Thursday, September 27, 2012

Machu Picchu and Mancora Pictures!

Mancora, Peru

For the last week, we have been relaxing in Mancora, Peru!  It is a small beach town in northern Peru, about 2 hours from Ecuador.  It has been a great week full of wave playing, beach walking, and trying all the interesting food they have to offer.  The surf season is not until Novemeber (silly us, I don't know how we missed that...), so we didn't get a chance to surf.  The one surf shop we stopped by and asked for prices, was $300 for 3 days.  A bit out of our budget, so we passed.  But other than that, we have had a great time being beach bums.  And our hostel has a pool, so it is great to lay by the pool!

The hostel we are staying at is called The Point.  It is pretty low key, but the only down side is they play American top 40 music OVER and OVER again - literally the same songs all day and into the night.  We are talking, 1 or 2 am.  And blasting it.  Some nights, the only people in the bar area are the workers - everyone else is trying to sleep! So that got a little irritation after about night 2 of staying here, but it is one of the cheapest hostels in this area, and if we stay here 7 nights, we only pay for 6.  Yay for money saving!

We friended an British couple who is doing just about the same trip we are - traveling to Peru, Chile, and Argentina.  It was great swapping stories and meeting a new set of friends!  

Throughout the week, we have been researching more volunteer opportunities, and it is slim pickings!  Our goal is to not pay for housing and food while volunteering (they should provide these things, given we are giving our time for work...) and we are finding not a lot of organizations feel the same way.  Paying $200 for your first week, or paying $20 a day for everything included is not what we want!  We are still set on volunteering in Iquitos, and unfortunately learned we have to pay for our housing (20 soles, or about $7 per day). but this includes meals with the host family - looking forward to that.  In the mean time, we are still reseaching for volunteer places.  If we find something in Uruguay, or Bolivia, that includes accomodations, we might be making a detour.  We are open for anything.  Last night, we were talking to the girls from Belgium who are also staying in our room and they said internet sites will want your money, but once you get to know people, they will hook you up with free volunteering.  Networking is important everywhere in the world!

Tomorrow, we are on a bus back to Lima.  We will get there Friday afternoon, find a hostel, then early Saturday morning we take a plane to Iquitos for our volunteering!  We were going to take a boat down the Amazon River, but it would take about 5 days and it just wasn't working with our schedule.  Plus the plane ride is super cheap!

We will do our best to blog in Iquitos and share our volunteer experience, but are unsure of the internet accessibility.  If anything, look for a quick Facebook post from either one of us :)

Maddy and Nate

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Machu Picchu and bus rides galore

Machu Picchu was incredible!  We are having some difficulities with downloading all of our pictures, but they will be in the next post of our pictures.

We were fortunate enough to set this all up with the travel agent provided at our hostel.  They have connections to the bus, train, and hostel we stayed at for our 2 day, 1 night adventure.  We took the bus (a 1.5 hour ride from our hostel), to the train station (1.5 hour ride to Machu Picchu), and everything went very smoothly.  Upon our arrival to Machu Picchu, it was very overwhelming as it was just about opening hours so there were tour guides, and tourists galore.  Within the group we came with, we managed to split into an english or spanish speaking tour guide.  While I´d like to think our spanish is improving, we chose the english guide.  Our group was about 15 people, and it was great meeting people from all over the world - New York, Turkey, Brazil, England, and Japan to name a few.  It is hard to write about just how much we learned in our 2 hour tour - and that wasn´t even covering the entire thing!  We couldn´t believe we were actually in Machu Picchu.  The Inkan people really had it down... the way they built their houses to avoid earthquakes, the way they grew their crops and food based on the winer and summer solstice, and we even learned that a commercial was filmed there in 2000 and the company accidentally chipped off 1\8 of an inch of the sacred ruins, and they are all in jail now!  Don´t mess with Machu Picchu.  Meanwhile, the queen of Spain landed via helicopter in the middle of the entire site, broke an oblisk... and was still queen!  Pays to be royalty.  Once our tour was over, we had free range to explore even more.  We went on about a 30 min hike to the Inka Bridge (many ¨hotspots¨ were close) and it was yet another amazing site to see.  The pictures will do a better job explaining just how HIGH up we were... we were stunned that the Inkan people did this on a daily basis!  Also, the stairs they built going all around the ruins were pretty tough on two 6 foot tall people, how did little Inkan people walk them?!

