Yearly Archives: 2012

Machu Picchu fail of epic portions

So perhaps you all are waiting to hear about how cool Machu Picchu is. Well, I hear it’s pretty awesome. I mean a lot of people have told me how awesome it is.   How spiritual it is.  How life-changing it is.  I wish I could say the same.  I wish I could say Machu Picchu fucking awesome.  But alas, I cannot.  At least not today. My first attempt to hike Machu Picchu in March 2010 and experience the amazing-ness that is  Machu Picchu was a big-time epic failure. [spoiler alert: I finally did make it to Machu Picchu]

peru

Machu Picchu, alpacas, hiking, amazing scenery, volcanoes… This is what I had in mind when I booked my flight to Peru and arranged my trek to Machu Picchu. What a perfect way to celebrate turning 30. The universe; however, had other plans. In January, there was a massive mudslide related to heavy rains in the area. The mudslides knocked out the train tracks and washed out some of the roads to the area. But this was January… surely everything would be fixed by end of February/first of March, I reasoned. But it was not to be. In typical Latin-American fashion, it took the government well over two months to restore the tracks and roads. Machu Picchu is by far one of the biggest sources of tourist revenue for the country. Around 2500 tourists per day visit Machu Picchu so you’d think opening the tracks would have been a bigger priority.

cuszo walkabout 2

But no, it was still closed when I arrived in Cuzco, and my dreams of hiking Maccu Picchu dashed. I kept hearing different reports of when they would reopen, but turns out the roads/tracks re-opened in April… far later than I would have liked. The upside was that there were almost no tourists in Cuzco, and I had the city basically to myself, which was awesome! It was also a lot cheaper too. So yay for saving money.

cuszo walkabout 3

So what do you do when your dreams of exploring Machu Picchu on your birthday are dashed? Drop back and punt, so to speak. Enter Cusco. Just as there’s more than one way to skin a cat; there’s more to the sacred valley than just Machu Picchu.

cuzco walkabout 4

Cusco is an incredibly historic city. Back in the day, it was the capital of the Incan Empire, and is home to some pretty impressive Incan ruins other than Machu Picchu. It also has some impressive Spanish colonial architecture.

cusco walkabout 6

cusco walkabout 5

But there are some really cool sites around Cusco that I don’t think get the attention they deserve.  First up Písaq. The Spanish built the present-day town of Pisac along the Urubamba River half a century after the conquest, but the surviving terraces of its predecessor, Inca Pisaq, are still draped across the mountains above less than three miles drive away.

The signature terraces – stacked 40 high –  are visible throughout much of the switch-backed drive from the market.  Their design takes advantage of mountain runoff by channeling it through the fields on its way to the river below. The terraces also served to prevent erosion and landslides, and contained rich soil hauled from the valley below that enabled Inca farmers to produce crops otherwise unsustainable at these altitudes. The buildings are scattered across nearly two square miles of the slope, and include fortifications, aqueducts, granaries, homes, and ceremonial spaces.

Pisaq 1

The ramparts of the Q’allaqasa – the citadel – contain 20 towers that overlook the site from a perch on the ridge above the terraces.

What appear to be the mouths of small caves in a nearly inaccessible hillside across a ravine from the settlement are actually the face of an Inca cemetery not yet fully excavated by archaeologists. pisaq-ruins 3
Incredibly enough, skeletons are still visible in some of the open-air crypts.

Next up, Ollantaytambo.  In my opinion, Ollantaytambo is where Inca ruins come to life. The town is much bigger and better preserved than Písaq.  Several Inca structures survive and have been continuously inhabited by their descendants. Ollantaytambo boasts some spectacular scenery, as well as agricultural terraces, well preserved Inca walls, as well as a partially constructed sun temple at the top. Built by the emperor Pachacuti, and a stronghold of the last independent Inca ruler, Manco II, it was eventually conquered by the Spanish. Ollantaytambo fell into to decline and ruin, although native Inca continued to live there and was rediscovered by European explorers in the 19th century.

Ollantaytambo,_Peru

Ollantaytambo_2

So my amazing Machu Picchu trek where I hike for miles and commune with nature and have a spiritual experience was a bust, but it wasn’t a totally wasted trip to Peru. I did get to learn a lot about Inca history and it was the perfect jumping off place for my 16 month trip around South America.

The Olympics and an Adventure

I freaking love the Olympics… everything about them… pageantry, sport, and adventure all rolled into one huge event. In an effort to make 2006 a much better year than 2005, I decided to a few things differently. One, I’ve moved.  For the first time ever [other than as an infant or study abroad], I’ve moved away from South Carolina.  I love South Carolina, but right now, SC has too many bad memories.  Death of a parent, a lying, cheating bastard X 2 that I dated. Pretty much everywhere I went had some kind of memory attached to it.

The Olympics… in Atlanta… Cool

I also haven’t been on a vacation since 2002 when I returned to Mexico.  After having lived in Mexico, and traveling all over the country and dipping my toes into parts of central America, not going anywhere for the entire time I was in school was hard.  I have wanderlust so bad I can hardly stand it.  As a means to that end, in December, a mere two months ago, I decided that I wanted to spend my birthday in Italy.  Why Italy as opposed to *Spain*--where I’ve wanted to go since the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona?

The Olympics or better yet, the Winter Olympics which I’ve never seen.  Hell, until very recently I’ve never even seen a hockey game much less seen anything like curling, luge, bobsled, skiing, or any number of other winter sports.  But in only two months time, I’ve managed to snare a ticket to the opening ceremony in Torino, a plane ticket from RDU–>Zurich–>Roma–>GSP, a train ticket from Zürich to Milan, a train pass for Italy, and tickets to olympic events in Cesana and Bardonecchia.  Oh and a place to stay those first five days I’m in Italy when the world’s cameras will be joining me on my Italian adventure.

