That Highway 20 Ride

There is something magical about the Northern California Coast. Its rugged coastline, windy roads, crisp air, and that golden sunshine. North of San Francisco you have fewer tourists. The coastline starts to look more like something you would find in Oregon, but you can still have gorgeous sun rays and that vibe only found in California.

My parents were invited to join some family friends in Fort Bragg for the weekend. Everyone would have their fancy camper and the campground had full electricity, flushing toilets, showers and even WiFi. Basically glamping. I decided to tag along because I can’t pass up an opportunity to explore a new place.

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Puppy Kisses ❤

I had only been to Fort Bragg once before. I was in the 8th grade, and it was for a friend’s birthday. However, Fort Bragg is an extremely popular travel destination for everyone in my hometown. I’m sure most of our town folk consider the coastal town a second home. The family friends we were joining have been spending their weekends on Hwy 1 since the early 70s. Obviously, I like to travel (hence my travel blog), and I really like to explore and see new things. So as soon as I found out I would be spending time in Mendocino County, I began researching what to do and see.

My journey started by taking Hwy 20 in California from beginning to end. I pick it up off the 80 just passed Donner Summit and got off at Hwy 1. I journeyed through the mountains of Gold Country and made my way to the valley floor. From there it is farmland as far as the eye can see until Clear Lake. It is slow going around the lake, but it provides nice scenery. You cross paths with the 101 and enter Willits. The quaint little town situated on the crossing of Hwy 20 and 101. This is the start of Mendocino County and the beautifully rugged Northern California Coast. The drive from Willits to Fort Bragg is windy, steep at some parts and exceptionally picturesque. The whole drive was scenic. And it truly shows you how diverse the state of Califonia really is.

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Family Photo Opt

I spent 3 nights there, and during that time we ate a lot of seafood, drank a lot of beer, and walked on a lot of beaches. We ate at North Coast Brewing Company, Sea Pal Cove, and Cafe Del Mar. All were great and unique in their own way. I am also an avid hiker, and I found quite a few hikes I would one day like to try. I suggested we go to Russian Gulch State Park and look around. We found a secluded beach to let the dogs run wild on, and I looked for this hike to a waterfall on the park map. I was alone on the ‘hiking business’ which is why I said I would like to one day try them. We continued down Hwy 1 and stopped in Mendocino. You can walk around the town in probably half hour. The area offers some great coastal views, pathways for short strolls, shopping, eating, and of course a few watering holes. There is a river inlet that was perfect for the dogs and looked like a great place to catch some summer rays.

After learning I would be visiting Fort Brag, and starting my research, I came across a place called Bowling Ball beach. The beach is covered with small round boulders that well look like bowling balls. Some photos had the water just covering the bottom of the boulders, and the place looked magical. It was an hour from where we were staying, and on our last full day in Fort Bragg, I convinced my company to go on a road trip. I will be upfront with you. We made it to Bowling Ball Beach. It was beautiful, but I did not see the bowling ball boulders. Pretty sure you have to go during low tide. See I am just destined to return to Mendocino. Even though our initial goal was not met, the day was not wasted. Our road trip down there provided some of the most secluded and untouched coastline the West Coast has to offer. We made a pit stop at the Point Arena Lighthouse, and of course, the second I climbed to the top, the cloud cover rolled in and I couldn’t see a thing. We had ‘linner’ at the Pier Chowder House and Tap Room in Point Arena. Everyone loved it. The restaurant was situated in a harbor, and we could watch people surf from the window. Overall Fort Bragg was outstanding. I recommend exploring the surrounding area. Glass Beach is a popular town attraction, but it was under construction when I was there.

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Where are the bowling balls?!

 I will definitely be going back to that part of the California coast. I must see Bowling Ball Beach! There is so much to explore in that area, you just have to get in your car and go!

