Tag Archives: Mountain Lodges of Peru

the peruvian chronicles, machu picchu

10 Aug
It was 6:30 on the dot when out of nowhere El Gato, our Machu Picchu expert, appeared in the breakfast room, nonchalantly perusing the assortment of breads while impatiently urging the Garbage Bag Brigade to finish eating, lest we miss our 30 minute bus ride up to Machu Picchu, the crux of our trek up the Salkantay Trail.
 
At 6:30am the heat and humidity of the day were starting to beat down on the tops of our heads, baking into our sunburnt shoulders. As we waited to load the bus, newly purchased bottles of water were passed among us, now a group of 13.
 
The day before we said our goodbyes to Richi, one of our ever-faithful guides during our time on the trail. The goodbye was surprisingly touching. Although we’d only known each other 10 days, it felt like we were a family. Hugs and handshakes were shared, kisses on cheeks, slaps on the back and promises to keep in touch echoed through the train station.
 
During our time on the trail, Richi tried to explain the feeling that overtakes visitors upon arriving at Machu Picchu and each time he struggled to find the words that would allow him to verbalize the emotion. It was as if the feelings were not tangible, like Machu Picchu and all that it enveloped were surreal, unbelievable.
 
As Richi was boarding the train back to his hometown of Cuzco, he gave me one last hug, whispering in my ear “feel it with your heart, not your head”.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
The next morning, Richi’s words bounced around my brain as our chariot chugged and lurched up the winding road that leads up to the most celebrated Inca site in the world.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
30 minutes and 10 switchbacks later, we arrived at the entrance gates of Machu Picchu. We disembarked and El Gato fought to create a path through the throngs of tourists loitering outside the gates.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
Finally. After a week of trekking through the Peruvian Flats, the Cloud Forest, coffee plantations and along the rushing waters of glacier fed rivers, we had made it to our destination.
 
Unfortunately, so had what seemed to be the rest of the world.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
Like a superhero whose powers consisted of warding off other tourists, El Gato toured us around the site, brushing off “hanger-oners” and clearing paths with a wave of his hand, providing the GBB a precedence in the learnings of our final “Inca class”. El Gato pointed out the imaculately carved irrigation lines created by Inca architects, the perfectly layered grassy green terraces, the smooth stones and the notches in each wall that held the stones so tightly that “not even a knife” could slice through the seams in the rock.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
As we finished the tour, El Gato thanked us for visiting his country and left us almost as abruptly as he joined us at promptly 6:30 that morning.
 
Wayna Picchu was our last climb of the trek. A winding, terraced climb of about a mile of carved “steps”, Wayna Picchu, rises up above Machu Picchu like a soldier laying claim to a conquered territory.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
As we climbed up and up and up, clambering over slick gray stones cut into shallow steps, the Urubamba River winked and laughed as it looped around the peaks like a coiled snake, the tangled greenery of the jungle taunting the most adventurous of the Machu Picchu visitors to follow one of the numerous trails into its depths.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
Suddenly, as we rounded our final bend in the switch-backed terrain the Earth dropped away and Machu Picchu appeared below as if a mirage, the morning sun creating a halo that crowned the ancient stones and grassy terraces.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
As I pulled myself up those last few steps, the events of the last several days unfolded in front of me.
 
A slideshow of moments flashed through my brain. The stories that had been told each night during “Inca class”, the relationships that had budded and evolved into true friendships, the breathtaking scenery that did more than delight the eye, that touched each and everyone of us deep within our souls, the incredibly rich culture of Peru and its people and the brilliant history of the Inca people.
 
As the memories washed over me, my heart swelled with emotion and I came to realize that for me, the culmination of my trip, the heart and soul of it all, wasn’t all about visiting one of the Seven World Wonders, no matter how incredible the history. No, for me the experience of meeting the people that breathe life into Peru, the sumptuous flavors of the food that awakens your taste buds, feeling my soul open at the wonders of glaciers that scrape the heavens at a dazzling elevation of 20,574 feet, the happy chatter of what was once 14 strangers and the greens and yellows and pinks of the jungle mingling with the grays of the stately rocks of the Peruvian Flats.
 
For me, the culmination of this adventure did not begin and end with Machu Picchu. For me, my heart started feeling when I woke in Cuzco to the sound of the ancient city coming alive outside my window.
 
Peru, you had me at Haku.

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the peruvian chronicles, day 4…RATED PG-13

19 Jun

12 times. 

I had been up hustling, with my headlamp aglow, between my soft, warm bed and the cool tiles of the bathroom floor.
 
12 times. 
 
And no, I wasn’t really feeling any better; in fact it felt as if I had taken an invisible sucker punch to the gut.
 
