Mandy has to work this weekend, so I opted to take this trip alone. Well, not really alone. I went with three of our friends. But I wanted to clarify up front Mandy didn't go since all our previous posts we were both present for. She didn't want to go even if she could have, because it was going to be too cold.
I worked the first half of Thursday from home. By late morning, I was packing up a few last minute items and waiting for the rest of the group to be ready. To kill some time, I decided to cruise downtown on my bike to pick up some lunch. I got a Cubano sandwich at Ipswich Provisions. They’re so good. The menu description doesn’t call for mayo (because a Cuban doesn’t have mayo!) but I try to remember to specify because sometimes some ends up on there anyways. Without, it’s wicked good!
After lunch, I put my bike away and hopped in the truck with the trailer hitched up and set out north. I met up with Bob and Ryan on route 95 in New Hampshire. We cruised together until we were pretty far into Maine. Somewhere along the way, Brendan caught up to us on the highway and we all continued on to Rockwood, Me. There, we got dinner at the Stress Free Moose. I got a Lone Pine IPA that was really good. I ordered the Italian sausage and chicken soup and the chicken parmesan dinner, all of which was outstanding! Then, we set out into the woods. We got gasoline along the way at the last station we passed. The fuel cost $3.10/gallon!! That hurt.
We went about 15 miles into the woods and setup camp near historic Pittston Farm. The road along the way in was mostly ice, and full of divots. It was a rough ride in, but we made it. We parked at about 9pm and set to work making fire. It was a little rough starting because everything was damp from the recent rainfall. Eventually Brendan busted out some secret sauce (gear oil) and then the fire was fully involved. We checked the weather forecast and tried to soak in what would be the warmest of our nights. We had beers and laughs around the fire while Bob made us what he referred to as "apple pie" until the wee hours of the morning when we all finally went to bed.
We woke up Friday at some point. I know I was the last to rise. It’s hard getting out of a warm bed into cold air! I warmed up some breakfast sandwiches that Mandy and I made at home before the trip. I ate them while I packed up all my stuff and hooked the trailer up to the truck. We got on the road and made the short ride to Pittston Farm. We were hopeful to buy firewood here that we could bring into the North Maine Woods with us, but unfortunately they had none to sell us. We eventually decided that we would drop the trailers at the farm and head back out to the previous night’s gas stop because we knew they sold firewood.
On the way out of the woods, we came across a full size pickup in a ditch on the side of the road. He was on the low side of a banked turn, so it seemed he probably just slid slowly downhill. Fortunately, there was no vehicle damage or bodily injury. We assessed the scene and devised a plan to extract the truck. Ryan’s Jeep was deployed up the street with strobe lights on to block incoming traffic. Bob parked on the opposite side to block traffic as well. Brendan’s Jeep was parked in the ditch opposite the truck that was stuck. I had to use Microspikes to be of any use at all; even standing still would cause me to slide downhill. I installed a hitch receiver shackle so we had a sturdy recovery point to pull from. We hooked up Brendan’s winch line and dragged the truck back onto the road. The whole effort took about 5 minutes. The truck owner was very thankful for the help, and we were happy to oblige. We continued on to the gas station, but unfortunately, when we got there we learned that they did not have any fire wood in stock. We topped up our fuel tanks anyway and headed back to Pittston Farm.
Just before the road to Pittston Farm, we decided to continue past, to see if there were any roadside vendors of firewood. We noticed a sign for Brassua Campground, and thought to ask there. Luckily for us, they had bundles for sale! The man we talked to was super friendly and even gave us a bunch of kindling and paper to get our fires started! With renewed excitement, we went back to get our trailers and finally enter the North Maine Woods. We passed the checkpoint into the woods around 12:30pm.
We covered several miles over icy roads then turned onto a trail covered in about 8 inches of loose snow that had only been lightly traveled before us. When we finally got to the end and back onto hard pack, we agreed we needed to avoid similar trails if we wanted to conserve enough fuel to get back out of the woods, ever. Somewhere along our way in the midst of nowhere, we decided to stop for lunch. Ryan was in the lead and stopped quickly when he saw a spot to turn off the road. Bob couldn’t stop quick enough because the road was all ice. Luckily, we were not moving fast, so no significant damage was done when they collided.
The campsite we eventually stopped at for the night was Wadleigh Beach. We were in the vicinity of a few different campsites when we were ready to stop driving for the day. We ultimately chose Wadleigh Beach because it was the most wooded, and we knew there were going to be wind gusts up to 40mph. We formed a sort of windbreak with our vehicles and trailers along the pond side of the site, and huddled around the fire. The forecast was bleak, with temperatures in the low teens and possibly dipping into the single digits. We could hear the wind roaring across the frozen pond, but the trees and trailers did an excellent job of shielding us from the worst of it. I warmed homemade baked ziti on the grill and traded half to Ryan for a sausage he had. It was so tasty. Thanks Mandy! The whiskey we shared supplemented the fire in keeping us comfortable against the cold. We called it an early night a little before midnight and climbed into bed. It was so toasty in the trailer, I knew it was going to be a struggle to get up in the morning.
Everything was frozen solid this morning. The site was a little muddy when we arrived last night, and the mud had turned to brown ice, locking our wheels in place. All the locks on the trailer were frozen in place. When I poured coffee into my cup to drink along with my breakfast, it turned to slush. I warmed a couple more breakfast sandwiches while I packed up the trailer and warmed up the truck. We filed out of the site and onto the road around 9:30am or so. Bob was the last one in, so he was the first one out. He stopped on the road for us to get in line behind him. Brendan was next and plowed into Bob’s Jeep straight away because the road was all ice and he couldn’t stop. Luckily, it was a low speed collision that did no damage.
We cruised along hard packed snow and sheer ice for most of the day. Fuel was becoming a concern, and we modified our intended route due to roads that were impassible, and to get to a fuel station as directly as possible. The goal was to reach Fort Kent, and we had about 120 miles to go. Somewhere along the way, I glanced in my mirror and saw Ryan’s light bar at a severe angle to the road, and knew something had gone awry.
I immediately heard him come on the radio to announce he needed assistance. He’d gone into the ditch. Bob was first on scene as he’d been behind Ryan in the convoy. Brendan and I were a little ways ahead, so we waited to see if we’d need to circle back. Bob notified us he was going to need a full crew as this extraction was going to be more difficult than yesterday’s. We turned our trailers around and headed back. I setup hazard lights up the road to block traffic. Brendan parked in the road facing Ryan’s Jeep, while Bob’s Jeep was parked next to Ryan’s, providing an anchor for a snatch block so we could pull Ryan onto the road, rather than along the road. Once everything was set and Brendan began to reel him in, his Jeep mostly cooperated and he was back on the road a few minutes later. A thorough inspection showed everything seemed to be functional, and there was no damage found. We rolled on.
We eventually got to the Allagash checkpoint and exited the north end of the North Maine Woods. We drove on pavement for a change which was nice. I even got to turn off 4WD! We found a few fuel stations but the gas was pretty expensive, so we kept going all the way into Fort Kent. We decided we should get lunch, too, while we were there. After we fueled up, we went to Swamp Buck Restaurant, just next door. We ordered a round of beers and pulled out the maps to discuss our plans for the remainder of the trip. We ordered some appetizers and a meal as well. We ultimately all agreed that we would end the trip a day early, returning home Sunday instead of Monday as originally intended.
