A Martini Explorer of Machu Picchu – Part II

IMG_9252"Peru's borders contain some of the world's most varied topography and climate....there are 20,000 ft. peaks, the world's deepest canyon, unmapped Amazon jungle and the driest desert on earth. Peru is an equatorial country that depends on glaciers for drinking water. It's one of the world's hot spots for seismic and volcanic activity....Scientists have calculated that there are 34 types of climatic zones on the face of the earth and Peru has 20 of them." from Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams. If that's not a reason to visit Peru, then I don't know what is.
Drinking some coca leaf tea.
When you first arrive to Cusco, before you embark on your trek to Machu Picchu, you may feel a bit of altitude sickness. Most people do, and the ancient Peruvian remedy is to drink some coca leaf tea. Not cocoa, as in chocolate, but coca as in the same leaves that can be turned into cocaine! Fear not, the stuff really does work and you won't get high from throwing a few leaves in hot water, and drinking it. Along the trek, you may even want to have your own stash of the leaves, as chewing it is said to also help with fatigue.
Andean Treks porters
Andean Treks' porters who carried 22 lb. (10 k) backpacks.
As a former Outward Bound instructor, Bridget is an experienced hiker, camper, and outdoor enthusiast. I also have some experience hiking and camping. Therefore, we both assumed that we would be responsible for helping with food preparation, and setting up and breaking down camp.  This is where the martini explorer part comes into play.  As I mentioned in my previous post (A Martini Explorer of Machu Picchu-Part I), a "martini explorer" is a person who thinks they're tough but expects a certain level of comfort. We were surprised, and initially a bit dumbfounded, as to the need for 15 porters. It was embarrassing enough that they were going to carry all of our belongings, and we would only carry our day pack, but they also literally ran ahead of us in order to put up our tents. Additionally, they gave us hot water so that we could wash our faces every morning and night and woke us up with a choice of a hot beverage in the morning.  And the cook, yes, the cook, made the most amazing meals. By the end of our trip, we definitely enjoyed this kind of camping, or "glamping" as our guide called it.  Glamour + camping = "glamping". We actually expected to rough it a bit more, so perhaps we really aren't martini explorers, but we sure enjoyed what we were given.
Vladimir, our guide.
IMG_9157           Day 1:   We began our first day by taking a 3-hour bus ride to the trail head. In the subtropical ecosystem, we saw beautiful wild orchards and cactus. We bumped into farmers with llamas and donkeys, and saw Incan ruins with working aqua ducts, and semi-circular temples.  With mountain peaks as our backdrop, we took a break under an avocado tree, and soaked our sore feet in an icy stream. We hiked about 6 miles the first day with an elevation gain of 500 meters.  Our lively and extremely knowledgeable guide, Vladimir, would have us stop several times before and after lunch to teach us about the history of the Incas, or tell us about previous treks. He leads three of these trips a month, as well as teaches at the local college. DSCN0419 Dinner our first night consisted of a clear soup with cilantro, oregano & noodles, followed by fried trout and rice. For desert, the cook made bananas flambe with a drizzling of delicious chocolate. Not too bad for camp food! Day 2:  Our second day was our toughest but the views were breathtaking.  The trail was steep and the air thin, so each of us hiked at our own pace. My hiking poles were a godsend. Our goal was to reach Dead Woman's Pass,  peak elevation  13, 891 ft., before the rain moved in and at least three of us from our group were able to enjoy the view before we needed to pull out our rain gear. I got a kiss from the delightful fellow below after I shared some of my coca candy with him. Notice his flip flops.  No expensive boots from REI needed for him. More on the trek finale in my next post, Machu Picchu - Part III. Dead Woman's Pass IMG_9099

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