July 8, 2008

Machu Picchu Trip

Note: Even though it is a bit off topic, I have written this post as an easy way to easily share my trip video, pictures, and information with many people by simply giving them a URL. Also, since it was truly a fantastic experience, I also want to capture as many details and suggestions for any people interested in doing this in the future.

Well, the idea for this whole trip started well over a year ago after Smitty and Ben (my father-in-law and brother-in-law) went to Arches National Park and decided to go "bigger and better" the follow year. I don't know at which point I got invited, but I know I didn't hesitate to accept. Machu Picchu has been a place that I have been interested in since I first saw it as one of the default options for Windows wallpapers, and have been mildly obsessed ever since.

I took my new digital camcorder on the trip: Pure Digital Flip Video Ultra Series Camcorder (60-Min, Black). I considered writing a review post about the camera, but it didn't feel right, so I figured that I would lump that in with this post. If you want to know more about the camera you can see this Scott Hanselman blog post and see the videos below to make your own judgment.

Anyway, I took the camcorder and kept sort of a mini "vlog" of my trip for my wife since she didn't come with us. Once I got back and watched the videos with her, I figured that it would be nice to share with everyone along with as many details about the trip if anyone would be interested in taking the trip as well.

So without further ado, here is an overview of our ten day trip to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to see Machu Picchu. If you are interested to see my whole web photo album, go here.

Day 1 - Travel to Peru (Lima) (video)
First day was nothing but a travel day for us. We left around 5:30am and didn't arrive in Lima until almost midnight. The video linked above was filmed in our hotel that we stayed in that night before we could catch a plane to Cusco.

Day 2 - Travel to Cusco, Relax
We arrived to Cusco after a late morning flight from Lima. We had nothing planned other than to relax after the traveling. We did a bit of wondering around the city to find dinner. We left the hotel and only had to walk a few blocks to get to the city square which was actually quite taxing given that Cusco is approximately 11,000 ft above sea level. Here is the video that I recorded for my second day.

Day 3 - City Tour of Cusco
Before our city tour of Cusco in the afternoon, we headed to the city square and caught one of the many parades that were going on for the celebration of the winter solstice. I caught a little video (surprise) of the parade and tried to do a 360 of the square before we went on the tour.

The afternoon city tour took us to Coricancha, the cathedral in the city square, and Saqsaywaman (which sounds a lot like sexy woman). The tour was very informational and was a great way to learn about the Incan culture first hand.

Day 4 - Sacred Valley of the Incas Tour
The Sacred Valley of the Incas Tour took us to Pisaq, Ollantaytambo, and a few other small stops. Here is some video from our first stop of the day at a small market. The most interesting part of the tour were the terraces of pumatallis, here is the view from up above on the terraces.

Day 5 - Rafting
I didn't take any video or pictures while rafting since I didn't want to ruin either my camera or my camcorder. But the rafting took place on the Urubamba River and was actually more fun that I expected. I hadn't done any rafting before, and I figured that this was going to be real basic (read boring) rapids. But we actually had a couple class 3 rapids and the whole trip concluded with a 6 foot drop.

Rafting concluded our days of getting acclimated to the altitude of the Andes, which I highly recommend. By day 5 (our fourth at altitude), we had gone from being winded after simply walking around to hardly noticing any difference than normal. This was crucial for our hike on the Inca trail since the significant inclines and declines that we were going to incur while walking all day were enough work on their own without the additional problem of altitude sickness. In fact on our first day of hiking we saw several people with altitude sickness that had to turn back and miss out on the hike because of it.

