Oahu, Hawaii, USA – 2018 – Day 8

07/06/18

Stairway to Heaven – Haiku Trail – Moanalua Valley Park

This blog is great to help you find the right path to the Stairway to Heaven trail.  I did read this early on in the planning on my trip (2 months prior) but I never referred to it again which was my mistake. Tripadvisor also has updated reviews.

If you have the time, download the Alltrails map app to your phone which will help you find the trails.

We decided to go the legal route up to Haiku – Stairway to Heaven via Moanalua Valley Park. You want to park at 1849 Ala Aolani St, Honolulu – Moanalua Valley Trail. There is a parking lot that opens at 7AM and closes at 7PM with water fountains, faucets and washrooms. If you think you will start before or end after 7AM or 7PM, you can park on the street in the neighbourhood. You start off by seeing a gate and signs – go through that gate and down the path you go. There are more signs and a foot brush station – indication you are going the right way. The path is flat and goes on for quite some time and you pass roughly 6 bridges. If it has rained the path will be muddy and there are markings to lead you through the forest to climb over a few trees to pass this huge muddy pool.

Once you get to the end of that flat part, the terrain slowly shifts and eventually you will see pink or organ ribbons attached to trees to help mark the trail. You will arrive at a group of signs where it looks like it is a fork in the road. This is before you start the actual trails to go up. If you are looking for the route up to Stairway to Heaven – LOOK FOR THE GREEN ARROW/MARKINGS. You will have to cross the river BUT only once. To the right of the cluster of signs, you will see a less maintained path with loads of palms – but if you turn that way, there is a little path not too far in that will be on the left that leads you to the river – if you can cross here, it will lead you to the path to Middle ridge (on the other side of the river, turn right. You will know if you are going the right way by seeing the curved tree branch that has Middle Ridge carved into it with a green spray painted H beside it. Then it is a elevated path going upwards. The path will get narrow and depending on weather, winds can pick up and and rain makes it slippery. There will be areas that it will be really narrow and there will be ropes to aid in your ascend.

If you do decide to cross the river straight past the signs, you need to veer right immediately once you have crossed the river bed and then you will see the Middle Ridge branch. REMEMBER TO FOLLOW THE GREEN Spray painted markers.

We made the mistake of not fully researching to know exactly where to go before we went which made for a unpleasant surprise. We crossed the river multiple times with another family and a couple. We did indeed follow the pink and orange ribbons but when we finally arrived at the top of the ridge, we thought we just had a pitstop before continuing. It turned out we climbed the ridge east of the Middle Ridge that led to Stairway to Heaven with no clear or safe way to get to the correct ridge from that height. To even make it to the top of that ridge, you will have ropes to help you up and down. It gets super muddy, slippery and windy up top. Don’t go if its’ rained a lot to watch out for flash floods where the paths through the rivers would be unseen.

What really sucked for us is that this took us awhile to climb/hike up and knowing the fact we didn’t actually get to see the stairways dampened out spirits as we had to descend the ridge with the ropes we just got up from. We did have to wait for the other family to make it up as the ridge is narrow and meant for a single person at a time. Especially with my injury, super hard to bomb it down and I literally was backtracking my steps going backwards down the ridge. We eventually made it back down to the start in which I mentioned the sign.

We bumped into another group who were just starting their hike. We (the couple, the new group and my friends) all tried looking for the right trail. At the sign, we decided to walk the trail that had palms but it looked very unmaintained as we started to walk further in. The couple had the all trails map and it also said we were veering off the trail. We turned back and finally noticed the little tape marker that said Middle ridge. Once again, from the main grouping of signs, you can either veer right before crossing the river and then the first left to cross the river is where you want to go then once you have cross the river, you will see the curved branch that says middle ridge on it. If you do decide to go straight past the sign and cross the river, you need to turn right immediately to see the curved branch. Our hike took roughly 6-7 hours to finish and at that point, we wanted to go the correct path up but at the same time, another 6-7 hour seemed daunting. We said goodbye to our new friends and left as we did have reservations for a luau that night. They did exchange numbers with one of the guys who planned on going the illegal route up the following morning.

I think also the fact that immediately once you see the middle ridge curved branch, the climb starts steep and muddy.

All dirty, we made a pitstop at Foodland on the way home to grab some food. We all took showers and then travelled to the west shore for our Luau at Paradise Cove. Free parking. It’s located in the same area as the West coast resorts but still quite lovely. We got lei’d with a shell lei (more so to decipher which group you were with). The luau was on was a decent sized property right on the beachfront with a wedding taking place a field over (music there overpowered at certain points). There is a beach access point from here for public and Paradise Cove use as it was in a resort area.

The seating / dinner tables are long family style tables and we were seated to the right of the stage far back. We reserved the basic package for $90USD. We met a wonderful mother & daughter who were meeting in Hawaii as it was their middle point. The daughter is stationed in Guam and the mother lives in California.

The site has many activities you can do before the dinner and show start. We of course lined up to get our temporary tattoos drawn on us then we lined up to get flower crowns and bracelets made. Remember, if you are wearing any flowers in your hair; wear it on your right side to signify you are single – left if you are married/taken and on both sides if you want to start something new ;).

The performances were pretty good but I feel for me, I was comparing it to my previous visit to the island and Polynesian Cultural Centre. The centre requires you to spend at least half the day to absorb everything and you get to visit the different “islands” and learn about each culture a bit more. They also have a river parade where each island is represents in their costumes and they dance on the floats.

Oahu, Hawaii, USA – 2018 – Day 6

07/04/18

4th of July.

4AM wake up call on the 4th of July. The plan was to hike the Lanikai Pillbox but the parking area that I read was the place to park was actually blocked off by the security guard of the country club.

There were signs all over saying no parking so we decided to opt out of the climb up and went straight to Kailua beach to watch the sun rise. After the sun had risen, we got back into the car and stopped by McDonalds before making our way back to the beaches. Originally I wanted to goto Mokes and Bread for breakfast however it being the 4th of July, it wasn’t open. The roads around Kailua & Lanikai beach had signs everywhere saying no parking because of the parade but after looking at it more closely, we realized we could park up until 8AM. Since we had gotten there at 6AM, our day was still early that we parked near entrance 6 for Lanikai beach and stayed for about 30 minutes before continuing with the days itinerary. Down the Southeast coast of Oahu. Our next stop was Makapu’u Lighthouse trail. Super packed with cars everywhere and after 3 rounds of circling, we found a parking spot at the lookout point. We walked over and did the up trail for Makapu’u. I wore sandals/flip flops but shoes would be more comfortable. The path up is rather flat and is a paved trail going all the way up. The last time I was here, we did detour on the trail and at first, we walked towards the little white and red house and took the path to the actual lighthouse (well outside of the fenced government property) and also a few of my friends went down the side to the tide pools. The tide pools from what I recall was a trek to get down to so we opted out of that. I’ve heard great things about the tide pools but not worth it to climb down to eventually have to climb back up especially with my bum knee.

By the time we had finished the trail, it hadn’t even hit 10AM yet and it was turning into a scorcher. We continued down the road to Halona Blowhole and Beach. The blowhole was ok but the waves were so big that the blowhole didn’t compare. To get to the actual beach, you have to climb down some rocks but it’s worth it. The waves come in with a strong current but because of that, it creates the perfect opportunity for people to jump in off the side when the tide is high. Halona Beach was made famous by a 1950’s movie. It is also known as cockroach beach. You can go into the water but be warned that the current is strong because the waves come crashing in and pull out quickly so its not for the faint of heart to go deeper in than you need to and swim in the middle so you don’t get pushed into the rocks on the sides. There is a tunnel on this beach as well but it doesn’t quite lead to anywhere.

After a quick hour at the beach, we turned back down the road and stopped by Sandy’s Beach where they had food and drink trucks. Punchbowl Coffee truck was parked there and my attempt to see Eric from Terrace House was shattered as he wasn’t working. So far, no Terrace House sightings. I did pick up a Kobe style Milk tea $3.50 from Punchbowl truck.

Back on the road we went to our next destination and the final spot on my itinerary – Spitting Cave. The location on the map is correct and it takes you into a residential area (a posh area to say the least). It is on a dead end street and its seems like it led you to the wrong location similar to the Hollywood sign directions for LA. The directions are correct. You will see 2 poles with signs that seem quite inconspicuous and maybe some garbage in front of it but it is indeed the path down. It is a little alleyway that has reddish clay going down between houses. There is a makeshift rock stairway to get through and watch your step as it gets wet. This path leads you to the wonderful rock formation that houses the Spitting Cave. For those not faint of heart, you will find an arrow at the point where you are to jump off the cliff into the mouth of the spitting cave. You need to wait until the tide pulls in to jump and must climb the rock face to get back up. It is called Spitting cave because the formation has an inner cavern that collects the strong waves coming in and pushes it back out with the same amount of force that it spits it back out.

We did a slight detour to Hanauma Bay but with an entry fee of $7.50USD pp we decided to opt out and head back to Waikiki. I’ve been told this place is beautiful to see the national fish and also the view and snorkelling are great but not for us that day especially it being 4th of July and overcrowded. One last stop before heading home was Leonard’s Bakery for malasadas. I picked up the original and Li Hing Mui. $1.25USD ea (no filling). BUT PLEASE DO TRY THE FILLED ONES. The flavours are all great and each month there is a monthly feature. The shop might be small but it is mighty and flavour with its iconic sign outside leading you in with droves of people sitting outside eating their malasadas.

