September 29, 2016

Peru: Hiking in the Andes (Part I -- Acclimatization)

The 2nd day's peak of 14,980 ft (2,200 ft climb), almost all switchbacks for the last 800 ft.

We'd prepared ourselves for the hiking as well as we could in two months of road-tripping and hiking in the US and Canada.  The total mileage and total climbs on the data sheet for the trek looked doable.  We'd be doing a total of 44ish miles over 6 days, with the largest elevation change in one day being a 2,000 ft climb followed by a 3,000 ft+ descent and the longest distance day around 10 miles.  We knew we could handle the climbs, descents, and distances.

The thing we were scared about was the altitude. 

The highest we'd hiked in our training was to 10,500 ft (Mt. Lassen) with a climb of 2,000 ft in 2.5 miles (this was steeper than any climb on the trek, but almost 5,000 ft lower than the Salkantay Pass we would be crossing).  The highest we'd slept was 4,500 feet (Lake Almanor).

View of the mountains from the hot-tub at the first lodge (12,800 ft).

In the past, we'd both slept at 6,000 - 8,000 ft in Colorado and Wyoming and skied from peaks of altitude over 10,000 ft (Park City and Jackson Hole).  I'd gone for several runs over 6,000 ft with no ill effects (other than slowing me down) and E and his dad had successfully climbed over the 14,259 ft Long's Peak 15+ years ago.  But, realistically speaking, none of us had ever slept at serious altitude, nor had any of us spent more than 8 continuous hours or so during daytime living in it.  E's dad went so far as to get a prescription for Diamox, but E&I decided to try to tough it out without drugs.

Inca terraces at Chinchero.

After a quick overnight sleep in Lima, we boarded our plane for Cusco and landed at 11,200 ft.  We were met at the airport by our *amazing* local guide -- he quickly escorted us to his personal vehicle, gave us bottled water, and discussed his recommendations for our local Sacred Valley itinerary as well as the Salkantay trek.  The first day was recommended to be low-key, so our guide took us to Chinchero (elevation 12,343 feet), lunch, and then a half day of rest at our hotel.

It was wedding day at the Catholic church in Chinchero for the locals.

Ummm... going from sea level to 12,343 feet in a few hours is no joke, my friends.

The walk from the car to the archeological site was uphill.  After 50 steps or so, I could *really* feel how much I needed to breathe hard and how fast my heart was beating.  I needed to use the restroom, and on my way in, our guide advised me to hold my breath to avoid the smell.  I took a deep breath, walked in, squatted, and started to do my business when after 30 seconds or so, I realized, "Oh, I'm dizzy."  I decided stinky thin oxygen was better than holding my breath and the dizziness subsided.

Locals attending weddings in their traditional dress.

Our visit to the site took at least an hour and a half and I'd be shocked if we walked more than a mile.
But, our hotel was at (what now seemed) a blissfully low 8,850 ft, so we enjoyed some hot tub time and reading, ate dinner, and slept without major problems.  We started to feel more confident that we would be okay on the trek.

View down from the Ollantaytambo terraces and across town to the food storage.

The next day, our guide had a big day in store for us.  Linguistically, he was impressively fluent in English, Spanish and appeared to have some Japanese, Quechua, German and a few other languages to boot.  Historically, he clearly knew much about the ruins, but also the local people.  He'd spent years working with the indigenous people of Peru before becoming a guide.  Most impressively, he was great at reading us and suggesting an itinerary that was flexible and moved with how we were feeling, what the traffic looked like, and what he thought made the most sense.  I sincerely recommend considering using LifetimePeru for any tour in Peru.

Food storage units (yeah, we hiked up there).

As our first activity on our first full day at elevation, we hiked around Ollantaytambo (10,000 ft) for over 2 hours, which consisted of 2.3 slow miles of distance including 560 feet of elevation gain (mainly due to the hike up to the food storage ruins).  We were huffing and puffing, for sure, but we were doing okay.

Good Advice at the agricultural experimental terraces of Moray.

Next, we spent about an hour walking 0.8 miles around Moray (11,500 ft), followed by about 45 minutes walking 0.65 miles around the salt ponds of Maras (10,000 ft).

Hiking on the salt between these salt pools was surreal.

That night, we all slept very well (again around 8,500 ft) and we were ready to attack our last day of Sacred Valley sight-seeing before the trek.

Pisac ruins from above.

We did the full 2.3 mile out and back hike at the Pisac Archeological Site and while we were still huffing and puffing (11,500 ft starting point), we were obviously getting more and more acclimatized.  We stopped for empanadas in a town between our sights, fitting in another 0.5 miles of walking around 9,000 ft plus sitting and eating.  Our next stop was the gorgeous (and blissfully empty of crowds) Tipon where we did another slow and steady mile at 10,000 feet.

