Monday, May 6, 2013

Always expect the unexpected

One thing I´ve learned this past week and a half is to always expect the unexpected. Literally none of my travel plans have gone as planned. At least I´ve found some silver linings. Firstly, after my last day volunteering I was supposed to go on a trek to Choquequirao (Machu Picchu´s sister city). Two hours after my trek briefing, the tour agency called me to cancel because the trek group was sick and instead they are leaving the next day (Sunday). Saturday morning, I went to their office and changed my trek date to the following weekend, and they promised me that there would be a trek group... No big deal, I would just switch my plans around a bit. I went to Urubamba to stay with Mallory for a couple days. We did a nice little hike up to Las Chullpas: ruins of an Incan granary. Then I went back to Cusco to catch an 8:00am bus to Ica. Getting to Ica was another hiccup in my travels. I got to the bus terminal nice and early. However, I couldn´t see my bus. The terminal employees told me not to worry it would arrive. Then 8:00 am rolled by and finally one of the employees told me to go to the counter where I bought my bus ticket. The employee there told me that the bus I was supposed to be on was with another bus company and it had just left. But not to worry, there was another bus leaving at 1pm, I wouldn´t be losing much time. I was furious. No one had told me to look for a different bus when I bought the ticket, and they had printed me out their own company´s bus ticket instead of the one I was supposed to be on. At least I had 5 hours to wait at the bus station to blow off some steam.

Huacachina oasis
What´s in Ica? Pisco and wine vineyards, and more importantly, Huacachina. Huacachina is a tiny oasis surrounded by mountainous sand dunes as far as the eye can see. It was so nice to finally arrive and spend time relaxing by a pool and in warm weather, in contrast to Cusco´s chilly mountain climate. After stressing out about my trek cancellation, saying goodbye to my kids at UTLI, moving out of San Pedro house, and the bus incident, Huacachina was just perfect. Except that I forgot my bathing suit and to charge my camera battery, haha! Good thing I had friends there to help me out. The best part of Huacachina was the dune buggy and sandboarding tour. Our tour was at 4pm with a dune buggy driver that looked like a Peruvian Sean Connery. We were strapped into the buggy like kids in carseats and took a ride up and down and around the huge dunes. Then we stopped at the top of a few dunes to sandboard down them. I tried standing at first, you know like snowboarding, thinking, ya I can do this. Nope. It was much harder than I thought. Opposite of snowboarding, you were supposed to put your weight on your back leg. That´s what I used to do when I first learned to snowboard, but apparently after getting the hang of it, I couldn´t switch back to my old bad habits. I resorted to sliding down on my belly headfirst like a penguin, which was way faster and much more fun, not to mention easier on my leg muscles. The tour ended with steeper drops down the dunes in the buggy and watching the sunset.

 Dune buggy
 Sea of sand dunes and Ica

Oh, how bus traveling becomes me. I had to be back in Cusco Saturday night to go on my trek Sunday morning. I assumed that there would be morning buses from Ica to Cusco. Nope. When I went to buy my bus ticket on Friday morning, I learned that buses only leave for Cusco at night. So I had to leave that night. 2 less nights in Huacachina than planned. Ay caramba! So much bus time! (16 hours between Ica and Cusco)

I arrived in Cusco Saturday afternoon and shortly after, the tour agency sent my trek guide to meet me to discuss the trek. This can´t be good. I think they sent him so that I wouldn´t go back to their office upset and yelling in front of their clients. When he arrived, he told me that there was no trek group for Sunday. Of course. I got back from Huacachina early for nothing. However, we had a couple options: to go on the trek with him Sunday morning as a private trek, with no mules or food, so I would have to bring more $ to buy food at the campsites; or to wait to go until Monday morning if a trek group gets confirmed later that evening. I had no more time or patience to keep waiting for a trek group so I said yes, risking going on a trek by myself with a guide I didn´t know. He called me that evening to inform me that the group was not going on Monday, so we were leaving together Sunday morning on a private trek.

5:30 am Sunday morning, my guide and I got to the bus station to travel for 3 hours to the town of Chacora where there Choquequirao trek begins. Another unexpected event! There was a group of 2 on the same bus as us! My guide knew their guide and worked it out so that I could just join their trek group, but of course pay $ to make up the difference (the couple had paid more than I had). Now food and mules were included, AND I wasn´t by myself! I thought to myself, yay I´m not going to get kidnapped!

The Andes
The Choquequirao trek was 4 days and 3 nights and covered 72 km. My guide, who also leads the Inca trail, Inca Jungle trek, and Salkantay trek, said that Choquequirao was the most difficult of them all. Oh boy. He wasn´t joking. Hiking the first day to Chikiska campsite was a good warm up. Day 2, however was the hardest hike of my life. We hiked downhill for 1.5 hours, crossed the river via ¨cable car¨, and then hiked uphill for 5 hours up a giant mountain. Thank God for switchbacks, but it was still so steep! For some reason, there were way more mosquitos on that side of the river, and despite my repellent, those bugs were ruthless on me. Especially on my face because I didn´t think of wearing repellent on my face since I had never (surprisingly) been bitten there before. We arrived at the top of that mountain to Marampata campsite. We took a lunch break for a couple hours, then we continued on into the Choquequirao park. The park is huge. We had to hike for almost 2 more hours into the park to get to the ruins. There aren´t that many ruins in Choquequirao because the park hasn´t been completely excavated, and unfortunately, there is no current interest in doing so.

Marampata campsite
Like Machu Picchu, Choquequirao was ¨discovered¨by American explorer, Hiram Bingham in 1911. Bingham wasn´t really interested in it, and then he ¨found¨ Machu Picchu.

 Ruins at Choquequirao

 Terraces where the Inca grew their best crops for offerings to their Gods

 A field atop the mountain for I don't know what, but it would make a great futbol pitch
Llama terraces

I arrived exhausted and covered in mosquito bites, but safe in Cusco. I took the longest, and much needed, shower ever (I hadn´t showered in 4 days). Mallory and I had already bought our night bus tickets to Copacabana and were supposed to start our South American adventures in Bolivia. However, another unexpected turn of events happened: we received warning from Shelby that Bolivia is having a nationwide transportation strike and we might get stuck there indefinitely if we go. I must be bad luck. Change of plans, then! Reverse our travel loop route and start in Chile and Argentina instead! Hopefully we´ll make our way up to Bolivia before continuing up north.

Silver lining of these series of unexpected events:
- Choquequirao trek being postponed = no nasty bug bites covering my entire body while I was in swim suit weather in Huacachina, and meeting the lovely couple in my trek group
- Not getting stuck in Bolivia for X amount of time
- Now we get to go to the Patagonia first a little earlier than planned, so it won´t be as cold in the winter
- Meeting up with fellow volunteer, Freya in Chile!

1 comment:

  1. Mosquitoes bites on the face! Aye carumba! Reminds me of living in LA...yucky.

    I love the silver linings. I'm glad you are able to keep things in perspective. Everything happens for a reason.

    Your pictures, again, are gorgeous! I hope to make it down there within the next couple of years. I hope you and Mal will be ready to go back and be my guides!!