After we filled our bellies, we went back into the North Maine Woods through the St. Francis checkpoint around sunset. We cruised in the dark for a couple hours over a mix of icy roads and loose-snowy trails. We ended our drive at 20 Mile Bridge campsite. We built a fire as soon as we were parked to take the bite out of the cold. I heated dinner which was delicious chicken curry and garlic naan. Thanks again Mandy for the meal prep! We hung out around the fire until we were all sleepy. We were all in bed fairly early compared to previous nights.
We all woke up around 7:15am-ish. We packed up the few remaining items as some of us had breakfast. We were out of the campsite at about 8:15. We cruised along to the Ashland checkpoint and exited the North Maine Woods once more. We cruised down route 11 through Mandy’s hometown, Patten, and got fuel just before hopping onto route 95 south towards home. The ride home was a mix of snow and rain beginning shortly after we got fuel in Sherman.
We made most of the trip uneventfully, except for a minor incident. I attempted a lane change to pass a car. When I hit the slush in the middle of the lanes, the whole truck and trailer went sideways, unannounced. I let it coast, and kept the front wheels pointed down the highway the direction I hoped to go. It righted itself, and then continued to right itself. Too far right. I was simply a passenger at this point. The tires grabbed onto something and it straightened out. I got a split-second of relief, then I was pointing left again. Then I was looking at the breakdown lane out the windshield again. Finally, it settled down and straightened out for good. I’d somehow hit nothing in all that. Bob had been watching in his rearview and congratulated my recovery over the radio once we were sure it was over. I announced that I’d be staying in the slow lane indefinitely and would get home sometime during the week.
Nothing of note happened the rest of the way to Maine Beer Company in Freeport. We stopped in here as we were in need of fuel and a short break from driving. I got a beer and a pretzel, both of which were outstanding. The mustard was wicked good, so I bought a jar to go.
Bob understandably wanted to get home, I think, so he hit the road just ahead of us. Brendan got onto the highway via a different route than Ryan and I, but caught up to us after just a few minutes. We cruised along together, but eventually heard Bob on the radio. He’d lost power steering in his Jeep. He was pulling off the highway to get fluid to add, as we assumed that would resolve the issue. Ryan had to work as a relay, since his radio was much higher power than Brendan’s and mine. We eventually heard that his Jeep was overheating as well. We immediately knew that he must have lost his accessory drive belt. Brendan explained the procedure for replacement, and listed the required tools, so Ryan could relay to Bob what he’d need to do to get back on the road, since we’d already passed him on the highway, and he was insistent that we continue home. He ultimately opted to just get a tow home as he was not at all interested in wrenching in the torrential downpour.
We continued down route 95 into Massachusetts with no further issues. Brendan separated when we got to route 495. I split from Ryan when I got into Georgetown and took the exit. I was back home to a very excited Loki around 4:15pm.
3:30 am! The room started buzzing with alarms and lights were flicked on. Yay. We were out of the room by about 3:45 am. We walked across the indoor bridge directly into the airport from our hotel. We didn’t have any bags to check, so we walked straight to security. We passed with flying colors because we’re experts by now. So secure. We made our way to breakfast. We all opted to get to this breakfast that included eggs, waffle, juice, coffee, and a bread basket. It was way too much for most of us, but it was amazing to eat good bread. They even included a croissant that was fantastic!
After we ate, we hung out at the gate a short while until we were able to board the plane. This went fairly smoothly, and we only took off about 20 minutes late again. Peru time, I guess. We touched land again in Panama. It was incredibly hot though luckily this time we didn’t have to sprint across the airport. We even had enough time to get lunch! We went to Margaritaville because Mandy and Jenny were dead set on nachos. Shaun and I got margaritas because when in Rome… After lunch, we made our way to the gate to await boarding. We were greeted with a surprise security checkpoint. No one really understood why, other than the USA was forcing it on Panama, according to what one employee told Mandy. We had to do shoes and belts, empty our bags, the whole nine. Mandy and Jenny were forced to throw away or chug the waters they’d just purchased inside the airport, so that was a waste of money. The employees seemed to hate it just as much as all the passengers, too. So it was overall an enjoyable experience. We got through just in time to begin boarding with our group. Our plane backed away from the gate at takeoff time and we got in line behind about 8 other crafts for takeoff. Our 12:33 pm flight took off at 12:51 pm. Pretty good, compared to the rest of the flights. We laughed at the fact that we hadn't had one problem-free flight on the entire trip. The rest of this final leg was uneventful, thankfully. We actually arrived early to Boston by about 10 minutes! We breezed through customs and out to ground transport since none of us checked any bags. We were on the road with our Uber within minutes. We got a ride to Revere, where Shaun and Jenny's vehicle had been parked. They gave us a ride home and by 8:30 pm we were back in Ipswich.
We don't have many pictures from this day as it was mostly planes, so enjoy these random photos from throughout our trip!
We woke up at about 5:00 am. We had nothing to do until breakfast which started at 7:00 am, so we watched a couple more shows on Netflix. We went to breakfast at exactly 7 o’clock. I was finally ready to eat all of the foods. I was feeling so much better. I think the altitude sickness had passed. I had a banana for breakfast today along with a granola bar. Rob had three rounds of flat, gross bread with butter and jam, fresh papaya, a banana, three rounds of coffee with chocolate, and jugo de platano (banana juice). Apparently he was feeling better. We all followed breakfast with coca tea. After breakfast, we visited Shaun and Jenny’s room for a shower today because they actually had hot water whereas our room did not. We packed our bags for the airport and decided to explore local shops until checkout time.
We made our way to a nearby shop that looked somewhat open. The doors were open but all of the products were covered with tarps. The women at the shop quickly welcomed us in and started to display their products for sale. We picked up a few souvenirs. While we were paying we noticed that there was a baby in the corner on the shelf all wrapped up in colorful fabrics. One of the women told us that it was her baby. Interesting!
We left the shop and headed slowly back to the hostel. We decided to enjoy another round of coca teas and work on the blog. We really had no plans for the day. And we were all ready to get away from the high altitude. So, around 10:00 am, we checked out and had the hostess call us a taxi to the airport. Our flight wasn’t until 8:14 pm but we thought maybe we could switch to an earlier flight and the airline website said that this had to be requested in person at the airport sales office. The driving in Cusco is ridiculous. We definitely would not recommend renting a car when visiting here. But we made it to the airport safely and asked about switching to an earlier flight. The customer service representative said that they could not do that in person and that we had to call the customer service line. Thankfully, he let us use his phone as mine was not working. I later realized I had put the numbers in incorrectly. Oh well. When I called, I was told that there were no earlier flights. But we had seen some on Google flights available for booking! I was told that it was not possible. Our flight was the only remaining one that day with this airline.
So now what? It was about 10:30 am. We decided to hit the road. There was a shop with a Sky airlines sign in the window right across from the airport. We decided to try switching flights there. We walked in and it soon appeared to be a travel agent rather than the airline sales office. He offered to help us and called the airline. We got the same response. There were no available flights for the 4 of us prior to the 8:14 pm flight that we already had. Jenny and Shaun didn’t want to carry their bags around so they paid the travel agent to keep them until 4:00 pm. Rob and I opted to carry ours with us.
Right next door to the travel agent was a restaurant. We decided to stop there for coffee. Rob also ordered lomo saltado. We got our coffees and it was delicious. It was served pasado style, which is really densely-brewed coffee served in a carafe, and then poured into a mug of hot water. You can make the coffee as strong as you like by adding more to the mug. You can add milk if you choose. In Peru, most “milk” is actually Gloria, which is a brand of evaporated milk. It has a slight sweetness to it, which goes perfectly with the coffee and eliminates any need to add sugar.
