Day Trip: Toronto

Having lived in Toronto for 9 years, I never thought too much about taking a day trip there. But now that I’ve moved away, it was fun to plan a small day trip with three friends to my favourite places!

We started the day in the Distillery District, walking in and out of the small shops that are there and snapping some pics at the new lock wall.

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We then made our way to the St. Lawrence Market, but I forgot it was Monday and the Market is closed on Mondays. Whoops! It’s worth a walk around.

By that time we were all pretty hot and hungry, so we stopped for some apps and ciders at Fionn MacCool’s.

We then walked to the ferry to spend the afternoon on Toronto Island, my favourite place in the whole city!

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The ferry affords some amazing views of the skyline, and was nice and refreshing after the heat in the city.

I think my favourite part of the day was renting this quadracycle!

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It was an amazing way to see a bit more of the island, since our time there was limited.

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We rode all the way to Ward’s island, where we took a few more pictures.

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We were all a little surprised how well we were coordinated, all the way down to our bags!

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We had a fantastic time!!

We timed our return to the ferry perfectly, and walked right on to head back to meet a few more friends for dinner and trip back to the Sky Dome Rogers Centre to watch David Price and the Blue Jays. Sadly, this game wasn’t nearly as excited as the one I attended the Saturday before, but I don’t think any game this season has been.

Snakes & Lattes

First, I would like to wish everyone a very happy Canada Day!

When I was visiting Toronto in May, my very good friend, T, who you might remember from our trip to Peru, suggested we go to Snakes & Lattes for dinner and some board games, and it was a fabulous suggestion! Sadly, I had to change the date at the last minute, so it was no longer a double date but a nice visit with her, RB and I.

The menu was small but the food I ordered was delicious. And they have about a thousand board games, varying in difficulty from easy to extreme, to choose from. The best part, in my opinion, is that they have game experts who come around and give you the run down of how to play. That way, if you want to play something you haven`t played before, you don`t have to sit for hours reading the rule book!

We choose to learn how to play Ra, an auction and set-collection game with an Ancient Egyptian theme. I quite enjoyed it!

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2015-05-23 Snakes & Lattes

T then convinced RB that we should play Agricola, a games that T and I played for hours on end. T is a fantastic strategist, and I was nervous about the setup for Agricola, but RB said he enjoyed it, though it was a bit overwhelming.

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2015-05-23 Snakes & Lattes

 

I will definitely be making plans to go back again when I`m back in Toronto!

Playing Tour Guide: A Week in the Toronto Area

During my 5 weeks back in Canada (and RB’s 2), we were lucky to have two visitors from the Netherlands for 5 days, and we sure made the most of it!

R&S arrived on Saturday morning, where we picked them up from the airport, with my dad as chauffeur. We drove to the Holiday Inn Downtown Toronto so they could shower and change, and we could drop off our stuff.
We set off on foot to Big Smoke Burgers, my favourite place to get burgers in Toronto! And they definitely didn’t disappoint. We each had a burger, and shared two poutines between the four of us. I was in heaven!

After our late lunch, given the weather was as clear as it was, we set off for the CN Tower. It was busy with tourists, like ourselves, but the view up there really can’t be matched!

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Westward facing view

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On the glass floor
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On the glass floor

We walked from the CN Tower to my old ‘hood – the St. Lawrence Market, where we found a lovely west-facing patio for some drinks and conversation. When the sun had set, we moved on to C’est What for dinner, and an evening at the Bier Markt, where RB and I first met back in 2011.

The next day we walked down Yonge street and found a place for a nice breakfast, and continued on our way to Wheel Excitement on the Waterfront to rent bikes for the day. (They are all Dutch, so you had to know there’d be bikes in there somewhere! We biked along the western waterfront, through the construction, to the Palais Royale, where we crossed the bridge and back along King Street to Spadina. There, we parked our bikes and walked the rest of the way to the Sky Dome Rogers Centre, where we grabbed tickets and saw the first 7 innings of the Jays against the Seattle Mariners.

