey, to take notice of the trail, to see how the geography and land changed, to notice the small things, and to see all you could along the way.
    Edwin did a great job of reminding us of this each night, and before we headed for bed we had an agenda for the next day, reminders to drink lots of water. Because Day Two tends to challenge most people, Day Three can be harder if for no other reason than the downhill portion. Many of us bought big waters (3 L size) to stuff into our backpacks. This for me meant that I had 6L in my pack along with my gear, and that meant for a hefty load, but we had no more water available until MP. This also gives you a little empathy for the guy who is hefting the huge water bottle up the Trail for your meals!
    The forest had changed at this point and we had begun to see moss and lichens. The moss on the stones was bright red, and Jimmy, who had taken up residence behind me on the trail, made a point of helping me find them. I have a dear botanist friend who grows orchids in Boulder so I take photos of them for her everywhere I travel. There were some so small you almost need a microscope, some so glorious you want to poke it behind your ear and do a hula dance.
    The elongated downhill hike was on stones that were uneven and also often on steps. This was probably the hardest part of the Trail for most of us, although like I mentioned there were some, like the porters and some folks who love speedy descents, for whom this was heaven. Still, because the trail is narrow and dangerous, it requires respect for other trekkers and the variety of skill level is considerable. Going down we found ourselves stripping off a layer here and there but the wind blew up from the valley. It seemed that every turn revealed another great spectacle. Here the trees were more lush, there was far more evidence of rain, and bright green moss grew on everything.
    The camp on the third day was on a variety of steps, featuring many rocks, and the tents were set up close to the stair cases. The loo in our case was a long way away from where we were. Knowing this took some planning, so about the time that you started to think that maybe you might soon need to go it was time to start the hike.
    Our particular set up was four levels. The porters’ tents were on the highest ground, the cook tent and all the guys. Each tent had guy wires that stretched out far to keep things taut. The next level down (about three and a half feet) was the big mess dinner tent and then two more levels of the trekkers. Katie and I were down on the very lowest level, which made for a lot of climbing, on a day when my ankle was probably at its peak size.
    I was climbing up to the cook tent with a handful of chocolate for the guys and my Cadbury’s for Jesus. To accomplish this you have to walk to the end of your row, and climb up the big stone steps, which is the main walkway through the camp. These are not small delicate steps but big honkers, so you’re striding. So up I went to the fourth level where I delivered handfuls of chocolate to the guys who were eating lunch, and I mustered Jesus out to hand him his Cadbury’s bar. Jesus is not overly friendly. In fact he is incapable of smiling. He does grunt, however, which I take as an acknowledgement of my offering, so he disappears back into his tent, and I head back towards the steps.
    Now anyone who’s ever been in a crowded tent area where there are lots of guy wires knows what’s coming. I’m headed towards this big rock staircase and there’s a tent right on the end. That means there’s a thin brown guy wire holding this tent nice and tight right there. And I cannot see it. I don’t have my glasses on. I make a bit of a left hand short cut to get onto the big stone steps and sure enough, the guy wire snatches the toe of my boot and I go airborne.
    Now it’s an interesting thing to be airborne over big rocks. You consider a lot of things in short order. How it’s going to feel when you smash your face. How many teeth you’re going to have left. How they’re going to pay off your mortgage. Oh all sorts of things. In the meantime your arms are cartwheeling and your legs are spinning and you’re slapping the stairs going downhill at speeds that are better suited for a NASCAR race. People get the hell out of the way then stand back to watch with a kind of sick curiosity. I vaguely remember one guy saying “holy sh-t” then stepping aside. My sentiments exactly.
    However the other thing about being airborne is that I’ve spent a lot of time as a skydiver and somehow, someway, I didn’t do a face plant in an Incan Rock and leave my sacrificial blood and brains there forever. I came to a sudden stop hugging a big mossy rock, quite upright, disappointing a great many spectators who were hoping for something a great deal more thrilling. They were possibly hoping for 1) a broken bone at the least, 2) splattered sacrificial brains at the best. Neither happened, to my great and heartpounding relief.
    The third day we got some rain in the afternoon. Here is where I pulled out the six sole poncho that I had bought right at the start of the trip. It kinda sorta did the job, by protecting the pack, but ultimately I changed at the next rest stop into the proper rain jack and pants I had brought which were far more efficient. The poncho has a habit of directing the rain in rivulets right onto your knees your pins get soaked, and that’s why this purple Thai concoction is only six soles. I gave it to a ten year old American girl wearing a cotton sweatshirt and cotton sweatpants ( oh please don’t get me started) and then pulled the very sweet little rain cover that is designed right into the backpack at the base right over the top of my backpack. That way nothing essential got wet, and on we went, and no more wet pegs.
