Friday, July 17, 2015

Painted Floor

I keep telling myself that I'm going to continue to tell the story of our trip to Peru, including our time in Cusco during the summer solstice festivities, the beautiful hikes to Inca ruins and wild rivers in Ollantaytambo (including a  near encounter with a bucking bull), and I want to post the pictures of the neat hostel in Aquas Calientes and the guinea pig we ate at our farewell meal, but right now, all I can think about are these photos Brandon sent me yesterday, of the newly painted floor at the farm house.  Wow.  The floors are so shiny and clean! 

I've been working in the field for the past few days, collecting mosquito bites and chiggers in the weeds and forests, but Brandon has been sanding, cleaning, and painting the wood floors at the farm, and sending me photo updates of his progress.  I can't wait to walk on these floors.

Having the floors all the same clean color really makes the house look like it's almost finished, and ready for us to move in.  We've been working hard to get it painted before the weekend, since we expect to be sent away for some out of town bat surveys any day now.  We can't walk on the floors for several days while the paint cures, so it makes sense to do this work before we leave.  

The original wood floors in the house are crooked and have many places that were rotten and that we patched, so having everything the same color is a big improvement.  The kitchen floor, which is new plywood, got some wood putty in the seams, and the same color of floor paint as the rest of the house. Brandon also repainted the floor in the downstairs bedroom, since he didn't like the marigold color I selected originally.  I like this dark chocolate color too, which is a good thing, because after Brandon worked so hard to get everything painted, he asked me not to tell him if I didn't like it.  Ha!  I vacuumed and mopped the upstairs floor the last time I was there, so I don't have to imagine how much work it takes just to get rid of two years worth of construction dirt.  We will not be cutting any more wood inside the house from here on.   

Brandon must have taken this picture right before he closed the door on the wet paint.  I think the dark color makes the kitchen look smaller.  

It looks pretty good upstairs too.  I think it's time to start packing for the move!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Inca Trail, Day 4 - We Arrive at Machu Picchu!

The final day of the hike- Machu Picchu!  I want to say that Machu Picchu was a little anti-climatic, but that doesn't really explain how I feel about it, because it's... well, it's Machu Picchu for goodness sake!  How could that be anti-climatic?  I think what I really felt was that the hike itself was the Big Deal, and ending a Machu Picchu, after days of spectacular views and impressive Inca ruins, was perfectly fitting.  It wasn't a momentous Aha! moment, even though it was our final destination, but that might have been because by that point in the hike, our knees were sore, our camera memory sticks were brimming, and we had been up since three in the morning.  No joke.  Three o'clock A.M.  Hiking.  In the dark.  

The brochures and guides like to imply that the reason the last day starts so early is so that we could arrive at the famous Sun Gate to see... the sun... or something.  I never was sure exactly what the pay off was going to be.  I think in reality, the porters have to catch the five A.M. train home, so they wake us up at three, hand us a breakfast biscuit and some snacks, and start taking down the tents before we've fully emerged.  

We had a short walk to the official check-in point, where we had to wait on a bench until five-thirty A.M. so we could sign in and begin the last leg of our hike.  Other groups straggled in behind us, and we all waited together.  While waiting, we noticed the little guy in the photo above - a scorpion!  I was very grateful that I didn't see a scorpion until I was finished sleeping on the ground!

One of our group used his phone each day to keep track of our hiking distance and elevation.  No wonder Day 2 was so hard!  But look at the end of the graph, on Day 4.  See that steep climb?  I believe that is the section referred to as the gringo killer staircase.  No one warned me about that until we were there.  It was an ascent that required both hands.  

Once we got through the check-in point, we had a fast hike in the dark, which despite the previous nights warning about four-thousand foot killer drops, was conducted at a breakneck speed.  Our group kept the lead for a while, and despite the race, I enjoyed the darkness and the sounds of insect and frogs, which gave way to the sound of birds waking up the sun.  

We had a short break at the sun gate, with our first early morning views of Machu Picchu, and then we watched the sunlight creep down the mountains toward the ruins while we hiked toward them.  

You can't tell from these photos, but there is a crowd of people standing around me.  As soon as we neared the ruins, we were mixed with the crowds of tourists who come to see the archaeological wonder by train and bus.  

Our guide lead us to a sunny terrace, and gave a short lecture about the site.  Unfortunately, we were exhausted and the sun was too hot, so it was hard to focus.  About half way through the talk I realized there were multiple wasp nests in the wall the group was leaning against, so I spent most of the time watching giant black wasps inches from everyone's head and worrying about stings.  I was relieved when he was finished and it was time to explore the ruins.  

This temple was built into the natural rock formations on the mountain.  It was pointed out to us that there is a difference in the stonework for temples and other important buildings.  The terraces and normal structures are built from stone but it looks more rustic, and uses some mortar.  The temples and religious sites are made with stone on stone, no mortar, and with very smooth edges.  

You can see the smooth stone work of the rounded temple in the background on the left, which contrasts with the rustic stone work in the foreground.

I believe we were told that the soil that fills the garden terraces was brought in from another location by the Inca.  We saw some active archaeological excavations while we were there, and it appeared that they were removing the soil from the terraces an inch at a time, and finding bits of pottery and other artifacts buried in the soil.  

Even the main doorway to the temples was made from the smoothly carved stones.

At the top most temple was this stone carved to mimic the mountains in the distance.  

This is the stone sun dial that's reported to give off a palpable energy to those that can feel it with their outstretched hands.  I didn't feel anything, but I think my vibe was getting hijacked by the guard who was smirking at me while I tried to get in tune with the stone. The man, keeping me down, right?  

