Inca Trail: Day Four

The horrifying hour of 4am came WAY too soon.  We had been dead to the world in our unexpected hostel bed and trying to pull ourselves out of bed was extremely difficult.  Not only because of how tired we were, but because our leg muscles were practically incapable of motion after the grueling 22km of the day before.  Considerably less than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we met at the restaurant for breakfast and then took off.  Half of our group had decided to tough it out and finish the trek on foot (including stubborn us), while the other half opted to take the bus for $8.  This is the one aspect where I think Peru Treks failed us–our detour and change of plans caused us to have to foot the cost of a hostel room (20 Soles=$7) and the bus, if we chose.  I know that Peru Treks had no control over the trail closure, but with how much we paid them for the trek, I felt that they should have been able to adjust with us and foot these costs.  (More on the cost/value of the trek later.)

What we naively assumed about hiking from Aguas Calientes to the front entrance of Machu Picchu was that we would be walking up the same road that the bus took.  Wrong.  After a couple turns along the road as the sun was coming up, Juan pointed out the “short cut trail”–1,760 steps UP.  Our jaws dropped.  We were all feeling dead from the past three days and now THIS???  It was almost too much.  But inspired by the unwillingness to pay $8 for a bus ride and the stubbornness of wanting to make it the whole way on foot, we started.  One foot in front of the other, stopping for frequent breaks, and sweating profusely in the humid air, we progressed grumpily.  I was so sore and tired and not in a good mood.  By the time we finally made it (after about two hours of steps) I felt like crying and Zach felt like throwing up.  All this to arrive at the main entrance of Machu Picchu along with all the lazy bums who took the train!  We exchanged exhausted high-fives with our guides and the bus-riders from our group, who had beaten us there, and then entered.  By the end, we had hiked 50.5km, 7.5km MORE than the normal Inca Trail!  We basically rock.  Arriving early definitely paid off…we got there around 7am, beating the crowds and the clouds!  We hurriedly pushed ourselves up to the top of the ruins on about-to-fall-off legs in order to get the classic Machu Picchu photos.  Despite all our bad luck on the trek, we were extremely lucky to be at the site on a clear, non-rainy day!  Cheers to that!  The site was stunning.  I couldn’t believe I was finally there after so much planning and hard work, but unfortunately caring much about it was quite an effort due to how tired and sore I was.  I think other group members felt the same way.  You could definitely tell the hikers from the train-riders at Machu Picchu because we were the ones hilariously hobbling up and down the steps at the speed of arthritic grandparents.  Percy gave us a two-hour tour of Machu Picchu, highlighting the most important parts.  It was really interesting, and I wish I would have been more awake and alert for it!  All in all, I think I personally appreciated having seen Machu Picchu more and more after the fact, as I recovered from the trek.  I think that if there hadn’t been landslides and we would have stuck to the original route, we would have been much more energetic and excited to be there in the end.  But what can you do?  Woulda, shoulda, coulda, you can’t control the weather!  Lest I come across like a total Negative Nancy, let me share our AMAZING pictures with you now!

Looks like a postcard, no?
Kind of good for an arms-length photo

We’re sooo tired!
Llamas responsible for trimming the grass

After touring the ruins, we decided we had had our fill and headed back to Aguas Calientes to have one last lunch as a group.  Aguas Calientes is an unapologetic tourist trap, like the Times Square of Perú.  Anyone coming to Machu Picchu HAS to go there, and they definitely know how to exploit the gringos.  Food and beer costs are nearly triple what they are in Cuzco.  We didn’t really find anything redeemable about the town, although if money was not an issue for you, you could probably have some fun and some tasty food.  Luckily our group had a whole restaurant reserved for us all day, so we hung out on the couch reading, writing, and napping until our train left at 6:45pm.  The British-run PerúRail company has a monopoly on the railroad in Perú and thus is also a ripoff.  The ride was unremarkable, highlighted only by obnoxiously yelling drunk people and free coffee and peanuts.  We got off the train two hours later in Ollantaytambo, and spent the last two hours on the Peru Treks bus back to Cuzco sleeping.  We finally got back to our hostel around 11pm, more physically exhausted than we’d ever felt before!

And here we are a week and a half later, finally finishing our recaps!  Despite our complaints about the trek, we were so glad we did it and we would recommend it to others.  Basically, it’s way more satisfying, and, we believe, a better value than taking the train!  Just KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING INTO!  It’s not easy; you must acclimatize; and you have to be in good-enough shape!  You might struggle and get sick despite acclimatizing and being in good shape.  The person in our group who had the hardest time was a former NFL football player.  Also, be prepared for the fact that you might be too exhausted to enjoy it by the time you get to Machu Picchu.  People who are more excited about Machu Picchu then they are about hiking and the Andean scenery should just take the train.  We were equally pumped about both, so we’re for sure glad we trekked!

