29 October 2012

Day 9 - Will the real Machu Picchu please stand up?

It was no trouble waking people up this morning. After all, we were headed to Machu Picchu - the culmination of this amazing adventure! It started with a death-defying bus ride up once again deep into the Andes. After all, Machu Picchu is the list city of the Incas and as such, it really had to be "found!"

Unlike the rest of our Inspired Adventure, this UNESCO World Heritage site was understandably teeming with people from every corner of the globe! Still, we managed to make our way slowly to the first spot where Machu Picchu can be seen. Our guide Jamie had us close our eyes and holds hands from just behind a tree, leading us slowly out to the platform then pronouncing "open your eyes and together, see the incredible Machu Picchu!"

It was, genuinely and truly, one of the most amazing sites any of this group had ever seen. Perched magnificently at the base of a mountain, the structures move outward in a circular fashion, seemingly propped up by terraced fields carved into the side of the hilltop that cascade deep into the valley below. To think the structures were constructed some 600 years ago is simply inspiring.

After ogling and dodging other tourists for an hour or so, we continued our exploration of the site before climbing to the summit of Waynapicchu (that giant huge tall massive mountain behind the site itself). Steps, steps, and more steps led us 400 metres up to sweeping views across the entire region, a genuine birds-eye view of one of the seven new world wonders. Simply marvellous.

After that three-hour hike we were understandably exhausted and headed back to Aguascalientes for a celebratory drink and lunch before boarding our train then bus back to Cusco, finally reaching our hotel a little after 9pm. My, what a day!

Now it's time for a little shopping, a little eating, and a whole lot of celebrating before our big return to the land down under!

For the very last time, GO TEAM!


One final thanks to LJ (pictured below) for h ridiculous poses throughout the trip. What would we have done without you?!?!


Day 8 - On the cusp of Machu Picchu

"Good morning! Hot water and soap for you! Do you want tea?" This is our final morning being woken at 6am by our amazing guides Jamie and Nilo, who welcome us to the day with an offer of warm beverages and everything we need to wash up. It helps get us out of our sleeping bags despite the cold and the rain.

By 6:45 we are sitting in the dining tent and chowing down on an ensemble of Philadelphia cream cheese, peanut butter, crackers, and, today, pancakes with llamas and happy faces drawn in dulce de leche. To say we are "glam ping" (glamour camping) is a bit more accurate!

Again, we are off on our trek with blue slides above. Today is more of a cool-down following three fairly intense days of summiting numerous passes as we criss crossed Peru's awe-inspiring Lares Valley. Still, the that of rain looms above and by snack time we are packing on the rain gear!

Another hour and we reach Ollantaytambo, the gateway to the gateway to Machu Picchu, so to speak. This is where we will board the train that takes us to the MP and my goodness, we can't wait! After exploring the Incan ruins and having a brilliant history lesson from our head guide Jamie, we devoured yet another fantastic meal and did a little shopping in the local market.

Sadly, we also had to say farewell to our out-of-this-word camping crew, without whom we would not have been able to complete this fantastic journey. From our cook Alex to our driver Isaac, the entire team were helpful, professional, and above all else, quite funny! Each goodbye elicited a "que se quede!! Que se quede!!!" which means "get them to stay! Get them to stay!" Believe me, I think we would if we could!

We are now on our Velodrome luxo train churning closer and closer to our ultimate goal - casting our eyes on a genuine wonder of the world - Machu Picchu! Only one more sleep to go. Hurray!

Go team!

P.S. How creepy is this mask? Thanks Lizzy!



27 October 2012

Day 7 - It's About The People

We awoke today to brilliant sunshine that felt like it was warming you from the inside out! Just like the past few mornings, the local women and children had set up a mini market just outside our tents. Selling everything from gloves and hats to bottled water, they have been our first point of contact in getting to know the people of Peru's ancient highlands.

It has been a fantastic experience sharing smiles (and sweets) with kids, a few passing words in the local Quechua language with the moms and dads, and a laugh here and there with our guides and incredible support team.

If anything, this human element has definitely made the intense trekking just that little bit easier. Today we trekked for eight and a half hours, starting with a major ascent to over 4,500 meters at the peak of the mountain pass. The higher we went, the brilliant sunshine and the heat that came with it slowly became biting winds before turning into, yet again, heavy rain.

For good reason, spirits were high today. We are just two days from Machu Picchu, the crowning achievement of our epic trekking effort. In addition, that "family" feel has started to emerge. As I write, the sounds of laughter a billowing from the mess tent as the team take each other on in a rousing game of UNO.

