Friday, July 29, 2011

The Inca Trail in Pictures

Friday, July 29, 2011




Related Posts:
Surviving the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Best Experiences in Peru

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Surviving the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

As many as 3,500 people visit Machu Picchu every day but only 200 reach it on foot. Almost all travel by train, and I am proud to say that I am one of the foolish few who chose to walk through the Andes for four days to get to the Lost City of the Incas. It’s been exactly a month since we first walked on the legendary Inca Trail, or the Camino del Inca, the footpath that leads to the gates of Machu Picchu, yet until now I cannot believe that I, an inexperienced hiker, made it. Surviving the trek seemed impossible until we finally did.


High altitude passes, steep stairs and sore knees

The trek involves long ascents along precipitous hand hewn stone paths and stairs that strained the lungs and made me gasp for air and arduous knee-jamming and toe-jamming descents that felt like an eternal downward spiral into agony. I had to focus on where to put my feet in order to maintain my balance and not fall off the cliff in those sections that hug the mountainside. The high altitude, which made breathing even more difficult, didn’t help either. There were moments when, desperate for more air and my legs already beyond exhaustion, I felt that each step was the last that I could take or the most that I could do. Yet I trudged on.

descent from Sayacmarca (Day 3)
I was so determined not to falter that it appeared believable: The other hikers in our tour group mistook me for a college student hardcore trekker. People would definitely see me as what I really am—33, wimpy and inexperienced--if not for the months of rigorous training and days of acclimatization that I went through. All through those months of preparation, I had this in mind:

"Make no mistake, the Inca Trail is a fairly difficult trek and you should be well prepared and healthy prior to starting it. You have to be fit and take regular exercise. Try walking 15 km in a day or go to the gym in the months leading up to the trek. It is also important to be well acclimatized to the altitude." (Peru Treks FAQ)


our tour group
Comfort amid discomfort

The toilets, as I expected, were indescribably nasty. All camping sites have toilet facilities with running water, but some trekkers probably do not have enough respect for their fellow trekkers to keep the facilities clean. Those who can’t put up with such unpleasantness do their thing hidden in the bushes, away from the stench and excrement.

Temperatures varied from 21°C (70°F) during daytime when the sun is out to 1°C (34°F) come night time till the early hours of the morning. And because of this variation in temperature, we had to dress in layers – layers that, when taken off, added more weight to our daypacks.

The Inca Trail gets its most number of visitors from June to August because these months coincide with Peru’s dry season. Sunny skies with chilly yet clear nights were expected during our trek, but it rained on the night of the third day and the morning of the fourth. On the last day, we woke at dawn to a heavy downpour and after a hurried breakfast put on our ponchos and headlamps and started hiking down to Machu Picchu. Walking for hours in the rain, in the dark and within inches from falling off the mountainside was scary, annoying and uncomfortable – all at the same time. Yet the fright, annoyance and discomfort disappeared when we got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu enveloped in mist.


Amid all the discomfort is the unexpected luxury of waking up every day to steaming coffee and coca tea served in our tents. Every meal was thoughtfully prepared by the trek team. It is amazing how the crew came up with such delicious three-course meals with their equipment and mobile kitchen tent assembled on-site. How they managed to set up our tents and prepare everything before we arrive in camp is an amazing example of efficiency, organization and excellent service.

A world of beauty

The Inca Trail is part of the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary, a 325 sq km national park designated as a UNESCO World Heritage natural and cultural site. It traverses high passes, rushing rivers, tunnels carved into rocks and cloud forests inhabited by rare orchids, ferns, hanging mosses and different bird species. Against this dramatic landscape are several Inca ruins that showed the architectural sophistication of the Incas and their utmost regard for nature.

The dazzling mountain scenery was simply breathtaking. I gazed and stared, stupefied by the world of beauty around me. The Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu gave me the greatest wealth of experience any individual could ever know in such a short time.



(Click here for more pictures of the Inca Trail.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lonely People

Monday, July 25, 2011


Lonely people have enthusiasms which cannot always be explained. When something strikes them as funny, the intensity and length of their laughter mirrors the depth of their loneliness, and they are capable of laughing like hyenas. When something touches their emotions, it runs through them like Paul Revere, awakening feelings that gather into great armies.


~ Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale, 1983

Friday, July 22, 2011

Looking for answers that do not exist and cannot be found

Friday, July 22, 2011

I watch the news and see images of people desperate and starving in a country dying on its feet.  It made me realize that I don't have enough reason to complain about my life.  Horrors as unspeakable as the current famine in Somalia are what makes me question divine will and justice.  I am still looking for answers that simply do not exist and cannot be found.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Kayumanggi

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Despite lavish applications of sunblock, having been overly exposed to the sun during my past trips gave my skin such a deep tan that I can’t even recognize myself in the mirror. I am not complaining though. I love my new skin color – kayumanggi and very Filipina. Whitening products are surely not for me. If not for the harsh effects of too much sun exposure I’d stay under the sun just to keep this tan.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Evading Boredom

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Somewhere I have read that boredom is the torment of hell that Dante forgot.
– Albert Speer, Spandau: The Secret Diaries, 1976

Ready to embrace boredom throughout the 35 hours and 20 minutes travel time from Manila to Lima, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I never felt bored at all. Thanks to KLM’s remarkable on-board meals and entertainment, I hardly noticed the hours passing by, my eyes fixed on the monitor in front of me while relishing the unexpected tastiness and abundance of food that the flight attendants served. Watching one movie after another--ten in all—-whose subjects varied from exorcism, vengeance and witches to speech difficulties, deteriorating marriages, stolen identity and love’s tenacity distracted me from the discomfort of remaining in a cramped space permeated with dry cabin air. And what’s even more surprising, the long flight inured me to turbulence. Flooding, I found out, is effective in overcoming fear after all. In between meals and movies, I closed my eyes and let the joy of anticipation prevail over the constraints of boredom and impatience.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

the present scene

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Since happiness is most often met by those who have learned to live in every moment of the present, none has such prodigal opportunities as the traveler… So long as he loses consciousness of self and is aware in all his senses of the present scene, almost any part of the world is as good as another. Mountain or desert, it is all one.” (Thomas George Longstaff, This My Voyage, 1950)

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Monument to Lovers

Monday, July 18, 2011


I was awed at the sight of El Beso, the huge sculpture of a couple kissing passionately in Parque del Amor, one of the many parks overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Lima’s Miraflores District. Sculpted by Victor Delfin and opened to the public in 1993 on Valentine’s Day, El Beso has since become a tribute to lovers and a celebration of love’s grand passion. Written at the base of the sculpture is poet Antonio Cilloniz’s line wailing over South American cities that, forgetting about love, erect only shrines dedicated to battles fought and won:

"In the cities, they do not build monuments to lovers."

Gazing with wonder at the couple in sensual embrace, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the impossibility of building the same sculpture in the Philippines. It would certainly offend the sensibilities of most of the country’s arbiters of taste and values. With the prevalence of medievalism and narrowness of thought in the Philippines, it is a sad, horrible truth that a monument to love could be construed as a symbol of moral deterioration.


Related Posts:

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Splendid Isolation of The Green House

Friday, July 15, 2011

Named after the Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa’s celebrated novel La Casa Verde, The Green House offered us a restorative sojourn. Located in the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley, this bed-and-breakfast became our sanctuary from noise and disquiet, a place where the din of hooting horns, screaming brakes and prattling tourists is refreshingly absent and the modest sound of the stream behind our room blended with the place’s tranquil silence.




Its splendid isolation, away from life’s daily disruptions and distractions, rewarded us with the rare chance to be together - to go on quiet walks, discover the depths and delights of the community, picnic on freshly baked bread and fruits in the middle of harvested corn fields and drink in the magnificence of the Andes.



Our mornings were spent in the garden, drinking coca tea, adjusting to the headiness of the air and waiting for the sun’s brilliance to shine through the chill and the gray. In each of those mornings I felt time dissolve and disturbances fade.


Related Posts:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Capacity for Outrage

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I wonder why our capacity for outrage is squandered for billboards baring bulging crotches instead of the prevailing selfishness and rapacity of those in power that no amount of casuistry or blushing prudishness can disguise. We have learned to ignore the blatantly unjust but are scandalized by pictures of men in their underwear.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Returning to Humdrum

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

After a three-week hiatus from routine and repetition, I find it hard to return to the humdrum of my life. The majestic Andes mountains are replaced by rows and rows of buildings that appear lifeless despite their occupancy; the strange words in Quechua and Spanish that I strained to understand I no longer hear, all replaced by familiar phrases that I understand but don’t want to hear; the food that I eat tastes bland – spiced up but with all the flavor gone; that one person I want to be with is again beyond my reach; I left those desolate Incan ruins only to return to the solitude and desolation that is my life.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Every Evening

Monday, July 11, 2011

"My idea of absolute happiness is to sit in a hot garden all day, reading, or writing, utterly safe in the knowledge that the person I love will come home to me in the evening. Every evening.'

