Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Machu Picchu and Huaraz, Peru

We are in Huaraz, Peru (10,500 ft). We arrived yesterday after a flight from Juliaca, near Lake Titicaca, and a long drive from Lima. Huaraz sits in a valley between the foothills of the Cordillera Negra and the towering peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. Many of the mountains in the Cordillera Blanca are over 6,000 meters high.

Today, we did a short dayhike in the Cordillera Negra up to Lake Walcicocha and a great view of the Cordillera Blanca. We were dropped off with our guide along the highway near a bridge across the Rio Santa. We crossed the bridge and initially followed a dirt road up the mountain. The road, and later the footpath, was lined with agave and other cacti, eucalyptus trees (invasive), and flowering shrubs. Our guide helpfully told me the Quechua names for them. Since I didn't write them down, naturally I have forgotten them.

The climb only took 1 1/2 hours to the lake. We took a break and took some pictures (which I will add later). The lake was filled with ducks and ibises. Nearby, sheep were grazing. After a short while, we continued on to a second, smaller lake where rust-colored ducks with blue bills were swimming. Below us, sheep and cattle were grazing and two Quechua women were spinning wool into yarn. We also passed several adobe farmhouses along the way. The hike down took about 40 minutes and put us back on the road closer to Huaraz.

On Friday last week, we visited Machu Picchu. We got up at 4 a.m. to hike up from the village of Aguas Calientes, hoping to get a 10 a.m. ticket to hike Huayna Picchu. They only allow 400 people to hike it a day, 200 at seven in the morning and another 200 at ten. We left Aguas Calientes at five and it only took us an hour to get to the gate at Machu Picchu, but there was a huge line by the time we arrived and the 10 a.m. tickets were already gone. Since we had a tour at 7:45, we couldn't take the earlier tickets. We were a little dissappointed, but figured we could find something else to hike there.

Our tour was really good and the site itself is amazing, if crowded. Our guide said there were about 3,000 people there, but during July and August, there can be as many as 6,000 visitors in one day. Next year they are going to start limiting visitation to 2,500 per day. The tour gave us a great overview of the ruins.

On our guide's recommendation, after lunch we hiked up Cerro Machu Picchu. It is considerably higher than Huayna Picchu and few people hike it. It is also a little bit longer hike. The trail is crazy steep in places, especially near the top. There were stone staircases where I could reach out and touch the steps in front of me without bending at all. On the way up, we saw at least five kinds of orchids and only a few other people. At the top, we had an incredible 360 degree view of the area. There were afew other people at the summit, but not many. On our way down, we passed some people hiking barefoot to, "better be in touch with the Pachamama (mother earth). Whatever works, but I wonder why getting in touch with mother earth requires bleeding feet.

All in all, I don't think we missed anything by hiking Cerro Machu Picchu and I think it was probably more pleasant for the lack of crowds. Machu Picchu is every bit as spectacular as the pictures and books lead you to believe.

Tomorrow, we are headed out on a nine day hike on the Cedro Alpamayo.

I wrote this post on my Ipod with a wireless connection, apologies for any spelling and grammatical errors.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Altitude - Cuzco, Peru

We arrived in Cuzco, Peru on Monday.  Cuzco is at nearly 11,000 feet.  We came straight from the coast.  As soon as we got here and had to walk up the steps to the hotel, we could feel it.  The short walk up from the main street left us slightly dizzy and out of breath.  We took a city tour that afternoon that took us into the hills above Cuzco to see some of the Inca sites.  These were at close to 12,000 feet.  The headache that comes with suddenly going to a higher altitude soon set in.  At one of the sites, Sasqauyhuaman, there is a great overlook over the city.  The site itself is impressive - massive Inca-built walls.  The base stones larger than buses and perfectly joined together with no mortar.  The site was also where a famous battle took place between the Spaniards and the Inca, resulting in one of the top Inca generals throwing himself off the cliff rather than be captured and the Inca emprorer fleeing to safety in the jungle. 

Anyway, we had to walk up the small hill to the overlook.  I was cruising along at a fairly normal pace.  Near the top, I stopped to take a picture since I was out of breath and all of a sudden, I was really dizzy.  I sat down so I wouldn´t fall down.  That helped a lot and pretty soon my heart rate dropped and I felt better.  I was able to continue to the top of the hill.  The walk down wasn´t a problem.  We stopped at another site that was slightly higher and it took me a long time to walk to the top of that hill.  This time, though, I took it slow, so I wouldn´t get dizzy again.

Today, Wednesday, I finally woke up with a clear head and the hills, of which there are a number in Cuzco, are starting to seem reasonable again.  I still get a little winded, but I no longer have to stop halfway up to catch my breath.  It amazes me that people will fly in to Cuzco from Lima and set off on the Inca Trail the next morning.  It seems like a miserable way to do the trek.

The other thing about the altitude is that it is cold here, especially at night.  After three in the afternoon, the temperature drops fast.  Our hotel, like many here doesn´t really have heat.  Its stone walls are three feet thick, so it also doesn´t really warm up a lot.  They provide plenty of blankets, we haven´t been uncomfortable, but getting up in the morning can be chilly.  The courtyard area also has a glass roof, so that area warms up during the day. 

Today is our last day in Cuzco.  We were not supposed to be here this long, but there has been a 48 hour public transportation strike, so it hasn´t been possible to continue to Machu Picchu yet.  Fortunately, we had some cushion in our itinerary, so it wasn´t a big deal to rearrange things.  We are headed to Machu Picchu tomorrow.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lima, Peru

Just a quick update:  SSW Spouse and I arrived in Lima, Peru after midnight last night.  Today, we strolled around Miraflores, where we are staying and then took a city tour.  The city tour was really interesting, in spite of the fact that it involved a tour bus and about 25 other people.  The most interesting part of the tour was the Franciscan Monastery that we were able to tour, along with its catacombs, that was built in the early 1600s.  The associated cathedral was quite spectacular, too.

