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The Sacred Valley

Posted by Jason del Sur in Photo Albums, South America 2012
November 13th, 2014

I’m still slowly catching up on my blog posts over the past couple years. Here’s another from my South American adventure from two years ago…

Shortly before I departed on my trek to Machu Picchu I received a Facebook message from a friend asking how long I would be in Cuzco since they would be there soon as well. This is yet another serendipitous moments where Facebook has brought us all closer together. My friends Ryan and Abbie were living in Ecuador and were coming down to Cuzco for a few days. Due to the fortuitous viewing of my of my posts, I now had friends to explore the Sacred Valley with, and later a place to stay in my final stop in Quito.

With them I visited several amazing locations surrounding Cuzco including Salinas featuring beautiful salt ponds, and Maras with ancient concentric rings built by the Incas.

Salinas  Maras

After a day with them, I went for a short excursion to one of my favorite locations in the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo. Nestled within a scenic valley, Ollantaytambo boasts great hiking and beautiful Inca ruins set into the side of the mountain. This is where I took one of my favorite photos of the entire trip (with my iPhone, no less):

Ollantaytambo

If any of you lovely readers find yourselves in Ollantaytambo, stay at Casa de Wow!!! (exclamation points are an integral part of the name) to stay. It’s a quaint hostel run by American expat Winn featuring private rooms full of hand-built furniture and displaying the fine sartorial craftsmanship of Wow.

Completely handmade bunk beds

Here’s the a full album of my trip to the Sacred Valley:

OllantaytamboOllantaytamboLoki made me deadCuzcoCristo BlancophotoSacsayhuamánSacsayhuamánSacsayhuamánSacsayhuamánSacsayhuamánSacsayhuamánSacsayhuamánMarasMarasMarasMarasphotophotoPaintingphotoSalinasSalinasSalinasphotophotoOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboCompletely handmade bunk bedsphotoTry to eat the our guinea pingOllantaytamboOllantaytamboFace in the rockOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboOllantaytamboPumamarcaPumamarcaphotoPumamarcaPumamarcaphoto

Manu Jungle

Posted by Jason del Sur in Photo Albums, South America 2012
August 25th, 2014

Yet another short post, the most import piece being the photos…

Cuzco and the surrounding environs is where I spent the longest portion of my trip. I arrived in Cuzco from La Paz on 4 March and did venture beyond until 18 March. My final excursion was a four day trip to Manú Jungle. While not a deep venture into the Amazon, it provided a good introduction to the flora and fauna to what you might find deeper into the jungle.

I can no longer recall my guide’s name, but he had a deep knowledge of the area, especially the native birds. He could hear a chirp or a call from an out-of-sight bird and immediately tell me exactly what species of birds it was and recall exactly what page of his aviary reference book it was on. At first I was skeptical, but after several instances of the bird then flying into view I could see that the shape, sizing, and plumage matched exactly what he had portended. My only real issue with the guide was that every time he referred to the “Cloud Forest”, his Quechua pronunciation always came out as “Clown Forest”.

Cui go in hereDinnerParrot loves cocaHoney badger loves cocaParrot is ready for ManuPlayingThree toed sloth just hangin'Bitey parrotIn the jungleOn the riverTermites taste like mint"Boats"This spider will kill youVery venomous snakeThe river runs red

Machu Picchu

Posted by Jason del Sur in Photo Albums, South America 2012
August 21st, 2014

As I’ve described previously, this is part of my series of getting caught up on my South American adventures, and as such will be much shorter than my usual posts.

As I had a very undefined itinerary for the second half of my trip, I did not know when I would arrive in Cuzco and when I would be able to do my Machu Picchu trek. The famous route is the Inca Trail, but due to environmental concerns with erosion and overuse it is extremely regulated. Because of this you must acquire a permit several months ahead of time specifying exact dates. Instead, I opted to do the arguably more strenuous Salkantay Trek. It’s a four-day trek reaching a maximum elevation of about 4,600 meters (15,000 feet) eventually leading to the town of Aguas Calientes.

We arrived in Aguas Calientes moderately early on the last day and took some time in the eponymous hot springs relaxing. After dinner we all retired to bed for a short nap. We departed around four in the morning to climb the nearly 2000 stairs to reach the entrance to Machu Picchu at sunrise.

Salkantay Trek

Before the trek, I was concerned that the beauty and splendor of Machu Picchu had been overhyped. I can now definitively tell you: it is that awesome. And I mean that in original sense of the word “inspiring awe”. The ancient stonework and the surrounding mountains make for a glorious sight in the early morning.

If any of you choose to visit Machu Picchu, I highly recommend doing the hike up the stairs. While arduous, you are able to enter the park as soon as it opens and explore with only a moderate number of other people. By the time 11:00am arrives with the loads of bus-riding tourists you will have largely gotten your fill and not feel bad relaxing in a secluded section until it is time to depart.

Machu Picchu

I also recommend the optional Huayna Picchu hike taking you to an extra peak far above the main structure. From there you are able to look down and bask in the grandiosity of the Incas. It also provides additional solace from the hoards of people arriving on busses.