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After the game, we jumped back on our bikes and rode to the east waterfront and into the Beaches, where we ran into one of my friends who lives there! Our route took us part way along the City of Toronto Eastern Ravine and Beaches Discovery Walk, which was a great starting point for our tour. Because of timing, we didn’t stay too long in the Beach, and managed to get the bikes back to the store on time despite the (still) ongoing construction along Queen’s Quay.  We jumped on a (new!) streetcar and (new!) subway to get back to the hotel for a shower and change before heading for dinner at the Mill Street Brewery and some drinks at Betty’s.

On Monday we were up early to pick up our rental car and stopped at the Brick Street Bakery for a delicious and simple breakfast before leaving Toronto. We also stopped briefly at Betty’s, since RB had forgotten his jacket there the night before. Though I had called earlier and was assured it wasn’t there by the gentleman who answered, it was hanging just where RB was sure he’d left it the night before.

We made the obligatory trek to Niagara Falls, where we walked along the path by the falls.

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2015-05-23 Toronto Trip

2015-05-23 Toronto Trip

2015-05-23 Toronto Trip

2015-05-23 Toronto Trip

After a quick drive up Clifton Hill, the super kitchy part of Niagara Falls, we took the scenic route along the Niagara Parkway to Niagara on the Lake.

We checked into our hotel, the Canterbury Inn, dropped our things off and decided to go to one of the Trius at Hillebrand for lunch and a winery tour. The lunch, while expensive, was delicious, and the wine chose, a riesling, is my new go-to summer wine in Ontario. I’m not so sure it’s available in the Netherlands! We got vouchers for a wine tasting with our lunch, so we headed over to the store to try a few more of the Trius wines before the tour of the winery. The tour ended up being a special ice wine tour, which was more expensive than the regular tour because of the tasting afterwards, and since we’d each already tasted one of their ice wines and decided that was sufficient, and we’d all been on tours of wineries before, we decided to head back to Niagara on the Lake to walk around the town.

After much debate, we ended up at the Angel Inn for dinner. It was cosy and warm and the food was delicious, and we decided to stay for drinks after dinner.

The next day we had a quick breakfast at the hotel, then drove to Orangeville for lunch with my parents. My mom pulled out all the stops, and it was extra nice to have a home-cooked meal after two days of restaurants.

From Orangeville we made the long trek to Anstruther Lake, with a relatively short stop in Lindsay for food and drinks on the way. The boys BBQ’d, which sparked many a discussion of the best kind of BBQ – coal or gas.

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The next day at the cottage, we went for a long hike by the waterfalls between Anstruther Lake and Rathbun Lake. I’ve done this hike before and would do it again a thousand times. Maybe not with canoe equipment, though…

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2015-05-23 Toronto Trip

2015-05-23 Toronto Trip

2015-05-23 Toronto Trip

2015-05-23 Toronto Trip

2015-05-23 Toronto Trip

And despite not being a particularly hot day, and the water being frigid, the boys went for a swim. S and I opted to not.

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2015-05-23 Toronto Trip

We also introduced R&S to Monopoly Deal, which we played for most of the night!

On Thursday we cleaned up our things and were on our way back to Toronto. We stopped at Yorkdale for some shopping and the Keg for a steak dinner before dropping R&S off at the airport.

It was an amazing trip, and I was so glad to be able to show R&S around!

Freedom 35!

After talking about it for what seemed like an eternity, some of my university friends and I headed to Mexico for a week of fun and relaxation at the Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya Resort. It was an amazing week and was more easy and fun than I could have imagined!

The Grand Sirenis is a huge resort about 30 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, and an hour south of the airport in Cancun. It’s located on an inlet of the Caribbean sea, and boasts some pretty amazing snorkeling right at the resort.

Map of the Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya

We spent the first few days sitting on the beach, where we went swimming and/or snorkelling most mornings and played volleyball most afternoons.  The weather was cooler than we expected for a late January visit, especially at night. I wore a sweater or jacket every evening, and wished I’d had a few more options.

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We also tried our hand at archery, which was fun but involved a lot of waiting since we could only go one at a time.

archery

At the end of the week there was a lot of wind, which meant the red flags were flying at the beach and we couldn’t go in the ocean. We stayed by the pool those days, which seemed to be what everyone at the resort decided, since the pool was busier those days.

Poolside

Two of us made up a scavenger hunt that we all participated in, and included:

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a shot at the lobby bar
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a trip in the lazy river
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a photo with the entertainment staff
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an iceberg at the beach bar
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a drink at the pool bar

I think it goes without saying that people in the resort probably thought we were a little bit crazy, but we didn’t care because it was fun!