Incan water features at Tipon still work.

From there, our guide took us to Cusco (11,200 ft), helped us check into our hotel, and dropped us off at Sacsayhuaman (12,142 feet), where we hiked a mile in 43 minutes (much faster than the estimated hiking times for the trek).


We took a break at the bottom of the archeological site and ordered chicharones, choclo, papas fritas, y papitas which we ate with a shared cold big Cusquena beer.  From there, we walked down the hill through the Spanish colonial town to our hotel for another 1.19 miles at elevation.

Not a bad place for a snack break.

After the briefing for our trek and a light dinner, we moved items around in our luggage until we met the required volume requirements of 1 soft duffel (to be transported by horse on the trail) and 1 day-pack per person -- the remainder would stay in Cusco and be waiting for us upon our return.

All of our belongings for the next 7 days.

September 18, 2016

The Brothers Karamazov (and 3 other books)

So many of my literary heroes have cited The Brothers Karamazov as one of their favorites that it had been on my must read list for quite some time.

I'd tried to convince my book club to read it on several occasions, but they'd always over-ruled me. Today, more than 2 months after I started it as my only English literary reading goal of the sabbatical year, I finally finished it.

I really wanted to love this book.  Instead, for the most part, I spent this reading task feeling like it was hard homework (assigned by me, to me, so no one but myself to blame).  My attitude was bad enough that at times, E joked that I was hate-reading the thing.

Perhaps like other hard efforts, it will pay dividends in the future and I will appreciate it more than I do now.

For the time being, I'm proud I finished (but I'm generally more annoyed at a literary joke I feel was pulled on me). I felt the book had too much drunken navel-gazing/violence and I just couldn't relate to most of the internal philosophical struggle with the concepts of Russia, Russian Christians, God, and Brain Fever (not kidding, almost every major character essentially falls into some sort of mental illness at some point).  I kept waiting for the obvious linguistic beauty or other passages that would help me understand why I'm a fan of the writing of so many folks who are a fan of this book.  Sadly, it hasn't happened (yet).

I had visually read 3 other books since my last visual books post, and I enjoyed each of these more than The Brothers Karamazov.

Naomi Novik

A very enjoyable young adult fantasy novel with a young woman coming of age, the development of magic and balance of powers within a kingdom -- at all times very creatively playing off of the myth of baba yaga.  Well told.
Earnest Cline

Nowhere near the opus that Ready Player One was, but an enjoyable romp down the "video game players actually have useful skills in intergallactic warfare" path.
The Man Who Made Vermeers: Han Van Meegeren
Jonathan Lopez

(A gift from Arvay). Very educational discussion of art forgery and media and how Van Meegern became the most highly compensated living artist of his day by faking Vermeers.  Sad and distressing at times, but all-in-all, very educational about human nature, WWII, and the desires we all have to believe the pretty story.

September 15, 2016

Resupply and Scaling Back

We'd been very comfortably living out of our Prius for 2 months.

There was a slight worry in the back of my mind about just how much *stuff* is in storage and how stressful it may be to transition from this life of relative minimalism back to a home-based life with so many *things* at the end of the year.

Turns out, long before I have to confront that demon, I'm going to have to pare my accessible belongings by another 50-65%.

Oooops.  Somehow, I didn't really think about this step in advance.

After spending a ton of money to ship replacement items to E's parents and fill out our rain gear and hiking supplies at REI yesterday,  E and I now have to figure out what exactly is necessary for the next 2 months in South America, and we need to keep it to only those bags we can wear on our body at the same time.

Uneven Gait? Wore through the tread and into the soft bit on my left shoe.

It's not *quite* as demanding as true back-packing, as we won't actually be carrying our own weight for any long stretches (the 7-day hike we are doing in the Andes is pack-assisted by alpaca) and we won't be sleeping outdoors, but, realistically speaking, we still will need to keep the packs at something *close* to backpacking weight -- likely no more than 30 pounds each.

A subset of this needs to fit in the two bags on the left by the hiking poles.
Off to do a couple days of sorting, packing, and rearranging.

Update:  additional details as requested -- we fly to Lima, acclimatize to altitude for a few days, hike the Salkantay trail to Machu Pichu, and then, in mid-November we fly back to the US from Santiago, Chile.  In the middle of those two stops, we have an idea of what we'd like to do, but it's all still quite rough.  We're currently hoping to hit up Ecuador (Galapagos), Panama, Columbia (Cartagena, maybe Medellin and Bogota), Bolivia, Argentina (northern portion only), and Chile.  I'd be shocked if we executed exactly on that plan.  If there's one thing we learned from the road trip, it's that things will be unexpectedly hard at times (enough to cause you to change the plan) and along the way you will learn of other wonderful things worth modifying the plan to experience.