Cruise to Alaska

In early September, I embarked on an Alaskan Cruise with some of my closest friends, and we had one heck of a time. From the minute I stepped onto the boat I thought I was on the Titanic. This was going to be an epic 7 days.

Our Cruise Line

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View of our ship in Glacier Bay

We chose to travel with Princess Cruises to Alaska. The coordinators of our group chose to book through Costco. We had a group of 9, and I was the sole cruise newbie. But to be fair, a few hadn’t been on a cruise since they were like 10 or something. The ship’s decor was incredible. It was very elegant, everything looked fairly new, and the staff was very friendly. My favorite room was the Piazza. It had two spiral marble staircases, a piano where they would play music daily, a cafe and a wine bar. All the employees were foreign which I thought was interesting. They all spoke English well but did carry thick accents. Your key card also served as your credit card. It was nice because I didn’t have to carry my purse or cash around the boat, but dangerous at the same time. Anything that wasn’t included in your cruise package you could just charge it to your room. WiFi on the ship is very expensive, and there is no cell service in international waters. Princess offers a messenger service. I’m not going to lie, the app needs some work, but it gets the job done. So it works similar to Facebook messenger and uses the ship’s WiFi (for free) so you can message other people on the boat. The negatives are, the app doesn’t alert you that you have a message, and it’s quite slow and cumbersome to use. They need someone to make a few adjustments to their coding, and it will be a great feature for cruise passengers.

The Food

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The full group in Juneau

Let me tell you about the food. You could eat at the buffet for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They also had 2 dining halls that were available for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They had a pizza and ice cream bar, a burger bar, and a cafe that served various salads, soups or paninis. Room service was included in your food package, and they had 3 restaurants that you had to pay extra to eat at. One was a bistro, there was an Italian joint, and a steakhouse. We mostly ate breakfast at the buffet, lunch was kind of all over the place, and dinner was at the dining hall. Dinner was at least four courses. Some items would rotate daily, others were on the menu every night, and they usually had a theme. There were a few dishes no one cared for, but overall the food was amazing. It is impossible to go hungry while on a cruise. There is so much food available to you 24/7. However, drinks are not included in your package. And not just alcoholic drinks. You had to pay extra for anything that wasn’t water, black coffee, tea, or juice at breakfast. Outside of the extra money for basic drinks, I thought the dining experience on our Princess Alaskan Cruise was outstanding.

On the Boat Activities

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Rare sunny day in Ketchikan

One of my companions who was on his 3rd cruise I believe said he never spent too much time in his room because there was so much to do. He was right. If I was in my room it was because I didn’t feel good (probably a combination of too much liquor the night before and the swaying boat), or I was exhausted. I mentioned the live music in the Piazza, and they would also have live dancing performances and magic shows. Each evening there was something to see from musicals, comedy shows, and even “The Voice of the Ocean.” I was surprised how popular karaoke was on the cruise ship. They had a late night club that would feature a DJ some nights. There were bars around every corner. The boat had a workout facility, a spa, at least 3 pools, and like 8 hot tubs. There was definitely quite a bit to keep you busy. Plus, the scenery on the Alaskan Cruise is so gorgeous you can just walk around the ship and sightsee.

On Shore

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Hiking around Dewey Lake in Skagway

The cruise I was on was round trip from Seattle. Our port calls were in Juneau, Skagway, sightseeing in Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and Victoria. You were given ample time in Juneau and Skagway and only a few hours in Ketchikan and Victoria. I was on a 7-day cruise, and I felt like I spent a lot of time on the boat. However, what I did see of Southeast Alaska was absolutely amazing. I visited the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. My friends then took a tour to the Alaskan Brewery, but I chose to stay behind and check out downtown a bit more. In Skagway, we each sort of did our own thing. I found a few hikes I wanted to do, one friend went rock climbing, another went biking, a few went zip lining, and some took the train ride. I thoroughly enjoyed my hikes, but it sounds like the zip lining was pretty amazing. I was trying to limit myself on excursions because they are excruciatingly expensive, and I had been living on a non-working travelers budget for a while now. Skagway was by far my favorite port. I like the terrain, the town, and the people. I could have easily spent multiple days there. We bar hopped a bit in Skagway to get to know the community and it was great. I recommend the Spruce Tip Ale at Skagway Brewery, the habanero infused tequila, and of course a duck fart. It’s simple Alaskan tradition. In Ketchikan, a majority of our group decided to go kayaking and that ate up all our time there. It was a beautiful bay, and it did get us out of the main tourist town which was nice. And in Victoria we didn’t arrive til 6pm and only had a few hours, so we bar hopped mostly, visited a Tim Horton’s and tried to get a feel of Canadian after dark.