My pictures cannot do justice to the experience of being there yourself:

Salkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuAtop Huanya Picchu looking down at Machu PicchuAtop Huanya Picchu looking down at Machu PicchuAtop Huanya Picchu looking down at Machu PicchuAtop Huanya Picchu looking down at Machu PicchuAtop Huanya Picchu looking down at Machu PicchuAtop Huanya Picchu looking down at Machu PicchuAtop Huanya Picchu looking down at Machu PicchuSalkantay TrekSalkantay TrekMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu Picchu

Some Kind of Jetlag

Posted by Jason del Sur in South America 2012
July 19th, 2012

I’ll call it latitudinal jet lag.

As my travels were due south, there was no drastic time zone shift upon my return to reality. But my circadian rhythm has been thrown out of whack nonetheless. When I left Chicago in February the sun was setting around 5pm. In Argentina summer was in its final weeks and autumn was quickly approaching (that still didn’t stop the excessive heat in Buenos Aires, though). Unlike the northern hemisphere at the time my days were waning shorter; sunset was getting earlier.

Towards the end of my trip I approached the mitad del mundo–the middle of the earth. On one of my final days I even visited the equator just outside of Quito. I had never thought about it before, but at the equator, the days never grow longer or shorter: they’re always twelve hours long. In Quito, no matter the time of year, the sun always rises at 6am and always sets at 6pm. It makes sense they would never have daylight savings there.

After many months of five and six o’clock sunsets, my body adjusted its circadian rhythm to know that when the sun falls there’s about seven or eight more hours before bedtime (assuming it wasn’t a big party night). I was in for quite a shock when I landed back in Chicago and it wouldn’t get dark until nine o’clock. My body wasn’t ready for its daily dose of dreaming until three or four in the morning. It’s now two months later and my body still is confused by the time. Before I left, it was already dark when I would leave work. Now the cue of it’s dark, it’s time to go home is gone. I find myself caught up in work and checking the time and realizing it’s way past time to leave.

I can’t say I’m complaining about the extra hours of daylight–having some sun on the way home from work is nice–but a more regular sleep cycle would be welcomed.

Floating Islands

Posted by Jason del Sur in South America 2012
May 9th, 2012

Ever since I was little it’s been impossible for me to say Titicaca without giggling at least a little bit. Even as I stand at its shore, maturity still has yet to grace me. At least it’s complemented by a sense of awe at the immensity and beauty of this tranquil lake. It could just be the lack of oxygen at this altitude, though.

I boarded the bus in La Paz and journeyed several hours before we had to debarque from the bus to ferry across the lake. After reboarding and continuing a little further, we reached the calm lakeside town of Copacabana. The lethargy of the town was evident by how slowly my pizza reached me. I didn’t even have time to eat more than a slice before I had to return to the bus station to travel onward. We crossed the border into Peru, exchanged Bolivianos for Nuevo Soles, and continued on.

P1040332  titicaca-i1

Puno, on the western shore of Lake Titicaca is a dirty town. There is one main touristy strip full of restaurants and bars. Outside of that, the town is gritty and not particularly pleasant. I did stumble upon a real supermarket, which threw me off balance. Imaging a large Jewel or Kroger that also sells TVs and washing machines. It had been weeks since I had seen anything besides kioscos and street carts. Knowing that I would be spending the next evening with a local family, I purchased some gifts of rice, fruit, and cookies for the children.

P1040341

The next morning, I was picked up early to head out to the islands of Titicaca. In the shallows of the lake are the Uros Islands, also known as the Floating Islands. Made of mud and reeds, the natives live in small communities of 3 to 4 families.

P1040350

Roger, the “president” of one of the island gave us an explanation of their life and heritage in Quechua while our guide translated. Formerly, their lives consisted primarily of fishing. Now it’s all tourism and handicrafts. The children go to the mainland for school, and very few return home once they’ve grown, leading to a dwindling of the Uros population. In several years, I believe it’s unlikely that anyone will still live there except for a few families supporting the tourist demand.

P1040355 P1040358

We continued on to the island of Amantaní. Once again, tourism has changed their way of life, and most families now live on a little bit of farming and the money they make from tourists doing homestays. My family was incredibly welcoming, and the children were adorable. The young girl Barbara (the mother claimed the daughter and her brother Brian’s names were biblical, but I don’t buy it) would constantly pop up cooing ¡hola!

P1040374 P1040376

P1040419

After a meal of local vegetables: 4 different types of potatoes and several roots I’ve never seen before, our group took an afternoon trek up Pachamama (Mother Earth in Quechua). Atop the hill stands a temple where the people come to give offerings to Mother Earth. Looking down at the placid lake below, there is a serene power permeating the air. I almost stopped chuckling at its name.

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As the sun falls, the peacefulness grows. The blues of the sky mingle with the azur water. The shadow of the temple against the sky darkens. The air begins to grow chilly. It’s time to head back down the hill. It’s fiesta time with the locals.

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