Today we offered stones to the Inca gods for safe passage to our next top, building a pebble tower at the top of the pass. We referenced what are now countless inside jokes, poking fun at each other in ways that only family and close friends can. Above all else, we gave each other nicknames, perhaps the greatest notion of "mateship" in Australian culture. We have:

Matt - GI Joe/Commando

Abel - Aarki

Nick - Doc, from Back to the Future

Rory - Roro

Nikki - Cafe con Leche

Lizzy - Sultana

L.J. - Barbie

Emma - Moving Forward

Naomi - No Money

Emma - Lovely

Shazza - Mamasita

Geraldine - G Money

Kyle - Kiki

It's dinner time yet again, which means we are two sleeps away from Machu Picchu! Where are we sleeping tonight? Oh, just in the shadows of Incan Ruins. No big deal

Go team!

P.S. Stack of the day goes to Geraldine, who somehow managed to collapse her chair at lunch in slow motion, slowly sliding lower and lower until she was flat on the ground. It almost defied gravity. Well done G-Money!


Days 5 & 6 - The trek begins

A decent amount of acclimatising days behind us, it was time to say goodbye to Cusco and hello to the great outdoors. We were up at 5am and in the van driving away by 6! Our van trundled slowly but surely up and out of the city en route to our starting point some three hours away by car. We chugged back and forth along dramatic switchbacks edging closer and closer to the cusp of the Andes ridge before cruising back down into the next valley. Our Maestro repeated this exercise several more times as our eyes remained glued on the spectacular scenery all around us.

Before long we were on foot, day packs full of supplies, shoe laces tied tight, and waterproof jackets zipped all the way up. It was misty, foggy, and all quite mysterious. Even though we were already at 3600 metres, the mountains all around us reached far further toward the sky. Nikki remarked at how incredibly small you feel when surrounded by such massive nature in every direction!

For the next four hours we walked up and down and along and around, dodging alpacas, hopping over streams, and doing our best to stay dry even as the cold rain and wind intensified. We reached the van absolutely puffed as the last hour was entirely uphill on bouncy, slippery, neon green moss.

From here it was a short drive to camp, where we devoured our lunch and grabbed our swimmers before reboarding the van, cranking up some serious tunes, and cruising deep into the valley once more to the Lares hot springs.

My goodness did we indulge, relaxing our muscles and repairing the day's damage in piping hot natural pools of sulfur-tastic water. It was exhilarating and the perfect way to end our first day.

Sleep came easy, as the entire group was just so darn tired! We woke up feeling incredibly refreshed and after breakfast, had the wonderful opportunity of doing full introductions with our local team. They went first then invited us to share about ourselves. As this is a Latin American country, the bits of information our crew were most interested in included our age and our marital status. This went mostly well save for L.J., who said to them "yo soy sultana." The crew burst into laughter as "yo soy sultana" means "I am a raisin." What she meant to say was "yo soy soltado," which means " I am single."

Today's trek was tough. We ascended to 4400 metres in a matter of hours, following an amazing trail through lamb farms and alpaca fields that opened to incredible vistas. The views were completely unobstructed, stretching as far as the eye could see in every direction. We reached the top of the range just as a massive storm rolled in from the other side of the valley!

The lightning struck and within seconds the thunder roared just as the skies opened, hurtling hail stones down upon us! There was nowhere to hide, which meant we just kept walking back down into the valley. The wind picked up and the hail turned to rain, soaking us right through from head to toe. This massive weather event followed us for most of the afternoon and when it finally cleared to let the sunshine through, it went from cold to hot in a matter of minutes, instantly drying our clothes and thawing us out.

We reached our lunch spot after 5 and a half hours of walking and my goodness did it feel good to sit down! After what was another delectable meal full of witty banter courtesy of LJ, Emma, and Nick (definitely not Nikki, as she is not funny) some of us hopped in the van while a second group continued to trek onward and upward, heading over another range before descending into camp and truly rocking this Inspired Adventure.

It's an early dinner and early to bed for us, as tomorrow is yet another MEGA day!

Go team!


23 October 2012

Day 4: Enter the Incas

Today was our last acclimatisation day and we certainly made the most of it, getting our first glimpse into the mystery and intrigue that is the ancient civilisation of the Incas.

We started a bit further afield, cruising deep into the outskirts of Cusco to visit our first set of ruins. From there, it was a major shopping stop at a market village where the group played "shop til you drop" in their 20-minute allocation of shopping time!

