Summer Solstice- The Inca Trail Continued

6-21-08 – Summer Solstice

Wooo! Today was a tough day!! We slept in, went out for croissants and lattes, had more lattes, shopped a little, had a long leisurely lunch, had massages, and then a long leisurely dinner. Whoo! I can’t remember the last time worked so hard!! 

Ok, ok… today was our free day in Cuzco and Deb, Julia and I relaxed hard. There is not much exciting to report in that so I thought I would take the opportunity to answer some of your questions! So here is all the extra stuff you have been dying to know…

Food- The food here is really interesting! Peruvians eat a lot of soups, quinoa, and fresh fruits. Every single menu has a long list of fruit juices which are literally just fruit thrown in a blender. We had star-fruit juice for dinner and it was fantastic. The juices are really inexpensive and make it easy to make at least one healthy choice at a meal.

Soup is also very big here with 5-10 soups on every menu. We have quinoa, pumpkin, veggie and lentil soups a lot. Desserts are kind of hit or miss, so we don’t have much of that, but starches are a big staple here.
Yes, they eat guinea pig, and no I have not tried it. Enough said. 

The cars in Cuzco are very interesting! 90% Daewoos, (most of which are illegal taxis), and 10% Volkswagon bugs from the 60’s and 70’s. There is no emissions testing so the exhaust is a bit overwhelming! Also, people drive like bats out of hell! Everyone believes that he has the right-of-way, and you take your life in your hands when you try to cross the street! The interesting thing, though, is that there seems to be no road rage. There is the constant sound of polite little beeps of car horns, and everyone is trying to get in front of everyone else, but no one seems to get angry. It is kind of cool! 

It just so happens that today is the Summer Solstice, and that is a huge holiday in Peru! There is a wonderful sense of expectation in the air as the streets start filling up with people. Local families are pouring in from the country surrounding Cuzco, and the number of vendors has increased dramatically. It is not unusual for us to be surrounded by people of all ages trying to sell us stuff whenever we stop moving. It makes it impossible to sit in the Plaza De Armas, (the main square), but is still very entertaining! The sales people are always coming up with more and more clever sales techniques. My favorite so far is when a vendor walks up and says, “Do you remember me? You said you would buy from me today!”. Since anytime you say “no” to a vendor, they always say, “Maybe tomorrow”, and you usually answer the same, there is a good chance that you DID tell someone you would buy from them!! So you have to be very careful when you talk back to them. 

By the time the sun sets today, downtown Cuzco resembles Mardi Gras. There is music, crowds, food, fireworks and vendors everywhere. There are colors everywhere and toddlers run around eating cotton candy while teenagers scan the crowds for their friends. There is a lot of energy in the air!

We finally get overwhelmed by the crowds and head back to the hotel. Tomorrow we head to the jungle early, so there will be no late night Solstice festivities for us. For now, though, I am so happy to have even gotten the smallest taste of this celebration! Tomorrow I am off to find Tarzan! 

Love, Anna aka Mud Butt
PS- A belated thanks to Andy and Liteshoe for making sure you all get these messages! Without them, I would be out of luck!! 

“4-3-2-1…….Yay!!!!!!!”-The Inca Trail Continued


That was the sound of two guides and a
smattering of tourists counting the last four steps of the Incan Trail as a walked down them.

I am at Macchu Picchu.

Our day started at 4 am with soft greetings from the porters. Within and hour and fifteen minutes, we were fed, dressed, packed and ready to hike into the dark.

The plan is that we will be able to hike the 5 kilometers into the city in time
to see the sun rise over it. After which, Hosea would take everyone on a two hour tour to all the cool stuff in the city.

Hosea and I had a meeting and agreed that I wasn’t going to be able to hike
in that fast, so my old friend Enrique would hike with me and give me a private
tour. This worked great for me cause it took off the pressure of having to keep
up with everyone else. I do not feel well at all this morning. I am in a world
of pain and I think I am just spent…..physically, emotionally, and mentally.
I feel like I have given everything I have during the last three days and I am not sure where the next 5K are going to come from.

