Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Lost City

In case there was any question (and to ensure more snakes in my condo when I get home), here's proof to Markus and Mateo that I was really there. A careful check will reveal no Photoshop'ing ;-)
I'm guessing the only way to see Machu Picchu for the first time is at the crack of dawn. We arrived at 6am when the city opened to find ourselves in the clouds. For several hours the clouds and rain would come and go, teasing us with one quick glimpse after another of an amazing view from the watchtower.
When it started to look as though things would clear off a bit, we started the short, but very steep hike to Waynapicchu, the mountain overlooking the city.

We waited quite a while until little by little the sky began to completely open up and for the first time in a few weeks, a tanktop was enough in the warm sun.

We came down all sweaty to explore the city a bit more now that the sun was out and we could see it in all its glory. Plus, Wasabi wanted some pictures for his blog ;-)

There were heaps more people by afternoon. I can't even imagine what this place is like in high season. The colorful rain ponchos tend to ruin most of the pictures, but I thought this one was cool.

Even aside from the city itself, the view from up there is amazing in all directions. The individual, freestanding mountains remind me so much of Rio de Janeiro. Here is the steep unpaved road the busses traverse to bring up the tourists and at the bottom next to the river you can see the train which is the only access to the village of Aguas Calientes (the starting point).

Me, very happy to see something I've dreamed of since I was a child!

Finally, we had to say goodbye :-(

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cycling Along the Sacred Valley

Timothy, Gry and I decided for a mountain biking trip yesterday alongside and then down into the Sacred Valley of the Inkas. I was feeling like a total whip trying to climb the slightest incline at this elevation (3500 meters). The trip took us along a gorgeous plateau just above the Sacred Valley and right next door to the local hang gliding site.

We went through a few lovely little villages with super friendly people. First stop was a potato field where the farmers were taking a little break. They waved us to come up to the field where they were hanging out and drinking the local alcoholic brew made from corn. It didn't taste at all good at first, but got better after a few sips ;-) Peruvians are very social people, I'm finding. We drank and chatted with them for a while before getting on our way.

Next stop was a set of Inkan ruins (total surprise - the guide didn't tell us we would be seeing ruins). The original "hole" was created by a meteorite which caused the Inkans to believe it was a sacred place with strong energy in the lowest terrace. Back in the day, the terraces were used as a sort of agricultural lab - testing various crops at different levels. We were told to either put our palms to the ground or lay down to soak up the energy. I tried my best, but I'm not convinced I got any ;-)

Eventually the trail had us dropping down into the Sacred Valley with a short stop at a salt mine for a little tour. Gry is so good with the kids and loves showing them their pictures on her digital camera. They're usually a bit shy at first, but warm up to her very quickly.

Finished up way late (for stopping constantly for pictures) tired and dirty.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Time For Letting Go....

Gry and I left Huaraz Saturday morning for a trek through the Cordillera Blanca. It was a five hour minibus ride to the trailhead, scary at times, but nice to get a bit of an idea where we would spend the next four days.

This is the road up to the little village of Vaceria where the hike started.

I am the first to admit that I am just about the most spoiled person on the planet, but I had no idea just how spoiled one could be until this trip. We carried just day packs with water and cameras and the guides with mules carried our larger packs, the tents, sleeping bags and food for the whole group. I thought this sounded very nice, but had no idea how decadent it would feel. Each morning one of the guides came to our tent with tea and a basin of hot water for washing up. The mules would pass us during the afternoon so that they could have camp set up and snacks ready in the kitchen tent when we arrived. Edith, our main guide was with us hiking all day, then would sit in the kitchen tent and chop vegetables for whatever homemade meal she was making that night. Breakfast was hot pancakes or omelets, and other fresh things.

The camping sites got more and more spectacular each day. We were a group of 6 with 2 guides and a mule handler and there was another group about the same size that was doing the same trek with us, but other than that, we didn't see much of anyone during the day.

We had just one tough day of hiking with a 1000 meter gain all in the last two hours. But reaching the summit was well worth it and we had a little celebration up there before it started to hail and get much too cold for hanging out. Our group was great - an adorable couple from Madrid, Irene and Gonzalo, a sweet, quiet couple from Poland, Gry and I and our guides Edith, Lucia and Emilio.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hiking the Cordillera Blanca

Just a day and a half to acclimate and we're off on a four day trek starting tomorrow morning. Theses are the mountains surrounding the city of Huaraz. We have geared up and are ready for the cold and rain, but hoping for clear skies at least some of the time.

For the first time in the history of the universe, I will be without my precious iPhone - no texts, no emails, no phone calls for a solid 4 days. Tough times are ahead ;-)

The Santa Cruz trek is the most popular in this area. The top of the range - which we won't reach, of course - is a bit over 6,700 meters. The highest elevation we will reach is 4,700 meters, traveling through a national park and a half a dozen or so small villages with donkeys carrying our packs.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Sometimes I wonder what motivates us to do stupid things when we are fully aware of how potentially risky they are. I'm not talking about stupid things that are fun and that provide some return in exchange for the risk - I'm just talking about stupid things done for no particular reason other than maybe see if we can get away with it.

