Tag Archives: Peru

wooly salamalanders.

21 Sep

About a year and a half ago, I spent 10 days exploring Peru.

10 days with a group of goofballs who came to be known as the “Wooly Salamalanders”, courtesy of the imagination of the one and only, Tommy Sims.

Well about three weeks ago, this wacky group of Wooly Salamalanders visited MY ‘hood and the goofiest reunion known to man ensued.

I met my fellow WSes down in Aspen for a fantastic day of hiking, picnicing, and catching up and though we haven’t seen each other in over a year, and frankly, have only really known each other 10 days, it was like we’d known each other our entire lives.

I truly must be the luckiest girl in the world to have so many amazing influences in my life.

See here, here, here, here, herehere, here, and herefor a recap on our epic trek across Peru!

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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, the jungle.

13 Jul

I never knew I had a preference.

I mean, I’ve always known that I love being outside; being in the presence of something bigger than myself and the little dramas that make up my life. Whether it be the desert, the mountains, Lake Michigan, heck, a gum-filled sidewalk in the middle of Chicago, I would always rather be there than inside.

So as we continued our descent deeper and deeper into the Peruvian jungle, in the midst of leafy green ferns and mammoth avocados that hung pregnant from the lush Avocado Trees, I was somewhat surprised at my indifferent, albeit appreciative reaction to life below 11,000 feet in the Andes.

Now don’t get me wrong, the humidity and heat beating down on your bare skin from the hot, equatorial sun was beyond refreshing after a few days in the snow and rain, and the flowers and birds? Holy cow. Everywhere you looked cheery greens and yellows flitted by overhead and violet and white orchids wound their way out of the thicket.

There was a relaxed meandering mindset that punctuated our trek down and into the lower Cloud Forest, which was the perfect opposition to the determined pace of the previous few days as we made our way up and over Salkantay Pass. As it turns out, it’s less of a challenge to wander through a lush green rainforest taking in surprise sightings of wild turkeys (distant relation to the Peruvian Mountain Turkey, which by the way, has made several visits to Summit County, CO…), hummingbirds, begonias, and puya cacti, than it is to climb a glacier garbed head to foot in garbage bags.

And the bugs. Ew. Ick. Blargh.

I have never been a bug fan, but some of the creepy crawlers that crossed our path were fairly impressive in both size and color.

And while the bugs and the birds and the flowers piqued my curiosity and the company kept me giggling, a little part of me wanted to head back in to the wilds of the Vilcabamba Mountain Range. Feel the enveloping sense of drama exuded by Salkantay and Humantay as they preside over the valley, the contrast of the jungle greens melding with the grays and whites of the glaciers, and the pinks and oranges of the setting sun illuminating the craggy peaks as they touched the sky.

Now this may comes as a shock to those of you who know me, but as it turns out, the mountains seem to be my preference.

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so here’s the thing about new jobs…

28 Jun

They take over your life!

I’ve essentially moved into the Inn at Keystone…ala “Eloise“, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for short stories about the magic of Peru. Having said that, that last few episodes of “the peruvian chronicles” are in the works, but in the meantime here’s a snapshot of the last few weeks. Come visit, I happen to know the manager at a cute little mountain hotel :).

In training for the USA Pro Challenge

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Frisco BBQ Challenge

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Hummingbird visitor off the deck

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Good morning from the Inn at Keystone

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Hike up to the 7:30 Mine in Silver Plume, CO

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Abbey Road and Gucci pup

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Summer storm over Lake Dillon, Dillon, CO

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Tommy moved next door! 

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Ska Brewing Company, Vinifera Stout 

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Drinks with the girls at The Warming Hut

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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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