As we descended down more steps from camp, I just concentrated on the little circle of light that my head lamp created. All I had to worry about was what was in that light. Follow it long enough and I will reach Machhu Picchu.

As the sun started to lighten things up, I could see a big rock wall on one
side, a big drop off on the others and a mountain range towering above everything.

The sky is becoming bluer and bluer and tons of birds are waking up. It is a beautiful day.

I am really struggling, though. I can’t seem to stay focused, and I keep
trying to bring my mind back to the task at hand. Things have gotten really rocky and steep and I know that now is not the time to be thinking about anything else!

After two hours, we crested at the top of a towering ruin that overlooks Macchu Picchu. It is the famous view that most pictures of the city are taken from and it is the first view an Incan Trail hiker sees of the city. I really thought it would be very emotional and that I would be filled with pride and happiness…
but I am just too tired. And I still have an hour and a half of hiking to go. I
counted it as one step closer to my goal and headed down into the city. Enrique
went ahead and I slowly started to meet tourists coming up from the bottom.

Funny enough, it is the guides that recognize that I have been hiking the trail, ratherthan just walking up to the overlook like most people. These guides kept stopping and congratulating me and explaining to their groups what I had done. Before long, it seemed like my whole hike down was full of congratulations and well wishes and I felt my spirits really start to rise. That pride I had been missing at the top slowly started to bubble up. I started seeing my family and friends smile at me in my minds eye and knew that I was almost done.

Finally, I got to the bottom….

“4…3…2…1…”, and I burst out crying.

I am so happy, tired, proud, exhausted and fullfilled. This was so hard, but worth every single step.

Enrique and Arturo hugged me and then bustled me off to get my passport stamped.
Can you imagine how proud I am of that stamp?! I asked the guy to stamp it 14 times, but had to settle for one. 

We sat down at a table for a rest and a snack. I truly never wanted to move
again. I finally looked at Enrique and asked if we could do a one hour tour instead of two, and if we could stick to the bottom of the city. No stairs…. He agreed and off we went.

If you ever visit Macchu Picchu, know that it is a really hard city to tour. There are tons and tons of rock staircases you have to manuever.
Of course, Enrique took me up and down lots of them, but kept his word and kept
me in the bottom part of the city.

The buildings are amazing, and are a mixture of the perfect Incan stone structures we hear so much about, and many simpler stone buildings. There are temples and holy places scattered with bright green grass and grazing llamas. I know you are tired of hearing about it, but the sky is the brightest blue and the ring of mountains surrounding the city are rugged, towering and green. We all agree that Peru has rolled out it’s most beautiful weather for us!

Finally, the tour ended and I headed over to the concession stand. I heard
a familiar voice crying, “Anita!” and looked over to see Deb. NOW I am
happy!!! I have missed her so much and it just wasn’t right that she wasn’t
with us. She looks great and seems to have healed from her lung problems. Now,
we are four again and life is fantastic!!!!

The rest of the day was filled with trains, buses and logistics, none of which were exciting. I feel like I have done what I set out to do and from here on out, the rest is gravy. For now, I just want to sleep. 
Love, Anna


The Easy Day- The Inca Trail continued

June 19, 2008

The Easy Day

Well, today was billed as the “easy” day, and I guess if you think that going down 2,400 feet in three miles is easy, then it was!  I, on the other hand, struggled mightely. But, as I stepped down the 1,000 steps that was promised in the brochure, I just said my mantra over and over, “I know I can…I know I can”. And I thought of all the friends and family that helped make this day a reality and just kept stepping down.

The thing is, these are not normal steps…..they are big, giant rocks. Sometimes the step down in 10″ and sometimes it is 2.5 feet. Sometime the step is flat when other times they slant every which of a way! And in one particular case, the stairs are all cut out of one giant rock so that the steps just float down like a curl of ribbon. Pretty to look like, but hard to manuever. On legs that are totally shot, these are brutal. Every few steps, one or the other of my knees just buckles. It is a result of complete quad fatigue and it make for some very interesting descending!!