Alas, the show must go on and an eight mile descent from the “Peruvian Flats” at 12,900 vertical feet to the Cloud Forest at an elevation of 9,414 feet, was on the books for the day.
 
So I popped a few Imodium, sucked down some Gatorade, and strapped on my big girl boots, all while silently praying to the travel gods that there would be some good “potty breaks” on the trail.
 
Outside the sun’s early morning rays danced atop the razor sharp edges of the Vilcabamba Range. Donkeys and mules brayed as porters loaded the animals with luggage, food and water. And although it was was crisp 32°, the heavy, wet air from the jungle that lay just below, mingled with the cool mountain air causing water particles to cling to what little oxygen they could find at nearly 13,000 feet above sea level. 
 
It was a blue bird day, a complete 180° from the weather that the GBB encountered the day before crossing Salkantay Pass. And as we trekked downhill the excited chatter and good-natured banter that had accompanied us during the first few days of the trip, returned.
 
It was no secret that I was feeling a little…ahem…shitty. So each time I fell behind for a “photo opp”, a series of fart noises would emanate from my brother, Tommy, as he wandered ahead, keeping pace with the group. Laughter would ensue and then I would be left in peace to take care of business. 
 
As we descended, our scenery evolved from snow and ice and dramatic glaciers that nearly touched the sky, to a thick overlay of ferns and towering trees creating a canopy under which we strolled. Bulbous avocados littered the ground and hung heavy on drooping branches. Orchids, rhododendrons, Lady Slippers and Lupine decorated the scenery bringing a wide range of magentas, sky blues, happy yellows and oranges to the endless greenery.
 
As we reached our final destination, perched high atop a steep hill overlooking an orchid garden and the vibrant Colpapampa Valley, brightly colored hummingbirds flitted in and out and around our heads; perhaps in greeting, perhaps in defense, but nonetheless providing the group with a feeling of lightness and joy.
 
On a side note…don’t drink the water.
 
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the peruvian chronicles, evening edition

9 Jun

After the day’s long, snowy trek up Salkantay Pass our arrival at Wayra Lodge had been punctuated with “oohs and ahhs” as the Garbage Bag Brigade lowered their weary bodies into the steaming waters of the bubbling “yacuzzi”. As we settled in, feeling our tired muscles loosen, almost immediately, a single ray of sunlight lit up the pinnacled summit of Humantay.

The sunlight, the wispy clouds, and the steam filled air stole the breath out of the weary travelers, until one by one, with their mouths agape, “wows” were uttered around the tub.

As if the silence following the chorus of “wows” were a cue, the single ray of sunlight multiplied until the surrounding peaks were illuminated in a mosaic of dreamy yellows and oranges.

Puka Puka, Salkantay, Pumasillu, and Tukarway

The jagged edges of the magnificent Vilcabamaba Range were ignited in the early evening light, as if lit up by licking flames that could only have been sent by the Sun.

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….

“C’mon. The clouds are gone. Ya gotta see the stars,” said Ricki, turning to me as we took the last few savory bites of our evening meal.

I excused myself from the table, grabbed my jacket and followed him to the center of the courtyard, careful to dodge the land mines of donkey droppings that littered the grassy knoll.

“Look over to your left, above the chimney of the Lodge,” instructed Ricki pointing up over my left shoulder. “It’s the Southern Cross. It can only be seen in the Southern Hemisphere and for the Inca’s signified Cuzco, the center of the Incan empire.”

“And over here, at the very bottom of the Southern Cross, you can see Yutu, in English it means Tinamou, a bird that lives here, in Peru.”

The lull of Ricki’s voice, the crash of the river below, and ribbon of stars nestled deep into the navy of the night sky. I was lost in the ancient magic of the Incas.

Urcuchillay, Atoq, Hanp’atu, Mach’acuay. The Llama, The Fox, The Toad, The Serpent.

I was humbled at the enormity of it all.

Humbled in the meaning that can be found in the inky black sky in the midst of the ancient spirits. The honor in the education that I was being provided. And the fact that these constellations served as a map to lead others home in the dead of the night and as a method of teaching the young ones important life lessons. 

I let the magic in the moment fill the inner reaches of my being; and my soul, my entire self, let go.

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Photo Credits: Tommy Sims, Tommy Sims Dezigns

the peruvian chronicles, day 3

7 Jun

“Oh, it’s just the Peruvian Flats,” explained Ricki, one of our fearless leaders, as he pointed towards the summit of Salkantay which sits at a modest 20,574 feet above sea level. 

