Monday, September 26, 2011

Chikisca to Choquequirao

Today we had an early wake-up call (4:30 am) so we could get to the river and back up the other side of the canyon before it got too hot. Despite being sick all night, I was still convinced that I wasn't actually ill, but instead had upset my stomach by taking 600 mg of ibuprofen on an empty stomach and then eating too much.

I advised the guide that I had been sick, but I didn't have a fever, so I should be ok for the day. He told me to just drink the porridge and eat a piece of bread for breakfast. I tasted the porridge, but couldn't choke down more than an ounce or two. I was able to eat the bread and a few sips of tea, and that seemed to sit in my stomach ok, so I believed the worst was over.

We started the day with a steep 2 hour hike to the Apurimac River at the bottom of the canyon. 
I took my time and slowly made my way down the trail, while the others raced ahead. I felt a bit tired and weak, but mostly I was focused on not hurting my knee or slipping and falling. Because I knew I was slower than the others (plus I didn't feel great), I was so focused on hiking and trying not to get too far behind that I "forgot" to take any pictures on the way down.
Finally I got to where I could see the bridge. I knew the others were waiting there for me.

When I finally caught up, the others asked if I needed a break. They were getting bit by midges, so I said I was ok and that we could move on.

I was feeling ok, until I started crossing the bridge... the suspension bridge..... that swayed and bounced ....  Suddenly my stomach was a little more unsettled, but I was still convinced that I would be ok once I started hiking up the other side.

Viewing the Apurimac River from the bridge.

Arturo told us that it would take us about 2 hours of constant hiking uphill until we reached the small village of Santa Rosa, where we should stop for a brief rest and snack.  For the first hour, I felt ok climbing. However, after about an hour, I "hit a wall". Suddenly I had no energy and was a little dizzy. I figured that I was probably a little dehydrated from being sick all night, combined with lack of food.

I told the group to go ahead and I would catch them later. I sat down on the side of the trail and ate a banana. After a few minutes, I started hiking again, only to throw up a few minutes later. I took a short break, then started hiking again. A few minutes later, my intestines rumbled and I needed to "find a bush". Unfortunately, they were few and far between, but the rest of the group was ahead so I didn't worry about being seen.

I started hiking again, but continued to vomit and have diarrhea, feeling weaker and weaker with every step. I was breaking out in a cold clammy sweat and felt very dizzy.  I worried I was getting heat stroke or severely dehydrated. I had gatoraid powder, but didn't want to mix it with my full container of water, so I poured some of the powder in my mouth and then tried to swish it around with water. All that accomplished was to produce purple puke.

I was about 20 minutes away from Santa Rosa when Arturo checked on me. I really didn't think I could go any further. He told me that I needed to keep going and once I got to the rest stop, they would unpack the cargo from the emergency horse and I could ride to the lunch stop in Maranpata. The next 20 minutes were pure torture, but at least my entire digestive tract was empty and nothing came out with each stop.

When I finally reached Santa Rosa, I collapsed on the ground with relief. I bought small bottle of water to mix with the rest of the gatoraid powder and took a few sips of that. I also bought a Sprite and took a couple sips of that. I ate part of a cookie and took a bite of the fruit from my snack bag, but I had no appetite.

Finally the emergency horse was ready for me. The group started hiking the next 2 hours up the mountain to Maranpata, and I ungracefully got on the horse.

The horse was worse than hiking! The stirrups were too high so my knee was bent into an uncomfortable position and it almost immediately started cramping. The horse lurched forward and back as it climbed over rocks on the way up the mountain. With each bump I worried that I would either vomit on the horse or crap my pants. After about 20 minutes and 2 km, I had to ask Vilmar to stop the horse and let me off of it. I had to hike the rest of the way myself, because I felt worse riding the horse than hiking.

I don't think anyone could imagine how happy I was when the village finally came into sight!

I attempted to eat lunch, having part of a hard boiled egg, a couple sips of soup, and a few bites of rice.
Unfortunately, that triggered an immediate trip to the "bathroom"
We had arrived in Maranpata about a half hour before the cook was ready with our lunch. The crew spread out tarps and put down our sleeping pads so we could nap before lunch, which all of us did. While the others finished their lunch, I went and took an additional nap. Two of the village dogs came and kept me company.

About 10 minutes before the group was going to start hiking the next 2.5-3 hours to the campsite, Arturo woke me up and said that I could get a head start if I felt like it. He also offered me the use of the emergency horse again. I passed on the horse, but took him up on the headstart.

The trail wasn't nearly as steep, and was fairly flat with minor rolling hills. It was exciting to get the first glimpse of Choquequirao ruins. I got to the park entrance and sat and waited for the group. They caught up to me a couple of minutes later.

I was able to stay with the group for the rest of the hike to the campsite. About 15 minutes before we reached camp, we saw this waterfall and crossed a small stream.

