It's been a long time since we've written to you. It is a travel blog after all and well...you know. There was a little stretch there where we couldn't travel. Then we got so busy changing up our whole life that it wasn't a priority. But we haven't forgotten you guys! We actually started this post way back in March 2021, and never got around to finishing it. And we were on the fence for a while, too, because it's about our van build, not really travel related. But it has been an adventure. And it's a precursor to epic travel. So maybe you'll allow it. Most of this is written from that early perspective - "Here's what we plan to do". I'm going to try and weave in "...and here's how it ended up". Here goes.
It's going to be a big adjustment to get used to living in a van. It's not like our van is going to be just for occasional vacations or road trips. This will be our new home. We're downsizing from just under one thousand square feet in our Ipswich home to about 60 square feet in our van. Now we're truly out of Ipswich. So, we'd like to bring you guys through our layout plans and show you how we're going to make it all work. The first step to planning the layout is deciding what we think are necessary features; deciding between the "need to haves" and "nice to haves". We want to maximize the space without excluding the comforts of a home.
We love our teardrop trailer we built. But for full time living we definitely wanted a toilet. This was a non-negotiable item, and really one of the first things on our list. There are several different options for toilets. We really wanted to avoid dealing with a black water tank. A composting toilet seemed like a great option for us as it is environmentally friendly, uses no water, and does not need a black water tank. The downside is that composting toilets are expensive. But in our opinion, it is worth the money to choose the more sustainable option and avoid dealing with dumping any wastewater. Based on reading many reviews, we ordered a Nature's Head brand composting toilet. Orders are taking several weeks to ship so we are anxiously waiting for its arrival! Never been so excited for a toilet.
A shower is something that is a "nice to have" when camping. The trailer we built has an outdoor shower and it's great. We debated on doing something similar in the van so that we could save on space. But in the end we decided that as our long term residence we really wanted an indoor shower. We didn't want to have to rely on gyms and truck stops and the occasional opportunity to be in a place where we could use the outdoor shower. Most often, outdoor showering is not viable, because of other peoples' line of sight. We opted to include a 24x36" shower base that will be a wet bath. It will be small, but functional. We'll decided to use a self-cleaning retractable shower door like this one. It takes up a minimum of space and doesn't require a large clear path to swing open and shut. We weren't interested in a sliding glass door because it's likely to make a lot of noise over the road, and if it shattered, that would be pretty crummy.
Another necessity is a cooking surface. Induction cooktops are popular in the vanlife community, so we decided to explore this option. We've never used induction for cooking before but thought it would be great to utilize electricity rather than trying to include propane in the van. There will be no open flame inside the van, so it's a lot safer than propane. Since we have to install one or more batteries anyway, we are thinking it will be easier to make room for a little bit more battery, instead of an entire propane system that we'd need to use a propane cooktop. We found this Greystone dual burner cooktop that is designed for RVs.
While we technically could survive without a refrigerator, having one on board will make things a lot easier. We will be able to safely store food items for longer, which means won't have to visit a market every time we want to eat. So, of course we put that on our list. There are dozens of options for RV-friendly refrigerators, in all different sorts of designs and sizes. As we were shopping around, we happened to find an open-box, but still brand-new refrigerator at a West Marine location. It was pretty heavily discounted, as the store's associates were "sick of moving it around the store" as they told us, and just wanted it gone. We confirmed the dimensions would fit our space and snatched it up right away.
I'd like to add a few quick notes regarding the refrigerator installation. This is kind of a cornerstone piece of the whole layout of the van. There's a lot that went into placing it, and although pictures are exactly equivalent to one thousand words, I feel like a lot gets missed. We considered all different configurations, which I won't go over here because you don't care about all the things we didn't do. But we installed the refrigerator in the sliding door opening with the door forwards for a few reasons. The biggest reason, and one of our favorite features, is that when we come out of the grocery store, we can very easily load everything into the fridge from outside the van. Also, if someone is working at the cooktop (which is directly on top of the fridge), the other can access the fridge door without interfering. It just works.
In order to make it all work, we needed a refrigerator that had a 180 degree door hinge. Luckily for us, this fridge door is reversible; when we bought it, it was hinged on the opposite side. Easy fix. Then we had to locate the fridge just far enough back from the door jamb that the door could swing all the way through. This left plenty of room to walk through when the door is shut. Perfect! The mounting brackets had to be designed such that the refrigerator sits as close to the sliding door as possible, without actually touching it. This was not easy, but we ended up with only about 1/8" gap, which maximizes the width of the aisle in the middle of the kitchen. Nailed it! One other challenge we faced was widening the countertop, since the fridge is supposed to sit the other way, with the depth being similar to a regular base cabinet depth. Since the refrigerator is "sideways" relative to the counter, it ended up being slightly too wide once we installed panels on both sides of it to box it in. See if you can spot the seam on the counter. It's tough to find because it blended so well.