We rested back at the Airbnb before attempting to have Marukame Udon for late lunch/early dinner. Since it was an odd time (4PM) the line was short and we finally got to taste what everyone was raving about. There usually is a line up outside and the place is open from 7AM-10PM. I ordered the Nikutama Udon – Regular $6.25USD. You can also choose to add on tempura options and drinks as well for a few dollars. The line is long because they make the noodles fresh in house and you have to wait for them to cook while also waiting for the people to get their food, eat and leave. The actual restaurant seems to look like a food court style seating area. The turnover is rather quick though. For the quality and price, it is no wonder this place is always packed.

After dinner, we grabbed Matcha Cafe Maiko – I got the matcha soft serve with hojicha powder $5.50USD + $0.50USD for the powder. After our delicious meal, we walked around our area and did a bit of shopping. I wanted to check out a cute little coffeeshop/boutique called Olive & Oliver at the SurfJack Hotel. We stopped by other little cute shops before walking a bit to Waikiki Beach. Being 4th of July, we had messaged Herbie & Elvia to see what they were up to and arranged to meet to watch fireworks at the beach. The fireworks were ok but I think we also situated ourselves far away from the firing point. The beach was super crowded and we didn’t get that far in but we took in the fireworks. Connor was on my shoulders but didn’t seem too impressed with them and wanted down off my shoulder and immediately went into his stroller and went to sleep. If you do want to experience fireworks in Waikiki – 4th of July or every Friday, you need to goto the West side of the beaches closer to the Hilton.

We finished off the night back at the Mall and getting Magnolia Ice Cream. I got the single scoop of Macapuno Ube (with Coconut). It was a good idea at the time but a single scoop was just too much for me that night.

Maui-Oahu, Hawaii, USA – 2018 – Day 3-4

07/01/18

Our second full day in Maui, we tackled Iao Valley (opens 7AM-6PM) for our first hike of the day. $5USD for parking. After we parked, a gentleman came up to us and started talking to us as he had just finished his hike for the morning. He mentioned to us about the trail at the top of the hill behind the hut closest to the needle. Fun fact, the needle is taller than the Eiffel Tower. There is a sign that says do not pass but that is where you continue past and start your way going up. The path was relatively dry (until you get higher up – also if it hasn’t been raining) and it is narrow in certain spots with low hanging branches and some prickly twigs. There are sections of elevation and some downhill. I’m unsure of how long it took us to climb but the hike is well worth it for that view. You definitely travel away from the needle but you travel inward towards a lookout point that is in the centre of the valley. There are other trails that you can take to get down but for us, we took the same way we came up from. Not sure if it was timing or not, but we only interacted with another group of 3-4 at the top and maybe one other group on our way up and down so it’s a hidden little gem for those who want to take on the hike.

After that view, there was no need for us to venture down to the river so we continued on into town. We found ourselves at a coffee shop called Wailuku Coffee Company. I love to support locally sourced and made product when I travel so this place was perfect. I follow Roxy Surfer and model Kelia Moniz who had recently posted about this all natural organic suncream which was locally made in Hawaii by Kuleana Sun Protection and this coffee shop was selling them – small tin $12USD and 2.5OZ for $20USD. I also picked up a bag of fresh local roasted coffee beans for my father. They also have a fun staff who has good taste in music.

Originally, I wanted to goto Sam Sato’s for lunch however it was closed that day, so we ended up going to McDonalds. Especially in the states, I love getting 20 McNuggets because it’s so much cheaper than buying it in Canada and also exclusive to the islands – taro pie. The pie is so good!

After lunch, we drove an hour to Haleakalā National Park. You will see the sign for the road that leads you up to Haleakala and just continue to take this road. There are no lights on this road and at certain points, it hits residential. We went from 2000 feet to 10000 feet and along with that the temperature dropped a significant 20 degrees the further we went up. Luckily we have the annual national park pass. The road up has markers for 1000 feet elevations and as you get higher, you literally are driving in the clouds and then above the clouds. The roads are not as narrow and bendy as the Road to Hana but surely it is still a trek up. There is a sign that marks the last gas station before starting the trek up. We first stopped at the visitor center where we asked the ranger what ideally we should hike as we arrived to that visitor site at 230PM. She recommended we drive up to the last trail before the summit and try to hike as much as we could before making our way to the summit for sunset. Sunset was called for 715PM. We parked at the last trail before the summit and the view is beautiful. The crater looks out of this world. We mistakenly took the path that led you up the hill to a lookout point and made our own path down to the right trail (do not do this – stick to the paths).

Up that high, with the sun beaming, it makes it incredibly hot but once that sun starts to hide behind clouds, the temperature dips. Make sure to layer and bring clothing to keep warm. Wind makes it even chillier, so remember even though you are in Hawaii with average of 30 degrees C + humidity, 10023ft high will significantly be colder.

We walked the trail down into the crater and with the angle of the trails, the momentum just easily takes you down the trail. We made it to a certain point that overlooks the crater which a trail that keeps dipping lower but we decided to turn back to find a good parking spot up at the top of the summit. The hike back up was more difficult. Definitely recommend walking in zigzags to alleviate pain on the legs and work other muscles. We made it back to our car and followed the path up to the top. There is an observatory area that overlooks the crater where you can stay warm and where many would watch the sunrise from, However, for us, the sun sets on the opposite side of where the observatory is located. Being 10023ft up, the winds are strong and the temperature drops. We found the perfect spot for sunset. Along the top ridge overlooking the island below, there are lava rocks that jolt out on an angle that looks like a cave – that is where we planted ourselves. You should also bring something to sit on or grab one of the larger rocks to create a seat as you watch the magic of the sun setting and the changing formation of clouds dance which form shapes and figures. We claimed our spot in our “caves” rather early (around 6PM) and watched as everything shifted.

Once 7PM hit, everything went fast and the wonderful colours that appeared were pretty indescribable and I’m not sure if the photos will do it justice. Once that sun fully dipped, we bolted back to the car and drove back down. Luckily the roads here are lined with those reflectors on the ground. My original plan was to stay for sunset and then star gaze but we were chilled to the bone. Our GPS took us the back root to get back to our Airbnb in Kihei. We arrived back to the main level of the island and the temperature shift changed drastically 20 degrees. We peeled off our layers and back into shorts and tank tops.

Finished off our night eating dinner at Paia Fish Market – South Kihei. I got the Ahi burger with fries and an Maui Brewing Pineapple Mana Wheat beer $18USD. You order inside but you seat yourself and they will bring the food to you.

07/02/18

Our final full day in Maui started with us waking up and packing our luggage. Our flight wasn’t until the evening at 11PM to Oahu. We decided today would be a beach day. We made our first stop to wowwowlemonade where I got myself a Da Kine Acai bowl (organic acas, banana, organic blueberry, strawberry and coconut milk topped with granola, banana, strawberry, cacao nibs, organic hemp, organic coconut shreds, local honey and raw cacao custard) – $10.50USD. The girls got Lemonades in their reusable glass containers.

After getting our morning fix, we drove south to Ahihi-Kinau Natural Reserve. The drive down takes you through the resort area and higher end hotels where it is truly manicured. When I say manicured, I mean the grass and palm trees are pristine. All I knew going in was that Ahihi-Kinau was recommended as one of the best places to snorkel and see turtles however I didn’t research to see if it was also a place to spend the day at the beach. The beach is a rock beach so not a comfortable place to spend the day laying out. Parking is free and there are volunteers that will gladly inform you of what and where to go and what to do and see as it is a reserve.

We didn’t bring our snorkelling gear with us but we did walk down to the black rock beach for a little bit. On the same road we drove down, we went to check out Makena Beach – Big beach – free parking. Makena Beach is one of the most photographed beaches on the island. When we arrived, the beach wasn’t packed but had lifeguards on duty. The waves there are intense – super intense. The waves crash closer to shore and the current pulls you back in. The waves also crash and somehow also goes sideways. The sand is soft and the views of the waves are very entertaining. After we situated, Lulu and myself walked right of the beach entry and walked to the mountainside and climbed up to see what else was there. We made our way to the coast and watched a few people fish and on the other side of the mountainside was a smaller beach which is known as Baby beach also known as the Nude beach. It’s been said that each month on the full moon there are drum circles on that beach.

Since we didn’t quite want to venture Baby beach, we walked back and continued to the other side of the beach closer to the Ahihi-Kinau. That side wasn’t as nice as It was just black lava rocks however it has a cute area with large branches and a funky little cave. NOTE: Don’t climb things if you don’t need to and aren’t even doing it for a photo. I climbed the rounded tree and decided to lie down but automatically body weight had me falling over so my arm and back just slightly scraped up.

