Tres Gauchos

Follow us as we share stories about our wild and crazy adventures in South America.

Our Trek to Machu Picchu- Part One

Day one of the Salkantay trek started promptly to the sound of our collective harmonious alarms at 4:00 AM. It wasn’t that hard to wake up given the enormity of the day’s task. We received a knock on our door from one of the guides and quickly proceeded to check in our big backpacks. All we would bring with us were clothes, extra shoes, sunscreen, snacks, and a lot of insect repellent.

We walked outide the hostel to see dusk over the sleeping city. We were accompanied by two Aussies- a couple, Donny & Steph, with whom we would quickly become friends. We walked down to Plaza de San Francisco where the rest of our group slowly came together. We boarded the bus and drove up a windy mountain to the small town of Mollapata.

We arrived a couple of hours later and sat down for a quick breakfast at a mom ‘n’ pop restaurant. After loading up our 5 kg. limit bags onto the mules, we gathered outside for a quick briefing where our guides, Gean Paul and Daniel introduced themselves. We would come to know Gean as he man constantly attacked by the giggle-moster. Daniel, the quieter of the two, wound up being one of the coolest persons we’ve met so far.

And so our journey began with 5 days and 55.5 miles standing in our way. The hike began uphill through the back alleys of the small town. We eventually reached a mountain road that we would take most of the way up besides the “shortcuts.” The firrst very noticeable thing about the journey was we had to be careful about every step- the rocks were big enough that if you walked on it wrong, you would definitely twist your ankle or take a gracious stumble. Another very noticeable aspect of the roads we traversed was that they all had a significant amount of animal feces scattered in every possible spots. From dog, to mule, to cow, to llama, to alpaca, and Lord knows what/who else, shit was everywhere (excuse the language, you beautiful folks).

After about an hour uphill, we were pretty high up the mountain. The town was out of sight, but the view we could see was of the valley below and the mountains behind and ahead of us. We took a rest on a grassy patch where a brief moment of silence allowed us all to hear the birds chirping and the wind moving by us. It only lasted about five seconds, but it was enough to make everyone realize how farly-disconnected from nature “civilization” we had become.

On we went, up and up and up. We channeled our inner Bear Grylls and climbed rocks, pulled our feet through thick mud, and hiked further up the intimidating mountain side. If these first couple of hours were any indication of the rest of our journey, were in for a long five days. We stopped atop a smaller mountain peak with a panoramic view. It was then we also had the pleasure of experiencing the magic of Francisco.

Francisco, a late 40’s? Peruvian male with a wide-grinned smile, was luckily for us, the chef for our trek. He whipped up some of the best meals we’ve had to date from two portable burners and zero help. Our first meal consisted of a divine creamy chicken broth/quinoa soup, chicken, rice, potatoes, and coca tea. Our hard work had been rewarded with some dank foods.

The sun really began to get it’s shine on and, the multiple layers of jackts and shirts we amassed slowly came off. The next day, we would all feel the repercussions of skin sans sunscreen. Several hours later, after hiking up and down trails, we came to a giant green pasture in the valley of two mountain. Up ahead we caught a glimpse of the Salkantay Mountain that stood ahead.

We walked past a cabin-resort that had a giant satellite and horses roaming the hillside. About ten minutes later, we arrived to our not-so-upscale-campsite. A large tin roof covered our tents and stretched past our dining room tablea s well. Clouds began to gather above and the chiliness of a sunless land crept in. We ate a magnificent dinner by candlelight and soon went to sleep, or at least tried to. Light rain began to clatter on the tin roof like a Shirley Temple tap dance routine. Five minutes later, the rain began to pour down hard. It was somewhat comforting at first, but the lightning and thuner were unavoidably bright and loud. As we lay in our tent, I remember the old rule of thumb about estimating the distance of the lightning… one happened to be to miles away. It felt like, what I imagine to be, a huge bomb exploded near by.

Mother Nature and her fury ran wild for hours. The next morning would bring us blue skies and a clear view of the amount of snow that had fallen that night.

