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About Lima

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

I ran out of blogging gas at the end of my trip, so I never really mentioned anything about Lima.  In hindsight, that’s quite appropriate.  I approached Lima a lot like I’d have approached Oakland during a week long trip to the Bay Area: you spend 6 days in San Francisco, and then one day you find yourself in Oakland trying to figure out why you’re there and what’s worth visiting.  From what I saw – and admittedly, I wasn’t there long – Lima is a city that doesn’t have a lot going for it.  There’s great seafood.  But also squalor and poverty rivaling the shanty towns of South Africa.  Lima is not a bad place, but given an additional 5 days I’d have much rather visited La Paz.

Food aside, the highight of my Lima stay was the ancient pyramid at Huaca Pucllana.   Imagine a pyramid dating back to the 3rd century… way before the Incas.


And this thing is right smack in the middle of an upscale, downtown residential neighborhood!


The site was badly neglected between 1930 and 1960, when – among various other things – it was used as a motocross course.  Back then it mostly resembled a dirt hill.  Now they’re taking care to uncover the entire site.  Some walls needed to be recreated with new bricks, but many others are original.



It was pretty amazing seeing this pyramid rising up in the middle of the city.  And it’s older than anything else I’d seen in Peru.  Not a bad way to cap my visit.  But once I got to Lima and saw TGI Friday’s, Starbucks, and a KFC delivery moped… well, let’s just say I knew this wasn’t the place for me.

Blisters and aches and no regrets

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

It’s hard to walk 40 miles in 4 days, visit a remote set of Inca ruins, and then come back and bang out a quick, snappy blog post.  So tonight it’s the Cliff’s Notes version.  My trek to Choquequirao was successful.  Me and my merry band of mules made it there and back, and what a journey it was.


It was 33 km there and 33 back.  And day two goes down as one of the toughest physical experiences of my life.  We descended to the bottom of a river gorge, and then climbed 5000 feet over the course of 5 1/2 miles.  That is pretty damn steep!  The photo below captures that mountain side.  About three quarters of the way up, it took everything I had to simply put one foot in front of the other.


For me, one of the lasting visuals from this trek is from our 2nd night camping.   As I sat there — deep in Andes mountains, with not a single light for miles and miles — I found myself staring at the clearest night time sky I’ve ever seen.  The moon and stars were like spotlights, and the clouds were literally 300 yards above us, just beyond the ridge line of the mountain.  It was absolutely stunning.


The next morning I finally arrived at my destination: the Choquequirao ruins.  Choquequirao is far bigger than Machu Picchu, but the mind-boggling aspect of this site is the fact that it’s still only about 35% uncovered.  The best illustration of that is the photo below.  You can see a block of terraces that’s been uncovered.  Well the entire side of that mountain is terraced.  The ENTIRE side.  All that greenery is covering Inca ruins.  Same story on the other side of the mountain.


Speaking of the other side, the Incas did a clever job of creating Llamas in the hillside terraces.


It has an even greater impact when you step back a bit.


Many people say this is the golden age in terms of visiting Choquequirao.  On the day I was there, only 19 people visited the site.  Most of the time I couldn’t see another tourist anywhere.  Someday they’ll have the entire site excavated, and there will probably be a train running thousands of tourists there everyday — just like Machu Picchu.  There’s no road to Choquequirao.  And my guide said he estimates that only about 10 percent of the tourist population is fit enough to make the trek.  I’m glad I had this opportunity.





On the final day of the trek, it was surreal looking back at all the ground we’d covered.  I’m not much of a hiker.  Every time I go hiking I enjoy it, but this was way beyond anything I’d ever attempted.  And I’d venture to say once was enough.


A word about William

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

If I may, a word about a gentleman named William.  Further down in the blog I wrote about my 4am wakeup call to go visit Machu Picchu.  (Anyone who knows me knows I am NOT a morning person.  4am Peru time is about the time I generally go to bed on the West Coast.)  So I found myself at the crack of dawn, waiting in the sort of line you’d expect the morning Springsteen tickets go on sale.