We left the beach around noon and headed north to Sam Sato’s Inc for lunch. Sam Sato’s has been around for so many decades. Of course, there was a waiting list in which you need to put down your name and number of people. You end up sitting in their courtyard until they are ready. The actual establishment is very diner like and simple. The most popular dish was the dry saimin noodles that comes with soup broth on the side. Saimin are a fresh yet thicker version of shanghai noodles served with fresh onion and bbq pork. I got myself a large dry saimin noodle $8.25USD & a lima manju $0.80USD which is a little Chinese dense pastry.

Since we were in the area again, we drove to Hookipia beach to see if there were turtles as Herbie had mentioned he went around 230PM and there were a load of turtles settled on the beach. It was indeed the perfect time to goto Hookipia Beach. There is an area in the corner of the beach that is restricted for people where the turtle set themselves up on the beach and lay out. This time around, there were loads of them. We stayed here to swim. You can actually get closer to the turtles when you are in the water. You SHOULD NOT TOUCH the turtles however, when you are in the water, they will swim right pass you. There were a few that would start to swim back into the ocean and literally swat/hit you at they push by.

We stayed at this beach until 530PM. Lulu and Renee at a certain point went off to go workout at a local gym. When you are up at the top lookout parking lot, if you go further right down the path away from the beach, there is an opening to go down to lava rocks where it was intense winds.

We ended up going to Walmart to pick up snacks and then to Foodland for dinner. I grabbed the Ahi sashimi plate $18.75USD. After eating in the car, we drove back to the car rental and off to the airport we went. Hawaiian Airlines to Oahu at 11PM. Stomach started to feel off and painful like it had the past few days but this time, it hit me harder. I might’ve been tanned but i was pale that night. Still unsure if it was food poisoning prior to my trip or if my stomach was weak from all the raw seafood I had been eating prior and during the trip. Who knows.

We arrived in Oahu and went to go pick up our car rental from Enterprise but we couldn’t. NOTE: car rental places close by 1130PM-midnight. Enterprise was closed. Trouble. We met an awesome employee who recommended we goto National and see if we could rent a car from them since they were the only ones still open. They honoured our car rental and we got upgraded to an SUV and we named it Fernando. We rented an Airbnb in Waikiki and our host was very accommodating and waited for us to get in. Our Airbnb is rather close to everything and directly across from the International Marketplace but most importantly, very close to Marukame Udon.

What I packed – Photographer – Machu Picchu – Peru – 2016

Check out my Amazon page for gear that I personally use and products similar to those I pack on my travels (many of which are listed below).

Peru & Panama – 10 days

My trip to Peru and Panama was a 10 day trip so this is what I ended up packing overall for my trip. Below this first list, is how I reorganized my bags for the actual Inca Trail hiking days (4 days 3 nights).

My overall packing list for the 10 day trip

Wearing on plane

-sneakers

-1 socks

-1 tights

-1 tank w/sports bra

-1 underwear

-1 hoodie

 

North Face Basecamp Duffel – Small

-8 socks (4 long socks for the actual hike)

-9 underwear

-1 swimsuit (not needed)

-1 packable towel (came in handy for cold shower on the last day of the hike but otherwise, all our hostels and hotels provided towels)

Matador packable backpack

-4 pants (1 waterproof-ish)

-2 shorts

-PJ – shorts & shirt

-2 dry fit shirts

-4 tank tops

-4 sports bra

-rain jacket

-2 long sleeve

-1 toque

-1 hiking shoes (If you want to lessen your load, you can wear your hiking boots as your main pair of shoes with flip flops as your second option for footwear)

-1 flip flop

-toiletries

-gloves

 

Main Backpack

-1 gopro + accessories

-gopro selfie stick

-DSLR – w 28mm & 50mm

-phone charger

-gopro & dslr chargers

-memory cards & batteries

-mogics donut power bar

-granola bars

-Outex waterproof case

-Macbook Air

-external

-hydration pack

-roll up water bottle

-solar power charger

-power charger

-astrolapin

-toilet paper

-baby wipes

-rainjacket

 

I reorganized my bags accordingly for the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu as anything in my daypack I am required to carry the entire hike and also whatever I pack in my duffel bag that the porter carries is only accessible at the end of each hiking day but must also fit in the weight restrictions.

For Machu Picchu

What I wore & what was packed in the duffel bag the porter carried.

-4 pants – waterproof-ish track pants, loose fitting pair of pants, 2 tights (one coldgear for sleeping in)

*in all honesty, to pack lighter, you could get away with 1-2 pairs of tights to wear for the entire hike as you won’t be showering and just change your underwear). Bring a pair of pants to wear for sleeping.

-2 long sleeve (1 to sleep in). We lucked out with weather so rain was minimal.

-2 tank tops

-1 t-shirt

-5 underwear

-2 sports bras

-5 socks – 4 for climbing, 1 for sleeping

-flip flops

-hiking boots

-rain jacket

-packable blanket (added this layer in my sleeping bag on the cold night)

-packable towel ( if you plan on showering or want an extra layer in your sleeping bag, this is good to have)

-little microfibre towel – when it got hot and I stripped down to just a tank top – the towel sat between the shoulder straps on my shoulders to give some extra padding

-gloves – only used when descending after dead woman’s pass and also at night trying to take star photos

 

Daybag – the bag you carry the entire trek

-baby wipes

-toilet paper

-coca candy

-granola bars

-playtapus camelpak 1.5

-rollable waterbottle – for tablets – nuun

-headlamp

-portable & solar charger

-DSLR + memory cards, batteries (5), outex – waterproof case – 28mm & 50mm

-headphones (music helps motivate and pump you up on your hike if needed)

 

Machu Picchu Mountain & Lima – Peru – 2016 – Day 8-9

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We woke up at 445AM and had breakfast in the hotel (included) before catching a bus up to Machu Picchu. It takes about 30 minutes to get up there. We booked ourselves to do the Machu Picchu mountain hike that opens at 7AM. You need to show the permit as well as your passport to climb. You enter and sign in with your time. This is important because just a month or 2 prior to our climb, a German man had climbed Huayana Mountain (where you need to climb on your bum and hands at certain points) and he decided to do a jump photo and fell to his death. Back to Machu Picchu Mountain hike – so many steps and so steep at points. I would think at this point, after 4 days of climbing, this would be rather easy but I digress.

The beginning was very similar to our normal Inca trail hike but then it got really steep at points on the side of a cliff. The first flat stop showed us only clouds where Machu Picchu was located. As time went by and the higher we trekked, the clouds started to dissipate and we could see more below us getting glimpse of Machu Picchu and the mountains.

The Ranger had told us this hike would take about an hour to do each way – so much heavy breathing coming from me.

Just like previous days, you climb and think that that next pass is the end but then you turn the corner to find more steps spiralling upwards. Even without walking sticks Sofia is still a powerhouse leading the pack. Patrick joined shortly after with Ronan right behind.

After the landing with the giant rock and the small passageway, there are about 3 more spiral sets of steps which are steep before you make it to your final destination. I made it up to have my heads in the clouds but within minutes, the clouds shifted to expose the beauty that lies below surrounding Machu Picchu.

We stayed up there for a while and I would say about 20 minutes after we arrived, our group of 7 (Gayaanan stayed below) were all together at the top. Sofia, Ronan and myself were about to leave as Karen and Chi made it up but Andrew insisted I stay but not really saying much. Then Andrew also insisted Sofia and Ronan stay as well and that’s when it clicked in that something special was going to happen.

Karen was too busy taking photos and Chi was extremely nervous. He wanted to do it right at the corner where you have the best view of Machu Picchu but if was too crowded. He then typed in his phone that he wanted everyone minus myself to leave as it made him even more anxious so down they went. I lingered around taking photos and whatnot trying to entice Karen into walking over to certain areas but none were to her liking.

It finally got to a point where I was taking photos of them like I normally do then taking solo ones of Karen. Chi told her to turn around so I could get a shot of her from behind looking out at Machu Picchu and then that’s when it happened. Chi got down on one knee and Karen turned around then did a double take and Chi swung his arm out with a ring in his hand and stuttered asking her to marry him. A delayed reaction said it all and now Machu Picchu and this Peru trip hold a special meaning to Chi and Karen. Check out their story.

Once that happened, I packed up my camera and descended. I went backwards down the first 2 sets of stairs then it got a little bit better going down as the steps weren’t as steep and short. I bombed it down and made it out the gate just minutes after the rest had gotten down. We wandered a bit of Machu Picchu before heading back down in the bus. When we returned to Aguas Caliente, it started to rain. Grabbed food from Orquidea Grill but rushed them as we needed to catch our train. I got the ceviche 40 sol – it was tasty but a little too vingery for my liking.

After lunch, went back to the hotel to grab our things and to the train station we went. The train station is located within the market place up the stairs. Karen booked the Vistadome train for us which includes a little entertainment and snack as we ride for an hour back to Ollantaytambo.

From Ollantaytambo, we got picked up by the shuttle to take us all back to Cuzco. We arrived at the main square and we’re delivered our luggage to the van. We packed our luggage in the van then Sofia and Ronan got dropped off at their hotel then Karen, Chi and myself got dropped off at the airport before the boys got dropped off. The Cuzco airport is very simple and security check was the easiest with no line and right through we went. Our flight was with Latam to Lima for 2 hours. We booked a car with the same driver as our first day – George but this time we stayed in the nicer part of town Miraflores.

