Saturday, September 30, 2017

Chilao Campground

We are definitely on a camping kick.  Ever since coming back from Peru, where we "glamped" our way through the Andes, it feels like we haven't been able to sit still!  We went to Sequoia and Big Pine already, and we haven't stopped the habit of hiking out of the Cobb Estate or Chantry Flats, even though there's nothing to train for now.  After a successful first attempt at camping all the way at Baker Creek Campground in Big Pine with our clunky Coleman tent and Asian supermarket gas stove, we wanted to hit up some campgrounds close to home.  Wes just found out about some campgrounds just an hour out of Pasadena in the Angeles National Forest, so we decided to try it out one Friday.  This was our second camping trip ever.  It was fun to get out the tent again and feel that rush when you wake up in the morning and realize that you're outside.  We cooked every meal and just took our time waking up, getting ready for a day hike, and coming back to camp to stretch out on the chairs.  The pace of the weekend is so different when you're off the grid.

It was a little bit of a whirlwind to do this after getting home from work.  I remember feeling super exhausted and I thought that it was very strange that we were loading up our car for a last-minute camping trip (with no reservations) on a weeknight.  It felt sort of unreal and random, and we both decided that if there were no campsites available, we could just drive back home and say that we tried.  That would have been so depressing, though!  The first campground we checked was full, but that one was a popular one.  We ended up backtracking and finding some availability at Chilao Campground.  There wasn't a lot of light left, so we grabbed the first campsite we saw.  Wes busily set up camp while I stuffed $12 in cash into a little envelope and filled out our names in the fading daylight.  Then, we immediately got to cooking our wonderful dinner of turkey chili.  When we were done, we sat back in our comfy lawn chairs and never felt more satisfied - here we were, on a Friday night, five thousand feet above Pasadena, looking at the stars with a plastic bowl of hot chili in our hands.  TGIF.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Machu Picchu and Our Hike Up Huayna Picchu

Excuse the random doodle, I got carried away at the last minute!  

1 million people per year, up to 5,000 people per day.  That's how powerful the draw is to visit Machu Picchu, the speculated 550-year-old ruins from the ancient Inca civilization.  The crazier reality of this is that Machu Picchu is sinking, slowly but surely.  So, they told us not to carry heavy packs and not to take "jumping pictures" here.  Also, no strollers, no leaning, no climbing, no lying down, no trekking poles, no heels, no tripods, no loud noises/singing/applauding, no music.  It's all too easy to be oblivious when you're touring around in there, but these rules remind us that even a mighty Wonder of the World can deteriorate if we aren't careful.  We definitely cannot take our presence here for granted and should do what we can to protect it.

Also, out of the thousands of people who actually get in each day, only 400 are granted access to Huayna Picchu and another 400 for Machu Picchu Mountain, the two iconic peaks towering over the citadel.  We were two of those lucky visitors.  Not once did we ever regret doing that hike up those ridiculous stone stairs to get to the top, where so few people in the world have been!

Back view of the citadel from Huayna Picchu - 8,924 feet up!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

We Survived the Salkantay Trek!

Salkantay Pass - altitude:15,255 ft. - attitude: 100% positive!

It was 3 in the morning when my alarm abruptly split the silence in our hostel in Cusco, Peru.  Our guide would be here to pick us up in an hour and we were sooo not ready to get up... but as soon as my mind registered that, shoot, we're going to start the trek today, I bounded out of bed and into the shower.  This would be the last shower I'd be able to take in a while, so I figured I'd sacrifice some sleep-time to get it in.  Somehow it also hit me that it was the day of our second wedding anniversary, so I remember mumbling, "Happy Anniversary," to which Wes sleepily replied, "Ugh."  We had stayed up too late the night before to pack our duffels and we had spent most of the day yesterday recovering from being sick.  It had just barely been a full day since Wes had been able to eat without throwing up and I was still having unstoppable traveller's diarrhea.  What we were about to do (yes, on our second wedding anniversary), was going to be the most physically challenging thing we've signed up for: the Salkantay Trek.  That is, forty-six miles and four days of almost non-stop hiking in the Andes, from one ecosystem to another, from little farm to little farm, from alpine lake to alpine lake, from campsite to campsite...all the way to Machu Picchu.

July 28th - Peru's Independence Day, behind Machu Picchu Mountain in Llactapata!
Of course we were super enthusiastic once we came to our senses and boarded the van to pick up the various members of our trekking group.  It was all starting to feel real, at last!  We had trained for this much-anticipated trek, going on long hikes almost every weekend, asking people who'd done it before lots of questions, and loading up on some trusty gear.  I guess we could never really prepare for some issues that come with being in a foreign country at a high altitude, but we did what we could and we felt ready, but nervous.  It didn't help that we had been practically running on crackers, gatorade, and tea for the day before, and I also wasn't sure how my messed up ankle and Wes's messed up knee would hold up for four days in a row of hilly hiking, but we just tried not to even think about any of that and in the end we were fine!

The beginning of a 9-mile descent from the Salkantay Pass
This trek is actually ranked as one of National Geographic's Top 25 Treks in the world.  It's clear to see why.  Each moment was completely spellbinding, the path was always challenging, and the views never got old!  I didn't think that it would be possible to go from a freezing cold mountain pass to a humid, lush cloud forest, and then strike off a Wonder of the World in just five days' time.  Actually, we couldn't have done it without our trek chef, the porters, and the horses that carried everything from gas tanks to sleeping bags.  It was really a luxury to be able to look forward to multi-course, family-style Peruvian meals every day - and obviously, we documented every dish and have posted it all here!

Climbing Huayna Picchu, with Machu Picchu down below.
Sunrise at the Guard Tower, where the view of the Lost City is best.
We were also so fortunate to have been set up with such a fun group of people from the U.K., the Netherlands, and Texas (which may as well be a country, right?), and we loved our knowledgeable and humorous guide, Edgar.  

Edgar's team!
I jotted down a few impressions at the end of each day, so here's what I wrote down, along with the photos that Wes took on the Sony RX1.  We both would recommend doing this trek with Salkantay Trekking - our guide was awesome, the food provided was excellent, and the accommodations exceeded our expectations. 

Edgar: "I am the puma!" "Hello, hello!" "Packs on!" "Wanna see another lake?"
Cooked by our wonderful and softspoken trek chef, Ivan, and his team.

The "sky lodges" - where you could see the stars through the ceiling!
So, here's a rundown of the four days leading up to Machu Picchu!  That fifth day will get its own post later... but is it weird to say that the exalted Lost City of the Incas paled in comparison to the rest of the trek?  We were excited to see the famed ruins to be sure, but even now, a few weeks after the trip, we think first of the bright Milky Way, the gaping Santa Teresa valley, the towering Apu Salkantay, and those turquoise glacial lakes.  We also will never forget the genuineness of the local people and the strength of our guides and porters, who showed us more patience and graciousness than we could have ever asked for.  The human interactions and the intimacy with nature were what we will always treasure the most.