It was sad to leave such a wonderful and historic site.  We are so grateful we went!  That night, we explored the many tourist shops with Machu Picchu items, hung out at a Peruvian fashion show in the middle of the town, and bonded with a Peruvian 3 year old at our hostel.  David, who lived next door to our hostel with his mom, was a frequent visitor to the hostel and we had the pleasure of hanging out with him Saturday night.  There were bean bags everywhere, Nate and I on one side, David on the other and he would run as fast as he could into the bean bag chairs, giggling and squealing the whole time.  Nate would toss him in the air, David would hide behind Maddy then run into Nate again.  Basically the most adorable bundle of joy we had been around in in awhile.  Until he had his melt down.  Within a matter of seconds he was screaming and crying for his mom.  At this point, we had no idea where his mom was (let alone next door) or who she was, so we were calmly talking to him, and at this point he was grabbing attention of the rest of the hostel.  Another visitor tried to talk to David, asking where his mom was, but could get nothing out of him.  Meanwhile, Nate rushed upstairs to go get Angie, the receptionist who seemed to have a connection to the little boy.  Angie came downstains, swooped up David, and brought him home.  Crazy night to say the least.

The children fun continues.  We took a 22 hour bus ride from Cusco to Lima, and there was a boy across the aisle from us, around age 12, who had a mission to annoy us anyway possible.  Banging the seatbelt against the seat to make an annoying clatter, pretending his arm rest was a gun and making the shooting noise randomly (very comforting), and insisting that his legs were a drum set.  This entire time, his parents were passed out behind him.  Cool.  We´have never been so excited to get off a bus.  We then had the most expensive cab ride thus far to get to our hostel - 20 soles (roughly $6-7) and most cab rides we have had haven´t cost more than 10 soles (about $3).  Needless to say we have had a relaxing time in our hostel, exploring Lima which included a walk down to the beach.

Tomorrow we off to Moncora, Peru.  It is a beach town in northern Peru and we will be there for about a week. Surfing, hiking, and all around beach fun will most likely happen!  Looking forward to it.

Miss and love you all!

Maddy and Nate

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When in doubt, hike up.

We recently came back from a 6 day backpacking trip called the Ausangate Circuit.  It was a beautiful, memorable, tough, snowy, rewarding hike around the base of the Ausangate mountain and surrounding mountain ranges!

Last night we posted pictures, and we hope that through this entry, they will make more sense.

Day 1 - we set off from a town called Tinke.  From here, we learned we had to pay a small fine to do the hike (it had gained in popularity over the last 10 years), but that certainly did not stop us.  All I can remember from day 1 is hiking straight up hill. All day.  We had a goal in mind of where we wanted to camp that night, but due to the increase in elevation at such a rapid pace, we were hiking a bit slower than we anticipated.  The views on this day were great - and they only got better from there.  It was mostly trekking through farms and small villages to get to the main trail.  That night, we had to set up our tent not once, but twice because the first time, we realized we had set it up over these yellow flowers (flowers is way too nice of a word), but the pedals were poking holes through the tent, so we had to move.  After a long, exhausting day, the last thing you want to do is set up a tent TWICE, but we are so glad we got it out of the prickely area.  When we were dozing off to sleep, we looked outside our tent and saw we were surrounded by alapaca´s!  It was pretty cool.

Day 2 - Continuing on the theme of hiking straight up, we peaked our first of four passes at about 15,600 ft.  Another day of Maddy struggling to breathe (even with taking altitude pills), and feeling like I was hiking at a snail´s pace compared to Nate.  He was having no problem at all - apparently he just doesn´t need to breath.  Oh, and this entire time our packs were roughtly 50-60 pounds.  I was so happy we were taking things at  our own pace, and were in no need to be at a certain campsite that night!  We camped underneath a glacier night 2, with blue-green and turquoise lakes surrounding us.  At one point, we were cooking dinner and heard what sounded like massive thunder.  We look up, and see the smallest part of the glacier (which close up, was probably the size of a small building) break off and fall. It was unbelievable to see!! Through out the rest of the trip, we would hear the same thing, but never saw pieces fall again.

Day 3 - seriously, when in doubt, hike UP.  This was the third morning we woke up and went up hill, passing by more beautiful lakes, glaciers, and waterfalls coming out of the glaciers.  It didn´t seem real - it was like we were hiking through the Lord of the Rings scenery, as Nate says.  Today we were escorted through out the mountains by numerous herd´s of alpacas.  We also peaked our second pass, Apacheta pass at almost 16,000 ft!  At this point, we could see the next and highest of the four passes we would conquer, but before we did that we had to hike DOWN 2,000 ft.  That seemed ideal....  On our way down, we ran into a group from the Czech Republic, and they had the ¨slacker¨idea of hiring guides who did everything for them.  Horses carried their packs, food, and everything they needed and the guides set up their tents for them, cooked for them, and even set up mini bath house for them.  At this point, I was eyeing down those horses, while Nate was laughing at their inability to camp on their own.  All the hikers were carrying were itty bitty day packs with a jacket inside.  It was nice seeing people on trail and exchanging stories - they were incredbily impressed by us.  Another night underneath a new set of stars, neighboring glaciers, and a soothing river near by.  Did I mention every night it got below freezing?  Good thing we have such wonderful gear to keep us warm.  The sun goes down around 5:30, so we are bundling up and making dinner asap.