Weather

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John Hopkins Inlet Glacier Bay

I think we were fairly lucky with the weather. It poured almost the whole time we were in Juneau, but we made do. Otherwise, there were periods of cloud cover and periods of sun. It was definitely cooler so dress appropriately. Where we lucked out the most was in Ketchikan. This place receives about 300 days of rain which equates to about 13 feet of rainfall. It was sunny when we arrived. Incredible.

Bottom line

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Glacier Bay, Alaska

I’m definitely going back to Alaska. I want to go on a fishing expedition and explore around Denali National Park. The cruise is nice because you get to explore a part of Alaska really only accessible by boat. I am very thankful I was invited to join this cruise because I had a blast. If you are looking for less boat time, and to hit the larger mainland part of Alaska, I would recommend a one-way cruise. I know Princess has a 7-day cruise from Vancouver to Anchorage. It’s incredible how big Alaska is because even Anchorage is only a small piece of it. If you get the opportunity to go on an Alaskan Cruise take it. It’ll get you hooked on Alaska and you’ll want to go back for more.

Chico and Oroville Area Hikes

As a Northern California native and an avid hiker, I like to get out and explore. Most of these hikes are available year-round and are a great way to get outside and explore your surrounding area.

Table Mountain

Table Mountain is a great place to take the family and let your dogs run loose. It is located in Oroville, CA near Oregon City just off of Cherokee Rd (Google Maps provides excellent directions). In the springtime, you can find the field blooming with wildflowers and the waterfall roaring at its peak. There is a creek that runs through a vast canyon which makes this a site to see year round. There are various trails you can take and make this hike as short or as long as you want. Just a forewarning, this area can get very wet and very muddy so be prepared. To locate the waterfall just follow the creek from the parking lot. The pasture is also home to some free grazing cattle. Located just 40 mins from Chico, North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve is one trail not to miss.

Side note: Waterfall not pictured so not to ruin the surprise. For best water flow visit in Spring.

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Puppies and Wild Flowers

Paradise Flumes

The Flumes are great in the summer because of the numerous swimming holes located along the Feather River. However, just hiking along the Flumes and soaking in the beautiful scenery is a treat in itself and can be experienced year round. You can access the Flumes from a few different locations. The two most popular starting locations are Feather River Hospital and Dean Road. After turning into the hospital, you can follow the road to the very back where you will find a parking lot and a trail. Dean Road can be found off of Pentz Road in Paradise. Once you turn onto Dean, follow the road until it ends. There you will find another section of the Flumes Trail (again google maps provides excellent directions). Dean Road may be a better option for dog owners. If you chose to walk on the actual flume (which I recommend) your dog might not appreciate it because it’s like walking on a railroad track. Paradise Flumes is located just 30 minutes from Chico and is a local favorite not to be missed. Take one of the many deer trails down to the river and find your perfect swimming hole. Whether you are looking to sunbathe or cliff jump, this trail is perfect for everyone.