I looked at him doubtfully, my brain lurching at the irony of his statement, and then cast a glance at the clouds that seemed to be closing in on us in a somewhat menacing manner.  

“Oh, and expect rain at the top. It rarely snows up there,” he said nonchalantly, as he pushed back from the breakfast table and strode down the stairs to prepare himself for the eight mile hike up and over Salkantay Pass (elev. 15,213).

After spending much of the previous day doing our best to dodge whipping rain and howling wind, it was decided that garbage bags were imperative in keeping our belongings rain free. So we swathed ourselves in big, black garbage bags, draping them over raincoats, over gloved hands and in some cases, for those whose boots had proven to be less waterproof than advertised, over socked feet inside boots. 

Similar to the day before, we began our trek amidst a deep fog. A fog that was so fluid, that it seemed to be alive. It floated and undulated through the air, cradling us in its soft, wet arms before dropping us into torrent of wind and rain.

 A climb of 2,522 vertical feet, before lunch, was the crux of our trek up through the “Peruvian Flats”. A climb that featured 12 hairpin switchbacks, a rocky, muddy trail that became slicker and sloppier as the morning wore on, trains of mules lead by weathered porters in sandals (?!?!), and a cocktail of Gatorade and Clif Shot Bloks that were passed down our line from leader to porter like a sacrament. 

We weren’t the only ones enveloped in the mist and rain. The monumental glaciers that stood sentinel over the valley were shrouded in clouds, casting only the briefest of glimpses of their mighty peaks out to their waiting public. 

“13,000 ft!” shouted Steve as he ever so dutifully reported the altitude at 500′ increments to the group.

And as though Steve’s report of 13,000 feet was an sign for the heavens to open above us, the mist and the rain turned to snow.

SNOW. 

Now as many of you know, I live in the land of the snow. And don’t get me wrong between the months of October and April I live for snow; heck, I have a tendency to be a bit of a powderhound when conditions permit, but once May 1 rolls around Mother Nature and I are in a month long fight, which tends to see me on the losing side. That said, I was mildly impressed that Mother Nature’s snow curse had hopped continents to find me.

I shot Ricki a look that plainly said, “no snow, huh?” and he shrugged his shoulders and offered me a bewildered smile. 

As we rounded the last bend of the upward trudge, at about 15,000 feet above sea level (officially 780′ higher than I have ever been), towering cairns became visible through the dusty white snow that was swirling through the cold, wet air. 

“213 feet to the top of the pass!” announced Steve, as if on que.

We trudged onward with a renewed sense of determination. Another 213 feet and the rest is all downhill!

A round of cheers exploded out of The Garbage Bag Brigade as a sign proclaiming, “Abra Salkantay”, appeared through the sea of white.

“We’ve made it to the top of Salkantay Pass!” exclaimed Pepe, “How about a snack?” he questioned, a trace of a grin curling in the corners of his ever smiling mouth.

Pictures were taken, hugs were shared and high fives and pats on the back announced the excitement and relief felt by the group. 

We had summited our Everest. 

As promised, the rest of the trek was downhill. It snowed until we fell below 14,000 feet where cows grazed on rocky outcrops that merged with leafy green ferns and hot pink and yellow wildflowers. 

Our next lodge sat at 13,900 feet, right on the brink of the entrance to the palatial glaciers guarding Salkantay Pass and the Amazon jungle. Shortly after we arrived, the clouds broke, offering The Garbage Bag Brigade the chance to shed their black, plastic layers and gape at the mighty peaks towering above us. 

Mother Nature approved. We had passed Salkantay’s test and the deep jungle greens mingling with the stark grays and whites of the glaciers and the late afternoon sun casting a pinkish, blueish glow upon the landscape, was our reward. 

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the peruvian chronicles, day 2

2 Jun

“It’s a little foggy out there,” someone commented over the clink of silverware and the munching and slurping of breakfast juices and cereals.

For me, strawberry yogurt with a sprinkle of crunchy, nutty quinoa. Muña tea, no sugar. One egg, scrambled with cheese, hold the tomatoes. And a glass of passionfruit juice, filled all the way to the brim.

“Don’t worry, it’ll burn off,” said someone else, taking a swig of their coffee.

“No, no, no, rain is in the forecast. Not too much, but wear your rain gear,” instructed Pepe, as he wiped his lips with a perfectly square napkin and pushed his chair away from the table. 

Outside, it was a little bit more than a little bit foggy. It was a deep, thick, engulfing mist, that swaddled the mountains and kissed the valley floor.  

And it was humid. Wet actually. Water particles clung to hair, to lips, to cheeks and penetrated coats, hats, gloves, and shoes. Yet, the water that clung to the atmosphere was so full of air, that it felt as if we were receiving kisses from the clouds.