We continued down the road in search of coffee beans to take home. We moseyed, popping into convenience stores along the way. There are hundreds of them, but they all sell the same items. And none of them sell coffee. We started to get hungry along our walk so we looked for tasty restaurants, too. We eventually came across Del Corral. They unfortunately didn’t have available a lot of our top picks from their menu, but I settled on bistek a lo pobre, and Mandy was content to steal some french fries. Bistek a lo pobre is literally “steak to the poor,” or, more accurately “poor man’s steak,” and is a thin cut of grilled beef served with white rice, a fried egg, french fries, and fried banana slices. The steak was slightly tough, but the flavor was good and all of the sides were delicious. The french fries here might have been the best we had.
After lunch, Jenny tried to take us to Pastelleria Dulce Mia. “It has great reviews on Trip Advisor,” she said. It was about 7 minutes driving. It didn’t look too far for walking but there wasn’t a direct route. So we opted for an Uber. The Uber driver arrived shortly. He didn’t seem to know where he was going and his phone kept losing reception. So we took an adventurous route to get to our “destination.” We arrived about 25 minutes later and were more than happy to exit the vehicle. The driver said something “es muy peligroso” but there was too much going on, I didn’t understand what he said. As he drove away, there was no pastelleria to be seen. We asked at another local shop and they didn’t seem to know of it. It seems like the pastelleria does not exist. A little out of our comfort zone, we decided to start walking back towards the main road as quickly as we could. We navigated through a bunch of neighborhoods and back alleys. Nothing was connected as we expected it would be, and the most direct route was hardly that. Eventually, we made it to the main street which we knew would take us to the airport. We had found no coffee beans, no cake, and no coffee. So that was a bust. We walked along the road towards the airport in search of coffee beans and cake for Jenny, with a side-quest of pisco sours. We found none of the above, until a gas station had ground coffee for sale.
Mostly defeated, we continued back to the airport. We figured we’d check in and get through security and burn off the rest of our time in Cusco at the gate. At the airport, we hopped in line to check in and get our boarding passes. The line didn’t move for about 45 minutes. The same people were being helped at the two open counters the entire time. Eventually, we decided since we were so early, it would be best to wait until the line died down and check in later. We found a comfy spot to sit and wait a while, and periodically checked in on the status of the line. Around 4:45 pm it was empty, so we headed down. We were told that we would be unable to check in until 6:00 pm. I was content to wait in front of the counter while everyone else went to get food. The desk attendant put a “Closed” sign up. Numerous people asked to pass me to ask a question, still more completely ignored me and just approached the desk. For being off-duty, the woman was quite busy helping passengers. At about 5:30 pm, she was checking in a family of three who had completely skipped over the line that had now formed behind me. When she called me forward, she explained that she had only checked them in because they had been waiting since 2 o’clock. But then she asked for my reservation and passport to print my boarding pass anyways, so I don’t really understand the guilt trip. We got through security seamlessly, and checked out the shops in the airport. There was one that sold coffee beans, and a bunch of other interesting things, but it was the only shop that was closed. So that was a bust. We sat around a while entertaining ourselves until they finally began boarding. For four flights. Within 15 minutes of each other. To the same destination. Weird, but okay. Boarding was separated into two sections, rows 1-15 and rows 16-whatever. We were all in rows 1 and 2, so we got in the appropriate line. Of course the opposite line was the only one moving, but we waited a while. Then we began to notice people’s boarding passes for rows that were less than 16 going through the wrong line. So we switched lines. Shaun and Mandy got through no problem. When I presented my boarding pass, the man tried to scan it. He gave up with hardly any effort, threw the ticket on the floor and told me I had to wait because my row was not boarding at this time. “Ella es mi esposa.” Not his problem, I guess. He began accepting passengers from the line we were originally in. I jumped into the other line anyways because the entire thing was a charlie foxtrot and eventually made my way to my seat. Our 8:14 pm flight took off at 8:35. Close enough. Get us out of here.
We made it to Lima with no issues. Flying in, we were reminded again how smoggy Lima is. It’s like a constant haze hangs over the whole city. Our initial itinerary had us returning to Tupac Hostel. However, on our first stop there, we realized how far away from the airport it actually is. It wasn’t an awful ride, only about 15 minutes by taxi, but we only had from about 9:00 pm until 3:30 am to sleep. We wanted to get as much sleep as possible for our final travel day home, so we opted to change our accommodations to the Wyndham Costa del Sol just outside of the Lima airport. We were able to get off the plane and walk there in about 5 minutes, which was great. We checked in and were given 4 free drink vouchers for their bar. Mandy and Jenny wanted to take a shower, and Shaun and I wanted to use the opportunity for our last chance at authentic pisco sours. We dropped our bags in the room and took the drink vouchers downstairs. We each got a double and downed them. They were quite good. We watched some 80s American pop music videos on TV, and wondered aloud why that’s always a thing whenever we travel abroad. Do foreign countries play that music because they think Americans like it? Are they catering to us? Do they still genuinely enjoy it? Are they trying to force a resurgence of 80s pop? The world will never know. We were back in the room before Mandy even finished showering. We all passed out as quickly as we could.
We woke up at various times all morning. Every half hour or so. I still felt like garbage, but at least I wasn’t getting sick anymore. Just really queasy and my entire body hurt. The soreness I attributed to hiking on an hour of sleep two days prior, and not really following up with good nutrition to restore my muscles. I think the rest was altitude sickness. We ate breakfast at our hostel around 8:00 am. It was typical Peruvian breakfast; bread with butter and jam, fruits, juice, and coffee. I was hungry but didn’t feel much like eating, if that makes sense. I was mostly scared, I think. So, I just ate some bread and coca tea. I ate a granola bar that we had in the room. I still hadn’t really gained my appetite back. The bread in Peru is the same everywhere and it kind of sucks. It’s just dry and flavorless. It’s weird how identical it looks everywhere, as if only one bakery is making bread for the whole country.
After breakfast, we set out towards the historical center. Here we were bombarded by people trying to sell paintings, jewelry, guided tours, and who knows what else. The same people came to us multiple times trying to sell us the same things. How many times do you have to say no gracias?? This was really the first time in Peru that we have experienced this. We watched some students practicing a march on the road, and observed the ornate old churches. After we were sick of being bugged by salespeople, we moved along towards San Pedro Market.
San Pedro Market is wild. Here, you can buy all types of prepared foods, ingredients, spices, fruits, meats, vegetables, clothes, trinkets, etc. The smells, colors, sounds, are all so vibrant. Every aisle is completely different. Sanitation is highly suspect. We were far too afraid from having been sick the last few days to mess around here. Which was unfortunate, because we really wanted to try all of the things. It was taking most of my energy just to walk around, and I could feel I was fading fast. We decided to split from Shaun and Jenny, and head back to the hostel for more sleep. I felt so guilty passing up the opportunity to explore the city, but I was completely unable to enjoy it.