See those stone projections on the side of this house without a roof?  We saw some re-created houses with thatched roofs and could see how those projections were used to tie the roof on with straps.  

I've already forgotten the name of this temple, but it was something to do with a condor.  See how the head and beak of the bird are on the ground, and the natural stones are like outstretched wings?  

Is wasn't long after noon before we were sun baked and ready to head down the mountain to find our hostel, a shower, and a nap.  We did it!  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Inca Trail, Day 3

By Day 3 of the hike to Machu Picchu, we were in our hiking grove.  As we donned our gear and watched the porters take camp apart in moments, we knew the hardest day was behind us, and that we were about to see what some people claimed was the most beautiful part of the trail, if the weather would permit.  

When the sun came breaking over the mountains, and the only clouds seemed friendly, we had high hopes for a perfect day.  

Most of us were feeling the wear and tear from the day before (my calves were sore to the touch!), and were getting a good grimy camping patina, but our spirits never faltered.  

Brandon compared camping with porters to camping with a troop of Navy SEALS.  These guys were tough!  During the first part of the trip we all introduced ourselves, said how old we were, and where we were from.  I think the youngest man was twenty-three, and the oldest was fifty.  I asked later if they ever had female porters and got some big laughs.

Most of guys said they were from local towns, and I believe most were farmers who did this work during the off season.  They were a friendly and cheerful group, and after seeing them run up all those steps carrying giant bags with their cheeks stuffed with coca leaves, I decided I should try coca leaves in my cheek too, and stuck some from the breakfast basket in my pockets.  It tasted bitter, but wasn't bad.  I don't think I tried enough leaves to do anything really, since later a bus driver told us that you have to use at least twenty, and mix in some kind of activator (cheese?  sometimes you can't get very far with pantomime) to really get it to work.  I was a little worried that thin air and exercise would be more than enough to stress my heart, so trying cocaine at the same time might not be a good idea.  Brandon kept warning me to make sure I cleaned out my pockets before we flew home, since he thought carrying coca leaves in my pockets was risking a drug trafficking charge.

We were in lovely cloud forest by this time. 

Since we only had a relatively small pass to climb over, our group wasn't as spread apart as the day before, and because we were stopping early to camp we had more time to explore and opportunities for the guide to tell us about the Inca sites we found along the way.

On top of the world!

The trail designer was genius.  

I know that in a cloud forest moisture is captured from the clouds, and many of the plants had a lot of surface area, probably to capture more moisture. There were plants growing on the plants.

We're walking above the clouds!

The porters waited for us to catch up at this wide scenic overlook and we took some group photos.  This is the part of the hike that some people get clouds and rain.  Not us.  Look at that blue sky!

I knew that we would see Inca ruins on the hike, but I didn't realize how extensive these ruins would be.  Some of them rivaled Machu Picchu for setting and beauty.  We were told there are many other ruins that haven't been uncovered, and that the government in Peru can only keep up with so many.  

How cool is it to walk through a thicket of bamboo and see ancient stone-works peaking out above?

So many steps!  This is the day my right knee began to protest, and then I had to walk down each step leading with the leg with the bad knee.  I perfected a pogo stick technique and kept up a brisk pace.  

This Inca site was my favorite.  We had the place all to ourselves, and there were majestic mountains in every direction I looked.  I heard and read a lot of theories about why the Inca's built these terraced settlements where they did, but my opinion is that it was for the view.  All of them had amazing views.    

I could have spent the rest of the day right here.  Something about this place made me feel like I could fly.  I heard others talking about using drones to photographic it, or using hang gliders, so I think we were all feeling like exploring flight.

We made it to camp for a late lunch, and had an hour and half all to ourselves.  It felt like luxury after being vamoosed for three days to keep up with the meal schedule.  Some braved the cold showers in the dysentery pits bathhouses, and some of us just lounged in our tents enjoying the views.  

At first I thought it was a little weird that we were all crammed in a tent for meals, but I learned to really like those cozy meals.  No campfires are allowed on the Inca trail, and it's cold once the sun goes down.  But each evening we were warm in the meal tent while the chef cooked on the other side of the tent flap, and it was the time during the day when we were all together discussing our adventures.  It didn't take long for trail names to be assigned to those who earned them.  Man-zilla and Mountain Nipple got their names quite early in the trip.   Nothing creates group cohesiveness like crazy strenuous climbing, sleeping in side by side tents, and inadequate toilet facilities.   Bonds were formed that can never be broken!

For each meal our napkins were folded in shapes, like swans or pinwheels.  This is a camping first!

The chef obviously has more energy than the rest of us.

This one looked like an ostrich cut from an apple with a green onion for a head.  The scraggly roots on the onion head made it look like it had crazy hair. 

Our tent had the best view.

After lunch we had a short hike to visit a fabulous Inca site.  It was lovely like Machu Picchu, but we had it all to ourselves.  Us and the llamas.

Baby llama!

I may not have impressive hiking speed or grace, but I was the only one to get to pet the llama.  Most people have enough sense not to risk getting contaminated with llama spit when they don't have a change of clothes.  I fear no spit!

We hiked back to camp for more popcorn and tea before dinner.  The chef even baked a cake!  It was decorated with multi-color frosting and everything.  It was served before dinner.  There was no danger of going hungry on this trip.  

Maybe it was the late lunch, the platter of popcorn, and the two servings of cake that made dinner on the last night seem less appetizing than usual.  Less appetizing, but definitely laugh provoking.  Ha!  What is that?  A flying hot dog monster?  A pineapple turtle with kebab arms?  Whatever it was, it was too much! 
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