We were also lucky enough to stumble into the annual flower festival at a park near our hotel.  The park was filled with an impressive array of live and cut flower vendors. 

Tomorrow, we are headed to Cuzco.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Two Weeks, 275 Miles (Or Another Century Ride in Delaware)

SSW Spouse was disappointed that he did not get to ride in the Shorefire Century two weeks ago, so we signed up for the Amish Country Bike Tour, a century ride out of Dover, Delaware that took place yesterday.  This century promised homemade pie at one of the rest stops and barbecue at the end, so how bad could it be?

We arrived in Dover around 7:30 and picked up our registration packets, which came with about 16 pounds of fliers, all of which wound up in the recycling.  It also came with some energy bars, sunscreen, lip balm, and wet wipes.  At least those things are useful.  The thing it did not contain was a cue sheet.  A cue sheet, for those who are not familiar with cycling, is a turn-by-turn list of roads with the distance to be ridden on each one.  It is basically like the directions that Google Maps or other mapping services provide for driving.  They did include a map of the route, but no distances were marked on it.  The lack of cue sheet meant that we had no idea how far it was between rest stops.  They did mark the pavement at turns, so we wouldn't get lost. 

We started at 8:15 with the mass start.  The Dover Police stationed personnel to block major intersections until we were out of town, which was really nice.  The 23 miles to the first rest stop flew by.  The weather was perfect:  bright and sunny and in the low 70s.  The day started with a mild wind, which would pick up as the day went on.  We arrived at the second rest stop at 42 miles to find Amish women serving pie!  We took off from there, trading off riding in front so the person in back would get a little bit of a break from the wind.  After pulling for several miles, I dropped off to the side to let SSW Spouse take over and realized that we had picked up about five people who were drafting us.  A little while later, they all turned off on the metric century route and we continued south on the full century route.

The rest stops had been quite crowded up to this point.  When we pulled into the third one, there were only about ten cyclists there.  Apparently, most people were doing the metric and shorter rides.  From there, we continued south to another rest stop, just six miles away, and then turned north for what turned out to be the worst leg of the trip.  That 17 miles was the hardest part of the ride for me.  It seemed like, not matter which direction we rode, it was always into the wind.  At this point, we were also riding alone, since the few century riders were very spread out.  We finally arrived at the last rest stop (the same one as the third stop) after what seemed like forever.

With 13 miles to go, we were both tired, but had the motivation of barbecue and being done.  We found some energy and actually rode pretty well on the last leg.  It was a pretty good feeling to see the Delaware Capital building and the finish line.  I finished 45 minutes faster than I did on the Shorefire Century two weeks ago.  I also felt much better at the end of the ride than I did at the end of the Shorefire.  At the beginning of the ride, I was a little concerned about the lack of cue sheet.  I always like to know how much further I have to ride until I get to a stop.  It turned out that it didn't bother me too much.  Overall, it was a really good ride.

When I got home last night, I realized that, over the last two weeks, I have done two century rides, a 40 mile training ride, and ridden to work and back twice (7.5 miles each way) for a total of 275 miles in the last two weeks.

No pictures today.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Old Rag Mountain Stewards - The Beginning of Fall Season

Yesterday was the first day of fall season for Old Rag Mountain Stewards (ORMS).  We got lucky and the weather turned out perfect.  The high was in the 70s and, with the exception of the summit wall, it was only moderately windy.  I am sure we will have some 90 degree days again this year, but yesterday was a really nice break from that.  We arrived in the lower parking lot at 9:30 and found it already two-thirds full.  A friend of ours happened to show up to hike the mountain with two of his buddies, so we spent a few minutes chatting with him before they left for their hike.

By the time we started up the Ridge Trail, it was mostly full.  We passed a number of moderately large groups and one very large church group.  The hike up to the first false summit went quickly.  We paused there for lunch and one of the local farm dogs, an adorable hound mix, tried to convince us to part with some of our food.  In spite of his best begging, he did not look that hungry.

The summit was very crowded when we got there.  We found a shady spot and took a break. Ravens and vultures soared above the summit on the thermals.  After a while, the church group, which was all men, assembled and began singing hymns.  They were actually pretty good.  One of the things I like about volunteering on Old Rag is seeing all of the different people who hike the mountain.  Every time we volunteer, we see people for whom this might be their first hike in the woods, people who were not prepared for how hard it would be, and people who didn't think they could do it, but found out they could.  It is pretty cool to see their eyes light up when they see the summit sign.  

All in all, it was a good start to the fall season.  It was a beautiful day.  The only assistance we had to provide was handing out a couple of bandaids.  There was just one disappointment:  We were dismayed to find that someone had dug up nearly all of the individual plants of a fairly rare species that we had been watching for most of the year.  The holes where the person dug were still visible and it was clear that the plants had not been eaten by an animal, but dug out of the ground.  It is a shame that someone is selfish enough to contribute to the further destruction of an already rare species.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

Looking northeast from the summit. 

Eupatorium rugosum (White Snakeroot).  Composite Family

The S-curve in the trail where I always take a picture.

Red berries on a tree I was not able to identify (suggestions welcome).

Looking southeast from the Saddle Trail.

Lobelia siphilitica (Great Lobelia).  Lobelia Family.  Note the three lobes on the bottom petal, the marker of the Lobelia family.

Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower).  Lobelia Family.