We got back to the hostel around 11:00 am and got a few hours of sleep almost immediately. I felt somewhat better, though still really lethargic. It was so frustrating. I wasn’t necessarily tired, but my body just didn’t want to move. That doesn’t leave many options when you’re on top of a hill and surrounded by other hills, and you don’t have a vehicle. Eventually, the Sweeney’s returned and we mustered up the strength to go out for some food. By now, it had been over 24 hours since I’d kept down any food besides a slice of bread and I was starving. We found Inkazteca because Mandy was dead set on pizza. We ordered a large mixta, which had ham, chorizo, salami, and cheese. The flavor was fantastic. Jenny bolted to the bathroom partway through the meal to be sick again. It reminded us all how delicate the food situation was, and we all decided it would be best to not eat any more. We’d had about a slice and a half each. We hung around a little while to make sure Jenny was good enough to get back to the hostel, then we paid and left.
We walked slowly back to our hostel. It’s all uphill, so we took breaks often. It’s crazy how easily one gets winded at this elevation. And just general lethargy doesn’t help at all either. We aimed for shade wherever we could find it because the sun is incredibly intense, even though it’s not very hot outside. The UV index everyday has been 11, which is classified as "extreme". It’s a weird experience to feel like your skin is burning at 65-70F. We made it back to the hostel with no further incidences, and retired to our rooms before dusk to watch Netflix and relax. It was a rather boring day, and we felt somewhat guilty. But we did the best we could. We eventually decided to call it a night around 8:30 pm.
We all woke up around 6:15 am. We showered and packed up our stuff before heading over the tracks for a coffee at the restaurant on site. We checked out of the room and strapped on our packs to begin the hike back to Aguas Calientes. This hike was harder than yesterday’s as we were all sore, exhausted, and now carrying all our belongings on our backs. At least we only had 4km to go. Our plan was to get some breakfast and then board a train at 10:30 am which would take us to Ollantaytambo. We sat down across the street from Hot Springs 2, where Shaun and I ate the previous day, at Hot Springs 1 restaurant. We ordered a breakfast pizza and searched for the train tickets. No luck. So Mandy and Jenny walked to the train station to get the tickets printed with our confirmation e-mail. When they returned, they told us that the overnight rain had caused a landslide and the train would be delayed as they had to clear the tracks. The pizza arrived and Shaun and I shared it. The girls were still not ready for any heavy foods. The pizza was really good, it had chorizo and egg and cheese and a nice thin crust. After we cashed out, we didn’t hustle, but we still got to the train station as soon as we could, to check for updates. On the way, we stopped at a bakery where the girls each got a banana danish. At 10:30 am there was no train update, but around 11:00 we were told it should be about an hour late. At noon, the estimate was that we could begin boarding at 1:00. We found seats in the train station to set our bags down and ensure we didn’t miss any updates over the intercom. At 1:10, Jenny asked if the train would be leaving soon, the woman replied “No.” Then, “I don’t know, maybe two, or one, or one-thirty.” We waited more. Finally we were told that the train would depart at “2:30 confirmed.” We started boarding at 2:30 and the train departed at 2:35. Finally!
The ride was very scenic, although we were underwhelmed by the ceiling windows. A neat idea, though mostly useless. We arrived in Ollantaytambo around 4:20 pm. We found a taxi immediately and got on the road. We took an entirely different route back towards Cusco than we had taken a few days prior. It might have been a little bit shorter. There were definitely far fewer switchbacks, which was good for curbing motion sickness! The ride took almost two hours. We passed a lot of landslides, one of them forced us to ride along the shoulder as it was still being cleaned up. Our taxi took us directly to our hostel. By the time we arrived, I was feeling a little bit queasy. I think it was motion sickness.
We unpacked and got settled into our rooms, then set out in search of dinner. We first hiked uphill a short distance to get a view of the city at night. We knew we’d have to hike downhill to get to dinner and then we’d have to go back up to get home, which we weren’t looking forward to. The hills everywhere were so steep! Luckily for us, there were restaurants all over the place, so we didn’t have to go too far to find Sumaqcha Restaurate & Bar. We were trying to find aji de gallina that Shaun really wanted. I ordered the soup of the day and a fried rice dish. I ordered papas de rellenas. The soup was way bigger than I was anticipating, and I ended up not eating any of the rice. I had to step outside because I was feeling really ill. Mandy joined me shortly thereafter and we decided to walk home. I got to eat a little bit of my meal before leaving and it was pretty good. I was sick in the streets along the way. I felt better immediately, which was nice. But short lived. I was sick most of the night, but I did get to sleep some. I was trying to figure out if it was altitude sickness or food poisoning. Or both? It was so disappointing because the food was so good before I lost it all.
Jenny and I took turns in the bathroom all night. Alternating between vomiting and diarrhea. After we had vomited a few times each, the boys were getting concerned that we were becoming dehydrated. They wanted to get us out of the jungle and into the town to a medical center before we wouldn’t be able to make it. The boys went to speak with the hosts. It seemed that one lady was already on the phone with the medical center as she had heard us violently vomiting. Jenny and I did not want to go anywhere, but we got overruled. A medical train was on the way to come get us and bring us into town.
Eventually. After about an hour and a half, Edwin (one of the lodge hosts) came to our door to notify us the train would arrive in about 5 minutes. We walked the hundred feet or so to the tracks and waited with our flashlights so we could be seen. We were thankful we didn’t have to walk down the tracks because the darkness was nearly absolute and the jungle on both sides is incredibly dense. It would have been a scary walk. Instead, it was a scary ride. The train was a single engine, hardly bigger than a full-size pickup. There was a driver and his assistant, a police officer, and two medical professionals already on the train when it arrived. And they let all four of us on as well. The girls had actual seats while Shaun and I sat on the hood with our legs hanging out the side of the car. The driver got the train rolling and then I noticed the engine tone was changing. I looked towards the driver and noticed that he was shifting a transmission. We’ve never seen a manually-shifted train before, so that was interesting. We got up to a speed that was probably not quite safe. It constantly felt like we were about to hop off the rails. 9 of us sped off into the night and made record time to Aguas Calientes, the closest actual town.
We disembarked the train around 2:15 am. We had a short hike up the town with our police escort to the medical center. The girls were taken into examination rooms and given a workup. It was determined they had food poisoning and they were treated with a smorgasbord of drugs and fluids. We had suspected food poisoning since early on, but it didn’t make sense because we’d all eaten all of the same foods. Oh well, we were much happier to have it confirmed and proper treatment administered, than stuck in the middle of the jungle just waiting it out. Shaun and I each had a tiny couch to "relax" on. The doctor asked what our plans were, as a group, and we explained that we were headed to Machu Picchu. He said it’s no problem, we can sleep a few hours and then go. Yeah, okay. The girls were given a mystery drug, we suspect was Benadryl, to knock them out. Shaun slept about one hour. I had slept about 1 hour earlier from 8 to 9. Each time after that I was about to fall asleep, someone began being sick again, which woke me up.
As six o’clock rolled around, we had to decide whether we were going to Machu Picchu or not. The entry time to the park is tightly controlled, and our tickets were for an 8:00 am entry, with a decent hike to get to the gate. Mandy said if I didn’t go she wouldn’t be mad, she’d just be disappointed. So at 6:00 am, with one hour of sleep and infirm wives under iffy medical supervision, Shaun and I set out on our hike. We didn’t really know which way to go, but figured following the parade of tourist buses was a likely plan. We grabbed a coffee at a little roadside shop for breakfast and continued walking down the dirt road. We arrived to the gate to the park about 20 minutes later. Shaun was held up because the passport number on his entry ticket didn’t match the number of his new passport. We had to explain in crappy Spanish that he had to get a new passport because his previous one wasn’t yet expired. He was not convinced. Shaun presented a Massachusetts driver’s license, which seemed to appease the guard, and he finally allowed us in.