Cost/Value of the trek:

There is much debate on the effects of the commercialization and popularity of the Inca Trail.  The trail was crowded but not unbearably so.  The limit on the number of people on the trail per day is what makes booking so far in advance necessary.  It’s also important to make sure you use a company that treats their porters fairly.  Here is what we paid and what we ultimately thought about the value of our experience (all prices are per person):

Peru Treks total cost=$490

Included: bus from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo ($10), 4 days of hiking, guide and assistant guide, porters, Inca Trail and Machu Picchu entry permit ($93), 10 big meals, tents, water on Days 3 and 4, sleeping pads, Machu Picchu tour, bus ticket from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes ($8), train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo ($37), bus from Ollantaytambo to Cuzco ($10).  (Breakdown info taken from Andean Travel Web.)

Not included: Sleeping bag ($20 to rent, we brought our own), personal porter to carry your sleeping bag and pad ($40, we carried our own stuff), breakfast on Day 1, lunch and dinner on Day 4, water on Days 1 and 2 (you can buy it for inflated prices along the way but we brought our own), snacks, coca leaves, walking sticks, tips for cook, guides, and porters ($25 minimum).

Extra costs we incurred due to landslides: Hostel on the night of Day 3 (20 Soles=$7, this was a decision our group made together; we could have chosen to camp and pay nothing but then it would have taken longer to get to Machu Picchu in the morning), Bus to Machu Picchu ($8, what a huge ripoff for those that didn’t want to hike anymore!).

Overall, I am totally impressed with the service, food and equipment provided by Peru Treks.  I know they’re not making an enormous profit on these treks with all the expenses involved.  Still, because of how much we shelled out, I can’t help but feel that Peru Treks could and should have included some of those extras, especially the three meals they are missing.  We were picked up at 5:30am on Day One and didn’t get back to Cuzco until 10:30pm on Day Four, so the meals on those days should have been part of the price!  Also, as I said before, I think Peru Treks could have shelled out some dough for our hostel and bus tickets due to our forced detour.

I also have one criticism of the Machu Picchu facilities.  Despite the loads of money the park brings in, the bathrooms are absolutely atrocious.  I am not usually one to complain about bathrooms (ummmm, hello, I’m Returned Peace Corps Tanzania, what can I say?) but what is the point of having modern toilets if you’re going to let them be so disgustingly filthy?  There was no toilet paper in any dispenser and literally every single stall was covered in pee or poop splashes.  Not what I expected from the most famous place in South America.

Hiking the Inca Trail Day 3

Inca Trail: Day Three

Day three started with bad news.  Our final campsite and last 5km of the trail were closed due to landslides.  This meant we would have to hike an extra 8.5km (5 miles) and enter Machu Picchu though the front entrance with all the lazy people that took the train.  There were two options: hike to the river, camp, then walk to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) and take the first bus up to the ruins from there or hike all the way to Aguas Calientes (22km=14 miles), spend the night in a hostel and hike from town up to Machu Picchu in the morning, completing the trek on foot.  Finishing the adventure on a bus sounded terrible so the group voted to hike all the way to Aguas.   That decision changed Day Three from a relatively easy day into something brutal.  We had never walked 14miles in a day, let alone hiked up and down hills and mountains at high altitude.  To top it off we were super sore from yesterday’s uphill battle.  I heard the question “Why didn’t we take the train?” so many times!

So after our usual awesome breakfast, we left camp in the rain.  It had snowed above our camp the night before, covering the Dead Woman’s Pass that we had crossed the previous afternoon.  The first hour was uphill and our legs were proving very tired already.  We passed a few more ruins and reached the second pass where there was supposed to be the best view of the whole hike.  Unfortunately it was still raining and cloudy.  Our guide Percy, who was Quechua, had us bring stones from the river that we stacked at the top of the mountain in a spiritual ritual for good luck, then we began the decent.

The trail was nice in this section, gradual downhill most of the time.  The trail wound through several tunnels and the vegetation was thick and almost jungle-like.  After what seemed like forever, we made it to our lunch stop.  It was still cloudy but the rain had slowed, thankfully.  Not that it mattered since we were already soaked to the bone.  From here the trail was down steep steps all the way to the river (8 km/5mi).  At first it was not so bad, different muscles than we used up yesterday going uphill.  But soon our knees started to quiver and our toes started to push into the tip of our boots, blistering.  We relied heavily on our walking sticks and soon even our arms were tired.  About halfway down the clouds cleared and we could see the town of Aguas Calientes.  It was still SO FAR AWAY!

One of the chaskis. They ran down the steps.
There is another chaski under there somewhere.

We finally made it to the bottom and sat down in the grass waiting for the rest of the group.  Some of the other groups were camping there but we had decided to walk along the train tracks two more hours to town.  After sitting, our legs were super stiff and everything was hurting.  At least the trail was flat from here and we focused on putting one foot after the other, trying not to trip and hurt ourselves when so close to the finish.