Girasoles Hotel (Ernesto Diez Canseco 696, Miraflores, Peru) with a triple bed room for $80USD. By the time we checked in, it was already 1030PM so we decided to order in for dinner. Chifa aka Chinese closed at 1030PM so we ordered Pardo’s Chicken instead. We got fries and Peruvian roasted whole chicken and ate with our hands on the bed. Chi and Karen’s engagement dinner.

Peru & Panama last half

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We took our time to get up then downstairs for breakfast. We walked over to the nearest grocery store – metro to purchase some snacks to bring home. The Miraflores area is higher end city as oppose to the main area of Lima and has beautiful architecture. I absolutely love the doors and colours that exist here.

Next stop was Manolo (Av. Larco 608, Miraflores – Lima – Perú ) for a Dulce de Leche churro 5 sol. Our plan for this morning was to take the free walking tour but when we arrived at the square, we met with the tour guide but he wanted to wait until 11AM for more people. We needed to make our way to the airport for 2PM so we decided to explore on our own

We ended up walking down to the waterfront area (Circuito de Playas) that was above the beach line. With palm trees and the look of the area, it reminded me of California and Hawaii with a tropical feel. This is where all the fitness buffs come out especially runners and bikers. You can look down where the highway is and also the beach where surfers were ripping the waves.

We walked to the El Parque del Amor also known as the Love Park then to the lighthouse before taking an uber 45 minutes to the main square of Plaza Armas and walked around to see the beautiful area which was pedestrian only. We made it to the main square and watched a bit of the changing of guards. This is one of the countries I’ve seen with an abundance of female officers whether it be policia or traffic control.

We rushed back to our hotel as we asked for late check out for 1PM. Grabbed an uber and headed for the airport. Before going past the gate we stopped and had McDonald’s. We got the fried chicken but it wasn’t impressive. It tasted like KFC chicken. 20.50sol. Through security and had about 50 sol left so I bought small bottles of pisco and alfajores cookies.

Back to Copa Airlines for our flight with a Stopover in Panama for 20 hours. 4 hour flight wasn’t too bad. Customs line was slow. Fingerprinted and throw our bags through a scan then out the door to taxis. We did a collective van and it was $10USD pp. We shared with another man who is going further and he paid $20USD. We stayed at Occidental Hotel (Avenida 2da Sur | Between Avenida Central Espana and Avenida 3ra Sur, Panama City 0823, Panama) in Panama city. It’s beautiful! The beds are so comfortable and the shower could hold 5 people.

We threw our stuff down and walked down the street to the right to Rey – 24 hour grocery store. There are so many products that are produced from the states that it wasn’t that fun to explore what different snacks from what we have back home. The currency in Panama is USD as legal tender. The lines to checkout were quite long even at 1030PM but I bought a bunch of items and it only cost me $12USD.

Since we arrived late, we went next door to Niko’s 24 hour restaurant that had sandwich deals and I think further down the line, some hot Panamanian dishes. I got the BLT with fries for $5.25USD. It took 20-25 minutes to get our food making it after 11PM when we ate. They asked me my name for the bill but not for Karen so when we looked at the receipts, they put her name as China and mine said my name. I guess I’m too dark they don’t now what I am unlike Karen who is pale lol.

We went back to the hotel and showered and it was such an amazing shower. Chi and myself bought Panama beer so we drank that and watched American TV game shows. Panama beer isn’t quite my taste of beer.

Inca Trail – Machu Picchu – Peru – 2016 – Day 4-7

INCA TRAIL HIKE – 4 days 3 nights – Alpaca Expedition

Tipping for our Inca Trail Hike

Tipping – we had a group of 14 – 160sols (per person) to porters and chef. 90sol between head and assistant chef & 9 sold divided amongst porters. Tour guides we did 100 sol (per person) for both tour guides (50 sol each).

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We booked our 4 day 3 night Inca Trail Hike with Alpaca Expedition. Alpaca expedition was started by a local who started off as a porter than became a tour guide and finally decided to establish his own tour company.

Day 1 of 4 – Inca Trail Hike

We got picked up at 715AM in Ollantaytambo. Arrived at basecamp (Piskacucho – 8923ft/2720m) for breakfast and final packing of the duffel bags that get handed off to the porters. There were 2 things I dreaded for this trip – getting altitude sickness and getting my period. Went to the Banos (washroom) at base camp before we even enter the main gates and my period decided to show up (yes sorry TMI but it happens). Wet wipes are a godsend just to let you know.

We started our hike around 830-9AM. Before we could actually start our hike, we needed to line up at the main gate to ensure the permits are correct and match your passport as well as making sure the porters have under 30 kilo (each duffel needs to be 7 kilo). The porters carry 2 persons duffels plus their own personal bag. They also need to go through a checkpoint to ensure the weight in under before they could continue on. My day pack was 20lb with 2.5L of water plus my camera and snacks and a sweater. It was hot and I did start off at breakfast in just a tank top as today’s trek is a hotter one but decided to wear a long sleeve because there are mosquitos.

We had 14 in our group. Reagan & Matt (Austin, Texas), Lily & Anthony (Switzerland – French speaking side), Kaitlin & George (San Francisco) plus our lot (Sofia & Ronan from San Francisco, Karen, Chi, Patrick, Gayaanan & Andrew) plus our tour guides – Jose and Reynaldo. We had 23 porters accompanying us on our trek including 2 as chef and sous chef. Chef Roger went to school in Cuzco to study culinary and each day, he prepares meals based on what is best for digestion depending on the altitudes.

Day 1 is the longest day for hiking – 14KM. It is broken down into 4.5 hours before we stop for lunch then continue another 2 hours before we end for day 1. This is training day to prepare you for dead woman’s pass. Flat ground for first half then slopey for the second half. Banos stops along the way for 1 sol a visit – remember to bring your own toilet paper!

Sofia is a small Russian woman but man she is a beast keeping up with the lead tour guide with so much ease. Altitude makes the climb just that much more difficult. It’s not like your muscles are sore or anything but the lack of oxygen makes your body feel heavier.

It was sunny and hot but mainly cloudy. When we made it past our first two slopes, we reached a beautiful lookout point of semi ancient ruins.. It’s insane how fast the porters move with that much gear. They carry everything including food for 3 days with them on day 1. People live in the mountains so they can grab fresh ingredients if needed (but no one inhabits the actual Inca Trails). They don’t carry water for the 3 days but get it nearby and boil it for us.

Along the way, we would stop by ruins and Jose would tell us more about the history behind each place. It started to rain at that point and the temperature dropped a bit. All the colourful rain jackets came out at that point. This was a good spot to catch our breaths before we continued on and it kept going higher and higher via a steeper and steeper trail.

The reward for this portion of the hike was the sound of lunch and it did not disappoint. They rent space from locals and setup a Banos for us, a room with a tarp to lay down our bags and water basins to clean ourselves and then into another room for lunch. We started off with a stuffed tomato with some yummy things. Then they brought out the rest – guacamole with chips (so good), their version of a caprese, chicken ceviche, trout, roasted corn nuts, rice, sweet potato soup and finished off the meal with peppermint tea. Apparently this peppermint tea if you are female, if they drink it everyday for 15 years, she will become sterile (used by the incas in the past). We refilled our waters and off we went.

The last leg was the hardest and we were told to go at our own pace to see how it will be for us the following day. Zigzag walking does help. As well, if there is a ramp or small rocks, go for those instead of climbing on the bigger rocks for more efficiency.

It’s tough to hike with a runny & stuffy nose. It does get hard to breathe and my knees were achy. From our last pit stop, it’s just an hour and half of steep uphill. You just need to take it at your pace and stop whenever your need to. My heartbeat was going too fast that that I can feel it pounding in my chest to the point that I would have to take a short break to catch my breathe and slow down my heart rate before continuing. Since this is at your own pace, we ended up passing the other Alpaca group that started 20 minutes before us and another group. You never know when you are reaching your final destination so you just need to keep going and push yourself. After the bridge, you go around a bend and the trail gets windy. Patrick ended up picking up a second wind after lunch and moved to the front at one point so when I was reaching our basecamp, I see him coming back down the path with only his camera in hand. He gives me the news – only 3 more minutes until I’ve reached the final destination for the night. Once I arrived, all the porters are cheering and congratulating me on finishing.

Upon arrival, our campsite is setup and all we needed to do was get into our tents and clean up. Baby wipes are key must haves on this trek especially when you are on your period and also to clean your clothing when you can’t do laundry. Everyone had time to relax before we had happy hour in the group tent where they serve drinks and biscuits with fresh popcorn. This downtime was a great opportunity to get to know your group members better. Right at 7PM, our dinner commenced. Starts off with soup then the dishes – yucca buns, rice, chicken curry, bean and something frita and finished off with chef Roger flambaying bananas in pisco.

My phone was sitting in between a towel and shirt in my backpack so at the end of the day, it only read 22000 steps but I know I did at least 29000 steps.

Our wake up time was scheduled for 445AM so after dinner, we all went back to our tents and bedtime at 830PM – the earliest I’ve gone to bed in decades.

