Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Inca Trail- Day 3

Day three was supposed to be the day of amazing views.. however... we got rain. I should preface by saying we didn't get rain the whole day, we had a few morning hours shower free to see some sites, but then the rain started and lasted long enough to ruin most of the "spectacular" views we were supposed to see. Here are a few pictures from day 3 before the rain set in.
An Incan site along the path.
Can you find Dad in the picture below?Jesse, striking a pose in front of the mountain scenery.
Dad and Sara
Another Incan site along the path.
There were lots of interesting flora along the way, so here's a picture of one of them.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Easter Island: The Video (Part 2)

Here is part 2 of the Easter Island Video produced by Alex and Caitlin. In case you missed part 1, here is the link to it on YouTube Easter Island: The Video Part 1 Enjoy the exciting conclusion!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Inca Trail- Day 2

Day 2, the challenging day. The course for the day includes a five hour, 1200m (almost 4000ft) climb to Dead Woman's Pass at 4200m (almost 14,000ft). After that incline, there's a roughly two hour 600m descent to our camp for the second night. This incline was probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Reaching the pass was an exhilarating experience that I've never felt. As I'm writing, I realize that I am at a loss for words to describe, so I'll let some pictures tell the tale.
This picture of Dad and I was taken about 1 hour into the incline.
Snow-capped mountain off in the distance.
LLlllaaaammmmaaaassss!!! Seen in their natural habitat.
A deer we saw about one hour from the top of the pass.
A view of where we came from... way down there!!
Waterfall along the way. There were a few others, but they didn't show up very well on the camera.
Dad and Sara at the top of Dead Woman's Pass; they are waving to Jesse and I as we come up.
Another view of where we came from. It is way down in the valley.
Our group at the pass. We made it!! Below, the post stating where we are and the altitude.
This is a shot of our campsite, right before the clouds moved it. The video below shows how quickly the weather changes in the Andes.

Inca Trail- Day 1

For over a year, Jesse and I have been planning to travel to Peru and hike the Inca Trail. Especially once we got our jobs in Paraguay, it was decided- we are doing it! We got together with some teachers from here, and after discussing it with Dad, he came along too.

We boarded a bus in Cusco and drove for over four hours to get to kilometer 82, which is where the trail begins. I was a little nervous about embarking on such a long hike, because frankly, I've never really hiked before. Looking back, it was one of the best experiences I've ever had.
Our group wasn't very large, just 9 hikers, plus our two guides. We hiked with a couple on their honeymoon from London, and two other Americans who were studying abroad in Buenas Aires.
We started around 10:30 on Friday morning.

Since I have never really been around mountains, I was constantly amazed by the view. For me, hiking along the path and seeing such amazing scenery was almost inspirational. On the right of the picture below, you can see another path, the commercial path, that follows the river to get to Machu Picchu.
Day 1 is called the Easy day. However for me, it wasn't all that easy! There were quite a few uphills and we climbed about 400m to our camp. Along the way, we stopped to view a few Inca sites along the way.
The sites along the way were Inca villages, or stopping points for messengers when they traveled between towns, especially between Machu Picchu and Cusco.
As we hiked, we stopped for lunch. I don't have the words to express our shock and amazement over the quality of our meals. The trail uses porters who carry our tents, food, and their own personal objects. Porters run ahead and have everything set up for us, including a lunch tent, complete with table and chairs, which they disassemble and reassemble for dinner at the campsite.
Jesse, me, and Dad, at one of the fantastic views. We ended the day at the campsite Wayllabamba, where the porters played soccer and we relaxed in the tents.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cusco, Peru

After picking Dad up at the airport, the next morning, we boarded a flight to Cusco. Cusco is in the middle of the Andes moutains, so therefore, is at quite an elevation, 11,000 feet, so we were a little concerned about how our bodies would handle it. It was also the center of the Incan empire when the Spanish conquistadores conquered Peru. The whole city demonstrates the power of that empire and everything that the Spanish did to change its people. The dynamic of the city was quite amazing.