    There is an oh by the way here too, about packs. I changed backpacks for this trip and this time used a Sierra Designs Discovery 30 toploader which had far fewer little pockets and a lot more capacity. The pocket problem was solved using lots little mesh bags, and there’s a zippered compartment in the top, but this bag also held a platypus. And the good news is that this time the damned thing didn’t freeze, and liquids were available the whole trip. I also used an Oregon Research hat, the kind that you can use magnets to keep the sides up, and the brim is great for the brilliant sun. Uber good glasses at this altitude are not negotiable, the sun is blinding. The colors are more vivid, the greens greener, blues bluer, and the sun will do you in. So do bring not only your best SPF, not your TJ Maxx $9.95 UV protector glasses, but invest in something off the Clymb that is intended for high altitude. I might be determined to keep donating them but your eyes are, well, hey. Do them a favor.
    The Inca Trail refers to many aspects of the trip as “level” when I really means that it is a series of ups and downs, which can be pretty challenging. What “flat” or “level” means to the trekker is that it’s neither an elongated uphill or downhill, but primarily an elongated flattened with a few moderated ups and downs, some of which can be pretty challenging in their own right. So wording can be pretty misleading. We had in our group people of all ages and types and all of them were using hiking sticks or poles by Day Three. There were small caves we would thread through where the combination of deep darkness, dampness and the sharp angle of the steps made it imperative to have an additional “leg”or two help, there are no handholds here. It has everything to do with respecting the conditions of the mountain. What I found, with pleasure was that the pace I took, the pole pole that Ignas and August had burned into my brain last November, allowed me to see things and enjoy things along the way that were smaller details. It all went back to Edwin’s point about enjoying the journey of the trail which was simply gorgeous.
    I intentionally slowed down to take photos of lichen, the fire engine red lichen that colored the rocks, the orchids, and the flowers we walked by. The valleys that stretched forever and the dramatic line of steps that we had just walked wandering off into the distance, the green swallowing them up far below. We had just been there, not long before. And turn upwards, and there the steps led far head. Here around us, lovely trees, moss, ferns, flowers. Ancient rocks and trees. As I did this, groups of people came by me at varying speeds, some faster than others. What I heard were arguments about hotels arrangements, relationships, kids getting mad at each other, if it was worth getting mad about I heard it. People talking but not seeing. Not stopping to look.
    Now granted this is just one person’s opinion but it takes me back to my time on the Ho Chi MinhTrail. Along with a guide and two porters we’d found ourselves stranded and forced to hike. And take it slowly. The gift was seeing wildlife. And really seeing the countryside. And noticing what you can’t see in a van with the music blaring. This was Edwin’s point- to BE on the Trail, to actually see it, absorb it, take in the journey. He confessed he didn’t much care for MP himself, he loved being high in the mountains and taking in the clean air, the winds, the cold water, the walking.
    If Eric wants to do Dead Woman’s Pass in an hour and 49 minutes that’s Eric. But for my adventure dollar, the idea is to learn from the Edwins of the world who live here and know the Trail and find out its secrets. They love to share them if they think you really want to know. The gift of going slower was that they both spent more with me at the back of the group and I got to hear their thoughts on Macchu Picchu, Pachamama and the mountains. They pointed out places of interest and views and photo shots. And it was like having private guides who, when I wanted to walk alone, I could- and did- so that for all the world I had the entire Trail to myself. This a total conceit but it felt that way, until another group would come by. The truth is my pace was just behind the main group but by doing it this way I had the illusion of being by myself. The guides love it when you show interest in them, and their world, their place. And I don’t know squat, so I’m happy to ask. Jimmy helped me diminish my chocolate supply in return for finding me plenty of orchids and his favorite view points, and it was a good trade.

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    Inca Trail Day Four
    At dinner the night before Edwin brought all the porters in around our group to introduce them to us. I love this practice for it provides us with the faces of those who work so hard: their names, ages, birthplaces, sometimes more information. This makes the true muscle behind how we get all that good food and the comfort of our tents possible. Everyone was applauded and acknowledged and the ages ranged from 19 t early 60s. I met a taxi driver who told me that a few years ago the porters were made to carry far more over the mountains and that conditions had improved greatly. His father had also been a porter. It seems to be a rite of passage for many. I hit the sack about 6:30 pm as we were getting up at about 4:30, and sure if I didn’t miss the big tip party, when Jesus made a big cake and everyone put money in the communal tip bank.