Day 4 - woke up to a snow storm.  Keep calm and hike on.  Today was our 3rd pass - Palomani Pass at 16,950 ft!!  Surprisingly, the breathing was gettting easier.  Once we took our celebratory pictures (you can find them on the previous post), we made our decent towards yet another glacier lake, so pumped after conquering the highest we have ever climbed.  Along the trail, there are sporadically arrows indicating the possible direction for trekking.  Once we reached the bottom, it was unclear which way to go, so getting out our compass, map, and book, we were sure we were headed in the right direction.  We decided that we had found a shortcut, that involved crossing through alapaca, ram, and sheep pastures (seems pretty legit right?), and a little river crossing.  Completely managable.  About an hour and a half into this hike, we realized the little river crossing turned out to be, oh, 10 feet wide and moving FAST.  Starting to realize we may have been hiking in the wrong direction, we notice a young Peruvian girl approaching us on the other side of the river.  Clarifying our direction for Jampa (our next destination), she laughed at us and told us we were going the wrong way.  Instead of going back the way we came, we thought we would take yet another short cut and just follow the river back.  Imagine lava tag when you are growing up - can´t touch the ground.  We literally had to hop from grass cluster to grass cluster, and if you missed, you got stuck knee deep in mud.  Enter Maddy.  We were hopping side by side, and I thought this one area seemed pretty legit to cross... I was mistaken.  First 2 steps were fine but the next thing I know, I am stuck knee deep in mud.  And can´t move.  Nate comes hopping over to the rescue and pulls me out.  A little shaken by what had happened, Nate reassured me that it was just mud (on the only pants and shoes I had planned on wearing) and it will come off.  SO, we continue hopping back to the trail and making our  way to the camp site - running into hikers we had seen previously.  Nate explained to the 2 Peruvian guides what had happened, and we all had a good laugh about it.  A day to remember.

Day 5 - Longest. Day. Ever.  We had to make up a lost day (due to slower hiking and sight seeing) so we were prepared to hike all day.  Hiking along a valley for most of the afternoon, with a massive mountain infront of us completely covered in snow and glaciers, this was the first morning not hiking staight up right away!  All in good time... We peaked our fourth and final peak, Campo Pass at 16,630 ft.  This was my favorite.  It was the most breathtaking view I have ever seen, we were looking down at glaciers.  At this past, there are cairns everywhere. Cainrs are hiker-made rock formations nomally placed on trail, indicating which way to go.  On Campo Pass, there were 100´s of cairns, made my Peruvians and other hikers, as a superstition to deter evil spirts.  An incredible site to see.  We continued hiking on the edge of cliff´s with only 6 inches of trail, and on the other side was sheer drop off.  If the altitude didn´t take your breath away, this would.  We camped that night, and were excited to experience the hot springs early the next morning.

Day 6 - Since we made such awesome progress, the last day was short and sweet.  We hiked to the hot springs, and enjoyed soaking in the warm water while taking to Peruvians.  All of a sudden, there was a large, long whistle and everyone sprinted behind a building.  Nate and I were gathering our things, while being rushed to follow.  We had no idea what was going on.  We went behind a building as well, and soon learned that this small town was going to be blowing rocks up, a few feet from where the hot springs were!  While behind a building, I purchased an Alpaca scarf, made with natural colors and alpaca wool.  After the excitment, everyone wsa fine, and we continued to hike back to Tinke (the town we started in) which was surprisingly uphill... We caught a bus and arrived in Cusco around 7pm, where were promptly showered, inhaled 2 pizzas, and then 2 oreo shakes, and then went to bed.

Definitely the most challenging hike we have ever done, but so many memories and accomplishments we will remember for a life time.

Yesterday we relaxed and uploaded the pictures.  It may have taken all day, but we are glad they are up for you to see!  And we have so many more!

Tomorrow we are off to MACHU PICCHU, thanks to a generous gift from the Bourgeois Family (thanks mom and dad!!).

Can´t wait to blog about that...