We went out to lunch at a restaurant with a balcony overlooking the main square. Here, Dad and I are enjoying our first meal in Cusco. Jesse decided to go adventurous on this first meal- he ordered an alpaca dish. It was absolutely delicious! We all tried a little bit.
Here is a little bit better picture of the main cathedral of Cusco. This was an original Incan temple that the Spanish turned into a Catholic church. We toured this church the next day. A few interesting things about the chuch: there is a rendition of the last supper where instead of a fish on the table, there a guinea pig; there is an altar with a black Jesus on the cross, it was stated that during an earthquake, some people grabbed the cruxifix and once they started taking it outside, the earthquake stopped, so then people started burning candles underneath it and it turned black, like the Andean people.
After lunch, we huffed and puffed our way to Koricancha, which was the Incan temple of the sun. The Spanish took over every Incan temple and turned them into Catholic churches, but this church still has original Incan walls and follows the original design.
Here's an up close shot of the walls. There is no mortar, no caulk, there is nothing between the stones. Its amazing how they were built; they are earthquake proof as well. Many of the Spanish built churches have suffered structural damage due to earthquakes, but the Incan built walls still stand.
The next day we took a tour up to Sasquaywaman, which was though to be a fortress of some kind, but now, archaeologists think it was another temple. We saw a woman in traditional Andean dress with a llama. I had to cry out- llllllaaaaaammmmmmaaaa! And then take the pictture. I really like llamas.
The cool thing about Sacsaywaman (besides the name which sounds like sexy woman) is how its built and its location. Its built like the picture above, but with huge rocks!
Here is Dad and me, standing underneath the largest Incan doorway still standing.
To show the size of some of the rocks, here is Jesse to help with dimensions. The rock is huge! Our guide told us that some of the rocks were moved to their current spot, but others were already there, and the Incans left the large rocks where they were as a sort of worship towards mother earth.
Here is the location I was referring to earlier. Sacsaywaman overlooks Cusco.
We also visited two other major Incan sites around Cusco that same day. One of them showed us how the Incans used aquaducts to supply water to their cities. It seems pretty awesome that those aquaducts are still working today, after 600 years. On our last day before we started the Inca Trail, we went on a rafting trip. Dad really wanted to go because he'd never done it before, and me personally, I love rafting! Our friends Amy and Sara met up with us in Cusco and they joined us for the trip.

Lima, Peru

After saying good-bye to Alex and Caitlin, we headed north to Peru. We had two days in Lima before Dad arrived, so we went into the city to explore.

We hopped on a tiny bus and headed into the main plaza. We got there just in time to see the changing of the guard in front of the Presidential Palace. There was a lot of pomp and circumstance, so we didn't stick around for the whole thing, but it was neat. The band was playing an interesting mix of songs, one of which Jesse recognized as the Gladiator theme song.
The main plaza was pretty cool, in that there were tons of locals around and there was one big church and some quaint shops.
One thing that we did that was pretty cool was take a tour of the Franciscan Monastery. The monastery has been open and running since the Spanish took over in the 1500's. The coolest part about the monastery was that they had catacombs underneath that were part of the tour. We weren't able to take pictures, but about 25,000 people had been buried underneath the church, with the skulls and femurs still there. We saw them. It was pretty cool. The other church we visited (above) has a large collection of artwork from the Spanish colonial times. It was interesting because Jesse could see similarities between the artwork here and the artwork he saw in Spain.
The next plaza we went to had an awesome restuarant that had been recommended to us by our hotel owner. The cool part about this particular restaurant is the soccer paraphernalia that covered the walls. Even the chairs were labeled a particular player. Also, they had wax statues of some of the best soccer players in South American history. Jesse sat down with Pele (a great Brazilian player) to shake his hand and chit chat.
A final, interesting note on Lima. The picture below is of a statue that was built in Spain to come to Lima. If you look carefully at the woman in the front of the statue, (you might have to zoom in) you'll notice something interesting on her head. Its a llama. Lama means flames in Spanish, and when this statue was commissioned, the creator got a bit confused and instead of putting flames or a torch on her head, there's a llama.