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Day 2 of 4 – Inca Trail Hike

I woke up 3 times and couldn’t get back to sleep so I ended up being awake and alert around 2-330AM. We were woken up by Reynaldo making his bird noises and delivery of hot coca tea.

We each had 30 minutes to pack up our bags and duffel bags and lay them on the tarp outside before breakfast. Roger aka playboy our chef made a huge breakfast to fuel us for our hike, as it’s the biggest and longest day. I filled 2.5L of water in the morning as it’s the only time for free water and it has to last until lunch time after reaching dead woman’s pass and then going downhill. I also carried a separate water bottle that I used to put Nuun tablets in to give me that little extra boost of caffeine and sodium.

Second day of hiking – 16KM. All up hill to Dead Women’s Pass (13799ft/4200m). After lunch, it was game on. Go at your own pace. I started off strong behind Jose but once we started moving, I had to stop and take off clothing. I had a rain jacket and long sleeve plus tank top on and within 10-15 minutes, I was down to a tank top (I brought a small towel to cover my shoulders and give a layer between skin and straps). There was only one more pit stop on this trek (Llulluchapampa – 12460ft/3800m) ­­where you can purchase water, drinks, snacks etc. It was also a beautiful spot to look at the mountains and see the peak of dead women’s pass with the top that looks like a dead woman and also her nipple. Free clean washrooms here but bring wet wipes or toilet paper.

From there, everyone for themselves and of course with Sofia leading our pack. Your determination lays in your own hands. The tour guides are there to motivate you to keep going but its all a mental game and in the end, you need to rely on yourself to keep going.

It was hard with lots of stops along the way. I wasn’t necessarily tired and not achy but having difficulty breathing makes all the motions react even slower than you would like.

I also learned at this point that if I wanted to drink water from the mouthpiece of my camelpak while simultaneously trying to walk, my body would have small panic attacks because there wasn’t enough oxygen entering into my lungs.

What I have learned about hiking the Inca Trail so far is that it warms up quite quickly and within 10 minutes of hiking, you end up needing to take off all the layers and be in a t-shirt/tank top. I also learned that while you are hiking up and turn a corner, you thinking you are nearing the end to only you aren’t even close but that there is more trail and it gets even steeper.

Slow but steady pace up to Dead Woman’s Pass. You are welcomed by cheering from the porters, your group and others who have also surmounted this feat to the top. It is hard to wrap your head around the fact you started at 8923FT in the early morning to make it up to 13779FT in only a few hours. The view looking back to where you came from is long and far and you need to take in that moment that you indeed hiked all that way and are stronger than you think you are.  At the top, it shows two worlds – the hot sunny trail that you conquered but look over the pass, you are in the clouds and it is slowly floating around you. This image was surreal and one of my favourite moments as you see the porters resting on the mountainside with clouds slowly drifting overhead.

From here, it is all downhill to end the first day of your hike. I love downhill so much more. I wore my gloves, sweater, rain jacket going down and within 10 minutes, I had to either take off the jacket or unzip it. Same technique works here as climbing up, you can zigzag to help alleviate the pressure on your knees. I made good time going down and passed almost everyone (we were all so far behind Sofia) in our group but I enjoyed this section the most.

Finally made it to our stop (Pacaymayu – 11700FT/3580M) where Sofia was already there relaxing. I was welcomed with cheers from the porters and a hot cup of lemonade. They also had mats out for us to rest on. Once again, an amazing lunch. A few of us felt off after lunch and I’m blaming that on going from the highest point in altitude and plummeting down to a lower one so quickly.

Another uphill windy trail after lunch with a stop at the ruins Runkuracay. Jose & Reynaldo showed us how their people make rope from grass being woven and braided/rolled together that is strong enough to carry a person with a small section.

We continue uphill for another hour and half before reaching our next peak – Runkuracay (13123FT/4000M). Then downhill for a second time.

The path wasn’t too steep but it was eerie with the clouds/fog rolling in. We went at our own pace and for majority of the this trek, I was alone with no one in sight in front or behind for at least 10 minutes. Jose had mentioned that the ruins right before our basecamp was his favourite. The ruins of a temple were created on top of a cliff and the stairs were built into the mountainside which were very narrow steps. Sayacmarka was a temple where it is said that they found two small children’s bodies in fetal position on an alter that were privileged to be human sacrifices most likely with the aid of drugs like cocaine. The clouds were thick and everything became a blanket of white as we slowly descended those Cliffside stairs.

A little bit of downhill left then to basecamp for the night. This night in particular is one of the coldest but also one of the best views as we were set up in the valley overlooking the mountains. Siesta and dinner which ended off with some concoction of juice, tea and rum. It was significantly colder than the first two nights but for awhile, we stayed out to look and take photos of stars as the sky cleared for a bit

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Day 3 of 4 – Inca Trail Hike

530AM Wake up call. Day 3 is the shorter of hike days.

Cold nights makes for a cool morning. Tea served tent side to start our morning. Breakfast was delicious – fruit jello, bread and jam, quinoa oatmeal and pancakes. After breakfast, we were finally introduced to our 22 porters and chefs. Everyone went around and said their name, age and where they are from. Our porters ranged from 18-58?

We picked up our packs and off we went. It was a cold morning but I found after the first little section up hill, I had to stop and take off my rain jacket then stopped again around another bend to take off my longsleeve. I was in a good rhythm from there since it was flat and slowly going down hill until we all stopped to wait for everyone before heading to the cave. The porters are amazing. Running through the trail with 65lb bags like nothing.

Once we all went through the cave, everyone for themselves and luckily it was downhill – my favourite. We came to a campsite with an amazing lookout point. Then downhill again but this time it was incredibly steep and not as nice as yesterday’s. Some sections were tall but very short stone steps to steep rocks with barely any ridge to step onto. Luckily, we had rather good weather. I couldn’t imagine how much more difficult it would have been if it was raining the entire time.

Our first ruins was a watchtower – Phuyupatamarca (12073FT/3680M).

From there, even steeper downhill. Very steep to the point you would need to walk side ways. I think I did well on time but my knee doesn’t like me for it. I was making good time down but parts of the trek were wet. PLEASE BE CAREFUL HIKING DOWN AND WATCH YOUR STEP! I shifted my body weight on a somewhat smooth rock (also don’t go for the smooth rocks when going downhill) and I went down. It was all a blur and happened so quickly but somehow I slipped and rolled off the path. Luckily, it was on a section of the path where there was more ground and not just a cliff although behind one set of trees I would’ve kept going. Luckily my slip, I rolled rather gracefully with camera still in hand but ripped part of my pants and waterproof case. I tried climbing back up but the soil was loose so I jumped back up, checked to see if my camera was fine and continued onward. Now that I think about it, it could’ve been horrible if I had actually fallen down and there was no ground and just cliff because there was no one in front or behind me for a good 15 minutes.

I made really good time going down after my fall that I was able to catch up with Sofia and Reagan. We arrived at our second ruins site of the day – Intipata. The ruins were so beautiful with giant terraces that looked over the sacred river in between Machu Picchu mountain and 2 others. Sofia, Reagan and myself were the first ones from our group with Kaitlin coming in next about 15 minutes later. The girls definitely rule this group. We stayed for awhile waiting for our whole group to gather and took photos before descending.

We descended down to the bottom of those ruins to find ourselves petting llamas. It got incredibly hot and then more downhill to finally reach basecamp for the night.

This basecamp offers cold showered and flushing Banos. This is also the site where about 500 people will be sleeping tonight and all the porters who will need to catch the train going out in the morning.

Big greeting from the porters and Chicha drink on arrival then lunch. A nice salad, soup, Red potato with tuna inside that resembled sushi, mashed potatoes, tomato & cucumbers, then a huge plate of avocado, fried eggs, cheese, sausage, steak, broccoli & yucca fries.

After lunch, we had the option of a shower mind you it is a cold shower. Myself and Sofia decided to do so before our final ruins site of the day. Best decision was to pack flip flops for the shower as you don’t want to step on the ground of the shower.

Our final site of the day – Winay Huaayna. As we were just about to leave, the rain started up and the temperature dropped. Jose said it if was dry season, it would be sweltering hot.

Winay Huaayna wasn’t completed as the Spaniards conquered them but the Quechuas took a 100 years to build it and it was said to be a temple and a hospital with an irrigation system as well as agriculture on the different terraces.

Siesta at 530PM then dinner following. Kaitlin and George weren’t feeling well and same with Ronan and skipped dinner. Dinner was great. Started off with mushroom soup, pizza, quinoa squares, rice with ham and Eggplant, pizza with pineapple and ham and stuffed peppers. They finished off the meal with a wonderful orange cake.

After Jose briefed us about tomorrow morning, we did a farewell celebration with the porters and chefs. The porters must leave during the night and hike down as the train company only allows the first train out for porters as the other times are for visitors. This rule applies to all porters from all companies.

By 9PM, everyone went to bed but before that, Banos and packing as much as possible as we wake for 3AM and are off.

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Day 4 of 4 – Inca Trail Hike

3AM wake up call. Our morning began with walking about 5-10 minutes to the main gate /office where we wait 2 hours for the Rangers to open the gate with their magical key. Bring your rain ponchos to sit on while you wait. You can use the Banos stalls up the path if needed. It is freezing at 3AM so wear all your layers but be ready to strip down as the hike does get warm quickly.