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Hiking along the Flumes

Upper Bidwell

If you are looking to get outside but don’t want to stray too far from home Upper Bidwell is the ultimate classic. The park is accessible year round to bikers, joggers, hikers, and dog owners. During the summer, Upper Park offers excellent swimming holes for everyone to enjoy. The north side of the park is the “off leash” area for dogs while the south side (where the water is) asks you keep your dog on a leash. The north side is out in the open and without shade so it can get very warm in the summer. There are quite a few different trails to explore, but one of the more popular trails is Monkey Face. It is a short but steep hike up that offers panoramic views of the valley. The entrance to the park is located on the corner of East Ave and Manzanita Ave in Chico, CA. From there you can follow the road until you see a large parking lot on the left. There is a gate there that closes the road to any further traffic, so some days you are forced to park in that lot, but on days that the gate is open you can follow the dirt road up to popular swimming holes like Bear Hole. Upper Bidwell is located in the city and is very popular with the locals. Don’t be surprised if you show up on an April afternoon and find the parking lot full.

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Big Chico Creek

Feather Falls

Feather Falls might be the best hike on this list. It’s also the most traditional. The others offered multiple trails and the freedom to make your hike as long or short as you want. Feather Falls is a loop, and the magnificent waterfall (located about 1/2 way) is the highlight. My recommendation is to do this hike in the spring. The waterfall is at its peak and the heat isn’t so treacherous. I have completed this hike in July before and it was a little too hot for my liking. Maybe a mile after you start the hike, you will reach a trail split. This starts the loop. I usually take the trail to the right first. It is longer, but the inclines and declines are more gradual and easier on my knees. Once you reach the tip of the loop, you will see the turn off for Feather Falls. You climb for about a mile before reaching the overlook. The overlook is out above the canyon and the river giving you the perfect view of the falls, but there is no shade. After making the climb back down, you can continue on the loop. This section is shorter, but it is a steep incline. The hikers I meet going the opposite way aren’t a fan of the continuous downhill. That much downhill hurts my knees which is why I choose to climb it, but it is totally a personal preference. This is a popular hike, so I usually try to get there early. The trailhead is about an hour from Chico. To get there you take Hwy 162 E in Oroville and drive past Gold Country Casino. You turn right on Forbestown Rd which will eventually turn into Lumpkin Road. You will periodically see signs for Feather Falls to reassure you that you are going in the right direction. From Lumpkin, you will turn left onto Bryant Ravine Rd which will take you to the trailhead parking lot. The trail is about 8 miles long and is in a remote area, so pack whatever you might need for the day. Dogs are welcome. This is probably one of my favorite hikes in the area that I continue to do year after year. Again, I don’t want to ruin the surprise of the falls, so I chose not to include a picture.

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The trail to the falls was flooded

I wanted to keep this post local, so I chose some of my favorite hikes that are at most an hour drive away one way. I am always looking for new places to hike and explore, so if you have a favorite place you’d like to share feel free to leave a comment!

San Antonio

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I had a few long yet successful days in Corpus Christi celebrating my sister getting her Naval Wings, and now it was time to move on to San Antonio. Rather than giving a detailed reenactment of my time there, I thought I would share the places I visited, what I liked, and what I wasn’t a fan of.

The weather

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It was early July, and it was hot and humid. We spent most of our first day walking around the Downtown and Riverwalk area while we waited for hotel check in. We eventually retreated to the mall to escape the heat. Air conditioning is a must down there, pools are a plus, bring lots of water, and don’t worry…everyone has the same sweat marks you do.

Our hotel

We stayed at the Red Roof Inn. It had a pool, which we didn’t end up using, but the thought of it was nice. The A/C worked great, and the location was pretty good. The hotel was located just outside of downtown so you could walk everywhere. The room was nice, but I was not a fan of the check in process and the bathroom. Since we booked last minute, I’m assuming that is why we given the room with the handicap bathroom. I don’t have an issue with that, but the bathroom was gross. We wore our sandals in the bathroom and shower because the floor looked dirty. There was a sink but no counter. The bathroom needs a remodel. I stayed in a roll in handicap bathroom in New York, and it was clean and chic. The one at the Red Roof Inn needs a makeover. Check in was awful because it was painfully long. And after over 20 minutes of what felt like torture, they put us in the wrong room. If I were to stay in San Antonio again I would look to stay somewhere else first.