-Calvin

Loving life in Cuzco

After having been in this city for 3 days, I can honestly say that I now get what various travel books, blogs, and fellow backpackers mean when they say that Cuzco feels like another planet. It really is a magical place, with its cobblestone streets and strong indigenous presence constantly serving as a reminder of how long this place has been around. Since it is the longest continuously inhabited city in all of South America, Cuzco is undoubtedly the cultural capital of Peru, and the only place we’ve noticed thus far where the presence of the Incas is still felt today. Cuzquenos have very strong ties to their Pre-Colonial ancestors, and an even stronger sense of pride for their city. This leads to clean streets and smiles everywhere, not to mention the ever present city flag, which is pretty much identical to the gay pride flag, although Im told thats only a coincidence…

 At an elevation of about 12000 feet, one wonders why the Incas decided to center there empire here, but after exploring some Incan sites outside the city today, it all made a lot more sense. We began our adventure today by taking about a 40 minute taxi ride from the city center to an ancient Incan temple called Tambomachay. Here the Incas constructed an elaborate fountain like structure that served as a place to worship water. Next we walked about 5 miles back to town, passing a couple of other Incan sites along the way, each of which served various purposes. The fertile mountains surrounding this city couldnt be much more green and lush, and the crisp mountain air makes it very easy to imagine what life must have been like many centuries ago.  Near the very end of the road leading back to town is a mountain that overlooks the entire valley in which Cuzco resides. The absolutely stunning location is also home to a massive statue of Jesus, arms out wide and looking over the city. Needless to say, after exploring ancient Incan ruins that worship the sun and the earth, the statue serves as a not so subtle reminder of what the Spanish did when they conquered these lands.

 We got back into the city late afternoon to attend a briefing for the trek we’re starting tomorrow. All we really know is that we’ll be hiking roughly 45 miles over the next 5 days, climbing up to about 15000 feet, and then back down again the last day or two, culminating in our visit to Machu Picchu! It sounds intense but were couldnt be more excited, because if our trek leads us to places like what we saw today, then it will be the experience of a lifetime.

 -Evan

Also, we unfortunately wont be blogging for the next 5 days since the Incas never got around to installing WiFi around Machu Picchu…so check back again next week as I’m sure we’ll have plenty to share about this adventure.

Dia Seis- Cusco, Peru

So, our previously-mentioned sandboarding trip didnt exactly pan out how we expected it to. After Nazca Lines, we went to Naustica for a beer, then went back to the hostel to pack up and get ready for the sandboarding. We got picked up in this gnarly 8-person dune buggie. That thing could haul ass with very dependable tires… the engine not so much.

Our first stop in the buggie was an old aqueduct where the Nazcans used to draw water from. Unfortunately, it was completely dry when we saw it. The aqueduct had seven large steps that were each about 2 feet high. We didnt stay there too long, but it was definitely sobering to think about life well over a 1000 years ago.

After the aqueduct, we descended into the desert. To all of us, los tres gauchos, it felt like a completely different planet. When you head out, you are compleltely surrounding by nature. Whether it is desert completely surrounding you, or the trees and green mountains, it is so strange and foreign. At about half-way through the sand dunes, the engine of our buggie started having problems.

I am not too sure of the exact reason why the engine and gas tank started to having problems, but without a protective cover around the engine it was more or less expected. Whenever the buggie would stop, we would hop around, take a bunch of pictures, and just enjoy mother nature. The engine would sputter for 2 minutes, then die… this happened about seven times.  Eventually, at around 330pm, the engine completely shut down. Our tour guide called his company managers and they told us help was on the way. At around 4:30, a truck finally arrived. It wasnt until 5 that the buggie was finished. By then, our group decided to just head back and get a refund.

We arrived back in the hostel at around 545 and decided to go to Naustica one last time. We met the owner of the bar who was so nice and welcoming. Prior to us, he had always been told “Oh, I saw this bar in LonelyPlanet,” but never really comprehended the magnitude or sway LP has. When we told him that the LonelyPlanet guide was one of the mostly widely used in all the world, it honestly made my day knowing that we made his day…. I hope that made sense.

At 8, we headed to the Cruz del Sur bus line. We knew we were receiving a “suite,” but we had no idea how comfortable the whole bus ride would be. The seats provided were huge. It felt like any business class for an ariline. The bus took 14 hours, but it is safe to say we each got at least ten hours of sleep. Even dinner was tasty.

We finally arrived in Cusco around 10:00ish and decided to stay at the very popular Loki Hostel. We opted for the cheaper 5-bed room where we met a French guy on his way out. He had been in South America for 9 months and still had 3 more months left before heading back. He recommended Santa Cruz in Bolivia. He eventually left around the same time we left the hostel.

We set our bags down and decided to explore the city. My first impression of Cusco is that it is a great place to be. Every local we have talked to has been friendly, and one can just tell that they have no bad intentions, despite the fact we are foreigners. So far, all the people we have met have been genuinely nice….. mas o menos. Even la policia have been nice. The city itself feels like a time warp. The streets are paved with cobble stone. You can see the Spanish influence and the sheer elegance of an aged city. This place has an aura about it that makes me feel at home, although in a very different way.