Day 6 - 1st Day of our Hike on the Inca Trail
After an early wake up call and a few hours in a car to get to the start of the trail, we arrived at the starting point of our hike (video) by mid-morning and started our four days of hiking. Ben, Smitty, and I were part of a 7 person group, the other four were two couples from Northern England. Paul and Glad Cook and Morris and Liz Brown, both from Yorkshire, England. Paul a practicing orthodontist and Morris a family doctor actually live near each other, but didn't know each other before the trip. (Yes he's Doc Brown, but I couldn't really make any good Back to the Future jokes since he had never seen the movies. Even worse he was Scottish which set me up for a "Great Scott!" reference). Here is video while on the trail and here is video once we arrived the our camp site for the first night (towards the end Ben gets hit on the sunglasses by one of the porters putting a tent up).

Day 7 - 2nd Day of our Hike on the Inca Trail
The second day of the hike was probably the toughest of the 4 days that we spent on the trail, it wasn't the longest day but it was significantly uphill. We hiked to the highest point of our trip "Warmiwanuska" which was 4215 meters high (13,829 ft). We left early again (before 7:00am) and stopped for lunch about halfway up the climb around 10:30am (video). Here is some quick video I took up on top of the peak of our hike (it is probably best listen without audio since the wind make it too loud to hear in most parts). We then had couple hours down from the peak to our campsite. Once we arrived to our campsite, and the sun went down, the clear sky made way for the most amazing view of the stars in the sky the you could ever imagine. I tried several times to take a picture, but nothing came out. I finally understood, first hand why the Milky Way is called that...and will probably never see skies like that again.

Day 8 - 3rd Day of our Hike on the Inca Trail
On the third day we had another long day, a lot of up and down all day. We didn't go as high as the second, but we hiked much longer this day. Here and here are the videos from our third day. The third day had a very diverse scenery and many beautiful views. The reward of our final full day of hiking was a campsite that had running water where (for a small fee) we could take a warm shower...which never felt better. That night we went to bed early since we had to get up early the next morning. And with the bulk of the hiking behind us, we all felt that we had earned our admittance to Machu Picchu.

Day 9 - 4th Day of our Hike on the Inca Trail/Machu Picchu
The morning of our fourth day on the Inca Trail came early since we got up at 4am to get to a trail checkpoint before 5:30am when they opened. We then had about and hour or hour and half hike up to the "Sun Gate" where we saw the sun rise over the mountains onto a foggy Machu Picchu. We were there on Sunday, June 22nd, the day after the winter solstice, which was very significant to the Inca people and their culture. It was their New Year and indicated to them when to start planting the crops again. Here is a video that tries to show the sunrise shining onto the ruins.

After another hour or so down from the "Sun Gate", we arrived to Machu Picchu. I'm not a writer by any means, so I don't expect any explanation of my experience to do it justice, but it really was the true meaning of special. I know that many people have described it as "spiritual", which doesn't quite work for me, but it was very serene and intense. It is an experience that I hope you get a chance to experience to fully take it in.

Day 10 - Rest and travel home
Nothing to really report here. Our day of relaxation and travel gave me some time to reflect our journey. It really was an opportunity to do some soul searching and learn more things about life. This isn't a post about any of those things I experienced, but rather an experience to witness a true wonder of the world where you can learn something about yourself.

How to book this trip
I don't have a specific place for you to set this up for yourself, but I can tell you what Smitty did and I think was a wise move (especially since we met some people who booked online and got screwed). Smitty contacted our local travel agent who he knew had booked the same trip for others in the past.

Chaska tours was the agency that was used for the Inca trail tour (I'm fairly certain this is the correct website). I cannot emphasize how fantastic our guides were. Our main guide, Alain Cori (I'm not certain the spelling of his last name, but he told me it is the Quechua word for "gold"), was absolutely phenomenal! In fact if you ever plan on making this trip, I really think it is worth your while trying to book the trip with specifically this guide...he was that good! Enough said! Let me tell you, you will not be disappointed with him! (and if you are there is something wrong with you :-) )

Well, that is it. Thanks for barring with my indulgence of my trip. It was a lot of fun. Please leave any comments of your thoughts, suggestions of similar trips you would like to share, or your experiences and input on this type of trip.

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