Downtown and the River Walk

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Both were great. The highlight of downtown I would say is the Alamo. It’s an amazing historic site which I was surprised was free to enter. They have a lot of tourist things like Ripley’s Believe it or Not, souvenir shops, pubs, and the mall in their downtown area. The mall is huge. The Riverwalk is something different entirely. It is below the city, and I think about 10 degrees cooler. It’s filled mostly with restaurants, pubs, night clubs, and some shops, but it is still a site to see. The river you can tell is man made. It is funneled off of the main river into this large canal that runs right down the middle of everything. The landscaping is done well, and it is a very popular place. Very busy. I definitely recommend it for lunch, dinner, and a night out on the town. At night, the streets are lined with glowing carriages like from Cinderella that you can hire to take you around.

The Pearl

This is another “area” of San Antonio just outside of downtown. It is less crowded and to me had a more hipster vibe. More cafes, and boutique kind of shops. There is also a large brewery there, but I did not get to see it. We showed up on Sunday, and a lot of the places were closed. I couldn’t really tell if the Pearl had much of a nightlife, but it definitely looked like a place you could spend the day, have lunch and get out of the downtown area. We visited a macaroon shop there and all the flavors were delicious.

The Safari Park and Six Flags

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San Antonio reminded me of Southern California in a sense of all their amusement parks. You have Schlitterbahn, Six Flags, Sea World, Aquatica to name a few. They also have a Safari Park. Most of these parks are a little bit out of town and are accessed best by car. While I was there I visited the Safari Park and Six Flags. Both were great. I went on a safari in Africa about 6 months ago, so I found it a little funny to be seeing the same animals planted here in States. The difference though is you could feed them and pet them. Just don’t get out of your car. The animals at the park include goats, deer, a variety of antelope, buffalo, longhorns, zebras, and ostrich just to name a few. It was really a fun experience, if you have a car to get there I highly recommend it. I also spent a day at six flags. Again, the weather was boiling, so the water rides were heaven. It wasn’t too crowded when we were there, and there is a water park attached to it. So with the price of one ticket, you get access to both parks. I also recommend Six Flags if you ever find yourself in San Antonio.

Last but not least….the food!

I definitely had to detox myself when I returned to the west coast after a week in Texas. I wanted to enjoy all the good Texas food and then some. After getting off the airplane, I went to a Cracker Barrel. I had Chic-Fil-A for dinner that night, and again for lunch the next morning. (The only two times I’ve ever had Chick-Fli-A in my life, we don’t have one where I live). I ate at Whataburger and consumed a lot of Mexican food and BBQ. My taste buds were surely satisfied. I drank a Big Red soda and tried out some local Texas beer. The beer was okay, they can leave the craft brew to the west coast. At one bar we asked for something local and they suggested Lagunitas. I grew up in California, so I stood there scratching my head for a bit trying to figure out how that was local. One of my best food finds was J  & I cafe. It’s a small hole in the wall on the other side of downtown. I was a bit weary walking to it from my hotel in the morning. It’s a Mexican restaurant that serves the most bomb breakfast tacos and horchata. It was super cheap too. I had never had a breakfast taco before then, and I might be ruined for them now because it was delicious. I definitely ate my way through Texas, so it’s probably a good thing I walked so much in the heat because I sweated everything out.

Bottom line

Go to San Antonio. I did not make it to Austin (before you slap me, I ran out of time!) But I know it’s about an hour from San Antonio, so you can easily take a drive down, or even a mega bus, and check out San Antonio. It’s a city full of a lot of history, activities, and some really neat niche areas to check out. I will make it to Austin soon, and if I have time I’ll for sure swing back down to SA and get myself another breakfast taco.