We also tried our hand at beer pong and foox, an “extreme” version of foosball with two balls, and took many trips through the lazy river.

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beer pong
foox
lazy river

We spent one morning snorkeling at Akumel, where there are plenty of sea turtles. While I understand it used to be free, it’s not free anymore. In order to go out into the coral, a $10 for rental equipment and guide is required, and I thought it was very worthwhile. We got to see some of the cool wildlife in the inlet, including a barracuda and plenty of sea turtles, and when we told him where we were staying, our guide said we could go on a little excursion on our own from the resort. Plus, the guides make sure that everyone is following the rules around the coral and wildlife, making sure that they will be there for others to enjoy.

We went on the homemade excursion the next day, and it was perfect. The route takes you through the Grand Sirenis Mayan Beach Resort to the nightclub, which we playfully (and with reason) named the poo poo bar, along the rocky beach to an unnamed (as far as I can tell) inlet where the fresh water from the land mixes with the saltwater from the ocean. It makes for some interesting snorkeling, though I spent a lot of time thinking there was something wrong with my mask.

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route from the Grand Sirenis to the inlet

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group photo
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what happens when you have 6 engineers trying to take a group photo

The buffet at the Grand Sirenis was fine, but we were all a little sick of it by day 3. We were lucky smart to have our three a-la-carte restaurant reservations at the end of the week, followed by a plan to go into Playa del Carmen for dinner on our last night.

birthday dinner at the Bayou, the cajun restaurant
Japanese teppanyaki at Ikebana
Japanese teppanyaki at ikebana

On our final night, we went out to Playa del Carmen for an authentic Mexican meal at La Cueva del Chango, a small, cozy restaurant a little bit off the beaten path. Our server was excellent and made some fantastic recommendations both for food and drinks. I would highly recommend going if you`re ever in the area!

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fabulous dinner at La Cueva del Chango

After a short, futile walk into some slightly sketchy parts of town to find some karaoke, we ended up at a small bar, Caiman Tugurio for some drinks and live music. We then continued along 10 Av. Norte, through some loud party areas to the beachside bar and restaurant Fusion, where we sat on the beach and enjoyed more live music. It was the perfect way to end a great week!

live music at fusion
live music at fusion

The next day proved to be a long one. While we still had a beautiful sunny day, our plane  from Toronto was seriously delayed due to a snowstorm, so we spent the majority of the day in the Cancun airport. When we finally boarded, it was directly from the tarmac, since there were no gates available.

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Although it was a less than stellar end to a perfect week. I wouldn`t have changed a thing.

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until next time!

Mexico

As promised back in May, I’ve finally got myself organized enough to post about our trip to Mexico!

Horray!

We stayed at the beautiful El Dorado Royale, in Playa del Carmen. It had superb ratings for food, which was very important. And on that front, it didn’t disappoint. The food at all of the restaurants were amazing! My favourites were the Italian restaurant, d’Italia, and Pacific Rim restaurant, Kampai. We also loved the Health Bar for lunch – I had the same chicken sandwich and strawberry almond smoothie every day, and never tired of it!

We attended the “Islands” night at Fuentes dinner theatre, a five course meal themed around islands of the world. We opted for the wine pairing, which I had never done before, but I will definitely do again. Though it may be the reason for my missing a photo of the last course. The missing first course was just me being mindless!

1. Shrimp from Hawaii  2. Tuna from Japan  3. Pulled Pork from Jamaica  4. ?? from Iceland

While we were there, we took a day trip to the ruins at Tulum and the Xel-Ha water park. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for a day outside!

The ruins at Tulum was also known as Zama, or dawn, because of its location where dawn first breaks in Mexico. The community was a commercial port; it was an active redistribution centre for local and foreign products, from places such as Central America, the Pacific and Gulf coasts and Central Mexico. by sea, river and land .routes.  Its began at the time Hispanic navigators arrived on its shores and islands.

The ruins at Tulum

The bottom left picture is the building known as El Castillo, or The Castle, and it is the most imposing building at Tulum. It was likely also to have been the most important. Its facade would have been painted in bright colours and decorated with sculptures, and the corners had large stucco figureheads. On both sides of the staircase there are two small temples. Offerings that filled the air with scents and colours would have been placed on the altars here. The upper temple is where main religious ceremonies were performed.