We were probably hysterical at 3AM but our conversations were great. The sun started to come up around 430AM. We waited until 530AM before the Ranger came to open the gate. Jose and Reynaldo signed us in and off to the races. From this gate to the sun gate is an hour hike.

We for a while we all had good pace and stayed together momentarily turning our heads from the trail to capture a glimpse of the sun peaking over the mountain range casting gorgeous light enticing you to stop and take a photo.

We stopped as a group to take off layers in which I took off my toque, rain jacket, sweater but not t-shirt and immediately regretted it once I strapped my backpack back on. This is where our group started separating. I had to stop again to remove my t-shirt and got up to the sun gate in a tank top. The trail gets steep – like tall stones with little ledges to step on steep. The view is gorgeous from above as the sun starts to hit Machu Picchu and slowly spread to the rest of the surrounding mountains. I am so happy that it wasn’t cloudy and that we were fortunate enough to see this view.

Leaving the sun gate towards the main gate for Machu Picchu, it is downhill and is a decent decline which is about a 40 minute hike. Coming from the sun gate, you arrive to Machu Picchu already inside but we exited to use the Banos (1 sol but first time, no line up for women, only men’s). This is where you can stamp your passport for free with the Machu Picchu stamp and also where you can get food and catch the bus afterwards.

We went back in the correct way with tickets. The tickets allow only 3 entries (no hiking sticks allowed or food and no Banos inside). Jose took us to a terrace and started our lesson for the day. Machu Picchu was made to house the scholars. It got extremely hot once we got into Machu Picchu and I’m sure a few suffered heat exhaustion. By the time Jose finished taking us around and it was free time, I had already run out of water.

We ended up eating at the only snack shop outside the main gate with overpriced food. Hot dog, small water and large Inca kola for 36sol. Reagan, Sofia, Ronan and myself ended up staying there and chatting about everything for over an hour then Matt joined us after conquering the other high hike. At this point, we were exhausted and took the bus down to Aguas Caliente where we were to meet Jose and Reynaldo at a restaurant to grab our duffels and also have final lunch together. I got an alpaca burger 30 sol and shared a jarra of pisco sour with the girls. Another perk of this restaurant is that they allow Alpaca Expedition (and Im sure other companies) to store our duffel bags and also have free WIFI.

After filling out a survey and adding people to Facebook and email exchange, Jose and Reynaldo were off.

We left and checked into our hotel for the night Panorama B&B (Av. Hermanos Ayar N°305, Machu Picchu Pueblo, Peru) A cute little hotel with balconies and comfy beds. Everyone either slept or caught up on life with WiFi. We went back to the train ticket booth to purchase 2 way tickets back to Machu Picchu for 24USD for the following day.

We went for dinner at El Indio Feliz restaurant (No 3y4M-12, Aguas Calientes, Peru) that Karen had recommended. It looks very kitschy but awesome at the same time. The main floor walls were covered in business cards and foreign currency.

With all 8 of us, we feasted. I got the French onion soup 30 sol and we also shared a nice white Peruvian wine (19sol pp of 5). They even gave us some complimentary appetizers. We wandered the streets and found ourselves in the main square before heading back home to sleep.

Lima, Cusco, Urubamba & Ollantaytambo – Peru – 2016 – Day 1-3

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Our main flight was with COPA Airlines to Lima, Peru with a stopover in Panama both ways. I caught the flight deal of $417CAD return. For my whole duration of this trip, I travelled with Karen and Chi as Andrew and his friend’s Gayaanan & Patrick joined us later as they were staying longer as and Karen’s friend’s Sofia and Ronan that joined us for the hike of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. There is no time change from Toronto.

I did carry-on only and I’m very impressed with my North Face duffel bag as it has been my main luggage for 3 trips now including last years 25 day Southeast Asia trip.

I borrowed a 28L Deuter backpack for the hike in replacement of my kata rucksack camera bag and I’m impressed it fits under the seat even being so jam-packed.

Copa Airlines is pretty decent with touchscreens that look a little more up to date with a USB port but selection of films is limited and food is provided on the main flights but not spectacular.

The Tucuman airport in Panama reminds me of JFK airport – very basic. The currency in Panama is USD. The prices for food seemed unbelievably high in the airport considering a bottle of water was $3USD or a snack pack size Doritos was also $3USD. We ended up walking around but prices were the same as back home but in USD. We grabbed Nathan’s hotdogs (2 hotdogs + drink + fries for $16USD).

The weather when we landed was 24 degrees celsius but raining which delayed our next flight to Cusco by 30-40 minutes. We all booked the emergency exit seats for the extra leg room however we were notified when we originally checked in at Pearson that depending on the flight since we don’t speak Spanish, we may be asked to move seats. The first flight, we were fine as they showed us the manual with images but the second flight, they were adamant so we got moved. A meal on this flight as well – better – empanadas, vanilla oreos and salad.

When we finally landed in Cusco getting through customs was rather quick but had to wait for Andrew’s check in luggage before going through security once more. Karen had already arranged a driver for 55 sol to get us to our hostel for the night – Backpacker 1900 (Wilson 1588, Distrito de Lima 15046, Perú)  for 16USD. It seems all the vehicles they drive in Peru so far that I’ve seen are all manual and the lanes are super tight if not made up. 3 lanes become 4 lanes. The hostel is cute with tall skinny doors to the rooms but the rooms are basic and they have windows and open terraces so at night, you can hear a little bit of the street noises which still isn’t too bad.

On our itinerary for our first night in Lima was to attend Circuito Mágico del Agua del Parque de la Reserva (Jr. Madre de Dios S/N, Distrito de Lima, Peru – Open 3PM-1030PM) Admission is 4 soles. Karen had also mentioned to not have valuables hanging out for display if not needed so my camera stayed in my bag until we reached the park but otherwise, it seemed ok. NOTE – if you are in a car and taking photos with your camera or phone BEWARE there are many people on the street in between cars selling all sorts of things and they could try to snatch your valuables. At the water park, we made the last show that consisted of the large fountains of water illuminating colours, images and symbols that were projected onto the water with music. After the show, we wandered the park to look at the different fountains. The Tunnel of surprises was my favourite – it illuminated orange and you could walk through it. The park closed at 10PM and onward we went to find dinner.

Pardo’s Chicken was a recommendation and it didn’t fall short. I guess Peru’s Swiss Chalet. 1/4 Peruvian roasted chicken with sweet potato basket weave fries and a side salad 21.50sol and of course an Inca kola (Peru’s version of Cream Soda) $6sol. After all that walking and it being late in the day, we decided to Uber back to the hostel to get a good night’s sleep before walking up early to catch our flight to Cuzco.

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I don’t know what it is but I had the hardest time trying to sleep. It was a mix of my mind wouldn’t shut off, to getting super hot under the blanket and a mix of having a stuffed nose. We Uber-ed to the airport and flew to Cusco with Avianca Airlines and I have to tell you, it was by far the best sleep I had within that 24 hour timespan. We met up with Andrew’s friend Patrick at the airport and off we went. The flight was about 2 hours to Cusco from Lima and the start to our acclimatizing. We took a van that would take us to Alpaca Expedition office to get our trek registration/payment completed and orientation. We had paid a deposit earlier to our trip via Paypal and had to pay the remainder in USD which varied depending on what equipment you were renting. I opted out of renting walking sticks (my reasoning is that I need my hand to hold my camera). After payment, you are brought to another room where you are given an orientation and a rundown of what is expected on our trek. We were welcomed with a hot cup of coca leaf tea which helps with altitude sickness. After our orientation, we are given our duffel bag (in the end, max weight is 7KG including sleeping bag, pillow and whatever else you rent – air mattress + personal belongings). This duffel bag will be what the porters will be carrying on the trek for us and we had to pack it the night before we head for the trek. Their office close around 5-6PM so we asked if we could leave our luggage there until then to explore.

Nearby, Karen had made reservations at a restaurant called Chicha Por Gaston AcurioCalle Plaza Regacijo 261, 2 Nivel. It is located up the stairs on the second floor that is connected to an inner courtyard of a hostel/hotel. The restaurant is modern looking and closer to the kitchen, there are hanging corn for decoration with the other side of the room with little balconies you can peer out and see out to the little parkette across the street. They do have free wifi – just ask for the password.

Before we ordered, they brought us sweet purple corn bread and quinoa bread sticks – you need to eat the purple corn bun that shows up because it is absolutely delicious and I could eat that all day! I ended splitting with my brother the Curry Alpaca (50 sol) and the Pekin Guinea Pig (50 sol). The curry alpaca was really flavourful and came with a bed of quinoa to eat the curry with. Alpaca is a little tougher meat to eat but the meal was great. The Pekin Guinea Pig is a play on the traditional chinese Peking Duck with the thin, crisp skin with meat served alongside a crepe and the toppings. The pekin Guinea pig was served with a purple corn crepe, rocot hoisin, pickled turnip and carrot. It was not what I expected as the meat was spiced and seasoned perfectly and the crepe and toppings just added to the flavour so well that you wouldn’t even realize you are eating guinea pig. They also treated us with little complimentary alfajores cookies.