Right as the light faded we saw the town.  Dawn ’til dusk, what a day.  Our Day Three definitely did not go as planned, and many of us agreed that it was actually harder than Day Two due to the long detour.  Our cook fed us our last dinner, including a tasty cake, then we showered and quickly fell asleep in our hostel rooms.  Wake up time: 4am to hike up to one of the most famous sites in the world.

Day 2

Day 4

Ruta de las Cascadas: Biking To The Banos Waterfalls

Banos is full of amazing outdoor activities and biking to the Banos waterfalls should not be missed!.  From the town of Banos the bike down the main road east towards Puyo, which is considered to be the edge of the jungle.  While Puyo is 60km away from Baños, it is almost entirely downhill, making it a realistic day’s bike ride to the waterfalls.  We do not bike often, at least since leaving Arizona, so we didn’t make it all the way to the jungle.

biking Banos waterfalls
On the road!

We got our bikes in town and cruised down the hill.  The river flowed at our side carving a canyon that weaved down through the mountains.  Most of the way you are riding on the road with the cars, but sometimes you ride on the scenic road around the tunnels.  On these roads we were usually all alone, so we took fun pictures with the green hills in the background. Along the way you bike through a tunnel, past a dam, and then come to the first waterfall.  The first falls you can see fine from the road and there is a cable car and a slow-seeming zipline to the other side, if you’re so inclined.

biking Banos waterfalls
You can cable car or zipline to the other side.

The air became sticky as we rolled farther and farther down the hill.  We started dripping sweat and feeling that light-headedness you get from sitting in the sun too long.  I saw a shiny bright blue butterfly, and the largest wasp I have ever seen.  People sat around under trees and if they moved, moved sluggishly.  This journey to the edge made us very excited for later excursions deeper into the Amazon.

Nearing the end of our ride we came to the biggest of the Banos waterfalls, the Cascada Pailón del Diablo, which was at the end of a short trail.

biking Banos waterfalls
Cascada Pailón del Diablo.

It was $1.50 each to enter and the trail was pretty rough after biking for a few hours.  Many Ecuadorian women came wearing high heels and other great hiking footwear; most foreigners wore the standard safari gear.  We like to laugh at other people’s attire, since we always look like bums.  Once at the bottom the falls were hidden in a little cove.  The mist rose from the pool and the sun made multiple rainbows around us.  We climbed up a trail that had a one meter (under 4 feet) high ceiling, slippery from the mist.  After crawling through this up about 30 more meters (100ft) you emerge behind the falls, and you get soaking wet.  It was just what we needed after a long day in the equatorial sun.  Lucky we had our waterproof camera (Thanks Mom and Dad) and the rest of our gear was in ziplock bags.

biking Banos waterfalls
Behind the falls!

After we made the exhausting hike back up to our bikes, we rode a little father down and accidentally passed the last falls.  We missed the turn and went for the best downhill ride yet.  The problem was that we didn’t have it in us to go all the way to Puyo-the next spot with busses after the one we had passed.  So we turned around and walked our bikes back about a mile to the final waterfall we missed.  We decided we didn’t need to spend another $2 to hike down to this waterfall so instead we drank a beer at the bar at the start of the waterfall trail.  After about 15 minutes a tour van pulled up, half full of people that were too lazy to do the trip on bikes.  For $1.50 each they gave us a ride back to Baños, bikes on top, blasting salsa music from the sound system.  We were tired and sunburnt and didn’t even make it all the way to Puyo, but we still felt accomplished.

Enjoy this post about biking to the Banos waterfalls? Check out our archives for other adventures! Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @laaventuraproject and our subscribe to our Youtube Channel.

Baños Rumbles: Tungurahua, Part I

“Tungurahua” means “Throat of Fire” in Quichua.

On Sunday, November 27, 2011 around 5pm, Zach and I heard a distant rumbling that somehow, didn’t sound like thunder.  We immediately looked up at the peak of Tungurahua, but it was shrouded in clouds.  There was no doubt about it, though, the beast was awake.

We were living in our tent on a WWOOFing property on the edge of Baños closest to the volcano.  The several miles that separated us somehow meaningless due to our direct line of sight with the 16,479 foot-high top and our location exactly on the line of any predicted lava flows.  The remainder of the night was spent in a nervous frenzy, listening to continuous rumbling, watching streams of lava spew from the crater once the clouds cleared, pacing around the yard taking pictures, and venturing down the street to observe whether any of the locals were freaking out like we were.  We did NOT get much sleep.