We started actually hiking almost immediately. After we crossed the bridge over the Urubamba River, the trail went straight up. During our planning, which was mostly handled by Mandy and Jenny, we learned that this hike was supposed to take about an hour and a half. At the top, there’s another gate to the park. We had to enter this second gate between 8:00 and 9:00 am. We had just about the right amount of time to get there, since we were starting at about 6:30 am. We arrived to the second gate about 45 minutes later, soaking wet with sweat. It was difficult, but we were hustling regardless. But then we had to wait to get in.
We looked for a tour guide, which we had learned during the planning stage is a requirement to get into the park. You can’t just walk around on your own there. We met Gloria, a guide who spoke English. She seemed quite friendly, and funny too. We were still too early to get in, so we relaxed a bit at the gate until 8:00. She showed us on the map where we’d go, and explained to us how we’d get to hike Machu Picchu mountain as well. See, there’s the ruins, which we’d already hiked up to, but hadn't passed the gate to explore, but they’re on a ridge between two peaks, Huayna and Machu Picchu. You don’t have to hike either of them, but we wanted to, so we’d purchased tickets to hike during our planning, months ago. We didn’t really want to anymore, because of the lack of sleep, but we kind of felt obligated. Mandy would be disappointed. Not really! I told them they just had to get to the citadel but not to hike to the summit of Machu Picchu if it was too much.
Gloria walked us all around the ruins, and taught us a ton of history. We tried to absorb as much of it as we could, but we were so busy observing the incredible architecture, we probably lost a lot of the information she gave us. The biggest takeaway for us was that the park is far larger than either of us had realized before being there. And their masonry skills were incredibly advanced. We learned that it wasn’t a city so much as just a scientific and agricultural experiment. It was built primarily for scientists to study the sky and farmers to play around with different types of crops. After about an hour long tour around the ruins, she said it was her time to leave us. She showed us the way to the start of the hike up Machu Picchu mountain. Shaun got video footage of some of the tour - it will be posted in the future and can be accessed at People Walking Places on YouTube via this link here. We had to pass through a third gate, and sign into a logbook of hikers. We signed in at 9:45 am. The sign on the hut said the hike would take about 4 hours round trip.
The hike started off mildly, for about 5 minutes. From there it varied between difficult and aggressive. There were views almost the entire way because we were, in essence, climbing a stone ladder up a cliff face. We couldn’t see where we were headed because the entire summit was shrouded in clouds. The “staircase” was about 3 feet wide most of the way, with nothing to prevent you from falling hundreds of feet down the cliff. After an hour and twenty minutes of grueling climbing, we reached the top. We feasted on gummy candies and a rack of Oreo cookies while we chatted with some other climbers. Everyone seemed to get a kick out of how much we hated the hike. As a bonus, though, the views were awful, too. It was just grey in every direction because we were literally inside a cloud. After about 20 minutes at the top, we started to head back down. We turned back one last time before we began the descent, and noticed that the clouds had suddenly cleared. So, we took a few pictures, and then literally ran down the mountain. We got back to the sign-in hut to sign out after 2 hours and 14 minutes. Just before noon.
Meanwhile, back in Aguas Calientes, I had said goodbye to the boys around 6:00 am. Jenny was in a separate room. So I decided to get some more shuteye. I slept for maybe another hour and the doctor reappeared with a couple nurses. They took my temperature and vital signs. This was the first time they had checked my temperature. They told me the result in Celsius but I’m not very good at Spanish numbers so I have no idea what it was. But, they said I had a fever. They were giving me something IV. One gram. I’m assuming acetaminophen. The doctor told me that I needed another dose of antibiotic at 8:00 am and then I could leave at 10:00 am. I laid back and rested some more. Jenny eventually made her way over to visit me with her IV in tow. We were both still feeling a little under the weather but overall much better. Around 8:00 am the nurse came in with our second dose of metronidazole. She said we finish this and then we leave.
It’s interesting to see the differences in the clinic versus the medical field in USA. There were no IV pumps in Peru. So the nurses had to count the drops to determine the infusion time. Around 10:00 am the nurse came in. She really did not speak any English so communication was difficult. We think that she was trying to tell us to stay in town and come back at 2:00 pm for another dose of antibiotics. We really just wanted to leave so we said no. We were staying at the same place where they picked us up. So they took out my IV. They started to remove Jenny’s, but then told her that they were going to leave the port in so that she could administer her afternoon antibiotic. Again we said no, and asked for pills. She said, “Esta bien,” then finally removed Jenny’s IV. The nurse said that she was going to go to the pharmacy to get our medications for us and would be back in ten minutes. The male nurse started to get the credit card machine ready for us. The first nurse came back and provided us with handwritten instructions for medications and the medications themselves. We finally paid the people and left the clinic around 10:30 am. The total for the midnight train ride with police escort, all the medical care, drugs, and about 8 hours stay in the medical center was US$520 each.
We made our way through the town and stopped at a market for some snacks. We didn’t really want to eat at Gea Lodge again. In general, we weren’t that hungry but we figured we should have something with us that wouldn’t be too harsh on our stomachs. We opted for some granola bars, oranges, and yucca chips. We were fully prepared to walk back to the lodge now. Along the way we realized we had cell phone service, so we texted Rob and Shaun that we were alive and heading back. It took us about an hour walking along the train tracks and sprinting through the train tunnels to reach our destination. Once we made it back we laid down and immediately fell asleep.
We continued to run down the mountain all the way back to Aguas Calientes because we were dying for a pisco sour. It started to rain slightly, and we learned that thunder is really intense when you’re literally inside the cloud. The after-hike drink and fear of disappointing Mandy were really the only things motivating us since 6:00 am. We talked about the fact that the rain was making everything slippery and that we should probably take it slow. We opted to continue running. At 1:00 pm, off the mountain and back in Aguas Calientes, we saw a sign at Las Rocas Sagradas for 3-for-1 pisco sour drinks for S/20, which is about $6US. We didn’t even have to give it any thought, this is where we needed to be. We sat in the furthest corner of the restaurant away from everyone because we were saturated with sweat and we smelled fierce. We got three piscos each and they were amazing. While we were drinking and cooling off, we calculated that we’d hiked about 12 miles and a little over 3,000 feet of elevation in 6 hours. Not bad! We got a food menu, but the prices were rather steep, and they only accepted cash. So after we finished our drinks, we cashed out. We walked further into Aguas Calientes until we found a restaurant that accepted a card. We had some cash, but not a lot, so credit card acceptance was the main consideration. By this point we were pretty exhausted from sleep deprivation and exertion, starving, and pretty buzzed. We were dead set on chicharron de cerdo, so we ordered a plate each and another drink. When our waiter returned a few minutes later to notify us they didn’t have the pork available, we decided to leave. As we were walking out, he arrived carrying our drinks. We weren’t in any state to refuse a nice cold drink, so we sat back down to enjoy them as we requested the check. So four drinks in, we made our way back down to the street in search of chicharrones. We made it one door down to Hot Springs 2 restaurant. We sat on the balcony overlooking main street and ordered another round of drinks and chicharrones de cerdo. The pisco sours were a little odd tasting but we weren’t in a state to care about that. The pork was incredibly good, and more than made up for it. By this time, we’d been able to send and receive a few texts with the girls, and learned that they’d simply walked back to Los Jardines de Mandor from the medical center, so we decided to do the same. It was only about 4km. Yay, more hiking! At least it was flat and we were buzzed. It really wasn’t that bad. We laughed pretty much the whole way and were generally just being ridiculous.