I don't look too bad, considering I've just hiked nearly 9 hours while violently ill!!

When I arrived at camp, I used the bathroom (a real flush toilet!!) then crashed in the tent. I napped through tea and had a raging fever by the time dinner started. I sipped a bit of soup, ate a couple of french fries and a few bites of rice, then started taking the Cipro antibiotics that I brought with me.

Arturo decided that I had food poisoning from something I ate in Cusco and was too sick to hike the next day so he changed the itinerary. Instead of camping one night at Choquequiro and leaving the next day, we would spend the full day here tomorrow, camp here again the next night, and then combine two days of hiking when we left. The rest of the group was ok with it.

I excused myself from the dinner table and curled up into a ball in my sleeping bag, hoping the Cipro would do the trick.

Hiking Stats:
Distance: 15 km/ 9 miles
Time: 8.5 hours
Elevation gain: 1600 m / 5,245'
Elevation loss: 300 m / 984'

Camping at 3033 m / 9,950'

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cachora to Chikisca

After a 4 hour drive from Cusco, we were finally at the starting place just outside of Cachora. We ate a quick picnic lunch, and then we were off. There were a total of 5 of us in the group. One married couple (Kerryn and Ben) and three solo travelers (Emilie, Brad, and me).

NOTE: Click on each picture to see a larger image.

We couldn't have been more than 10 minutes into the hike when we heard a bunch of birds making noise. After getting a bit closer, we discovered a flock of green parakeets. We joked with our guide Arturo that we expected to see amazing wildlife every five minutes. He looked a bit worried until he realized we were joking.

The first couple of kilometers were fairly easy along a gravel road. There were a few gradual inclines, but essentially it was pretty flat.

We followed the road until we reached the newly constructed building at this curve. It will eventually be a ranger/passport check point for this trek.

After passing the house, the road turned more into a dirt and gravel trail that hugged the side of the mountain.

Then it began to descend towards the Apurimac River.

While we were hiking, the staff cleaned up our lunch and loaded up the mules. Here they finally caught up to us (and then passed us so they could set up the campsite).

Along the way, we were treated to gorgeous views of snow capped mountains.
The trail continued to hug the side of the mountain and descend. You can see the Apurimac River at the bottom of the canyon.

As we descended into the canyon, it got hotter and drier and the vegetation sparser.

Looking at the trail ahead of us. Luckily we took the bigger trail in the picture and not the steep set of switchbacks. We would do trails similar to those later.

With the switchbacks, we frequently got views that looked like we would fall off the end of the trail.

But the trail always turned and we never fell off.

Finally we reached camp near Chikisca. The crew was already there and had our tents set up and waiting for us. My knee was throbbing from the descent, so I took about 600 mg of ibuprofen a few minutes before tea time.

We all sat down to enjoy tea. I was famished and ate a bit too much of the wontons, popcorn and cookies.

My stomach was feeling a bit upset, so I took a short nap between tea and dinner. Still feeling overly full, I barely ate any dinner and had to add another layer of fleece because I was feeling chilled. Immediately after dinner, I ran to the bathroom and promptly threw up everything I ate. Not fun! For the rest of the night, I wore a path into the ground between my tent and the bathrooms, getting sick from one end or the other all night long.

Hiking Stats:
Distance: 16 km / 9.9 miles
Duration: 5 hours
Elevation gain: 250m / 820'
Elevation loss: 1200m / 3,936'

Camping at 1950m / 6,398'

Friday, September 09, 2011

The Ultimate Trek: eating, hiking, and sleeping my way to Choquequirao and Machu Picchu

After months of training, I was finally starting the Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trek through Apus-Peru. Due to a canceled flight, one of the group members arrived the morning of the trek, delaying our start time by 2 hours. I enjoyed sleeping those extra two hours and leaving the hotel at 8 am instead of 6 am. Thanks Brad! :-)

Eat Hike Sleep... Eat Hike Sleep... Repeat 5X/Day for 8 Days

We basically followed the same routine each day, although starting and ending times varied a bit. Generally, one of the horsemen woke us in the morning with a hot cup of coca tea. We then had 15-30 minutes to get dressed, pack up our gear and day packs, and meet for breakfast.

Breakfast consisted of a hot liquid porridge/gruel made of some kind of grain. For the first half of the trip, I tried the porridge each day, but usually could not choke down more than a sip or two (disclaimer: I don't like hot cereals like oatmeal or cream of wheat). By the end of the trip, I didn't even bother to taste it anymore. One day we had hot chocolate instead, which I happily consumed. We also had bread, butter, and strawberry jam each day. We also had fresh fruit, or pancakes with caramel sauce, or an omelet. The food was accompanied by hot water and an assortment of teas, hot chocolate powder, and instant coffee.