We then stopped for our first picnic lunch, huddling under a bit of plastic tarp attached to a ute as a major storm slowly rolled in. The bolts of lighting off in the distance were quite a site while scarfing down potatoes, chicken, and vegetables. The temperature dropped ten degrees in about 20 minutes! If we learned anything from this experience it is that you must dress for all seasons at every moment. I'm fairly certain you won't see Nikki, Emma 2, or LJ rocking the daisy dukes again!

Our final stop of the day was at one of the Inca's most important sites. Pronounced "Sexy Woman" (no, seriously) this vast archaeological site has unearthed some of the Incas most impressive architectural wonders. Nestled between several hilltops and sitting high above Cusco city, the Incas made brilliant use of the natural rockscapes to carve out a massive "yard" used for countless festivals and ceremonies beginning in 1430 AD.

The site also made for a brilliant backdrop, as we took several team photos and one quite inspired image of Emma 1 rocking the Black Dog sweatshirt!

It's early to bed for this team, as we depart at 6am for our trek tomorrow. It's full steam ahead!

Expect more updates if and when wifi or 3G service is available.

Go team!!!


22 October 2012

Day 3: the kids are alright

It was a rather rough night for this team, with the sounds of dogs barking and train horns roaring through the city adding a bit of "atmosphere" to our otherwise quiet-as-mouse surroundings. While the juice and cocoa tea helped us get going, the energy, enthusiasm, and kindness of all 91 young ladies at Chichuchas Wasi School certainly got us moving and feeling so grateful for everything in our lives.

The Chichuchas Wasi School was started 26 years ago by a Cusco woman who saw a trend in her local community. Women were tying with their husbands despite domestic violence, cheating, and the like because they were illiterate, uneducated, and completely lacked self worth. She decided to break the cycle, starting with a generation of young girls who, from an early age, would not fall prey to the same fate. My goodness, is it working, what we saw were 91 put together, well-mannered, intelligent, dreaming young ladies who had nothing but positivity towards themselves, their fellow classmates, and their future.

We were able to stop en route to pick up some much-needed energy-inducing fun makers like bouncy balls, princess crowns, bags upon bags of candy, and a piñata, which would turn out to be both wildly exciting and slightly destructive. This on top of the unbelievable amount of school supplies that were purchased through the group's trip donation!

It all started with a few songs, lots of thank yous, and a death-defying flip from Abel (which inspired less-then-safe copycatting with hats and shoes and cardigans flying every which way)! That led into a vigorous serious of the English-speaking world's greatest children's sing-alongs, including the hokie pokie and my personal favourite, head shoulders knees and toes. Side note: we would never have been able to make it through the day without the brilliant language skills of Geraldine (G-Money), Lizzy, and Emma 1. They were on fire! Sharon rocked the duck duck goose as well!

Then it was time for lunch, where we formed a mind-bogglingly efficient assembly line to construct and deliver 91 sandwiches alongside 91 cups of Inca Cola as well as chips, cookies, chocolates, crisps, and oranges just so it didn't appear as if everything provided was aimed at inducing a full-on post lunch kid mania. It didn't work, and it all started with L.J., who managed to fumble a bottle of Inca Cola, shooting a fountain of the sticky fluoro-yellow liquid straight into the air amid raucous applause from the kids. There was so much food, some of the more innovative kids turned their hats into to-go bags, pledging to share their bounty with the family!

From there we headed back to the playing field, starting our elimination rounds to determine which team would be whacking the life out of the Disney Princesses piñata (the only one available).

Suffice to say, it was absolute pandemonium. Twice as many kids wanted to be on the yellow team and the blue team (thanks in large part to their excitable leader Emma 1 and traitor co-leader Rory) just kept doing doughnuts chanting their team name! Meanwhile, team red (led by Geraldine, Abel, and Kyle) could not have been more poised, professional, and elegant.

It didn't take long for the entire thing to derail, what with all the sugar and emotions running high. In the end Matt ripped the piñata to shreds, showering the kids in gummies, lollies, and everything inbetween. Then L.J. chimed in, projectile launching additional bags of sweets directly at the children. It was absolute pandemonium. Legs were flying in the air, eyes were watering, and there was candy carnage everywhere!

Completely and utterly exhausted, we said our farewells, dodged the rain drops, and made our way back into the city to rest and continue the acclimatisation process. Headaches are subsiding though there's still a bit of dizziness about! A low key evening has led to early to bed for not of the group, as we are doing a short "getting to know Cusco" trek tomorrow to break in of our gear. More on that soon!

Go team!!!