Back at the lodge I had slept from about 12:00-2:00. At some point the host knocked on the door and asked if we needed anything and how we were feeling. I woke Jenny up a little after 2:00 to take her antibiotics. It was at this point in time that I realized the directions from the clinic had switched the metronidazole and ciprofloxacin schedule. It helps to have some medical knowledge, especially in a foreign country. Jenny slept some more and I sat outside to work on the blog while drinking my electroral. Jenny joined me around 3:00 after she had slept a little bit more. We sat and chatted outside while awaiting for Rob and Shaun to get back from town. They had told us they were going to stop there for food on their way back.
The girls were sitting on the porch and heard us coming several minutes before we arrived. We were happy to see them keeping drinks down and generally being not-dead. We caught up on their day and told them all about our high-speed hike. We all relaxed on the porch a while. After a shower and eating some snacks, I started to feel somewhat normal. I accompanied Shaun to the restaurant across the train tracks but decided I didn’t want to eat anything. Afterwards, we returned to the room and I promptly passed out as soon as my head touched the pillow. In the middle of the night I awoke to some very intense rain. At the time, I didn’t think much of it.
We woke up at like 5am again. Per usual. This is when the sun has been coming up. Rob took a cold shower. I decided to wait until our next accommodations as we had to walk there. We packed up our things and made our way to the common area for breakfast. We had the usual: coffee, juice, bread, and today we got banana pancakes again! After we ate, we chilled for a bit in the patio area while our hosts tallied up our bill and the girls paid what we owed. It was a bittersweet moment, as the dogs and family were clearly a bit sad to see us go, and we loved our stay, but we were also excited to go on to our next stop. A taxi was called which would bring us to Hidroelectrica. Hidroelectrica is less a town, and more of a landmark of sorts? It's a train station near a hydroelectric power plant on the Urubamba River. There's some tiendas, and maybe some houses, but there's not really even a road. Hydroelectrica is the point at the end of a single lane dirt road, whatever you might call that. But everyone in the area knows where it is.
The taxi arrived around 9:30 am and drove us about 20 minutes along the dirt road to the train station. The road ends here, and you can either walk 11km or take the train to get to Aguas Calientes, where the next road exists. The train is mainly reserved for local commuting, so we can’t buy tickets. We began our 7km hike at 9:52 am. We followed the train tracks and the river the whole way to Gea Lodge and Jardines de Mandor, about 2/3 of the way to Aguas Calientes. Basically in the middle of nowhere, accessible only by foot. We arrived at about 11:40 am. We were carrying all our stuff on our backs so it took a little longer than some. We were too early to check in, but not too early to get lunch. So, we ordered the menu de casa, which for today was quinoa soup, lemonade, and chicken, rice, and vegetables. Jenny and I added the pico de gallo to our meals to give it a little extra kick. It was all really good, and we were starving from the hike, so it went down quickly. After lunch we were able to check into our room. Originally we were supposed to be in room 2, but after lunch we were told that we had to be upgraded to room 11. Apparently the owner had to get a copy of the key for room 2 made, so she had taken the only key with her into Cusco. Imagine having to go to a city about 5 hours away to have a key made?! Oh and also you don't have a car because there are no roads, and you have to hike a couple miles to where you can hail a taxi, or wait for whenever the next train might be.
We dropped our things off in room 11. There was one full bed and two twin beds. Shaun and Jenny like their own beds and Rob and I like to share, so it worked out well. Our new room was within the botanical gardens, Jardines de Mandor. Rob and Shaun changed into their swimming gear and we set off towards the waterfalls. The path was beautiful with labels on the different plants and trees to identify the species. The hike was fairly long. It took us about 40 minutes to reach the waterfall. Rob and Shaun opted to go swimming here while Jenny and I just enjoyed the cool breeze. After the walk, we went back to the restaurant at the reception area. I got a cold bottle of water, which is a rarity around here. Usually the bottle water is room temperature. Shaun, Jenny, and Rob all got café frio which basically tasted like a coffee milkshake. We informed them that we would be dining in for dinner. The menu of the day was soup and grilled chicken. It would be served at 7. We all wanted to relax at this point so we headed back to the room and watched Black Hawk Down. I had downloaded this on the tablet just in case we had down time and nothing to do.
Towards the end of the movie, I started to feel nauseous. The room was hot as we were all piled together for the movie. I wasn’t sure if that was the cause or if I was just hungry, or something else. We made our way over to dinner. The soup was served. I took a few bites, but it didn’t seem to help my stomach. When the main dish came out, of grilled chicken, rice, and vegetables I tried to eat this as well. I couldn’t tolerate more than a couple bites. This is when it hit me. I used the restroom at the restaurant and had diarrhea. I thought maybe I felt better after that, so I went back to the table to see if Muna tea helped. Shortly, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to tolerate anything and headed back to the room. As soon as I made it to the bathroom I started vomiting. I felt better after. Jenny came back to the room also and stated that she also felt nauseous but she thought she was just overtired. I jumped in the shower and that helped. In the meantime, Jenny had also started vomiting. We are supposed to go to Machu Picchu tomorrow! We both called it a night, trying to get as much sleep as possible. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans for us…Shaun and I finished the rest of our meals and paid our bill. We weren't excited to head back to the room.
We woke up bright and early around 5am. I wandered to the window to look out at the view. It never disappoints. This morning was clear and we could see the snow-capped peak in the distance that had been hidden in the clouds the days before. We later learned this is Salkantay Peak and it is always covered in snow. We started our day as usual, catching you all up on the blog. Yerson brought us in two pots of fresh coffee this morning. This is probably because we requested an extra pot the first day. He also brought us two pitchers of fresh jugo de pina. We also received a basket of bread and butter and jam. We later realized that that was all we were getting for breakfast this morning. But Madre came in and offered fried eggs, probably because we were all still sitting there. So we quickly said “Si, por favor!” The eggs were delicious.
Yerson came back and offered to take us on a different waterfall hike today. We agreed and set off shortly after breakfast. The hike was again beautiful. Pretty much everything in Peru has been indescribable, but we’re trying. Yerson again pointed out new plants and flowers along the way. We walked up a path on the hillside that lead to more houses. It reminded us of the trail to Karsten’s house in Guatemala. We finally reached the waterfall and snapped a few photos. We even got a photo with Yerson! Rob took a dip, of course. Once we were all rested and relaxed we made our way back towards the hacienda.
At the hacienda, we asked for the total of what we owe so far. The host family does not take credit cards, so we wanted to make sure we had enough cash for them. They gave us the total and we were relieved that we would have enough cash but also wanted to find an ATM anyway. Madre took our dinner orders and said that she would have it ready at 7pm. We set off towards Santa Teresa on our own. We were now pros at crossing the river via cable car. The sun was out in full force today but the weather prediction only rated the UV index as a 10. We all agreed that it felt like an 11. We climbed the steep staircase into town and went straight for the two locations that offer cash back services. They were both closed the day prior when we had been in town. The first stop was still closed. So we made our way to the other location that had a sign outside that read “Get Cash Here!” They were open and we were in luck! Jenny used her Visa to get some more Peruvian soles.