The El Dorado Royale has a pretty decent ‘environmental program, including a 70,000 sq. ft. hydroponic greenhouse where they grow several types of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, chilies, squash, beans, leafy vegetables and a selection of herbs, including cilantro and mint. They offer bi-weekly tours, and I was happy to go on one! They also claim to use solar hot water heating for all of their water heating systems. While I couldn’t confirm this, they definitely had a huge solar water heating system installed. I wanted to take a tour, but was too shy to ask!

Greenhouse!!

The rest of the days we sat by the beach or the pool. We only had about an hour of rain the entire time we were there, and it was on our first day – not too shabby!

I even managed to get a bit of my Dutch homework done!

SPF 60 and sitting in the shade

R and I are spending some vacation time on the sandy beaches north of Playa del Carmen. Our resort is lovely and we’ve had some devious food. We also managed to avoid the “loyalty program” tour which, according to trip advisor, is a fancy word for a very expensive timeshare. I’ll post more about it later, but for those who’d like to see pictures now, I’ve posted a few I took with my phone. Adios!

We’re going on a Caiman Hunt

Our full day in the Rainforest started with a walk from the river to the Oxbow lake. The walk was about 2km, and we saw and learned about a number of species of plants and animals.

Trees in the rainforst grow all the time, so they don’t have rings. This blew my mind!

no rings!


The Candlestick Ginger is very important to the native people here. It’s stem contains water, which can be consumed by a thirsty traveller. Its stem can also be boiled into an infusion and used against headaches. Elvis told is he has used this many times, and it is very effective. He did not mention if these headaches he suffered from were acquired after a night at the discotheque.

candlestick ginger

The trees in the rainforest do not have deep roots like in other forests. Because the nutrients in the soil are really only in the top 80cm, the trees have no need to have deep roots. Instead they have developed two types of systems to stabilize themselves, buttresses, like the figs, and stilts, like the palms.

buttress roots
stilt roots

The largest venomous snake in South America is called the bushmaster. It can grow larger than 3.5m in length and 10cm in girth. Though we looked, we did not find any bushmasters while on our hike, nor at any other time of our stay in the rainforest.

The walking palm can move up to 15cm per year searching for sunlight. It accomplishes this by sending out new roots in the direction it needs to travel.

walking palm

Elvis also pointed out a plant he referred to as the erotic plant. Apparently the sap from this tree is used to make a type of Viagra. I’m not sure where they got the idea from, though…

Although Tarantulas are nocturnal, Elvis woke a few up so we could see them. I was surprised to learn that they live in holes by the path, which makes finding food easier for them. While their bites are very painful, they are not deadly. Still, they move very quickly, and I was glad to see them from afar. I know how grumpy I get when someone wakes me up from a good sleep!

tarantula hole
the clearest photo I have…

At one point, Elvis grabbed some leaves and started rubbing them in his hands. He added a bit of water, and it started turning a deep purple.  I got voluntold for face paint, and then after it was on, told it would take years to come off. Thankfully my experiences with Queen’s Engineering taught me how to get purple dye off my skin quickly and effectively!

amazon warrior

While in the forest, we thought we mist be looking pretty good because someone was whistling at us. Turns out it was male Screaming Piha competing for a mate. take a listen!

We had a short boat ride on the lake, where we saw some hoatzin, aslo known as stinky birds.

Apparently they are so smelly that they have no natural predator! Now that’s smelly! Creatures in the lake include piranahs, electric eels, and freshwater stingrays.

The two biggest trees in the forest where we were are the strangling fig, which wraps itself around a host tree, slowly killing it, and the Kapok.

strangling fig – outside
stangling fig – inside
One of the roots of a giant Kapok
giant kapok

On the boat ride back to the trail, Elvis handed us packages of crackers and these orange spherical fruits. When we opened them, I thought it looked like brains on the inside. Turns out they were passion fruit, and very very delicious. I just couldn’t look too closely at what I was eating!

passionfruit

We returned back to the lodge for a yummy lunch and a relaxing afternoon. The water for each lodge was heated by solar, so I wanted to wait until after midday to shower. The water was good and hot, and I did not regret my decision.

solar hot water heaters

At 6:30 we met to learn a little bit about the Caiman, a member of the alligator family. They are solitary animals, and the males attracts a mate by blowing bubbles! We then jumped in one of the boats and went out searching for Caimans. Clearly Elvis has been trained for this because when he pointed to where one was, I kept looking at what turned out to be a log in the water, not the caiman at all! The first one we saw was huge, maybe around 1.5m. Elvis later told us he figured it was about 20 years old. Caimans never stop growing, and can live to be 60 years old, so you can tell approximately how old they are by their size.