 

The Amazon and Back Again

As I sit on this extra-long plane ride home from Dallas, (thanks Air Force One) I have decided to finally finish writing about my trip to Peru. I left off returning home from Machu Picchu tired and excited. I had a free day before I had to go back to school and then that night I would take the bus to Puerto Maldonado (Peruvian Amazon). I did most of my packing before school, but it didn’t even dawn on me that I was supposed to check out of my room and remove my belongings since I wouldn’t be sleeping there. I ended up having to pay for the extra night, but luckily it wasn’t expensive. My silly mistake. I grabbed my bags and took a cab to the bus stop. The bus we were on was pretty fancy in my opinion, and I had a killer seat. I sat on the top level, right up front. It was a single seat with no one behind me. The closest people were across the aisle. They had free movies, and I was getting into my book. It was an overnight bus, meaning I left at 9pm and was arriving at 7am, so I knew sleep was crucial. In between cat naps I would look out the window and watch the rain fall and the scenery change. I was going from 11,000 feet high in the Andes to Sea Level in the jungle. I could see the condensation on the bus windows and feel the humidity. I finally dozed off for quite some time only to be awoken by the bus making a sudden stop and people getting on board. It was the Peruvian Military, and when they came on I could vaguely understand they were asking for passports. I handed the man my passport, he looked at it, looked at me and then returned it. He did the same to my neighbors across the aisle and then asked me for mine again. I assumed he was looking for my visa slip which I kept in a different location so it didn’t slip out of my passport. Everywhere and everyone in Peru wants to see your passport. I handed it to him a second time, he checked everything out and then returned it back to me. He left the bus with some of the local’s id cards and returned later to hand them back. I guess he was cross checking their names on some database. I found out later that he also took some passports from the lower level off the bus and returned them later. I think I would have been nervous had a scary looking foreign military man that I cannot communicate with took my passport out of my sight. Everything ended up okay. I guess they do random stops to make sure no one on the bus had been reported missing or is on a known list. Safety precautions. I arrived in Puerto Maldonado and boy was it humid. I hadn’t felt that type of humidity in a long time. Luckily I showed up during a “storm” (it was overcast), so I wasn’t getting all the heat. I found the man with the sign waiting for my group and he took us to our destination. We were to hang out at the headquarters of our lodge while we waited for everyone else to arrive before we could take the boat to our lodge. I was definitely tired and ready for a shower. We got a home cooked breakfast from the neighbors who were originally from Morro Bay, California. It was delicious. The boat ride down the Made de Dios River and it was was long. It felt like forever before we reached Planet Amazon. I liked the lodge. I got my own private bungalow (because I was travelling solo), and we had all our meals cooked for us. I was there for two nights and everything was led by a guide.  I thought the main lodge area might have wifi but it did not. I was okay with the idea of being separated from the online world for a while, but I had told a few people I would take to them that night, so I was hoping they wouldn’t worry. We went on guided walks looking at the flora and fauna and keeping an eye out for wild life. We visited a wildlife sanctuary, went Cayman spotting and on a night nature walk. We climbed a tree bridge that gave us an incredible view from the tree top. Since it was overcast the whole time I was there the weather was perfect and I didn’t have a problem with bugs. I had some pretty awesome people in my group, and luckily a few of them were taking the same night bus as I back to Cusco. Because of flights, we had to take the boat back to the main town quite early. Puerto Maldonado is not as big of a tourist town as Cusco, so it was nice getting a different view of Peru. I slept like a baby on the bus ride back, and this time no cops came aboard. The only bummer was we got back at 7am and you can’t check in until after 12, so we dropped off our bags, grabbed some breakfast and explored more around Cusco. This was it for me. I was going home the next morning. I bought any last minute trinkets and headed back to my room. I took a much needed shower and nap. Even though I slept on the bus, there is nothing like sleeping on a non-moving bed. I grabbed one last meal and hung out at the bar in my hostel one last time. I had an excellent time in Cusco. I was a little sad I wasn’t getting to explore more of Peru or South America, but I had been travelling for a long time and was ready to go home.

