I guess this title is a little deceiving, as we didn’t really get to see too much of Puno at all.  By the next afternoon the sickness had dissipated enough to warrant heading outside in search of snacks, and to also catch a glimpse of Lake Titicaca.

Most of the tourists depart early in the morning to see the lake tribes and return late in the evening.  This means that most of the shops nearby are closed the rest of the day.  We took a  couple photos, grabbed some bananas and dinner rolls, and headed back to the hotel.  On the way we caught an example of globalization initiatives by one of Canada’s finest brands:

After our tour mates returned to the hotel, we got together to head out for a traditional Peruvian dinner: Guinea Pig!   It seems so interesting to me that these little fellows are kept around the house as pets, until one night you can’t decide what you’d like for dinner, and your pet’s cute furriness suddenly begins to look…delicious!

Here is a photo of one of our friends demonstrating the typical spread – the guinea pig is flayed out on a plate – claws covered delicately in tinfoil.  This restaurant was first class, and they gutted the beast for you – covering its empty body with a fresh and tasty salad.  Also notice the side serving of Peruvian tater tots with cheese sauce?!  SO GOOD!

Notice the head and teeth are intact.  Our guide Alim showed us the traditional way of eating this part of the head, and the neat crafts you can do with it afterward:

Notice it is in the shape of a condor, the sacred bird of the Incas!  Guinea pig looks very unappetizing, but its really just like dark meat with a fried skin.  Not quite like chicken, but not really unlike it either.

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Our wonderful and fabulous GAP guide Edwin (who somehow managed to get me through the Inca Trail in one piece) was a wealth of knowledge on Inca culture and history, as well as on the site of Machu Picchu itself.  While he knew many facts and details on its construction, what was most impressive was his incredible passion in retelling us this history.  You could tell he genuinely loved sharing his culture with us.  He told me that no matter how many times he had visited Machu Picchu, he was constantly impressed, and each time noticed new things.  He was phenomenal, and his eagerness translated to each of us.

In this picture you can also see a row of houses in the background.  What you’ll notice is how they are very stone-y.  This is because these buildings were for average people doing average things – living, eating, sleeping, storing food etc.  The Incas saved the majority of their time, energy, and construction might to be used on their temples, which incorporate classic Inca construction – seamless joints, large stones, and stunningly complicated angles.  The image below is from a street in the city, with the left side being a rough-hewn building, and the right side the back of a temple – it really shows how construction methods varied depending on the purpose.  Can you even believe those seamless walls!  Seamless!  No mortar!  You couldn’t even fit a sheet of paper in between those joints!  And of course, they are angled in the typical style to withstand earthquakes.  So, so, impressive.

And how do they keep the grounds so neat and tidy?  Why, llamas, of course!

The third day was unquestionably the longest, with about 8 hours of hiking.  It was also the most beautiful.  The terrain was not very difficult and the views were completely stunning.  Jungle, mountains, rivers, and archaeological sites – hurrah!

While we passed almost a dozen small sites, we saw 2 archaeological sites that were literally breathtaking.  Sayaqmarka was the first one of the day.  It had been a large fortress built in the pre-Inca time, but expanded during the Inca period.  It featured a large temple to the sun, as well as residences for priests and townspeople.

Sayaqmarka, unlike many other sites, it was not at all agricultural, although it may have been used to store produce from nearby farms, like this one, as seen from Sayaqmarka:

Around hour 7 of hiking, 0ur guide Edwin gave us the option to either take the long way or the short way to the final campsite.  While the short way would save 30 minutes, he suggested that the long way actually had easier terrain, and a most stunning site.  It was not raining, and so we opted to take the long way, and I am SO glad we did. This final site provided me with perhaps the best memories of the entire trip.

We arrived at Winay Wayna through the Cloud Forest.  It had stunning views of the Urubamba Valley and snow capped peaks beyond.  It was covered in mist, and completely silent.  We were the only ones there.  It. Was. Magical.  Our guide told us this site was uncovered in 2004, and even today it is not completely excavated – the terraces go on for miles, covered by the jungle.  It was too exciting to be one of the few people to set eyes on this site.

I so wish we could have gotten more photos, but at this point our camera was running out of space, and you can’t NOT have pictures of Machu Picchu!!!

Did I mention in my last post that part of this trip entails hiking to Machu Picchu?  For, like, 4 DAYS?

Did I mention that I have never been camping before?  In Ontario, let alone in the Andes, where creepy crawlies exist that will KILL YOU!

Did I mention that the highest point is at 4200 M, or 13779 ft?  And that you can DIE from altitude sickness?  And I already have asthma?!

Be afraid, be very, very afraid.

For these reasons, I was hesitant about this part of our journey, but the more research and preparation I do, the more excited I get for the challenge!

The Inca Trail in Peru is considered one of the top 5 treks in the entire world, and as such, it can get quite busy.  Luckily for us, a limited number of passes are issued for it every year, and we booked far enough in advance that we were able to obtain one!   Also, each person gets their own porter who carries your stuff up for you, sets up your tent, and even cooks your meals, so its not all roughing it!  I mean, it could definitely be a lot worse.  And the bathrooms can’t be any worse than the ones on the roadside in Malaysia, right?

The average temps in November are between 6 and 22C, and because the higher you go, the cooler it is, we are going to need to invest in some thermal clothing.  Of course, I’m excited about the shopping aspect of the preparations!  (“Any excuse to spend money”, my dear husband says – and of course, he’s right!).   So far I’ve gotten my hiking boots on sale at Mountain Equipment Coop, as well as some quick dry pants that zip off at the knees, and a thermal shirt and tights.  Still on the list:  second pair of pants, quick-dry undies and socks, and most importantly:  a cute hat to protect my skin from the sun (well, truthfully, I’m more concerned about a cute hat to cover up the 4-day buildup of unwashed greasy hair!)

Also in preparation for this trekking adventure, I have begun to workout.  Yep, you read that right.  Kelly O is hitting the gym, AND spinning!  I will not be the most out of shape person on the trip… I refuse!  The spinning is a great workout for the thighs and lungs, which will be critical when spending days hiking up ancient stairs in a decreased oxygen environment.  I’m also going to hit up my doctor to stock up on asthma puffers!  Apparently the best thing to do for altitude sickness is to chew/brew coca leaves, which are high in loads of vitamins and are supposed to help counteract altitude sickness symptoms.

In any case, I’m excited to make the journey, this will no doubt be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.