For a late lunch, we asked locals for Peruvian food autentico, and they recommended a spot close to where we were. Our meal included, cuy, or guineau pig as it is better known in the States, alpaca, the cousin of the llama, baby beef heart, fish, potatoes, and lamb. It was a very filling meal as you can probably guess.

As I update this blog now, I can tell I will be waking up late tomorrow. It has been a very long and eventful day. There is no better feeling than discovering a very mellow city where you could possibly see yourself living. We are all very excited for Machu Picchu and have decided to do the Saltankay route instead of the Inca Trail because, not only is it cheaper, but it is definitely more hiking-intensive and less crowded.

Tonight, we sleep early. Tomorrow, we wake with the sun and explore the beautiful city of Cusco.

-Calvin

Day 4 and 5-Nazca

Yesterday (12/12) we woke up at 7:30 to catch the 8 oclock to Nazca. The bus was decent, with seats that were soft enough and reclined a couple of degrees back. The seven hour ride was a little rough but we have to get used to it, so no complaining.

The ride had no shortage of entertainment, however. When we first departed the station in downtown Lima a man gave us a spirited sermon preaching the word of Jesus, with every point driven home with a hearty “Si, mis hermanos?!” At the end of his sermon he went up and down the aisle selling what I think was candy because, ya’know, God always is strapped for cash. After our morning sermon a guy played a couple Andean flutes accompanied by his portable stereo. Calvin was stoked when the musician gave him what he thought was a demo CD, and was dissapointed when the guy came a little later to shake a couple soles out of him.

The rest of the busride was spent tossing and turning trying to get comfortable and blocking out the sound of the Peruvian music that was blaring on the buses overhead speakers. We stopped in Nazca at around 3, greeted by locals who tried to attract us to different hostels and tour companies. We quickly learned that we, or people like us, are this towns only industry. Besides surrounding farmland, it seems that the entire town is based off of people coming to see the Nazca lines. It’s a dusty town, and parts of it still seem to not have recovered from the 2007 earthquake that struck the region and effectively destroyed nearby Pisco. However, much of it is fun and lively, and would not be out of place amid the farming towns of the central coast in California.

Of course after dinner we went on the lookout for the ony bar in Nazca, called the Nastica (Naustica?) We were the only ones in there except for one very animated guy from Lima, who was very proud of Peruś national drink, called Pisco. We killed about an hour there knocking back Pisco and exchanging music with the bar’s two tenders, who seemed about our age. We had to call it a early night however because of our early flight over Nazca.

Today we woke up early and walked right next to our hostel to the tour company that is operated by the same people. About an hour later we were airborne over the desert. The lines do live up to the hype, and they are pretty amazing to witness. The biomorphs like the “hummingbird,” “condor,” and the mysterious “astronaught” were our favorites, but equally impressive were the hundreds of straight lines that stretch across the horizon. There are even long trapazoidal shapes that eeirly look like landing strips or maybe direction markers for some airborne vehicle.

I am sitting now in the courtyard of our hostel, enjoying the sun and a few scant hours of downtime. We are going to go sandboarding this afternoon with the same tour company and then we are going to take on the 15 hour bus ride to Cuzco. We plan on staying quite a bit of time in Cuzco, which we have heard is a backpackers paradise. Expect an update soon.

-Gabe

Dia Tres- Lima

We woke up early afternoon after a full day spent walking and exploring Central Lima and a night drinking and bar-hopping. Since we hadnt really visited any ancient sites, we decided it was about time to catch a glimpse of what was, pre-colonization. We decided to grab lunch at an Italian/Pervian restaurant called “Gian Franco.” When we first entered it seemed that all the people in the restaurant were of european descent. All the servers, however, were either Mestizo or Indiano. It is a noticable dynamic that occurs in Lima. The food was delicious and luckily they also served espresso and coffee because it provided us much needed energy. Once you stepped outside the restaurant, 100 yards away, Huaca Pucllana stood.

"Huaca Pucllana- Templo de adoradores del Mar (temple of sea worship)" was the name of the ancient ruin we went to; it was a huge area that originally spanned 16 hectars, but now only spans 6 due to urban development. We each paid 5 soles for the guided tour (luckily we all had university IDs because it would have been 12 soles otherwise). From the outside looking in, the temple is massive. It is not until you trek the ruin that you really attain a sense of how technologically advanced and intelligent these people were. They created a bookshelf technique to prevent utter devestation in the case of an earthquake. Bricks made of clay and seashells were mashed together and molded into uniform dimensions. Almost like a cake, they layers these bricks vertically to provide support as well as flexibility in the case of an earthquake.