However, to make up for all of the difficulty, the Incan Trail has rolled out a spectacular day for us! The trail winds through tunnels and down into the rain forest. There is an alarming drop off on one side of the trail, and bamboo is growing up from a seemingly endless bottom. There are tiny hanging flowers, dark green moss and hundred different bird songs. The sun is bright and intense, but the breeze feels like it just rolled over a glacier, which it so happens is the next mountain range over. 

Every so often, we have to pull over to the side of the trail to let the porters come running by. These guys are amazing! They are small in stature, carry huge loads, and run down the rocky trail with unbelievable ease. They wear sandals made of pieces of tires, and I never saw them hesitate once as they jumped from rock to rock. Most of them greet us with a friendly “Hola”, and some shoot me a thumbs up. Yesterday, Enrique told me that the porters were talking about how well I was doing and how strong I was. That made me feel so great! To earn the respect of these guys feels pretty cool! Both Enrique and Hosea have told me over and over how impressed they are with me and so I finally asked Enrique why. He said it was because of my weight. When I asked him if overweight people ever did the Incan Trail, he said, “No, never”. Then he ammended his answer to say that sometime they tried but that when they got to Dead Woman’s Pass, they turned around and went back.

I find that crazy!! If I can do it, anybody can! So far, it has been the most grueling thing I have ever done, but it certainly wasn’t undoable!!

This “easy” day came to an end with an hour long walk down sandy switchbacks. Lizards scurried away from me as I jumped, (well, stepped gingerly), down more steps. When I arrived at camp, I was shocked to find tons of people! There was an old hostel, complete with rock and roll and a store that sells beer and soft drinks! Everyone on the trail is gathered here to complete our hike down to Macchu Picchu, and here, in the middle of nowhere, there is a serious party going on! Of course, it was the earliest ending party ever, cause we all had to get up at 4 am, but it was still really festive and fun! I am really tired and sore, but so, so happy to be here.

Tomorrow is a big day, so off to bed I go!!
Anna aka Mud Butt

Oh, My… Inca Trail Continued

June 18, 2008

Oh my……

Well, today was the day I have been dreading for months and months…day two of the Incan Trail. For all you hikers out there, day 2 consists of over 3000 feet elevation gain And 2,000 feet of loss…and goes over some of the roughest terrain I have ever seen. And that is including the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Julia said that it was like the AT on steroids! AND it was all done at an elevation that topped out at about 14,000 feet.
Can you see why I was so scared?

Well, the fact that you are reading this is proof that I survived.  Not only did I survive but I feel pretty good and I have a huge smile on my face!
It took me 14 hours to do it in, and with the exception of a half hour lunch break, it was pretty much continuous hiking.

I have two secrets that helped me survive the day…

1.   Julia. Plain and simple, I could not have done it without her! She taught me yesterday how to slow way, way down so that I could go uphill forever with out stopping. My friend, LiteShoe tried to teach me this years ago, but I never got it. Julia paced me, and I was able to really get it!

2. Even more importantly, when I initially emailed friends and family about this hike, I said that I would be saying, “I think I can”, over and over. Immediately, a bunch of ya’ll emailed me back, saying “I know you can”. So that became my mantra. I pictured all of you smiling at me and saying that and it really kept me going!

Todays hike had two giant ups and downs, with lunch in between. when Julia and I got in for lunch, everyone else was long gone and Enrique kept pushing us to hurry. When I tried to stand up after lunch, my legs just refused and it took a second to get them to obey! That was the only time I got really worried. My legs are completely shot and I still have a big, ugly climb up and back down. Well, we ignored Enrique’s frustrated looks and I took a minute to take of my boots and rub my feet. I got everything moving, but I knew I was running on near-empty.