Our destination was Humantay Lake, located just two miles and 1150 vertical feet above the Salkantay Lodge. It would be an easy day, with some vertical that opened up to a turquoise lake fed by the glacial waters of Humantay. We’d spend a few hours relaxing by the jewel-toned lake, perhaps enjoying a dip or two in its chilly waters before heading back to the lodge to enjoy the views from the “yacuzzi”. 

Alas, the weather had other plans. The higher we trekked, the wetter the conditions. Mist turned to rain, which turned to sleet, which turned back into rain. 

A piercing, cutting rain. 

No longer intimate brushes with Mother Earth, rather sharp, icy stings biting your skin. 

“Head for the lodge!” shouted Pepe at the top of the climb, fighting to be heard over the blowing wind and rain.

We turned back towards the lodge, craning our necks in hopes of a glimpse of Humantay Lake in all its turquoise glory. 

As we descended, the rivers began to fill, gurgling as they began their long descent back to the valley floor. Boots squelched and squished their way through the mud; rinsing again each time the creeks crossed the muddy, brown path.

Our arrival at the valley floor queued the rain to stop and the blanketing mist to return. We were soaked to the bone.

I removed my boots, stripped off layers upon layers of wet pants, shirts, socks, and jackets.

As I entered the warm, fire-lit lodge, I took one last look over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of Salkantay casting a wink in my direction before disappearing again behind its curtain of clouds. 

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the peruvian chronicles, day 1

31 May

We woke with a start at 6:01am.

The alarm was set to go off at 6:16, waking us from our deep slumber with its tinny bell shrilly announcing the start of our Peruvian trekking adventure up the Salkantay Trail.

But at 6:01, the ancient city of Cusco was already bustling outside our third floor window. Pots banging, roosters crowing, coffee roasting, and people shouting greetings of “Buenos Dias!” to their neighbors as they passed them on Cusco’s winding stone covered roads. 

At promptly 7:00am, we were notified that the van had arrived and was ready to whisk us off to Marcocosa where we would begin our seven day trek up to Machu Picchu. Trepidation, excitement, and nervous chatter filled the humid Peruvian air inside the van. It was an hour and a half drive to the trailhead/mule route just above the tiny ancient hamlet of Mollepata, allegedly the home of Peru’s first vineyard.

The first day of our trek began at an elevation of 11,001 feet above sea level, but upon looking about your surroundings your first observations were of the lush greenery blanketing the rolling hills. The roaring sound of swiftly moving water rushing down rocky mountainsides to the jungle floor. A flash of green and yellow as a Parakeet flittered and twittered in the trees towering above your head. And the humidity, thick wet humidity, of the fresh mountain air mingling with the thick jungle air rushing up from the valley floor. 

In Colorful Colorado at 11,001 feet above sea level, the landscape is a hodgepodge of grays and browns. Tree line sits at close to 11,500 feet and the low, cropped, dusty green bushes tell the story of the dry, thin air that characterizes the magnificent, yet barren landscape.

It was the perfect contrast.

Our group of 14 was quiet for all of 30 minutes. 30 soulful minutes of 14 strangers with heads on swivels, engaging all of their senses to envelope themselves with the sights, sounds, and smells of Peru’s high alpine jungle. 

Greens: sage, grass, evergreen, cactus, emerald, moss, sea foam

Flowers: orchidslupinbegoniasAngel’s Trumpets

Birds: Parakeets, jays, Tanagers, and as we climbed higher, condors

31 minutes into the hike, the giggling started, the singing began, and the chatter was present as a low hum among the group. The higher we climbed, the lower the walls among the 14 strangers became. And by the time we stopped for lunch at 12,000 feet above sea level, it was as if the group was a bunch of longtime buddies going for a weekend stroll through the Peruvian wilderness.

Our Lodge for the next two evenings was located in Soraypampa, nestled between the Salkantay and Humantay Peaks, at 12,690 feet above sea level. After lunch, the 1600 foot vertical of the morning’s trek leveled off as we followed a winding path alongside an ancient Incan irrigation canal. As we rounded the final bend in the day’s stroll, Salkantay and Humantay rose up in front of us; their snowcapped peaks nearly touching the heavens.

That evening, as the sun sank low beneath the horizon, I stepped outside to watch the dusk light paint Salkantay in a jewel-toned mosaic of pinks, pale yellows, and oranges. The rocky outcrops of the “savage mountain” looked as if they were aflame in the midst of the setting sun. Clouds swirled around the neighboring peaks, bathing them, and me, in a foggy, pink mist.

Day one was coming to a close.

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