We saw two more caimans, both babies about one year old. They looked to be no more than a foot long. We also saw some capybara up close. The biggest one was HUGE! It was the size of a medium to large dog! In the same vein as last night, I decided not to bring my camera out of respect for the caimans and capybara.

We spent a good 5 minutes on the boat with the motor turned off just listening to the sounds of the rainforest. I also looked at the stars. I always forget how amazing the night sky is when there’s no lights on!

Tomorrow we begin our trip home to Toronto. This has been a magical trip, and I am sad it’s over.

Welcome to the Jungle

We arrived in Puerto Maldonado, and met our tour guide Elvis, yes, Elvis, who directed us to our bus. The bus took us through Puerto Maldonado to the Tambopata Eco Lodge offices. While we were there, we packed our necessary gear into duffel bags to take with us to the Lodge – the beautiful and warm alpaca gear we’d become so comfortable in wouldn’t do us much good in the Amazonian rainforest! We also ate a provided lunch of rice, chicken nuggets, jungle potatoes and root veggies, along with two lady finger bananas and a bottle of water. I ate a surprising amount considering how little I’ve eaten in the past few days.

Because we had to wait for the remainder of our group to arrive, T convinced Elvis that we should climb the tower, known as the Obelisk, at the centre of Puerto Maldonado. So we took the giant bus to the Obelisk and climbed the 45m to the top, a walk in the park compared to the Inka Trail.

Then we were off to the airport to pick up the rest of our group. Their plane was delayed, so we stopped at a serpentium right beside the airport. It was closed, but it seems as though posted hours are merely suggestions here. After Elvis managed to convince the groundskeeper to get the guide, and the guide to let us in for free, we learned not only do they have snakes, but other abandoned animals as well. In addition to boas and snakes, we saw some round turtles, a spotted cat related to an ocelot, some russet monkeys, and, my favorite, a baby three toed sloth! He looked like he was smiling the whole time, and I wanted to steal him.

We picked up the remainder of our tour, and headed back to the Lodge office, where they re-packed into duffel bags and we were off! Our trip consisted of a 45 minute bus ride on some pretty beat up dirt roads, followed by a 2 hour boat ride along the Tambopata river.

Along the way, we saw a horned screamer, which apparently sounds something like a donkey, thou I can neither confirm nor deny this point as it did not make a sound while we were there, and some capybara, the world’s biggest rodent, eating grass by the river.


We arrived in the Tambopata National Reserve and had to register. At this point in the trip I knew my passport number by heart, and was still confused about why they wanted to know what our professions were.  We once again got some really cool stamps in our passports, this time with at puma on it!

We arrived at the Lodge and had a quick tea before heading to our cabins to unpack and prepare for our night walk. The lodge we are staying in is quite nice, and was lit by candles when we arrived. There is running water and a 3rd bed, which means I once again get two fluffy pillows!

We met Elvis at 6:30 to watch a slideshow presentation about the Tambopata river and the EcoLodge. We then set out on a short (400m max) walk to see some of the nocturnal insects that live in the jungle. I chose to not bring my camera out of respect for the nocturnal animals we were seeing. I’m not fond of camera flashes in my face at night, so I can’t imagine they’d be too thrilled about it either.

In addition to some giant crickets and grasshoppers, we saw some stick bugs (the kind that look like sticks!), an orb spider, a bullet ant, which can grow up to 1.5 inches and has the same venom as a cobra, albeit in much smaller quantities, a blunt nosed snake and, possibly coolest of all, a two toed sloth! It was motoring by sloth standards. As a nocturnal animal, I suspect he didn’t like our flashlights shining on him.