When we finally reached the top of the second pass, the sun was starting to go down. Julia has a real gift for going down hill, and she loves to do it. So, with the coast clear, she decided to “get her down on”, and off she went. Man, She is something to see!  I kept trudging on, and before you knew it, Enrique and I were taking out our headlamps for the second evening of nighthiking.
I just concentrated on stepping down these big rocks, and was slowly making my way down when I saw a group of porters coming towards me. Two were there to see if I needed help and two were there to…..get this….bring me boiling water and cocoa tea! I politely declined and explained that I just wanted to get down the mountain, so they headed back while the other two remained with Enrique and I.
I made my way along the trail as tiny moths started to dart in and out of the light of my headlamp. The soft sounds of the porters conversing in Quechuan circled around me as the bright moon rose and the stars came out. Past exhaustion, all I could think is, “Oh my…look at where I am”.

Two hours after the sun went down, I finally walked into camp and all of the porters and members of my group were in a line cheering and clapping for me.   Later, when I asked Julia why the group members were outside clapping, she said that they were drawn out of the dining tent with the ruse of coming out to look at the moon.  

I did a small dance of the real women and was hustled in to the dining tent where everyone was sitting down to dinner. I knew that there was a good chance that I wouldn’t be able to stand up after dinner, but as Hosea handed ’round hot spiced rum punch, I really didn’t care. I had survived Day 2.  Rumor has it that tomorrow is easy…we will see about that!
Love, Anna aka Mud Butt
(LiteShoe says “Way to Go, Woman! You Rock!”)

Hyberbolic Chambers to …Inca Trail Continued

It’s finally here!

So, I got up at 4:45, threw all my gear in an orange porter bag and got on a bus. We are driving on steep, curvy roads through dusty villages where llama and alpaca graze in front yards. I am finally on the way to the Inca Trail!!
Well….I wrote that early this morning, and I can now say that I have hiked under a full moon on the Inca Trail. How unbelievably cool is that?!
Today was dubbed as a pretty simple day, and a lot of it wasn’t bad, but there were some pretty serious climbs, and the day ended with a 1,000 foot climb up to camp. We hiked 14 kilometers, and due to the fact that the sun goes down at 5:30, I had to night hike some. But it was gorgeous!
When the bus dropped us off at the Inca Trailhead, better known a kilometer 82, we had to go through a serious checkpoint and we got our passport stamped! I am very proud of that stamp, but I will be even more proud of the stamp they put i my passport when I get to Macchu Picchu! 
We spend the day hiking on a trail that is fairly wide and rocky. From time to time there are rock steps, and the trail is in a deep valley surrounded by huge mountains. We hiked along a roaring river, full of trout, for most of the day and it was just delightful. From time to time, we would pass a mud- brick house with a corrugated tin roof being held down by rocks. Children would watch us shyly and the women would offer soft drinks and water for sale. I think this is a primary source of income for some of these folks.
Every now and then, we have to move to the side of the trail to let horses, mules, and llamas go by, being herded by their owners. The trail is actually quite remote and we saw one woman being taken off the trail on a mule!
The most remarkable people on the trail are the porters. Peruvian men ten to be on the small side, and yu wouldn’t guess that they are amazingly strong! They come by us in long lines, sometimes trotting with huge packs on their backs. They must be pure muscle!
I wish I could tell you that I am roughing it, but the porters think of everything. For meals, they put up a big tent, complete with table and stools for us to sit on, and then serve us a huge meal. When we got into camp, our bags were in our tents and there were bowls of hot water outside the door of the tent.
Yep, the hiking is hard, but they do everything in their power to make it as nice as it can be.
Julia and I hiked together all day long and she was fabulous. She could have finished much earlier, but chose to hang out with me and help me pace myself. We had a great day sighting hummingbirds in the bushes and gazing at the mountains towering above us. We really miss Deb and Sharon, who is hiking a different trail, though and can’t wait till we are all together at Macchu Picchu.
Tomorrow is the hardest day of all…..a lot of you know that I have been dreading it. Up 1,500 feet, down 1,000 feet….have lunch and then do it all again. Overall, we gain 3,000 feet tomorrow and lose 2,000. But I am not scared anymore.  Bring it on!
Love, Anna