Gry and I arrived in Huaraz early this evening after a crazy 30 hour trip from Guayaquil. It surely didn't come easy. We started out on a nice coach that was to take us south along the coast of Peru to a small town where we would transfer to another bus that went east and up into the mountains. Seems simple enough- it always does until you're in the middle of it. After 20 hours on the bus the driver suggested that we get off at a different village than we originally planned because he claimed it was a much faster way to go. Ha! Turns out our connecting bus had already left. A fast talking Peruvian convinced us to get on his bus and switch again at yet another village. Not only did the driver forget to stop in the little village we needed, but pretty much sent us off on a wild ride to nowhere. After realizing we had missed our stop, we got off the bus and found a "taxi" that claimed he was going to take us back to the earlier stop we had missed, just ten minutes back up the road. We arrived there to find no stop at all, just people milling around beside the road (no doubt waiting around for stupid gringas like us). We were told we could stand beside the road where yet another bus would prooooobably arrive eventually and maaaaaaaaaaaybe it wouldn't already be full, OR we could take the offer of a very friendly man who said there was a car that could drive us the rest of the way (about 3 hours) for just 100 soles. Gry and I looked at each other, started laughing our asses off and said "ok, let's go!". It was a surprisingly easy decision standing beside a highway, hundreds of miles from any real town, with our luggage sitting in the dirt and not much else in the way of choices.

(This isn't the bus stop, by they way. This is a real village that we would have been thrilled to be dumped in.)

No sooner did we leave the comfort of the little village (and possible witnesses to our impending robbery and murder) than we started discussing what a potentially bad idea this was. But now we were out of the village and heading up a windy mountain road into the middle of nothing - couldn't exactly hop out of the car and wave down the next taxi. Still, we just shook our heads and laughed at each other, what else could we do.

It didn't take long before what little concern we had for our well being was put to rest. We came to a police checkpoint and found that one of the officers was coming off duty and needed a ride as well, so he jumped in the front seat and at last we were feeling like our decision was not as idiotic as it really was. After a quick u-turn to retrieve his forgotten pistol, we were again on our way up the windy rather deserted road to Huaraz feeling very secure with our own private cop.

The officer stayed with us about half the way up the hill until he reached his stop and again we were alone with our driver. But, by this point we were feeling quite comfortable and just enjoying the changing landscape. All was relaxed until high up into the mountains where the rain started and the tires began to squeal around each sharp mountain curve. Do south americans know how to drive any way but fast? I was reminded of a certain drive over a mountain pass in Brasil several years ago and once again wondered if I would die a stupid lonely death in a foreign land - punishment for doing what my mother told me a thousand times that I should never do - get in the car with a stranger.

As is always the case, my guardian angel was close behind. After about 5 hours, one pee stop, two coke stops, one stop to help a car with a flat and one extra hitchhiker we rolled into Huaraz none the worse for the wear.

The landscape along the coast of Peru is nothing like I expected. It is rather barren and desertlike. We passed miles and miles of sand dunes and it felt as though we could just as easily have been in Afganistan.

Once up into the mountains, it started to look more like Peru to me.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Next Stop....Machu Picchu

Our hotel has a little indoor football field, perfect for washing and shortpacking gliders! My baby is all packed up and ready to go home with Dustin. Gry and I will take a 20 hour bus ride into Peru today. First a bit of trekking in Huaraz, then meeting up with Timothy in Cusco to see Machu Picchu, then finishing off with a trip to Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side. As always, I'm very excited - things I've wanted to see since I was a kid.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Isn't it a Lovely Ride...Sliding Down, Gliding Down...

..try not to try to hard, it's just a lovely ride.

There is really no competition on the planet like this one. I have said before it's my favorite of the year, but it just keeps getting better and better. This year was a complete blow out. Raul went way above and beyond putting together this huge little event and I hate that it's over.

Dustin was first overall, Daniel Velez from Colombia was second, and Mike Glennon, also from Colombia was third. They're all going home with full wallets!

Raul promised Latin models and he delivered...even a few cute boys for me ;-)

There's an Ecuadorian tradition called Vaca Loco (crazy cow) where someone dresses up like a cow, attaches a bunch of fireworks to the costume and then runs around the streets while the fireworks explode. Here we had Raul as the Crazy Glider.

The grand finale of the prize-giving was an enormous fireworks display comig from a tower on the beach where we were landing each day.

I'm so sorry it's over now :-(

Outlandings in Ecuador

Tough tough day with very light winds again...perhaps a bit lighter
than yesterday even. I've landed short near the last turnpoint where the wind has now died down to almost nothing. I'm here with OB and Mark. OB says he's pretty bummed having just made a $2000 mistake. I feel for him.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Day 2

Very light and slightly north wind today. What a switch from yesterday. The light wind made for very nice launch conditions, but not the easiest racing. For the first time since I've been coming here, there were actually times when we had to make a few passes in the lift during the race. Usually its just full on speeding down the ridge without making any turns. I spent half the flight with the VG rope in one hand and the harness zipper pull in the other, thinking I could land at any moment. I've never been so low on this ridge before. Most everyone took the first start, but Dustin hung back and waited for the second. Either way, he won the day again, with Jeff in second and Daniel in third. Dustin is already counting his money ;-)

They're out at the tow field just below launch every day giving free tandem rides to anyone who wants one and towing the sponsors' banners over the beach. The kids are out every day watching and wanting to help.


This has to be the most relaxed competition in the history of hang gliding competitions. Since the first start isn't until 4:30, we have most of the day to cruise around, swim, surf, do tandems, whatever we like. I've been either running or walking on the beach every morning. While walking, I'm always collecting seashells (heaps of sand dollars here!!), but not until today did I notice these beautiful natural forests painted in the sand.