We came back to the lodge for supper at 8. Then it was back to our lodge for T and I. She was really, really tired, and I wanted to get this thing up to date, even if I can’t publish until I get back to civilization!

Camino Inka: Pacamayo to Winay Wayna (15km)

Read about Day 1, from Cuzco to Wayllabamba, and Day 2, from Wayllabamba to Pacamayo.

Inka Trail Map – Day 3

 

Day 3: Unforgettable

We were up super early from Paqaymayu, and after a quick breakfast were on our way for a long and unforgettable day of walking.

sunrise
ready for day 3

Thanks to E’s oxygen and a lot of sleep, I was feeling pretty good, and was excited for the day.

At the bottom of the 2nd pass of the trek, Abra de Runkuracay at 4,000m, E told us of a tradition for those travelling the trail to bring an offering including a stone from the bottom of the mountain to the pass.

my offering:
a small stone, some coca leaves and some white chocolate from my trail mix

We hiked for about an hour to the ruins of Runkuracay, which overlooks  the Pacamayo valley.

Runkuracay

When we arrived at the Abra de Runkuracay pass, we made our offerings as the many passing before us had. Some brought large stones, but mine was quite small given my issues with altitude sickness the previous day.

The decent from the second pass led us to a particularly beautiful and lush section of the trail and, not surprisingly, more Inka ruins.

back down again
Sayacmara

Sayacmarca means ‘Inaccessible Town’ and it describes the the ruins perfectly, as they are protected on three sides by sheer cliffs.

Along the route to the third, and final, pass is a cool Inka tunnel!

The view from the pass offers views of several  peaks including Salkantay (6,180m) and Veronica (5,750m).

Aguas Calientes (I think)

 

Just after the pass is Phuyapatamarca, an impressive Inka ruin.

Phuyupatamarca
entering Phuyupatamarca

 

Up next is the infamous gringo killer, a thousand or so steps straight down! While I struggled with uphills, I thrived going down, and didn’t feel any pain in my knees at all!

After all the stairs we arrived at the ruins of Wiñay Wayna, meaning ‘forever young’ in Quechua. The ruins are comprised of some incredible agricultural terraces which also had some llamas (yay!) when we were there. Naturally I took pictures.

we made it!

 

That night, our cooks, who had been completely amazing to that point impressed us even further by baking a cake to celebrate one of our fellow hiker’s birthday. We were all blown away.

cake!

Tomorrow we finally arrive in Machu Picchu!

Camino Inka: Wayllabamba to Pacamayo (12km)

Read about Day 1, from Cuzco to Wayllabamba.

If the day 1 was “Inka flat,” the 2nd day was “Inka uphill!” It’s known as the most challenging day of the 4-day Inka Trail trek, since it involves hiking up to 4,200 m at Dead Woman’s Pass, which for me was a bit of an omen.

Inca Trail Map – Day 2
Day 2: Challenge

As we left Wayllabamba, the smoke from the previous night’s forest fire was still lingering.

From Wayllabamba, we followed the left bank of the Llullchayoc river. The path was all uphill, but the river was beautiful and the foliage was fascinating.

still smiling!

 

Throughout the climb, I got further and further behind those in the front, and it drove me crazy that I couldn’t keep up.

Several hours in, the terrain changed from beautiful forest to slightly barren land.

 

This is where things really got tough for me, which is why I don’t have any photos until the top of the climb. I could only take about 5 steps at a time before I was so winded I needed to stop to catch my breath. At this point, E traded bags with me, so I wasn’t carrying all my stuff.

Start of the long upward haul to Abra de Huarmihuañusca (Dead Woman’s Pas)
from www.incatrailperu.com

Arriving at Abra de Huarmihuañusca, or ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’, is the only time I can remember that I cried from relief and had no control whatsoever over it. But I made it, and I’m so proud of myself for doing it!

Abra de Huarmihuañusca at 4,200m
We made it!

Thankfully the remainder of the day was downhill to our camp at Pacamayo.

I went pretty much straight into our tent to sleep, despite arriving at the camp fairly early in the day. E gave me some oxygen to help with the altitude sickness. Along with a little soup for dinner and a nice, long sleep, I felt better the next morning. But it was rough going for a while!

We learned our lesson from the previous night, and bundled up!

T’s space blanket came in very handy!

Read about Day 3: Unforgettable.