Puerto Varas, Chile

In between Christmas and New Year's, the four of us took a 14 hour, overnight bus trip to Puerto Varas. For those unfamiliar with Chilean geography, Puerto Varas is in the Lake District region, which has a similar latitude to Wisconsin (obviously southern instead of northern). The region in known for canoeing, hiking, camping, etc., and it is also just north of the Patagonia region. Its the farthest south any of us have ever been before.

The unfortunate part about our time there was that since this year was an El Nino year, we had rain every day we were there, which limited the amount of outdoorsy activities we could do. We did get to do two small hikes in between the rain and clouds, and here are a few pictures of what we saw.

The view from our hostel.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Easter Island: The Video (Part 1)

Alex and Caitlin got a video camera as a wedding gift and Alex has been itching to put it to use. They have made a few videos in Ecuador so far, but after lugging the camera around Easter Island for 4 days and then working through a month of editing and work he as put together his masterpiece which can be seen below. It had to be divided up in to 2 parts to fit the requirements for YouTube, but it is shot in HD. If your internet is not fast enough to allow you to view it in HD, you can click where it says 720P in the bottom right corner and change it to a lower resolution. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Easter Island Day 4: Sunrise

For our last day on the island, we still had the jeep and decided to use it to go see a sunrise over the large Tongariki ahu. We got up very early, I can't remember the exact time but suffice it to say that the roosters hadn't even thought about starting to crow yet, and drove across the island one last time to get in position for the sunrise. We were not the only people to have the idea, but everyone was quiet and respectful and it was a beautiful experience.
We got one last look at the Rano Raraku crater (in case you don't remember that was where they made the moai on the left side of the crater) and headed back to turn in the jeep and return to the mainland after an incredible few days on the island.

Easter Island Day 3: Orongo and Anakena

Despite a bit of a delay in posting, due partly to my own laziness, here is our post from Day 3 on Easter Island. After the "little hike" from Day 2, we decided that to see more of the island efficiently it would be best to rent a jeep to drive around. Our first stop with the jeep was a huge volcanic crater (by huge I mean about a mile across) called Orongo.
As you can see from the pictures, the crater was stunningly beautiful and located right on the edge of the island. This crater held special meaning to the Rapa Nui people because of the ceremonies that took place here near the end of the island's independent existence. When resources on the island ran out, namely the trees that were all chopped down, and moai could no longer be moved and erected because of this the people of the island changed their entire religious system. The moai represented a form of ancestor worship and those ancestors clearly weren't protecting the islanders from environmental disaster anymore so the islanders changed to something new sometimes referred to as the "Birdman cult". This consisted of all the tribes of the island sending their chief and one strong representative to the Orongo crater at a designated time of year for a competition. Here is a petroglyph from the site showing the birdman.
The chief and representative would stay in the houses pictured below and on a designated day the representatives from each tribe would start the competition to decide which tribe would rule the island for the coming year.
The competition involved each representative climbing down the thousand foot cliffs, swimming the mile across shark-infested waters to the far island you see below, climbing up the cliffs of the island, grabbing an egg of the nesting migratory seabirds, swimming back across the mile of ocean, and climbing back up the cliffs to the waiting chiefs with their egg. Now that's a pretty crazy physical competition if you ask me!
After this we drove across the island to the place where they make those red hats for the moai called pukao. The different volcanoes that make up the island each had different types of lava and this one was valued for its red color.
To wrap up the day we went to the only real beach on the island, and purported landing place of the first island settlers, called Anakena.
The beach also features 2 ahu with some nice moai.
The smaller ahu with the single moai has a different design and this one was actually re-erected by Thor Heyerdahl who wrote the book Con Tiki, which some of you might be familiar with, and was experimenting with techniques for putting the moai up using only materials that were actually available to the Rapa Nui people themselves.

We swam for a while and enjoyed our time at the beach. The water was a bit chilly but it was pretty cool to swim in essentially the middle of the Pacific Ocean with what was probably the cleanest water we've ever swam in.
The last stop for the day was a couple of ahu near town with the only moai on the island that has eyes. A few years ago an archaeologist from the island discovered some pieces of white coral broken among the stones of an ahu. After some confusion as to how they got there, they were pieced together to form eyes for the moai. To date, this moai is the only one that has had eyes restored to it... kinda eerie looking isn't it!