After we successfully found cash we made our way to the town center for lunch. I got chicharron de cerdo. Rob got alpaca with salsa. Jenny got creole soup and an avocado sandwich. Shaun got chicken soup and an alpaca sandwich. The waitress at the restaurant brought us our bill and we tried to give her our Visa. She declined and said “no internet.” We specifically picked a lunch spot that took cards to conserve our cash supply. Also, there were several Wi-Fi options available in the immediate vicinity. Jenny was not going to take no for an answer. The waitress came back and Jenny handed her the Visa again and said “no dinero.” The waitress then waved us over to the counter and took the card. The internet must have spontaneously started working again. A true miracle!
We left the restaurant and started back down the hill towards the river. We followed the google map directions for Cocalmayo Hot Springs. It was about a 40 minute walk along the road that follows the river. The sun was so intense along the walk, we all thought we would die, but at least we would be thoroughly cooked for whatever came along to eat us. It was 40 soles for all four of us to enter. This is about 12 USD. The hottest spring was 41C although it did not feel super hot. It was relaxing yet also refreshing. We met a woman from Toronto who was on the Salkantay trek. We chatted with her for a bit until she had to leave. Once we were all satisfied and a little pruny we decided to head back to Eco Hacienda. Jenny and I both wanted to get a taxi to the cable car but we got vetoed by the boys. So we made the long walk back to the Eco Hacienda. At least the sun was behind the mountain now, so the walk was much cooler.
We made it back to our rooms with time to relax before dinner. Rob took a shower and informed me there was hot water. This was a first in our room, although the Sweeneys had had warm showers all along. I decided to shower as well and it was so nice. Dinner was grilled chicken, cold marinated vegetables, french fries, and fried yucca. It was delicious. About halfway through dinner, we heard a fluttery buzzing sort of noise. We looked up and saw a huge flying moth-like creature bouncing off the ceiling lights. Shaun described it most accurately as a breakfast sausage link with wings. It was the same size and color. We realized that there were lights on outside and open windows near the ceiling so we decided to try and get it to move outside by turning off the inside lights. The instant the interior lights went off, Mothra dive-bombed our dining table and nested into the tea bags. Everyone jumped back from the table in terror. The lights went back on to draw it away from the table. The moth went to a window and by now our host family had noticed the commotion and came to investigate. Uncle Tio nonchalantly grabbed it with one hand and tossed it outside. We all laughed at our reactions. I went to fix a cushion on the couch, and as I walked away, I noticed an EVEN BIGGER MOTH! We all noticed it at the same instant. Luckily for us, it was stationary on the wall. My movements didn’t disturb it. Until suddenly it started flying around!! It moved more like a bird than a moth. Mandy chugged her last sip of wine and we all evacuated the dining room. We patted all the dogs on the patio area and laughed with our host family at ourselves for a while. After patting all the pups for a little bit, Dixie got them fired up and they began horsing around with each other. At that point, we decided to call it an early night and parted ways as we were all exhausted from the days activities.
We woke up when we were good and ready at like 6:00 am. We’d agreed upon an 8:00 am breakfast last night, so we had tons of time. After a quick dip in the pool, we showed up early and found the table set with coffee and tea. There was a pitcher of hot water and a small carafe of coffee. We poured the coffee into our cups, but it was nearly solid black. We took a sip and it was tepid. We were all underwhelmed, until Mandy said, “Hey why don’t we pour in the hot water? That’s how Café Americano is made.” D’oh!! After we topped up with hot water and added some cream it was a-m-a-z-i-n-g coffee. They brought out bread, marmalade, and butter, then jugo de papaya, then banana pancakes. All of it was fantastic.
After breakfast, we relaxed a while. But eventually, we met up with Yerson in the courtyard. He’s part of the host family, and he’d agreed to lead us on a short hike from the property. The four host dogs also joined us on our hike. Blanca, Dixie, Yogi, and Buddy (pronounced Boo-dee - we spent a long time trying to figure out how to spell Boo-dee and then realized it was probably supposed to be Buddy.) We left on a trail right next to the pool, and climbed steadily upwards. We saw coffee plants, spicy tomato trees, coca plants, mandarins, limes, and all sorts of vegetables whose names we’ve forgotten. Yerson pointed out to us all sorts of fauna. We hiked along a stream for about 45 minutes to a lovely waterfall. We took some pictures at the top of hike and then made our way back down. By the time we got to the bottom we were all a little sweaty, so we hopped in the pool again to cool off. Shaun and Jenny have a Youtube channel called People Walking Places, and well, since we’re people and we were walking in a place, they made a video of it! It’s not been finished at the time of posting this, but you can check out their channel here for cool videos and, eventually, a video of this exact hike!
After we dried off and changed, we met up with Yerson again. This time, we set off downhill instead. He lead us down the dirt road to the river. We followed along the river for a half mile or so to a little cable car/trolley/zipline thing. Yerson took Mandy across the river first, and then returned to pick up Jenny. Before he set off, he fired off a bunch of instructions in fast Spanish. Shaun and I got the gist of it, kind of. Once they were safely on the opposite side of the river, we hauled the trolley back and hopped in. Shaun and I zipped across the river and Yerson returned to the other side to head back home after giving us directions to continue to the town center. We began the steep ascent up into Santa Teresa proper. At the top of the stairs, we were basically in someone’s backyard. We went around the block and were in the center of town. We wandered around aimlessly a bit until we found a spot we liked to get lunch. Restaurant Las Tres Regiones. We ordered a round of adult beverages and lunch. We all tried Shaun’s pisco sour and loved it, so eventually we each ordered one for ourselves. Pisco is a type of liquor that’s native to Peru. Pisco sour is a mix of pisco, whipped egg white, limes, sugar, and nutmeg. It’s basically like a margarita without any tequila flavor, and more lime flavor. It’s super sour. The limes here are really good.
After lunch, we made our way back to the Hacienda. We got to ride the cable car again! Once at the hacienda we all hopped in the pool to cool off. After we dried off and relaxed for a bit, we went out for another hike with Yerson. This time we climbed up to a little neighborhood above the Hacienda. It’s neat to hike around here because every time you come around a ledge or shoulder of a mountain, you find stuff that you have no idea was there. From the Hacienda, there’s no indication that there’s a whole neighborhood up there, but it’s not far at all. It was a pretty good hike, fairly short. We came back down the opposite side of the hill and around via the dirt road.
Back at the Hacienda, we had some coffees by the pool and relaxed a bit before dinner. Dinner was set for 7:00 pm and we all decided to have lomo saltado. Lomo saltado is a traditional Peruvian dish that’s essentially a beef stir fry with onions and peppers, served with french fries and rice. The sauce is very light, and based on soy sauce. In short – it’s wicked good. We had no idea they love french fries so much in Peru, but we’ve had them with nearly every dish. And they cook them really well here. They’re thick cut, like steak fries. We also got a round of pisco sours with dinner. They were much stronger and more sour here than at the restaurant in town. During dinner, there were several insects flying around the dining area. Yerson had pointed out one of them to us on one of our earlier hikes. He described the insect as similar to a mosquito but bigger, and used his hand to form a claw in demonstration. These insects were now flying around the dining area and were terrifying. We referred to them as pterodactyl mosquitoes. Yerson informed us that they don’t bite, but we didn’t want to find out. It was raining out after dinner, so we decided to get out of the insect room. We all opted to hang out in our room and try to watch some Netflix. The Wi-Fi signal was not quite strong enough, so we decided to watch Dante’s Peak that I had previously downloaded from Netflix as Rob had never seen it. Jenny and I fell asleep early on, so Shaun and Rob watched through to the end and then we all dispersed for some shut-eye.