September 11, 2016

3 New States

From Quebec we drove to Maine (new state for BT) to visit Acadia National Park.

View of Bar Harbor From the Spit at Sunset
One of many well-constructed boardwalks around Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.
Walking back across the spit from Bar Harbor Island at low tide

We picked the lovely, reasonably priced, and perfectly serviceable Belle Island Motel because it fit our budget, got good reviews and was in Bar Harbor, which meant we could get to the Park without too much lost time due to driving.
Sunset across the bay in Bar Harbor, Maine.

My favorite part about this motel?  They had a self-service fire pit, with wood under a tarp, a butane torch to light it, sparks flying everywhere, and plastic chairs around a low fire ring that did nothing to stop or contain sparks that shot up and blew in the wind -- everything designed to remind my Californian self that I was far, far away from home.  Here, in this part of the world, apparently, they can just leave supplies to start a huge fire in the back of the motel.  And no fires start.  Despite the admittedly high, drunk, or irresponsible patrons we encountered on our visits to the fire circle and the looming trees into which the sparks all fly -- because it is SO HUMID that nothing could possibly catch on fire that wasn't kept dry under a tarp and lit with a butane torch.

A solid hike up Mt. Cadillac.

View into the bay from the summit.

We took the gorge trail down, which involved some good scrambling.
After lots of hiking in Acadia national park (including a solid incline up Cadillac mountain and some scrambles down the associated gorge for a total of 10+ miles for the day), we racked up two more new states for BT -- New Hampshire and Vermont.  Both are hilly, rural, with quaint villages, and very green, with pockets of trees just starting to hint at the famed fall colors.
Benington, VT Revolutionary War Memorial

After Vermont, we took advantage of some local friends who offered to host us.  First, we spent 2 great days with friends in a tiny village in NJ who have a precocious (and super adorable) 3 year old daughter.  She insisted that we sing happy birthday to her imaginary friend with dessert the first night, so we did.  Staying in a real home with a real laundry room and grilling in the back yard felt like a vacation from our vacation. 

Then, we spent 1 night with another family in DC including their 4 year old and a 3 month old sons.  It was nice to enjoy the chaos and not really have any plans in both locations other than hanging out, watching the kids, and catching up with the adults in the few minutes of downtime we could find between the kids' needs.  Visits like this remind me just *how* demanding on parents' time young children are. 

Not sure why, by this tri-color Open flag is ubiquitous in the Northeast.  Any explanations on the history/origin?

Mileage on my feet for the week was lower than previous weeks (19.95) due to pushing through a fairly long driving section (1,080ish miles) as well as higher temps, humidity, lack of good safe running routes, and preferring to hang out with our friends over working out alone. 

September 5, 2016

I Fell In Love

Before this trip, I'd been to Canada a handful of times.  Whistler to ski, Ottawa and Montreal in the winter, and 3 or 4 trips to Vancouver during lovely temperate weather.  I'd always had a good time.
La Croix de Mont Royal.
But this road trip, with extended stays in tiny Canadian towns, getting to know the rural expanses in Alberta and Seskatchewan, the breathtaking beauty and hiking in Jasper and Banff, the big city bustle and islands off of Toronto, and then, adding Quebec?  Well, I'm in love.

Canada is now one of my favorite countries.

Right now, I'd like to spend several weeks just driving around, hiking, speaking French, and eating in Quebec.  But, unfortunately, we leave today.

I'll just have to comfort myself with the memories of the amazing meals we had in this wonderful province:

A delicious izakaya dinner in Montreal.

Best Lunch Ever.
Poutine lunch in Montreal.

Fondue dinner in a quaint old Suisse restaurant in Quebec.

Street art in Quebec.
Charcuterie and cheese lunch in old Quebec while watching all the tourists go by.

Street Art in Old Quebec City.
Crepe dinner in old Quebec, further from the central madness but still with plenty of fun people-watching.
The entrance to Old Quebec beneath the citadel.

On the mileage front, this week was very solid.  Mileage was 50+ for the first time in long time.  In addition to many miles of sightseeing, I actually fit in several running workouts, including 3 decent speed efforts on treadmills and a 10 mile slow run along the river to Ottawa.  The Ottawa river run was certainly the biggest adventure -- upon crossing to the other side (Gattineau, in Quebec) and searching for the trail that was shown on Google Maps, I was stopped by a security car and guard who honked, wagged his finger, and yelled at me in an incomprehensible (to me) Quebecois.
Best name for a pub across from a Cathedral.

Eventually, my French, rusty and neglected, overcame my daily Spanish study and explained that I was looking for the running trail, not planning any terrorist activities.  He informed me that the trail was not accessible on this side of the river due to construction and strongly suggested that I go back to the English side where the trail was easily accessible.  So that is what I did.