    True to form I woke up at 3:30 am and the whole camp was like Grand Central Station.The porters had to pack up and be on their way by 5:30 to catch the train back to Cusco. I dressed and got up and happily ran right into the head porter, and asked him about the tips. I was able to pay him for my part plus plus, and found out later from one of our Aussie guys that the others paid extra too which made me feel really good. We’d had just a superb bunch. I did my best to move as silently as possible but Kate work up- grumpy- there’d been quite the party last night despite the early morning wake up call. Things were moving very swiftly as we all put our packs and gear for pick up by the porters and our backpacks for us to carry into MP, which now was almost in striking distance. We could feel the rain in the air, and all the ponchos were out.
    Our trek on the last day involved deep and moody mists, a rather nice framing of our entry into the magnificent MP. Most of the day would be down hill again, and deeper into the beginning of the tropical forest that MP marks. The trees are denser, the clouds closer, the air as we descend more oxygenated.
    There were still plenty of stairs and uphills on our eventual downhill climb, and stone lookouts. But now as we descended we could hear the train, and the mists occasionally parted so that we could see the mightly Urubamba River, and the valley below. Some people cheered a bit, and the sun periodically broke through. I was watching the decline and the stones so carefully it reminded me of the time when I walked right into a downed tree in Vietnam last January, and there were multiple opportunities to do the same thing here. In these aging forests great trees fall at just the right height for my coconut and so I’m minding both.
    As we finally made our way into the MP area the crowds began to gather, and we hit some of the first true viewing points. Here was the Gate of the Sun. Here we stopped for our first bird’s eye view of this incredible site, and took photos when the misty clouds parted enough for us to get a shot. The mountains promised us a better day, as we could see the rain clouds beginning to disperse and the blue beginning to peek through. We stayed here to watch the miracle of the sunrise into the valley, the gold onto the green,
    On we went, energized and very happy, although honestly a big part of me was already missing the deep silence of the mountains, the roar of the big streams through our campsite, the welcoming women with their Gatorade and candy bars at every rest stop. Where we were going would be busloads and trainloads and airplane loads of people who had not done the walk. As anyone who’s ever done this knows, there’s a camaraderie among those who dun it and who ain’t dun it, and there’s this cool pride coming down the mountain kinda stinky, and tired, and full of a sense of accomplishment, and a wee bit of pride, and looking at MP like dammit you’re MINE now, I’ve earned it! With equal feelings of awe and wonder and appreciation and a great deal more all mixed in. This site really is quite amazing.
    As we descend we can also make out how many touristas are already here and there are a great many of them, so you kind of resign yourself- and Edwin was good to warn us over and over again about it- to the experience. There is a passport check and a 3 sole bag check and a proper flush toilet that is 1 sole but by then you’d pay 10 to sit on something that flushes and allows you to wash your hands. There are places to buy hinky stuff and places to sit down and rub friendly dogs and places to sit quietly despite the hubbub and think about what you just did. Which I did while scrubbing the belly of a calico colored and very happy boy dog who didn’t expect that much attention but was happy to get it. After getting our faces washed off and some coffee inside us and our packs put away and cameras out, Edwin and Jimmy took us up into the MP ruins and on our final tour, the culmination of our walk.
    Considering how long we’d been on the trail, this part was relatively brief. I sat against a rock in the warm sun while Edwin spoke, and promptly fell asleep. I didn’t meant to be rude, but the combination of the comfortable position, the sweet temperature and that delicious sunshine was far too much. Edwin spoke for a long time and I suspect it was about a great many important things. I’m glad he did. I’m also glad somebody kicked my boot to get my butt going when the tour started again.
    MP stretches across and around the mountain, and deserves at least a day of exploring. Some of our group was staying another day in the local hotel. Most of us weren’t so we clambered up and around and listened to Edwin explain about the different kinds of rocks to build different buildings, the temples, the history, the sacrifices (everyone’s favorite part) and what basics he could present to us in the time we had before we were bussed off to the little tourist town of Aguas Caliente. Here the valley stretched up and away, the mountains protected her jewel, the lookout towers could see for miles in all directions. This was a massive achievement in architecture, in art, it was monumentally beautiful. Below us, llamas grazed peacefully in what was once a town square. We marveled over the precision of the cut stone, the still working water works. The ongoing stories that Edwin had told us all about Hiram Bingham ( worth reading about before you get here) and the simple fact that for the most part, we simply don’t know more than we do know. Most of our knowledge is recent, and most of what is written are theories. There are great mysteries.
    I supposed many people come here looking for some kind of great religious experience. Maybe they find it. However, I found a greater value in the journey along the trail, the demand that the walk places upon us, the patience to deal with the little lumps and bumps we get, the funny things that invariably happen, the great team that works so hard to get us there. Your body gets you there. But not without a good community of men and women and the nifty friends along the way.
