Dancing Monkeys and Hammock Dreams-Inca Trail Cont’d

June 23, 2008

6-23-08 – Dancing Monkeys and Hammock Dreams

We were told that we would wake up to the sounds of Howler monkeys this morning, but alas, at 5:00 am, they were not awake yet! We, however, had a busy day ahead of us, so breakfast was served at 5:40 and off in the boat we went!

Our first stop of the day was Sandover Island, where we hiked 5K
into the jungle, stopping to look at various animals, bugs and birds. Albert is our guide, and he is a soft spoken, handsome young man who was born here in the jungle. He is incredible! We call him the “Jungle Whisperer” and tell him that he needs his own television show. He knows every little thing about life in the jungle and he is so excited about everything that you can’t help but feel the same way. He showed us palm trees that walk and ants that kill all plant life around their host tree. It was very cool!

At the end of our hike, we came to a canal with a long, thin, very tippy looking boat, and in we went. We spent the next couple of hours looking for caiman (alligators that are native to this area and yes, we saw one) and exotic birds.

This place is an absolute heaven for bird watchers. They atr every shape, size and color and have names like “Donkey bird” and ” Stinky Chicken”. 

After turning the lake inside out looking for cool stuff, we hiked back to our original starting place. On the way, we saw the coolest thing! An anteater!! He was so neat and we watched him climb around the tree for awhile, eating termites. This is definitely something I don’t see everyday in the suburbs of Atlanta! We boated back for lunch and before I knew it, I was waking up to the sounds of my own snoring as I swung in a hammock.

Later in the afternoon, we boarded our trusty boat and headed off to “Monkey Island”. We ran the boat up on a beach and walked across the mud flats and into the jungle. This is the thickest, greenest jungle I have seen yet. It is lush and beautiful and as we waded through waist-high reeds, I felt like I was truly in the Amazon.

All of the sudden, Albert held up his hand, shhh-ed us and pointed. Capucian monkeys were jumping from limb to limb toward us. I was completely captivated! Albert threw bananas to the alpha male and periodically asked us to back up when the monkeys showed aggression. All three of the guides had giant sticks and Albert had a machete, so I knew that these animals were to be respected. We watched them for a long time before the sun started going down. We hiked back through the jungle with parakeets and macaws singing in the twilight, as the monkeys went off to sleep in the canopy.

We boarded the boat once again and went off in search of White Caiman. These alligators can be very small, (2-3 feet long) or very big, (12 feet long!). It is pitch black on the river and our boat is equiped with a spotlight that they hook up to a car battery. Albert sweeps the light along the banks of the river in the brush looking for Caiman.

Sure enough, we see several during the evening, sometimes even running up into the brush to get closer. They are very cool to see and don’t seem scared of us or the light at all.

The day ended with a slow boat ride back to the lodge. It is very dark on the river, and with the soft thrum of the engine, I could be asleep in seconds. Tomorrow we leave the jungle and head back to Cuzco for one final time. I did not find Tarzan here, but fell in love with the jungle nontheless.

Love, Anna aka MudButt

African Queen in Peru

June 22, 2008

6-22-08 – African Queen in Peru

Today we got up early to head to the Amazon. It turns out that I was wrong about us going down the Amazon River….instead, we are going down the Madre di Dios (Mother of God) River, which is a tributary of the Amazon.

After a flight delay, we landed in Puerto Maldenado, a booming tourist gateway to the Amazon Basin. The streets are lined with ramshackle buidings painted pastel colors and covered in a layer of brown dust. Dirt bikes and three-wheeled taxis, (essentially dirt bikes pulling a box that two people can sit in), weave in and out of the traffic. We were even passed by a woman with her infant straddling the motorcycle seat!

After a colorful, albeit dusty, ride, we arrived at the banks of the river. This is where my first disappointment of the trip really came in. We were told that we were going to canoe to the lodge we were staying at. Well, instead, we rode on one of those long boats like you see in “African Queen”. Now granted, the river is huge…bigger than the Mississippi, and has all manner of interesting currents, but I was disappointed, nonetheless. The river ride was pretty neat, but I did not see an anaconda or a piranha, both of which I really want to see!

We pulled up to the bank of the river, and see a scattering of cabins peeking out from between palm fronds. In addition to the individual cabins, there is a big dining cabin, and all the buildings are made of simple wood with 3-4 sides of screen. We are warned about the scorpions, possums, and the resident parrot named Pepe, (who bites) before we were turned loose for a while before lunch.

Lunch itself was really neat! We were served a big round stuffed banana leaf filled with rice, chicken, eggs and olives. They call it “John the Baptist Head” because it resembles a head on a plate. It is a traditional dish here in the Amazon Basin, and I loved it! I am really glad that they served us something traditional rather than chicken fingers and fries. 

After lunch, I head back to our cabin. I am not feeling well…I have had a bad cold ever since the last day of the Incan Trail, so I decide to take a nap and forgo the jungle hike that is scheduled for this afternoon. I lay down for a nap to the sounds of macaws and river boats, with a soft breeze blowing around my mosquito net. I think I am going to like it here!
Love, Anna aka Mud Butt

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