After our wonderful lunch, we walked to Plaza de Armas – the main square in Cusco where we got to explore a little on our own and also find a bank to take out more money. There is a Scotiabank on the Northwest corner by the McDonald’s that we took money out of. Just a word of advice, when you are withdrawing money from the machines, there is a limit of 400 sol per transactions so be prepared to take out limited amounts if you are in dire need to withdraw money.

We tried to see if uber was offered in Cusco – it is not. We hired a taxi and also following behind was an unregistered car that we hired. With our group of 7, we took the taxi and car to go up to Sacsayhuaman aka Sexy woman. Our unregistered car – we managed to work out a price of 7-8 sol. We also arranged with the taxi and car to return within 2-3 hours to bring us back down.

Upon arrival to the entrance, we purchased the Boleto Touristico Del Cusco – for $130 Soles. This ticket allows you entrance to multiple historical sites (16 – if you can make it to all the sites).

At this ruin, there is a section that has an all natural rock slide. It is smooth but the slide disconnects into sections so beware of possibly bruising your bottom. We noticed as soon as we landed in Cusco, that the air seemed a little heavier and this hike was a pre-hike to acclimatize us and prep us for our Inca Trail hike. We were wheezing hard at times during this hike. We saw alpacas & llamas at this site as well as a beautiful view over the city of Cusco mixing with ruins and mountain terrain and of course the statue of Jesus that looks similar to the one in Rio.

When we returned back to Plaza de Armas, we returned to Alpaca Expedition offices to grab our belongings and luckily Patrick speaks a little bit of Spanish and haggled with 2 taxi drivers to drive us to Urubamba (about 45 minutes-hour drive) to where we would sleep for the night. We talked them down to 70 sol however, if you are willing to take a bus with locals, it can be cheaper. To acclimatize, it is said that you should hike and adventure in higher altitude but try to sleep in lower altitudes to ease into it.

The ride to Urubamba was relaxing and scenic to say the least. The sunsetting over the horizon just made things that much nicer. When we finally arrived to Urubamba, the sun had gone down and our roads turned into somewhat narrow, unlit dirt roads leading up to our home for the night. We stayed at Amaru Valle hotel (Final del Jiron Grau, Urubamba, Cusco, Peru) With the 5 of us, we split into a triple room (80USD) and a single room. The rooms were actually little villa style and to be honest, we could’ve fit all 5 of us in to one room as the triple room had 3 single beds and a double bed. We also ordered packed lunch for the morning as we reserved a van to drive us in the morning to more ruins and sights.

We threw our stuff down and headed into town for our dinner reservations at El Huacatay (Jr. Arica 620, Urubamba Valle Sagrado de los Incas Cusco – Perú) You would honestly miss this place if you didn’t know about it. Hidden behind a door that then leads you down a little path past the courtyard to the dining area. I ordered the Malaya Frita (a marinated skirt steak with mint rice and potato wedges) & Andean Mint Liminade (freshly made and absolutely delicious) (56 sol). Honestly, the portions are so large but to tasty not to finish. We walked to one of the corner stores to purchase water and back we went to your villa for the night.

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Woke up bright and early. Couldn’t sleep through the night. Stuffed nose, too hot etc. I went outside and explored the property as it’s a cute little villa property with yellow homes. We packed and then off we went to our complimentary breakfast. After breakfast, we grabbed our to-go lunch packs and hopped in the van we scheduled for the day to take us away.

The roads here are very dry and dusty especially leaving Urubamba towards Salineras De Maras Salt mines (Carreta a Maras | San Isidro G-15, Cusco 00051, Peru) It is all red clay and the dust definitely picks up.

The drive to the salt mine is beautiful and even driving down towards it, is a sight to be seen. We stopped at the top of the road overlooking the mine (mind you very narrow so 2 cars cannot go side by side in certain parts). They punch a hole into your ticket and off you go. I am very surprised we were able to walk anywhere we wanted to. You have to walk through the market area before you hit the actual mine and then from there, you just find a way down. You weave between little pockets of salt that has crystallized to certain degrees. As we were walking down, there was somewhat a path that looked to be used a lot and we were correct as there were workers carry massive bags of salt from below to higher ground where they store the salt.

There were a few bags sitting on the path and Patrick and myself tried to lift it but nothing budged. When you walk further down, you see where the workers are picking up the bags of salt and they sit down and strap the bags to them before standing up and walking that same very narrow path up the hill. Some are wearing just sandals and a few wear sneakers. This is tedious work and hard labour but the Peruvians are strong people especially coming from farm/country side.

Our next stop was the Moray Ruins. It is approximately 50KM outside of Cuzco. It is a series of round terraces that were used for agriculture. Each level of the terrace was used to grow different crops as each level also differed in temperature. There are little stones that protrude from the side of the walls within the terrace that act as stairs to get between the levels. This system created a great way to research and observe how agriculture can grow in such a sustainable and efficient way as the levels of terraces acted as a irrigation system where none of the crops would ever get flooded as the excess water would drain downward.

Nowandays, you can walk down to have a closer look of the terraces however, you are not allowed onto the actual terraces. There is one main area that you see the full circle and levels but when you continue to walk along, there is a second section that has a smaller version of this circle terrace which isn’t as well preserved. When you finish the hike and finish above once again, there is also a smaller area further out that has a smaller set of circle terraces.

Since this is a national park/site, the toilets are free here but remember to bring toilet paper. They also have a little strip of stalls selling souvenirs and food. We took a break from the sun after our walk through and ate our packed lunches before we hopped back into the van and onwards to Ollantaytambo we went.

After a few detours, we made it to Ollantaytambo where our tour group will get picked up to start our Inca trail hike. We walk into the main square where there are tons of Peruvians dressed in their traditional attire selling souvenirs in the middle. We walk past it and head down a long cobblestone street with a little exposed water trench towards our hostel. This is when I am happy I decided not to bring a carry-on luggage with wheels as the cobblestone seemed difficult for the rest. We stayed at Kamma Guesthouse (Lari Calle 659). It is a cute little hostel that only has about 5 rooms. I shared with my brother in a corner unit with a door that open to view the cobblestone street we just came from and also windows that open and give us a great view of the Ollantaytambo ruins. This place also features a rooftop with a nice view of the city as well as the breakfast nook.

It is here at the hostel that we met with our last friend to come in – Gayaanan. Once we all got settled in, we headed over to the Ollantaytambo Ruins and up we went. The steps are steep but you just need to keep moving. The higher we went, the more wind there was. You have the option after reaching the highest point to either go back down the stone stairs you came from or continue along another path that takes you further along the ruins.

When we finished our hike, we all decided to split off for a few hours and explore the town, do some shopping etc. We were in the market and luckily I had Patrick there to haggle for me. The kids here are hustlers. I was looking at handmade bracelets for my best friends and then this kid comes beside me and sneezes on me but in his outfit he is so adorable is forgiven. However, if you take a photo of him he will come after you for 1 sol.

We walked around the town, venturing through the cobblestone roads and ended up heading towards the other mountains where it was less touristy but more local homes and like stores.

We all returned to the hostel to meet up and head to dinner together. We walked over to the train station and ate dinner at El Albergue Ollantaytambo (Estacion de Tren, Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru)

With live music playing and the restaurant/hotel run by expats. I ordered the wild mushroom pasta and Chicha Mirada (38.50sol).

We returned back to the hostel to pack for our hike. We are only allowed a limit of 7 kilos for the porter duffle bag. I originally got it down to 2.5 kiloes but once I switched around batteries and whatnot, it became heavier. My daypack though weighed 8 kilos including 1.5L of water, my DSLR and whatever I think I needed.

Los Angeles, California – 2016 – Day 4 – 5

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We went for brunch at Alcove Café (1929 Hillhurst Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027) in Los Feliz. I had the crab cake eggs benedict.

Stopped by Intelligentsia (3922 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029) for a coffee fix. I grabbed a bag of espresso beans for my father. The environment and interiors of this establishment is beautiful with its blue and white tiled floors and wooden façade. It is a relaxing space to be in.

After the coffee fix, we drove over to Griffith Park and drove straight up to the Observatory. Did you know the owner of the land put it in his will that he wanted the park to remain free forever to all visitors. Arrive early to find parking. The observatory is beautiful and shows a great view over the city. The first Saturday of each month, there is a star party that is open to the public for star viewing.

We didn’t really have the time to hike (so sad). We drove up Mulholland Drive and parked by the park after a windy and narrow drive up. We walked to an area that was front facing of the Hollywood sign and took photos. A quick stop to pick up 2 of our friends and off we went to Anaheim to Angel Stadium to watch a baseball game with our friend JP. It was Star Wars night meaning the giveaway was a stormtrooper rally monkey. The night became a little dewey as fog started to fall near the end of the game. Sad to say, the Angels lost that night but our night didn’t end there as we went back to our home and hung out for a while.