I CANNOT WAIT.

*Spain is still high on my travel list.  I would love to hike the entire Camino del Santiago or explore Andalusia.  Or Barcelona.  Or Galicia. Salamanca. Really, I’d love to find a way to move to Spain  to live for a year or so.

My 2006 Olympic Experience

I was lucky enough to attend the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia.  Don’t get me wrong; it was awesome, but it wasn’t the true experience.  I only live a couple of hours from Atlanta so I just drove down the day of.  I was able to get tickets for 4 events–baseball, soccer, rhythmic gymnastics, and volleyball.  Not swimming–which I would have loved, but still… it’s the Olympics.

Winter 2006 was a lot different… winter sports vs summer sports.  Torino, Itlay vs Atlanta, USA.  Olympic village vs my own house.  4 days + opening ceremony vs random days spread out over the two weeks.

2006-winter-olympics

Opening Ceremony:  There’s nothing quite like seeing the opening ceremony in person…The pomp and circumstance, the parade of athletes, the cool costumes, and the lighting of the Olympic flame—it’s all pretty amazing.  There’s such a feeling of hope and opportunity in the air.  It’s the only time–especially at the Winter Games when a lot of events are some distance from the host city–when everyone is together.  All [or nearly all] of the athletes, the spectators, the media–everyone is in one space for the opening.  After the opening ceremony, people scatter, and they don’t always meet back up at the closing.

Seeing the flame be lit  and watching the parade of athletes was awesome.  I always wanted to be an Olympian, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t have the competitive nature to push myself day in and day out.  Sure I always played sports… even went to college on athletic scholarship, but at the end of the day, I played sports because they were fun… and I enjoyed the camaraderie with my teammates.

Bardonecchia:  I stayed in Turin for the day prior to and the day of the Opening Ceremony and then next morning high tailed it up to the mountains courtesy of the free Olympic shuttle.  I based myself in Bardonecchia because 1).  Mountains…skiing…the cool winter sports 2) closer proximity to the other winter villages than Torino 3) free shuttles to and from the games and 4) It’s where I could find a place to stay that didn’t use up the entire monthly budget at one time.

The games:  I grew up in the south eastern part of the USA.  Skiing, ice hockey, ice skating, ect are not things that I could have participated in easily.  I mean we were always taught to never walk on frozen ice because it never gets cold enough to freeze solid and then we’d drown and/or get hypothermia.  SO that being said, winter sports have always fascinated me and I thought that had I grown up in the appropriate environment I’d would excel in biathlon.  I mean I can shoot like a champ and though I’ve never been on skis, cross country skiing doesn’t terrify me like down hill skiing does.

Biathlon does not get any love in the USA.  Its not fast or glamourous or shiny.  I mean they don’t even use real bullets when shooting, but for whatever reason, it fascinates me.  I was beyond thrilled to stand in the freezing cold and watch the biathletes ski and shoot their way to Olympic Gold.

torino biathlon

I also got to see some snowboarding…which terrifies the snot out of me…as well as bobsled and luge. No pictures from those events as they were whizzing past much too past for me to get a decent shot.

But bilathalon, though…it was beyond cool to see it.

Snowshoeing in Sarajevo: An Olympic Adventure

When I’m at home, I hate all things winter.  Being from the southeastern United States, winter [meaning snow, skis, cold] is still a bit of a foreign concept.  Just the threat of snowflakes sends everyone scurrying about buying up all the milk and bread in sight.  Should the grass actually be covered, expect the entire city to shut down. For days.

An example of a recent snow that shut down the town for 4 days.

So my position statement on winter has always been I like to visit winter; I do not like winter to visit me.

My previous adventures on skis consisted of one adventure when I was 16 to the North Carolina mountains and my recent trek in the French Alps where I discovered that I LOVED cross-country skiing So, bolstered by success in the Alps, I knew skiing would be on the agenda when I ended up in Sarajevo.  Why Sarajevo you ask? Sarajevo [as Yugoslavia] hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics than Sarajevo, and if you know me, you know that I love all things related to the Olympics.

 

 

Sarajevo is a city surrounded by mountains which makes for some awesome outdoor adventure activities. These mountains have seen a lot in their day–from being a world-class Olympic destination in 1984 to being occupied by Serbia in the 1990’s to being used to attack the city in the Siege of Sarajevo. Sarajevo the city has experienced peaks and valleys just like the mountain that surround it.  Sarajevo’s popularity is surging yet again as it is much less expensive and much less crowded than say -France and Switzerland, and it’s mountain are just a good for a variety of winter sports.

 

Jahorina and Bjelašnica are the two of the most popular ski resorts in  the area; both are approximately 30 minutes’ drive from Sarajevo city center.  If you are new to skiing, I’d recommend Jahorina Olympic Center. It’s perfect for skiers of all levels, offers ski equipment rental, but not clothing rental, and has cheap ski lessons for 10 euros/hours. A day pass can be had for less than 20 Euros.

The great thing about this resort is there are fewer crowds. This resort is probably Europe’s best kept secret. I am not a downhill skier. And I know my limitations, so lucky for people like me there are other options such as hiking and snowshoeing and just riding the ski lift. On this trip I opted to try snowshoeing, and man, is that a workout. My heart was pumping; my lungs were screaming, and my legs were crying by the end of the trail.

 

But to see these views, to do something new, and to experience these mountains…

 

It was completely worth the time and effort and expense it took to visit the mountains surrounding this city on the rise.