Before hopping in line I saw a guy I met at the airport in a different line.  He asked if I already had my ticket, and I did.  So I skipped past his line and went directly to the bus line.   That’s where I struck up a conversation with a guy from Cusco named William.  Turns out he earns a living as a guide at Machu Picchu.  He was  really friendly from the get go… the sort of friendly that when you’re traveling, sometimes makes you skeptical, if only for a fleeting moment.  After a while the line started moving, and it was at that moment that I noticed everyone around me had a thin slip of paper. William said, “Do you have one of these?” I replied that I do not, I have my Machu Picchu ticket.  That’s all I need, right?  RIGHT?!  Nooooooo.  I needed a bus ticket as well.  And that was a separate line — the one the guy from the airport was in when I arrived.  Now, I needed to be one of the first 400 people up to the site to be able to climb Wayna Picchu.  So I dashed from the bus line… over to the bus ticket line.  I was 12 deep in what looked like a very slowing moving process.  Just then, my buddy William also sprinted over to the line.


As a guide, William knows people — in this case, the guy who was at the front of the line.  William waved me to the front of the pack, I handed over my $14.  (That’s correct.  Peruvian Soles were not accepted.  Only American dollars.)  Just like that, William and I were back in line.  I made the next bus.  And I climbed Wayna Picchu.  I owe this man a debt of gratitude.  What are the odds that I’d end up in line behind a well connected Machu Picchu guide.  If you don’t believe in fate, you might ponder it some more.

Machu Picchu: check

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

machu-matt.jpg Today was unbelievable.  Not because I visted Machu Picchu, but because I got more done before noon than I have in a long, long time.  But the site was pretty impressive in its own right.  I got out of bed at 4am so I’d be on the mountain in time to see the sun’s first rays hit Macchu Pichu sometime around 6:50am.  But really, I needed to be there early because only the first 400 people receive a pass to climb the peak that overlooks the ruins.  My stamp read 363!  Without going into extensive detail, it’s a real ordeal getting up to Machu Picchu, but so worth it.  I’m in awe of the fact that the Incas were able to build such an extensive city in such a remote location more than 500 years ago.


As for my trek up Wayna Picchu (the aforementioned climb limited to 400 people), it nearly killed me.  Between the high altitude and my, ahem, lack of proper conditioning… wow!  But I’m glad I pushed on.  The view from the top:

wayna1.jpgBottom line: really remarkable day. I catch a train in about 90 minutes for a small town in a nearby valley.  I’ve never looked forward to a good night’s sleep as much as I am tonight.  Hope everyone’s well.

Did Maslow say anything about coffee?

Friday, May 14th, 2010

I know he covered the shelter, love, belonging, and all that crap.  But Portlanders will argue that good coffee should be added to that list of basic human needs.  And upon arriving in Cusco this morning I found a cafe right around the corner from my hotel that serves a fantastic cup of coffee.


Flying in I got a good glimpse of the Andean foothills… what we call mountains in Oregon.  And I’m staying in an 18th century colonial house.  So far, so good in Peru.


Take the tour

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

For those interested in stalking me, er, I mean seeing where I’ll be headed in Peru… check out this Google maps tour.

View Larger Map

Locked and loaded

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010


24 hours from now I’ll be trying to breathe at 11,200 feet.  That’s not the plane ride, that’s the destination!  Cuzco is high up in the Andes and to combat any potential altitude sickness, I have my Diamox prescription in hand.  For all of you non-pharmaceutical groupies out there, we’re talking anti-altitude sickness medicine.  Ironically the side effects are quite similar to the very condition I’m trying to prevent.

side effects

Hats off to you

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

One of the things I’ll be doing in Peru is a 5 day, 62km hike to a set of Inca ruins called Choquequirao.  When I emailed one of the guys who offers guided trips to Choquequirao, he passed along a number of tips about doing the hike.  One of those tips was “bring the widest brim sun hat you can.”  The guide wrote that, “it is ferociously hot during the day if the sun is out. Stress ferociously!”

So that’s how I ended up at REI in downtown Portland shopping for sun hats.  Now let me tell you, wearing a hat in the blistering sun of the Andean Mountains is one thing.  But trying on sun hats in an urban Amercian city is another thing altogether.  More to the point, it’s impossible to wear a hat like this at REI(or your dining room) and not feel like a jackass:


The purchasing process inevitably comes to that moment where you ask the person next to you, “how do I look in this?”  And in this case, there is no good answer to that question.  You simply press on, comforted by the fact that you will be shielded from the sun and reassured by your knowledge that the photo above is already how Peruvians view Americans.  You’re just part of the status quo.