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The plans for our final Saturday (or last full day) was divided into 2 groups – group 1 – surfing and beach bum at Venice Beach and group 2 – myself and Vivien who were on a mission to meet up with our friends and family in LA. The beach group slowly made their way to the beach while the people wanting to surf went a little earlier for surf with our friend Van. Myself and Vivien hopped into our car and off we went to West Hollywood to have breakfast with my friend Brian McCarty at Canter’s Deli (419 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036) – an institution in West Hollywood that is open 24/7 and serves food at a very reasonable price. They have a parking lot and its free when you validate your parking. Brian is a photographer who specializes in his work with toys but more recently has been deeply involved with his on going series – War Toys. Brian alongside art therapists travel to war zones and refugee camps and collaborate with children who are or have been affected by war express what they see and deal with on the regular through art therapy. They use locally found toys then place and posed them in locations known to the children as a way to expressively show their unaccounted perspective on what is happening around them regularly in these war zones.

I was unfortunately about to meet up with one family that I basically spent all my time with when I lived in LA 6 years ago but was fortunate enough to meet up with Wendy Polish, my friend who I spent almost majority of my time working with. Wendy lives in Silverlake and for a glimpse, I was also able to once again see her daughter Logan whom I haven’t seen since she was 10 years old. I regret not getting a photo with her after all this time. Wendy, Vivien and myself walked from her home to Sunset Junction Coffee Shop (3916 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029) for a little snack. Although its been 6 years, we picked up where we left off like time hadn’t past. Afterwards, we returned to her place for a bit and she showed us her beautiful home and we took portraits of her dog Hank. Wendy is an designer and artist who co-founded a beautiful candle company called Le Feu de L’eau.

I said my goodbyes and off we went to our next destination – Yolk (1626 Silver Lake Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026) – a beautiful little gift shop that also sells the cutest children clothes as well as housewares (including but not limited to Le Feu de L’eau candles). We went next door to LA Mill Coffee before making our way across the street to MILK (1639 Silver Lake Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026) in which my Instagram feed kept showing these beautiful ice cream macaron sandwiches which were a must try! Just like any other ice cream store, you can sample a few of the flavours. I got myself a Thai Tea ice cream macaron sandwich ($6USD) and it was absolutely delicious. The Thai tea was a perfect balance and unlike drinking Thai Ice tea, the after taste didn’t linger in your mouth. I would definitely come back and eat more if I had the time.

After our refreshing treats, we drove east past of Pasadena to Glendora where we visited Vivien’s cousin who’s wife was only a few days away from giving birth to their second child. They had the most adorable little daughter Victoria who doesn’t quite known personal space boundaries but that made her even cuter. We played, chatted and read a few books before making our way through LA traffic back to Venice beach area to retrieve our friends from Abbot Kinney.

This was our last night and once we all returned home, we all showered, packed and decided that since our flight was at 6AM and we needed to be at the airport for 4AM.  We packed up the car, checked out and headed to dinner where we would then stay out all night before going to the airport. We said our goodbyes to our home for the week and drove to Little Tokyo where we had dinner at Toshi Sushi (359 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012). Toshi Sushi is a cozy little restaurant but the food had big flavours. The boys for the Chirashi bowls which looked amazing and the look on their faces you could tell it was delicious. I got the Toshi Black Cod special and it was melt in your mouth delicious. Our plan was to meet up with our friend Van for $1 oysters however she ended up falling asleep as the early morning surfing drained her. We ended up walking around Little Tokyo and grabbed Boba at Twinkle Brown Sugar Tea where I got a Thai Tea boba and yes the aftertaste remained but it was a delight to have some BOBA (Bubbletea). Since we had time to kill and we didn’t necessarily fill up at sushi in hopes we were going for $1 oysters, we went back to Daikokuya and had a second dinner. My meal from Toshi was very filling so I opted for Takoyaki instead of a ramen.

We walked through Little Tokyo Plaza once more trying to kill time and I was able to step into Mikawaya once more and grabbed a peaches and crème ice cream mochi just a minute before they closed up for the night. We drove over to Marina Del Ray trying to see if we were able to walk around but we were denied and from there, we made the decision to goto the LAX. Before leaving a car that you have rented and used for a whole week, make sure to check all the pockets, seats and whatnot before departing so no items get left behind. The flight was direct heading home and once again I ended my trip the way I started – a whole row to myself to lay down and sleep. Los Angeles, I will be back for you one day soon.

 

Pakse – Paksong – Laos – Southeast Asia – 2015 – Day 10 & 11

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We woke up early enough to go for breakfast across the street at Xian Mai where I had an omelette and a shake. Back to the hotel to grab our things and literally walk across the street to Green Discovery Lao where 2 people were already waiting. I paid the rest of the deposit and then we stored our stuff upstairs in one of the rooms with a few others bags. We hopped into the van and went on our way picking up a few more. Our jungle crew consists of Pet our guide, Stephanie (Doctor’s assistant/resident) and Noami (physicist) who are currently unemployed and are from Bern, Switzerland . Rudy and Deanna from Amsterdam who work in healthcare, Kiwi and Thip (sells washer and dryers) from Bangkok, Thailand, and a Russian couple who was told they were going to be living in a luxury jungle hotel overnight but not actually expecting what we did with all that hiking in mud and all as they brought their full luggage onto the bus.

First off, if you plan on doing this tour, you need to be in moderately good shape and expect to get dirty and wet (its a jungle and the weather changes quickly). I thought November was going to be dry and it has for the most part been ok but jungle is different. Whatever bag you bring with you, you will be carrying majority of the trek so don’t carry to much or too big (camera, phone, swim suit, sleeping clothes – long sleeve/pants if you worry about bugs, clothes for the second day, toilet paper, deet etc). You need to be moderately fit although we had a older Russian couple who weren’t prepped at all but eventually make it through. Bring rain covers for your bags and if you have a waterproof casing for your cameras/phones please use. Rain jackets are useful at points too. A dry bag or tons of ziplock bags are so important. Make sure your phones are fully charged before going as there is only 1 set of plugs in the main area to charge if needed.  Bring toilet paper and DEET!

We did the 2 days 1 night tour. In total, we had 9 in our group and Pet was our amazing guide. Here is the run down. Drive about 1-2 hours from Pakse to Paksong. Once you reach the clay dirt road heading into Champassak province – Ban Nongluang – the roads become very bumpy and its about 30-45 minutes riding through these roads avoiding potholes as the road isn’t cultivated and more rural. There are so many adorable and kind kids and people along the way that will smile and wave at you. We finally came to a stop at this one particular spot which is somewhat a little storefront and home base out there for the workers – there we were joined by 3-4 other guides (they don’t all speak too much english though but know main gestures) and 3-4 girls who are our cooks for the adventure who do the trek in flip flops and casual clothes such as jeans and sweaters – what troopers. It is here where you get accessorized with your harness and your brake which is a tree branch (it will be your saviour this whole trip – to have better control on braking, slightly twist the stick on the wire to slow down). There are also a few toilets in the back you can use but be warned they don’t usually have toilet paper and are squatting toilets. They will give you 2 water bottles that will be your water for the 2 days but you will have to carry them. They do have a water filling system at basecamp. You can buy a few snacks here to bring with you. Then begin your hike into the park on said clay dirt roads with rocks. Watch out for leeches! You end up hiking for about an hour-hour & a half then stop for lunch. Lunch is served family style on huge banana leaves (they literally cut it from the trees) and you asian squat to eat with your hands food that was freshly made. Very tasty! The trail becomes very different when dry vs being wet for sure. We continued hiking and eventually ended up to our first zip line where they give you safety instructions and then you just go. In total, you zipline 21 lines. First day you zipline 8 and second 13. There is also bit of belaying and crossing tightrope / sky bridges. It was raining the first day and harder to control the brake on the wire. I’ve been zip lining before so the guides actually just let me go ahead of them with a little instruction on if i need to brake a lot or not. The ziplines are very basic so if they tell you to brake hard; brake hard as they don’t have a wire space for recoil and you may kick a tree (the guides will try to stop/catch you). When you make it to basecamp, there is the main area where you will spend most of your time and then a path to the waterfall. The path is slippery and the rocks at the waterfall is very rough terrain if you want to actually explore it and is VERY SLIPPERY! but a beauty to be seen. There are 2 showers (just cold water) and 1 outhouse (please don’t flush toilet paper down and put it into the garbage bin).

The main area has a firepit where they regularly have fresh boiling water and Bolaven plateau coffee that they pick up locally from a old lady’s stall along the way and they also sell lao beer. Here is where they serve you dinner and a little time to relax and socialize. When you want to goto bed, you just need to let them know and then you need to suit up in your harness again and then they show you to your treehouse for the night. Warning: you are in the middle of nature.. there are rats that climb the cables into the room searching for food so please leave at at main basecamp area for them to hang or make sure its securely closed and hung. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR BAGS ON THE FLOOR. There are nails for you to hang your bags to keep them clean and safe. The beds are singles with mosquito netting on them with sleeping bags in them. There are tons of bugs at night attracted to the light. There is a toilet and sink in your treehouse and depending on your tree, you may or may not have a clear view. The generators that controls the power and lights will go out about 10 minutes after the last group gets into their treehouse so get settled quickly. I had a good sleep. The mornings are a little cooler so there are no bugs when you wake up to catch the sunrise. You can zipline out of your tree whenever you feel like coming down in the morning when there is light. There is toilet paper in your treehouse but the main outhouse only runs on maybe 2 rolls the whole trip.