10/01/13 - 10/05/13 ; 10/11/13 - 10/15/13 ; 10/21/13 - 10/25/13: Cusco, Peru
While in Peru, we spent many scattered days in Cusco: just prior to our Salkantay trek, before we left for Sacred Valley, and our final days leading up to departure. It's one of the most fascinating cities I've ever visited; culture and commerce immersed together in a landscape steeped in history. While walking around the center of Cusco, both Katie and I observed that it seems to be a city that thrives on tourism. You can't take five steps without seeing a storefront offering trips to Machu Picchu, tours of Sacred Valley, or a flight to the Peruvian Amazon. Restaurants, retail shops, spas and massage clinics - all of them depend on foreigners pouring in each and every day. Standing alongside the modern tourism trade are ancient stone walls and limestone churches. Cathedrals grace nearly every street corner and the roads date back to the time of the Incas. Cusco was the heart of the Inca empire and you see signs of their existence wherever you walk.
10/16/13 - 10/20/17: Urubamba, Peru
Recovery from the Salkantay trek was slow. Progress was stunted by an unfortunate incident where, on a rare excursion outside just two days after returning to Cusco, I tripped on the sidewalk and fell full force onto my knees. Yes, my aching, creaking knees hammered on stone like two bent nails. The pain was excruciating and I found myself on the ground screaming “Why, God? Why??!!” OK, that last part didn’t happen, but it could’ve happened if I didn’t have self respect. This little mishap forced me to hit the reboot button on the healing process. But you know what they say, the trip must go on…
10/10/13: Machu Picchu, Peru
I was broken when we reached Aguas Calientes. My knees revolted as I limped my way up the long stretch of road that led to our hostel, Kernos. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was taking a step every second; that’s how slow I was moving. That may sound fast in theory, but try it out. Stand up, look at a clock, and take a step for every second that ticks by and see if you don’t feel like a zombie would beat you in a foot race.
Katie was sore, as well, from the day’s exertions, so we hobbled up the hill together looking forward to a hot shower and warm bed. I knew that Machu Picchu peered down at us from above, invisible to our eyes but watching all the same. Tomorrow we’d finally achieve our goal and step through its gate for the first time. I feel ashamed to admit this, but the Salkantay Trek had taken such a toll, emotionally and physically, that I was nearly past the point of caring. All I wanted to do was collapse but stubbornness wasn’t about to let that happen. We’d come too far to give up now. There was no way in the world we weren’t going to see Machu Picchu, I just hoped it lived up to the hype and was worthy of our pain and suffering…
I’ll just cut to the chase: It was.
10/06/13 - 10/09/13: Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru
“I feel really awful,” Katie confessed to me just before we started hiking. It was our second day on the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu and Katie was suffering from Montezuma’s Revenge, or should I say Pachacutec’s Revenge? (We were in Peru, after all.) That was the bad news. The even worse news was that we were at 12,795 feet and about to climb to over 15,000 feet. What was it they tell you when counteracting altitude sickness? Oh yeah, stay hydrated. Uh-oh…
09/11/13 - 09/12/13; 09/17/13 - 09/18/13: Quito, Ecuador
We were nervous about going to Quito. It was our first destination on our RTW trip and we’d read horror story after horror story about how we were going to get conned or robbed. One traveler even wrote: “In Quito it is PROBABLE that you WILL be robbed within your first three days.” (Capitalizations supplied by the author). Add in a few tales of false taxis that deliver you to armed muggers, and the warning bells start going off in your head.
Why are we traveling here? Why is this our first destination? What have we gotten ourselves into?!
9/23/13 - 9/27/13: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
When you’re suffering from a cold and you wake up at 2:30 in the morning to catch a 3:00AM van ride that takes you across rough jagged stones for over an hour, then spend another hour on paved roads, only to spend two hours waiting at an airport before spending several hours flying, landing, and flying again, then add another hour moving like cattle with 80 other people onto a bus so that you can ride a dinghy across rough seas and end up on a small cruise ship that’s slowly rocking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth on an incessant ocean… Well, you don’t feel great. That was how our Galapagos journey began.
09/19/13 - 09/23/13: The Secret Garden: Cotopaxi, Ecuador
You may not know it, but the highest mountain in the world is in Ecuador. Well, it depends on how you look at it…
The Earth isn’t a perfect sphere. It’s slightly oblong, widening ever so slightly along the equator, meaning the equatorial line sits closest to the sun. Mount Chimborazo is Ecuador’s highest mountain, which means it’s the furthest point from the Earth’s core and, consequently, the closest point to the sun. So, no, it isn’t the tallest mountain the world compared to sea level, but it’s still pretty impressive!
09/15/13: Sacha Lodge, Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest
The previous day was unbeatable, as far as I was concerned. What could top dozens of tropical birds, chatting with tamarin monkeys, and discovering hairy tarantulas? Our experiences seemed impossible to improve upon, and our first activity of the day supported my theory.
We woke up early again and hiked back to the Napo River. Once there, we climbed aboard a motorized canoe and traveled downstream to a nearby “clay lick.” This was a favorite spot for parrots. Parrots aren’t picky when it comes to food. They eat any seed or fruit they can find in the jungle, and many of these can carry toxins. That is why they lick the clay. It acts as a neutralizer for the toxins, allowing the parrots to digest everything they eat and not get sick.
09/14/13: Sacha Lodge, Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest
We awoke at 5:00 AM for breakfast at 5:30. Upon waking, Katie and I put on our standard jungle armor: rubber boots, long pants, long sleeve shirts, a hat, and copious amounts of sunblock and bug repellent. Precaution is a healthy person’s best friend!
Once we broke our fast, we hiked to the canopy walkway for some bird watching. This walkway was one of the main reasons we chose Sacha Lodge. Apparently there aren’t that many in existence in the rainforest, but the animal watching benefits are considerable. When you stand above the tree line you’re eye-level with exotic birds that you’d never see from the forest floor. The walkway was 130+ feet above the ground. It was comprised of three towers with two bridges connecting them.
09/13/13: Sacha Lodge, Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest
Zipping down the Napo River in a large motorized canoe, we had little idea what was in store for us, but already knew it would be an adventure. One year prior, when we’d decided to go on a round-the-world trip, we chose Ecuador as our first destination and immediately knew we had to visit the Amazon Rainforest. It’s one of those mythical places you see in pictures, or replicated in films, but never think you’ll actually visit. Knowing that our first stop would be in a country where we didn’t speak the language, we decided to do a tourist-friendly trip to the Amazon in order to ease our transition. It worked like a charm.