After breakfast we usually had about 15 minutes to use the restroom, brush our teeth, finish packing, and fill our water bottles before heading out for the day. Note about the restroom. At some of the camps we had actual toilets, but at most we did not. Sometimes there was an established squat or pit toilet (no seat!). If there was no toilet at all, the trekking company dug a hole in the ground and put a tent around the hole for privacy. I had interpreted the "toilet tent" that they mentioned on their website as having a portable chemical/camping toilet or at least having a bucket to sit on above the hole in the ground. Was I shocked the first time I needed to use it!

Following breakfast, we started the hike for the day. On most days, we would hike about 2.5-3 hours before we stopped at a "rest stop" for a snack. Our daily snack consisted of a piece of fresh fruit (apple, orange, banana) and a small package of cookies or cereal bars. About half the time, we stopped for a snack in a small village where additional fruit, cookies, chips, soft drinks, or water could be purchased.

After our snack and a short rest (15-20 minutes) we would hike for an additional 2-3 hours until we reached the lunch spot. The lunches were amazing.
We would start with an appetizer like this pizza

or this ham and asparagus dish.

The appetizer was then followed by a bowl of hot soup. Most of the time it was a broth soup with vegetables and a grain (wheat, oats, rice, quinoa) but sometimes it was a vegetable puree (mushroom or asparagus).
Following the soup, we had the main dish and sides. Most of the time they were served family/buffet style.We had a meat dish that was usually beef or chicken. In this case it was orange chicken.

We also had vegetables, beans or lentils, and at least one kind of starch (rice, potatoes, and/or pasta). It was impossible to still be hungry after lunch!

There were a couple of times when we had a plated lunch - when the cook didn't have access to a kitchen or the "kitchen tent". This fried rice and stuffed chicken was our picnic lunch on the first day just outside of Cachora before we actually started hiking.

This stuffed chili pepper and rice was the plated picnic lunch we had (along with the pizza and a bowl of mushroom soup) at the top of the Abra Victoria pass at 4130m/13,546' elevation.

We typically spent 1-2 hours at each lunch stop. Sometimes we ate almost immediately after arriving, but usually we had time for a 15-20 minute rest (nap) before lunch and another 15-20 minute digestion period following lunch.

After lunch, we would hike an addition 2-3 hours to our campsite. We usually arrived at the campsite in the late afternoon, but twice we arrived right around dusk.

Shortly after arriving at the campsite, we would have tea. Depending on how much time we had before tea, we might take a nap, a shower if available, wash some clothes, or just kick back and relax.
On most nights, we would have fried "wontons" that were filled with fried bananas, cheese, ham, or covered with caramel sauce.

We would also have cookies and a big plate of popcorn. Of course, we would have an assortment of teas (tea bags and coca leaves), instant coffee, and hot chocolate mix. We got a good laugh one night when somebody actually read the label on the tea bags and discovered the brand was Hornimans. It was even funnier when we tried to explain to our guide why we found the name so funny.

Following tea, we would have about 1 hour before dinner. By this time it was dark and usually cold. We typically went to our tents to read, chat, or nap until we were called for dinner.
Dinner would start with a bowl of hot soup, similar to the types served at lunch (but never a repeat of that day's lunch).

We would also have at least one starch (usually 2 or 3): pasta, rice, potatoes, yucca, etc., often with a warm vegetable sauce (tomato and onions) to scoop over it.
We also had a vegetable dish. In this case it is beets, carrots, and green beans.

And we had a meat dish. The dish above is fried cuy (Guinea pig) with battered and fried yucca root. Most of the time the meat was chicken or beef, and we also had fish one night.

Our cook Herbert did a great job of keeping us well fed!

Following dinner, we would chat a bit about what we saw during the day, discuss the morning's hike, have another cup of tea, and then head off to our tents for bed.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Kachina Trail, Flagstaff AZ

I had Monday off to celebrate Labor Day. It was a nice day in Phoenix when I headed up to Flagstaff to hike the Kachina Trail. I thought this would be a nice trail to get out of the heat, but since there were no significant elevation gains, it would be fairly easy on my knees.

The hike started out nice, walking through the woods and into fields of wildflowers.

Along with all the flowers were bunches of caterpillars.

 About 4 miles into the trail, we hit a nice clearing and stopped for a snack. I couldn't resist the urge to hoop down the trail.
I don't leave home without it!

Then scary-looking rain clouds started moving in over the mountains. We decided to cut the hike short and turn around where we were, rather than hiking the full 5.2 miles before returning.
It's a good thing we did! We hadn't hiked more than 5 minutes back when we started feeling sprinkles. Then we heard thunder and it really started raining.

Luckily most of the rain stopped when we were about half way back to the parking lot, and my pants had a chance to dry off before getting to the parking lot. They were a bit damp and muddy below the knees, but quicky dried once I was back in the car.

Even with the cold rain, it was a nice break from Phoenix and a great way to spend the day.