A few notes from my journal that night:
“We are standing in the garden watching lava flow from Mama Tungurahua’s merciless-looking mouth.  It is probably the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“Why do these things always happen at night?  If it was daytime, I’d be on a bus out of here by now!”
“What is God trying to say to me?”  (I’d be surprised if I was the only one philosophizing on higher power while watching this.)
“Taking the coolest pictures of my life is no fun when I’m scared my life is in DANGER.”

The next morning we found the townspeople totally unfazed, everyone assuring us that this happens quite frequently, and is nothing to worry about.  We, nevertheless, were worried, at least about our inability to sleep during the ever-present rumbling.  We headed to the bus station midday Monday and spent a couple days in the jungle sweating and hoping that Tungurahua would cool it (haha).  Wednesday we faced the reality that we were just being wimps and couldn’t shirk our WWOOFing duties forever.  Also, most of our stuff was still in Baños, and we wanted to have it in the event we really had to leave.  As we walked back up the hill toward the volcano, the speeds of our heartbeats increased exponentially with the sounds of the volcano…


Eruption Photos

Eruption Video

Dealing with Sickness While Traveling

WARNING:  This post is probably TMI.  Read at your own discretion.

Getting sick:  it’s an inevitable part of the adventure for most budget travelers.  You never quite know what did it–street food, allegedly potable (but later you find out the pigs live upstream) water, or just weird and new germs in a new country.  It’s really hard to avoid occasional illness if street food and living with locals are things you consider integral parts of the experience.  So let’s sympathize.

My first real problems on this trip just popped up out of nowhere on Monday night.  One hour and 4 bathroom trips later, I knew something had caught up with me.  I spent the night tossing and turning, stuck with that horrible nausea where you can never ACTUALLY just get it over with and throw up.  The next morning I felt a bit better.  It was to be a long travel day involving three different vehicles.  I decided I could eat some breakfast before beginning the trek–BAD IDEA!  As soon as I ate I realized my error.  I had to do what every poor sick bus-rider does in this situation:  gobble Immodium!  That little pill essentially turns your insides into concrete, thus working miracles for bus ride survival.  I’ve heard that it’s actually really bad for you, though, and should only be taken when absolutely necessary.  Soon enough I found myself perched in the back of a covered pickup truck, and of course this drive involved the craziest, curviest road ever, which the driver sped down without any regard for my troubled stomach.  Hanging out the window for fresh air and making sure to drink lots of water to at least stay hydrated are my best ideas for surviving this situation.  At least this road was paved.

The next minibus grumbled over a narrow dirt road up and over the Andes for hours.  Zone out, iPod on, try to enjoy the scenery and forget about my warring intestines was what I tried to do, with mediocre results.  Of course by the time the Immodium was wearing off and we were within an hour of Pasto (our final destination), the driver had to stop for dinner.  I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, but I could still feel my rebel intestines growling angry threats of mutiny.  Finally, finally, we got to a hostel and I flopped into bed in misery for another nauseous night.

This morning what I mostly felt was the shaky, low blood pressure feeling from barely eating in the past 24 hours.  (At least being sick saves you food $$!)  I sent Zach out for bread and juice (what a good guy I have!) and the ultimate test began.  Was I on the road to recovery?  Would said food be accepted or rejected?  Almost as soon as I ate I began to perk up and it seemed my rebellious digestive tract was behaving once again.  A true hurrah indeed, since having the travel sickness for more than 24 hours is usually a warning sign that something more major is wrong (think: critters).  We decided a rest day was called for which sucks because we wanted to take a boat out on a beautiful nearby lake today.  But when energy is not up to snuff as you’re recovering from a nasty bug, sometimes a “stay in PJs” day is just necessary.  This hostel, The Koala Inn in Pasto, is actually the perfect place for a lazy-bum due to it’s comfy beds, fast WiFi, and cable TV!  There are even English channels and I’ve gotten to watch some No Reservations, Project Runway, Scrubs, and new It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia online.  So we’re spending my recovery day vegging and working on the website.  (What do you think of the changes?)  And now I must torture Zach by holding the computer hostage as I catch up on Grey’s Anatomy (my guilty obsession).

What are your tips for getting through those problematic little stomach bugs while traveling?


Not much news since we bought our flight tickets.  (Which is still big news!!!)  The reason for the lag:  We are friggin’ busy!

Zach works 50 hour weeks AND every other weekend as an electrician.

Mel has a relatively new job, is moving, and training for a triathalon.

I just got a new job but still have two weeks left at my old one.  So between the two I’m working 60 hour weeks and at least 20 straight days without a day off.

AHHH!!!  We are TIRED and frustrated that we don’t have more time to work on things like the trailer, social media, and fundraising.  But the $$ we are making now is enabling us to take off on this year of awesomeness.  I know I will handle tiredness so much better when I’m tired from doing something awesome, like hiking Machu Picchu. 

Eyes on the prize…Also I know I will be able to work more on LAP once I’m back to only one job and only 40 hours a week.  I just can’t wait to get there!