Most of you know our dog, Loki. He's a pretty big boy, at around 90lbs. He might look intimidating to some, but he's really just a big lap dog. So most nights, he usually likes to sleep on our feet in our bed. As such, a queen bed is about the smallest we can all comfortably fit. And it still sometimes feels a bit too small. "You have all the blanket!" "Yeah, but you have more space! I only have like 2 inches!" We agreed that we would plan around a standard queen size bed. This was a pretty tricky must-have to incorporate. See, a queen mattress is 60" wide by 80" long, but the van interior is only around 75" wide. So the mattress must go "front to back" in order to fit. But in that configuration, we'd lose 80 inches of floor length that would only be used during sleeping hours, leaving very little room left for the rest of our time in the van. It also yielded an awkward 15" wide strip along the side of the mattress. Not ideal.
To our rescue: Flarespace flares. Most people call them "bumpouts". These flares make the interior width of the van several inches wider, allowing us to sleep laterally (read: across the van, or side-to-side). With flares installed, we can fit the mattress sideways, but we're still giving up a significant amount of floor space during the day. What if we were able to somehow utilize that space for more than just basic storage? Mandy suggested a bed that is split in three pieces; the sides in the flares are fixed, but the middle section goes up to the ceiling, allowing us to use the space underneath the mattress for sitting. Brilliant!
A sink was another must-have item. Ideally, a big sink. But it's a compromise to find the right balance. An infinitely large sink would leave no space left for anything else. A too-small sink would be difficult to wash dishes in. We ultimately settled on a pretty "regular-sized" residential sink from Ruvati. It includes a cutting board that fits perfectly on a ledge built into the sink, so we still have a large work surface when we want it. It's a really pretty stainless undermount sink, and it even came with a drying rack that fits perfectly in the bottom of the sink. It has been fantastic for washing and drying all our dishes!
We debated for a long time after this post was originally started, whether we wanted to include an oven or not. We obviously ultimately decided to work one into the design, otherwise I wouldn't have written that. It really boiled down to using that space for something else, or the oven. Which would it be? And that's really true for every cubic inch of the van; "What will go here?" Everything is strategized and then thoughtfully placed. We ended up choosing a Ninja Foodi 10-in-1 oven. It's marketed as a "toaster oven" but it does so much more than that and is plenty large enough to work as a full-on oven for two. Some of you have had the privilege of eating some bread handcrafted by Mandy. You guys will know how important it was that we confirmed the oven works wonderfully for baking bread. So we are all set really. What more could we need?!
But in the event we DO need more, it also functions as a dehydrator, roaster, air fryer, and a toaster. We've made some delicious jerky already, but we're still trying to work out the recipe for dried fruits to make trail mix.
We want to be able to pick up water from anywhere and be able to drink it. That's not always the case without processing the water to remove bacteria. You can drink it without removing dirt, but ew, gross. So we decided to install a filter that can handle all of that work. We are using a Waterdrop WD-G3-W reverse osmosis water filtration system. Whew, that's a lot of words for one device. This machine uses 3 different filters to remove almost everything that might be in our water. We also use a UV light to sterilize any drinking water afterwards, because some of the smallest bacteria can potentially get through all the filters. The filter includes its own tap which produces delicious clean drinking water. It works fantastic.
Finally, we wanted ample storage. For all sorts of stuff. Clothes consume the most volume. But we also need space for tools (just in case!), food, Rob's snow skis and boots, and other miscellaneous gear. We've gotten rid of a lot of our stuff this year, which has been amazing. But we can't get rid of it all, and still pull this off. So we designed in storage in several areas. First and foremost, we utilized an overhead storage shelf which goes above the front seats. This yields a ton of storage space and has been super helpful. We also designed in a storage drawer underneath the bed. It pulls out through the rear door opening, to reveal a drawer that's about 3ftx4ftx10in. Here's where we store our off-season gear, and stuff we need, but not regularly. There's also storage underneath the sink, of course. Those of you living in houses know what that's like. And there's a bunch of cubbies underneath the wings of the bed. And, finally, underneath the benches as well, is pretty cavernous storage.