'You are a romantic, Edith,' repeated Mr Neville, with a smile.

'It is you who are wrong,' she replied. 'I have been listening to that particular accusation for most of my life. I am not a romantic. I am a domestic animal. I do not sigh and yearn for extravagant displays of passion, for the grand affair, the world well lost for love. I know all that, and know that it leaves you lonely. No, what I crave is the simplicity of routine. An evening walk, arm in arm, in fine weather. A game of cards. Time for idle talk. Preparing a meal together."

~ Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac, 1984

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Best Experiences in Peru

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Life affords us very few opportunities to escape the tedium of the everyday and really feel alive. I am thankful for having been given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to:


1. Climb up to the Dead Woman’s Pass and go down the Gringo Killer along the Inca Trail



3. Retreat into the splendid isolation of The Green House in Huaran


4. Walk for two hours at dawn in the rain to catch my first glimpse of Machu Picchu bathed in the mist


5. Eat alongside locals in a market in Urumbamba

 


7. Enjoy a huge glass of chicha de jora in Pisac


8. Jog along the Costa Verde in Miraflores


9. Savor delightful three-course gourmet meals in dining tents set up on camping sites along the trail

10. Explore Cuzco on foot


I’m going to write more about some of these experiences in the succeeding posts.

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Our Crazy Ride to Arequipa

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Our bodies exhausted from a four-day trek in the Andes, we intended to spend most of the 10-hour bus ride from Cuzco to the city of Arequipa in slumber. And we did just that until an hour and a half away from our destination when we were jolted awake by the violent impact of another vehicle hitting our bus’ rear end. From our front seats on the second level of the bus we saw metal parts fly. I clutched at D’s hand and felt safe despite the chaos and confusion that surrounded us. This is turning out to be one hell of an adventure, he said with a grin.

    I heard the angry and frustrated voices of the passengers, but my limited Spanish prevented me from understanding what’s going on. D, who is better equipped  in the language, learned that it will take another four hours for the replacement bus to arrive. That gave us two choices: we could wait for the replacement bus or leave our luggage in the bus and hitch a ride with another vehicle. We opted for the latter.

    It was already getting dark then and we were in the middle of nowhere. The chances of us getting a ride were slim: hardly any vehicles were passing by and the few buses that passed by were all filled to the brim. After 20 minutes or so a huge construction truck stopped before us. The other passengers started climbing onto the back of the truck. The first ones that got in pulled the others up, while those that were still on the ground pushed the others up. It all felt like a Second World War refugee movie. When it was my turn to be lifted to the truck, I banged my knee and got a bloody gash on my leg.

    The back of the truck had wooden walls and no roof. It was freezing cold and my fingers were numb despite the gloves I was wearing. As the truck started moving we got bounced up and down and jostled left to right. I tried to hold on to the top edge of the truck’s wall but couldn’t reach it so I held on to D, instead. It was pitch dark and I could hardly see anything, but I felt D’s arm around me. As long as we’re together, I can stand this crazy nightmare, I thought to myself. Then D asked the person beside him how far we were to the city. The man said 89 kilometers more. Oh no, I thought. Throughout the ride, we couldn’t stop laughing at the craziness of it all.

    It was when we arrived at the hotel when I realized how horrible and ridiculous that truck ride was. The hotel guard took our bag and started dusting it off. I had to stop myself from laughing out loud at the shock and horror on his face. We were covered head to foot with dust and dirt, and the guard looked as if he wanted to turn us out, dust us off like our bag or both.

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    up to you, Machu Picchu

    Monday, July 4, 2011


    Then on the ladder of the earth I climbed
    through the lost jungle’s tortured thicket
    up to you, Macchu Picchu.
    High city of laddered stones,
    at last the dwelling of what earth
    never covered in vestments of sleep.
    In you like two lines parallel,
    the cradles of lightning and man
    rocked in a wind of thorns.

    from Pablo Neruda's Heights of Machu Picchu
     
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