We decided to do the English tour and were accompanied by three Irish chicks, a German girl, a seemingly Asian-Brit, and a local Peruvian who, and I quote, asked us “Do you like water?” It was an ecclectic assembly of people, which made the experience even more enriching. To climb to the top of the temple took about ten minutes. It was almost surreal to imagine 1500 years ago, these natives had a clear view of the ocean from atop the temple. When we were able to see a panoramic view of the surrounding city, all we could see was buildings and neighborhoods. From there we decided to go to a bar and catch the Peruvian league soccer final.

The final match was between Alianza, a team from Lima, and Aurich, a team from the North. The bar we went to was completely for Alianza and we obviously became fans of Alianza as well. Unfortunately the one goal they scored was called back because the striker pretty much punched the ball into the goal. Alianza ended up losing 0-1, but it was an entertaining match either way. The game had 4 red cards and countless yellows.

Tonight, we take it easy. An early bus ride to Nazca awaits us at 7:30 AM. So far, Lima has treated us very kindly- it is a place I definitely want to visit again. I can only hope the rest of Peru is equally as awesome.

-Calvin

Day 2-Lima

After a fun night in Miraflores we decieded to explore the city center. We woke up early to figure out our phone situation and to grab some food at the Hot and Cool, which was recommended by our guide book. From there we set out to take the bus to the downtown. Lima buses are a destination in themselves. Lima doesnt really have bus stops, you just get off and on when the bus slows down enough to hop on. Each bus has a person who calls out to everyone on the street to come on board, which doesnt really make since because most people are walking the opposite way. The drivers move fast and jerky, matching the speed of the rest of Lima traffic. 

We got out at the Plaza de Armas, which holds the Presidents Palace and the main Cathedral. The square has a very big police presence, with every cop wearing riot gear and holding machine guns. We even saw a couple police with attack dogs in muzzles. For Peruvians, it seems, there isnt even an option to protest against the government. 

After seeing the main tourist attractions in the Centro, the outskirts of the city caught our eye. The hills surrounding Lima proper are packed with colorful apartments that are connected with lines of laundry. Above this sub-city is a huge cross that sits on a mountain. Thinking we could get a birds-eye view of the whole city, we decided that we would climb to the cross until we got bad vibes from the neighborhood. As we went along there was less and less police and the roads got narrower and more unkempt. As soon as the roads ended and turned into brick steps, some ladies started to yell at us. They spoke in rapíd fire Spanish and made a motion to their head like they were executing someone by gunshot. After a few seconds we got the idea and did a 180 back down the hill. I guess that even during the early afternoon, there are still some places you dont go to. 

Unbelievably, things got more interesting after that. When we got back to downtown Lima, we were approached by an Incan named Daniel who saw us looking at a map. Wanting to practice his English, he offered to lead us to Arequipa St, where our bus line was. He turned out to be very friendly and led us to a cheap bus station that goes to places all over Peru. We were pretty stoked from the good tips he gave us about traveling and gladly followed him into a restaurant where we started to drink a couple cosqueñas. It was then that we realized he was VERY friendly. A few beers revealed that Daniel was part of a very vibrant (according to Daniel) bi-sexual community in Lima, and that he loved white boys, especially Gabe. A few uncomfortable beers and pats on the ass later, we high-tailed it out of the restaurant. Daniel hailed us a cab, suddenly very more flamboyant than when we met him. 

Now we are back at the hostel deciding our next plan for tonight, with a very much shaken Gabe from the recent exposure to Latin American gender-bending. From the experience of the last two days, our trips are going to be very, very eventful.

p.s. English spellcheck doesnt work on this computer and it has made me realize that I cant spell for shit. 

       -Gabe

Day 1- LIMA!

SO, after 3 flights and and 1 very long night we have finally arrived in Lima. We were greeted at the airport by a charming young cab driver named Alejandro, who probably didnt expect that the sign he was holding would be for 3 grimy american backpackers. Alejandro drove us to our hostel which is outside the city center in the district of Miraflores, pointing things out to us along the way, and being the first of many spanish tutors for us. The hostel is a bargain at 10 bucks a night, for the 3 of us to have our own room and bathroom. We just had our first peruvian meal, which was pretty delicious but i think gabe may already be feeling the effects of it. to be blunt, everything so far has gone as smoothly as possible and as we plan our next steps, our spirits and excitement couldnt be much higher. stay tuned for more.

      -Evan

And we’re off…

Flying to Lima, Peru in about 7 hours. Kind of have that nervous/anxious/excited feeling. Hopefully this blog doesn’t stop once we land. Peace Amuuurica

     -Calvin