So now that the van is complete, it's time for us to move in and begin our next adventure. We're still trying to figure out what that is for the immediate future. But next year we'll be taking it all the way to Patagonia. So stick around for that part if you want. And if there's any part of the van you want to know more about, ask us here. Or check out our YouTube channel. Or our Instagram account.
We'd like to share our adventure in obtaining a van here. It has been a process and a learning experience for sure. It's been a long time since either of us has bought a new car. Actually, I've never bought a new car, ever, although I've had...let's just say "many" cars. I'm not really sure anymore. A couple dozen?
Our process started with a stack of graph paper, and a list of household objects. We knew we needed a shower and a toilet inside the van, as well as a way to store and cook raw food, and a mattress for sleeping. Those were our absolute bare minimum requirements. We set to work drawing, to scale, a whole bunch of different floor plans in different sized vans. This was an iterative process, because we didn't know what would fit where and in what arrangement until we drew it, and a lot of times we'd draw something only to realize it wasn't going to fit. Which led to trying to find a different product in a smaller size or a different configuration, and start all over.
When we had about 10 different layouts that we didn't hate, we started to narrow them down. Which layout is most efficient? Which do we like the feel of? What does each one cost? Are any of them too difficult to produce? We also rearranged the kitchen in our house to the dimensions of the van to get a real-life feel for the size of the floor space and what it would be like to stand in. We looked at countless pictures of RV-converted vans online. We spent hours and hours of preliminary research. We even toured a Winnebago that's very similar to our design to give us an idea of what the living space will feel like.
We ultimately decided on a layout that is built around a 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cargo van with 144" wheelbase and a high roof. We were able to fit a shower, toilet, stove, refrigerator, sink, 64 gallons of freshwater storage, water filter system, 340Ah of battery, power inverter, air-and-water heating system, queen-size mattress, and a table with benches. So our next task involved picking all the options we wanted, and shopping for a van that checked those boxes. Easy, right?
We received a very warm recommendation for a particular salesman at a dealership in Maine, so we contacted him and gave him our list of wants to begin searching for us. We were underwhelmed at his responsiveness, and after a week or so of no follow-up communications from him after the initial, we visited a different dealership in person. This time we were able to locate a van off-site (at a third dealership) that was a close match to what we wanted, so we put a deposit on it, and waited for verification that it hadn't already been sold. A couple days later, we received the disappointing news that it was no longer available. That evening, we went through the online inventory for all 264 Mercedes-Benz USA dealerships one by one, searching for matches. We found about a dozen in the whole of the United States. We sent the best match to our salesman and asked if he could help us secure it. After a couple days of no response, we began reaching out to dealers all around the country ourselves. By this time it had been explained to us that whatever stock was available (this is late-November to early-December of 2020 timeframe) was all that would be available until the 2021 vans arrived hot off the assembly line. And that was expected to be late-July 2021, best case scenario. So with each call to a dealership that resulted in a "Sorry, that van's already been sold," our anxiety rose. We are hoping to have our conversion completed by the end of Summer 2021, so that wouldn't really be possible if we started the build in July or August.
By a stroke of pure luck, really, I called a dealership that had a sort of close match, but not really, something we probably could have been content with, but a little disappointing. But it was only about a half hour away from us. In talking with the salesman over the phone, he informed me that he actually had two vans that were a closer match to what we were looking for! Both were available for viewing, and he confirmed they had not been sold to anyone. What a relief! We went to check them both out a few hours later and begin the process of paperwork.
The two vans we looked at checked all of our boxes, and then some. We really only looked closely at one of them; the other got ruled out quickly because it was more expensive, we liked the color less, and it had painted bumpers which we knew could easily get ruined with any off-road driving we plan to do. So it was easy to decide which van we liked better, but then there was the larger decision of if we should do it at all. Of course, by this time we'd already kind of swallowed that pill, since we had previously put a deposit on the first van. But it's still a little nerve-wracking. Is this the right move? Is it the right time? Can we handle it? Are we totally committed? because we have to sell our house to make it work.
"Let's do it!"
We actually didn't have to do any paperwork at all to secure the van. Our salesman was content to hold it for us with just a verbal agreement that we would take it as soon as we could obtain New Hampshire plates for it. We did take it for a test drive first, of course, and found it's quite enjoyable to drive. It drives much nicer than I expected, although I should have known, because at its core it's a Mercedes-Benz with all the options. It's a V6 turbodiesel with 4WD; heated, swiveling seats; upgraded infotainment system; 360 degree parking camera; power everything; LED exterior lights; etc. etc. It's way classier than anything either of us has ever had before. It feels weird; are we actually this fancy? The color is called Pebble Grey, although it's really a tan color.