We had set our alarms for 5:00 am. I woke up at 4:57 am in time to shut it off before it went off, which was nice. Jenny was just sitting there in the dark, like a creep. We all showered, packed up the few items we’d taken out, and checked out of the room. We called a taxi which arrived before we even got to the sidewalk, and took a ride back to the airport. All told, we were only in the hostel long enough to get less than a full night’s sleep. It was nice enough and the beds were comfortable, but we didn’t even get to see the whole place, or meet anyone else, which is the real advantage of a hostel. We love to meet other travelers.
We had been told from multiple sources to arrive early to the airport, because it’s poorly managed and security takes a while. We arrived about 6:00 am for an 8:35 am flight. There was a fair bit of walking before we got to the security checkpoint, but besides that, we breezed right through. We found where our gate would be and then found a place to eat. We decided to eat at Tanta. I got a ham, egg, and cheese sandwich with fries, and a coffee. It was pretty good. Mandy got an open-faced sandwich with avocado, tomato, and egg. It was better than mine, which I learned when I ate the half she couldn’t. Seems like the trend is I pick the worst menu option of the group.
After breakfast, we made our way to the gate, and began boarding shortly thereafter. We were seated in rows 1 and 2 on the driver’s side of the craft. The weather in Cusco varies quite a lot, and the airport is hard to land at. The weather report used by the pilots is published hourly on the hour. The 8:00 am report was rain, and the pilots wanted to wait for the 9:00 am report before leaving the jetway. At 8:45 am, there were two planes in a holding pattern at Cusco, waiting for an opportunity to land. We finally pushed back at 9:30 am to taxi to the runway, only about an hour late. The flight was unfortunately not very scenic, because there was so much cloud cover. We caught glimpses of mountains here and there throughout the hour long flight into Cusco.
We landed and could immediately tell that it had just finished raining. The ground was still wet, but the sky was clearing up. It felt humid. We got off the plane very quickly as we were in the front rows, and we made our way outside. We found our driver, Joel, right away, and hopped into his little Hyundai hatchback. We’d already made the arrangements, so he knew where we were headed. He explained it was about a five and a half hour ride to our destination. We set out from Cusco airport around 11:30am.
We cruised a while until we were out of the city, trying to make small talk through the language barrier with Joel. His broken English and my awful Spanish combined to make it work. Joel took us on a giant hill-climb up out of the city of Cusco, the views constantly getting better with elevation and a clearing sky. He stopped once we were away from traffic at a public restroom and we were able to stretch our legs a bit before continuing on. We drove on for a while, ever upwards. Eventually, somewhere along the road, we crested the highest point we’ve ever been. We all had our eyes fixed on the windows, in absolute awe at the size of the mountains all around us. Most of them disappeared into the clouds, but the visible portions were larger than anything we’d ever seen before. It’s just impossible to show in a picture how big the Andes are. We drove so high up that we all began to feel at least a little bit like garbage. Maybe it was motion sickness from all the switchbacks. Once we’d had enough, as if on cue, the road began to slope downwards and we started the long descent into Ollantaytambo.
So many zigs and zags. It has to be thousands of turns. We passed by so many dogs! We were all falling in love with each one, for a moment, as we passed. And there were chickens, too. And alpacas, sheep, pigs, cows. So many animals just out there, hanging out. Ollantaytambo was comprised of crowded, narrow streets. We got excited to come back to spend some time here, but today was not the day for that. We were just passing through. Out the other side of the town, we cruised along the valley floor a bit before beginning another mountain pass. I think this one was even higher than the last. The sky was clearing up a bit more, too, so Joel stopped several times for us to grab some pictures. The views were amazing, although not surprising at around 14,000 feet up. We couldn’t get over how BIG the mountains are. And how adorable all the puppies are.
Eventually, Joel stopped for a lunch break at Yobana Restaurante, a random shack on the side of the highway. It was hardly more than a lean-to. The owner asked if we wanted a menu, I think, and I said yes. She showed us to a table outside and we all sat. We had her bring over another chair so Joel could join us for lunch, too. He was really thankful, as if he didn't expect to eat with us? Imagine all that driving on an empty stomach!? Before we saw a menu, we were given a bowl of soup each. It had chicken and rice and potatoes and cabbage and beans and it was just delicious. It really hit the spot and we were all contented after finishing the soup. Then, the next time that we saw the owner, she was carrying out more plates of food! This course was an egg-battered fried chicken with rice and fried yucca. It was incredibly good, and none of us could help but to devour all of it, even though we thought we were full. Finally, when we realized we should be sure to ask for the check before she brings out any more food, she brought us all a round of muña tea! It was really good, like a blend of honey and mint. It’s actually a high-altitude tea only grown in the Andes. We were finally able to get the total and pay. We were only charged 40 soles for the 5 meals, which is approximately US$13. So cheap! For the sake of curiosity, we got a small bottle of Inca Kola for the road, to share. It tastes like if there was a bubblegum flavor of Coca-Cola. I liked it but Mandy did not.
Back on the road, we made a whole bunch more zigs and zags. Eventually, we began to see snow. Luckily, it wasn’t quite as low as the road, although it wasn’t much higher in elevation. We were basically inside the clouds, so the road disappeared around each curve into whiteness. We knew it was a very steep, long drop off the side of the road, but we couldn’t see anything. Not sure if that made it better or worse. We made a few stops along the way when there were breaks in the clouds to get some pictures of the incredible views, as well as bathroom breaks and to stretch our legs. Eventually, we got back down to the valley floor, a little bit queasy from all the twists and turns. A little bit tired from sitting in vehicles all day. We continued on into Santa Maria. We passed through the town proper, and took a left. This was actually the first turn we made since we left Cusco about 5 hours earlier. The road turned to dirt and got pretty rough. Joel’s Hyundai was getting a workout! We continued on into the darkness. The sun dipped behind the mountains around 6:00 pm and the light quickly disappeared. The road was only one and a half cars wide, so when we had to pass oncoming traffic, it was pretty sketchy. We were on the uphill side of the road, luckily, so we weren’t in danger of falling down the cliff. Eventually, finally, we arrived at Eco Hacienda Roman. It’s technically still in Santa Maria, but it’s about a 45 minute drive from the center of town.
We all piled out of the car at about 6:30 pm and met the whole host family. They showed us to our rooms and asked what we wanted for dinner and what time we’d like to eat. We agreed to chicken at 7:30 pm. After two full days of travelling, we were all excited to get settled in. Joel had said earlier that he was driving back home to Cusco, but he must have changed his mind. He decided to spend the night and leave early in the morning. After we got settled in, we met the Sweeneys in the dining room area. We were presented with a plate of grilled chicken, mixed pickled vegetables, rice, and french fries. The chicken was outstanding, the pickled veggies were better once we realized they were supposed to be cold. At first we expected them to be warm. The fries here are really good! Mandy actually admitted that Peru potatoes are better than Maine potatoes which is unprecedented. We didn't last very long after dinner. The night sky was stunningly clear, so we took the opportunity to grab a few pictures before heading off to bed. The weather here varies so much, we had to jump at the chance in case there are no more clear nights.
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Bilbo Baggins
We're just an adventure-loving couple with a puppy looking to share our stories with the world.