    We grabbed our tickets and stood in line near the banos for the bus to Aguas Caliente, a short ride from MP, and headed off. We were told to meet Edwin in a small restaurant where we would take the 6 pm train to Cusco, which I changed to an earlier departure (you pay a penalty but the extra hours are worth it. ) Aguas is all about tourist stores and restaurants, most pizza places, and while there are hot springs, I had yet another trip to get ready for and that meant sorting clothing and gear and I had some to purchase.
    The heavens had decided to open up on us here, and so with the rain pouring down on us Jimmy and I hiked up to the train station and I got the new ticket. Here in the market was a bonanza for me, plenty of sweet-natured dogs to pet, and enough time to have a big fruit salad and enjoy everyone’s company one last time before parting. Our group made it to the restaurant one by one, and we all got our achievement certificates while most people got pizzas.
    Here too I got the chance to raid my ATM and get enough cash to say the right kind of thank you to Jimmy and Edwin, which was separate from the porters’ tips, because these two men truly added their personal touch to my experience to the trip. Their thoughts, stories, insights on the Pachamama religion , their personal beliefs and their kind attention to details throughout the trip had made it very special for me. We’d had a big group with 21 porters, and Edwin as 7 years in this business so this isn’t his first rodeo. They work hard for their experience and while I’ve no idea what their salaries are they sure deserve good tips.
    On the train, there was another bonus. I had a single seat, which a couple negotiated me out of so that they could sit together. That put me with Alonzo, who was a guide with a group of people just finishing a trip. Between conversations with his group, Alonzo and I got to talking about his outfit, and it turned out that what he does is perfect for what I want to do next time I come back to Peru (no doubt, that is happening! Can you say river raft, Arequipa, kayak, more riding, omg) I plan to research him when I get home but this is often how I meet my next guide, go to my next country, find my next adventure. It’s all about relationships. The good news is that if it all checks out, the prices points are a great deal less than what I typically find on the web. But that’s what due diligence is for.
    Alvaro found me Carmelo for the taxi ride back to Cusco, so by early evening I was back in that lovely town to sleep and sleep and sleep, reclaim my luggage and be tumbled into a big room with TWO beds, and skip dinner and put my face in a bit fat pillow. Nothing ever felt better.

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    April 11:The wake up – sans alarm- might have been at about 9 am. I had taken the time to take one very long, very hot shower so that I didn’t insult such nice clean sheets the night before so it was time to capture the rest of breakfast before they closed the kitchen. Touristico Recoleta varies its offerings and this morning it was a big bowl of fruit with yogurt, and I had left behind a big box of unopened mango nectar and a huge roasted chicken breast which was in fine shape. Based on my planning the calendar it said I had two days of R&R. I had one. Crap. No lazing around. Today was the day I had to buy batteries, and the skirt, and a whole host of other small but important things in a city most likely to have them.
    I tore open all my bags and sorted through the laundry, some of which had the bad manners to jump out the window and get run over by the Coke truck before I could bring them back in and add them to the bag. A good sized bag, ripe and ready for soap. Off it went, back by 7 pm says the girl. I grab my sunglasses and money and head out the door, with a map marked by the owner to help me buy readers ( I broke mine the first night by sitting on them, that will do the trick) the lovely skirt (San Pedro market) an alarm clock battery ( like an earphone battery) and a slew more of that kind of annoying but essential chore.
    By the time I got home that night I’d found a magnificent Peruvian skirt- and I mean an eye popper=- but someone else at that market had found my $200 high altitude glasses. When I took off my jacket, someone rifled my gear while I was distracted. There they went. So out into the sun I go, and uh-oh. Well poop. So I accept my losses, make a few more purchases, track down the readers ( a very long trip) and eventually get back to the hostel. Find my back up glasses ($100 Oakleys) and wear them around. Now these aren’t Polarized so I have to replace the really good ones. Now I’m finishing my shopping and as I do I get distracted again and some else gets my Oakleys. I’m not making this up. In the span of a few hours I’ve managed to lose $300 worth of high end sunglasses, and howzat for a howdy do? Means I am NOT PAYING ATTENTION to my stuff.

    Ah well. This happens. So you move on. I now head into the backpackers shops to try to find replacements. They don’t have them. At about 4 pm I’ve gone into fifteen shops for batteries and no one has the batteries but I did find the glasses, and nobody has those croakies. Well I guess I’ll just have to be really damned careful. But I try one more shop and they have the alarm clock battery.
    It astounds me how pleased you can be about finding something so simple when you have been searching for it for hours. But there it is. The alarm works, and that’s huge.
    So Av Rooster say what you will, I am pouring sunglasses into the local economy, but not money, although in this case it might as well be the same thing.

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