The van included a few options that we didn't really care about when we were shopping, but we are beginning to really appreciate. The power sliding door seemed like a totally unnecessary luxury, but it's pretty great and we use that door quite a bit. The rear bumper has an optional step that seemed kind of pointless when we were shopping, but it makes getting in and out of the rear way easier. It also doubles as a great little shelf to rest small items on if you're standing behind the van. Only one option is missing that was a nice-to-have and not a requirement - a trailer hitch, and that can be easily added at home. We figure if the van has the towing capacity, it would be silly to not be able to tow anything just because the hitch is missing. You know, in case of emergency, or even a non-emergent towing need. We aren't planning on regularly towing anything, but sometimes you just need to. So we'll add a hitch, just in case, so we're prepared.
So stay tuned as we work on upfitting the van for life on the road. Feel free to check out our YouTube channel if you'd like by clicking here.
It’s been quite a while since we’ve been able to travel anywhere interesting, and therefore it’s been a long time since we’ve written to you. It’s not for lack of doing anything, however. We have actually been quite busy planning something. It’s not quite the same as before, but then, what is anymore? It is a trip that we’ve been working on planning, but since it’s so different than previous trips, there’s a lot more involved. We think it might be worth sharing the planning portion this time, unlike our previous posts that were more like suddenly we're in [location].
“What the heck are you guys talking about?”
Something we’ve wanted to do for a long time now is an extended road trip. Like a year long adventure. Maybe longer, we don't know yet. Our one main goal is to drive all the way down to the southern tip of South America. And back, probably. Initially, we intended to use our camper trailer that has been featured here a bunch for that task. But, we’ve discovered some issues with that plan. Chiefly, there’s no shower or toilet in the trailer. The kitchen is outside, which we love in good weather. But what about when the weather is crap? There’s nowhere to stand inside, and we can only sit on the bed against the headboard. It gets uncomfortable after too long. There are other issues too, like the increased cost to ship a vehicle and trailer around Darien Gap. And that we can’t camp inconspicuously, if needed. A long list of little things that could be improved and make our year on the road more enjoyable.
So we've decided to build a van that will resolve all these issues for us. A high-rooftop Sprinter van has enough ceiling height for me to stand fully upright at 6 feet tall. We’ll have room to walk around, or at the very least, room to stand and get dressed. There will be multiple seating options. We can cook, sleep, shower, dress, and hang out, all without having to open a door or step outside if we don’t want to. And it’s not that we don’t love being outside! Just the opposite. But, sometimes you just can’t. Maybe it’s rainy season, or below-freezing on a mountaintop somewhere. Or any number of other reasons, you get the point.
We have talked about the road trip plan now for years. But now as we are working on a detailed design of the interior space of our van, it’s suddenly become a lot more real. Tangible. We’ve also begun looking around our home, and small though it may be, it is far larger than a van. So we’re realizing all of the things we will need to get rid of. While we don’t feel like we have a huge number of things, and we’ve always tried to be mindful of not accumulating stuff we don’t need…it’s still a bit much.
And trying to make these decisions about what stays and what goes feels, in a weird way, like attending our own funeral. The lives we have been living are ending as we begin something totally new. It’s kind of sad, a little bit scary, and really difficult yet exciting all at the same time. We’re also trying to do our best to avoid simply putting everything that won’t fit in the van into the garbage because it just feels irresponsible. It’s not sustainable. And we’re not unaware or ungrateful for our privilege in all of this. We're extremely fortunate to be in a position to have so much stuff; even more that we are able to think about letting go. There are an overwhelming number of people who do not have anything at all to get rid of, and that’s not okay either. We just want to do our best to minimize our impact on the environment and maximize our impact on those around us. In a positive way.
So with that in mind, we’re trying to make sustainability a main focus of the van. We absolutely love having solar panels to charge our trailer electrical system, so of course we will be doing something similar again. It’s so nice to be able to use electrical equipment without having to plug into a grid. It’s freeing. And free! And it doesn't contribute to global warming. If we design the system just right, we should be able to cook, pump water, use lights, recharge devices, etc., all without having to burn any fuels. We will need diesel only to move the van from place to place as we explore the world around us and to heat water.
We will dive into more detail in the future, once we know what the details actually look like a little more clearly. At this point, we just have a small mountain of pencil-sketch layout concepts and a bunch of financials spreadsheets; planning how we'll arrange everything in the van, and how we'll afford it. Exciting stuff for us, but probably boring for you all. But for now, we just wanted to provide this update so you know we’re still out here, and still longing to travel.
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.
"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.