 

Machu Picchu

I arrived for my briefing the Tuesday before my Machu Picchu Trek. I met the other people I would be hiking with and my guide. We had 5 people in total. Two Greek girls, one lives in Zurich, the other in Edinburgh, and an Australian couple who were on their honeymoon. We were given the run down for our trek. Turns out I only needed to take my small day pack and carry my essentials. My clothes, toiletries, and anything else I needed would be carried in a duffel bag by a horse. My first backpacking experience was proving to be a fancy one. Not only was most of my stuff going to be carried for me, but I was going to have all my meals cooked for me, and they were going to be proper meals. No MREs or boiled noodles. We woke up bright and early the following morning. I decided to rent trekking poles because I wasn’t sure how my knee would handle the steep decline. The last time I did a steep decline was in Big Sur, it hurt quite a bit, and since I was going to have to hike for about 4 days I didn’t want to take any chances. I don’t know if it was the hiking poles, or better use of my brace, but my knee never hurt. The only thing that suffered on my trek was my feet, but I’ll get to that. After renting any last minute equipment we might need, we got into the van and started our journey up the mountain. We made one more stop in a town for any last minute snacks and breakfast. The hot chocolate I ordered was terrible. Awful. We needed to get toilet paper. Some toys to hand out to children we would see on our hike if we wanted to, and any other last minute snacks we wanted. We continued to drive up the hill and boy was the scenery pretty. The mountains were so jagged and majestic. They were green, brown, black, and had all sorts of grass grazers roaming the sides. It was a long drive to where our hike was beginning. We left Cusco at about 6:30, and didn’t start hiking until 11ish. The 5 of us hiked with our guide Percy, and our stuff was tied to the three horses who were lead by the horseman and accompanied by the cook and his assistant. The very beginning was quite steep, and I feel my breath shortening and my heart pounding. We started our hiked at about 12,000 feet. Maybe more. It eventually leveled out so we could catch our breath and rest. After a few hours, we stopped for lunch. The horses and crew had taken a road while we hiked on the trail, so by the time we showed up to camp they had a lunch tent set up and food was just about ready. We had juice, guacamole, trout, rice, really fancy food for a hiking expedition. I don’t usually eat this fancy while camping. We sat around for a bit after lunch to let everything digest and then started hiking again. We eventually did walk right through the middle of a small village and yes the kids saw us coming. They are used to hikers walking through their village and giving them treats of some sort. I had a few toys I had bought to give out, and then I shared my bag of M&Ms. I didn’t realize there would be so many kids. I would of brought all the gum my mom gave me and handed that out, but I had left it behind for the school kids. Our camp for the night was just at the outskirts of the village. I watched a girl run up a mountain and cross a creek just to get to us and see what we had. Luckily I had a few M&Ms left. It’s almost like a permanent Halloween for these kids. They live a simple life. Miles from anywhere. Definitely self sufficient. We did see a school, but they live in small homes, and no wifi. We arrived at camp around 5pm. I should of brought a deck of cards, but at least I had a book. The cook puts on a happy hour for us around 6 which is basically tea and crackers. Then we have another 3 course meal, and after we chat for a bit, discuss the following day, and return to our tents for bed. The first night I read for a bit and went to bed around 9 or 9:30. I froze all night. I tried really hard to sleep without socks so my feet could breathe, but I couldn’t take it any longer. I was wearing yoga pants and a ski thermal, and I froze. So I didn’t sleep so well. Our morning wake up call came around 5 or 5:30 with one of the helpers tapping on our tent, “Buenos Diaz Senorita, muna tea.” And I would unzip the tent and he would hand us a cup of hot muna tea. I was originally supposed to sleep in a tent by myself, but I ended up switching with one of the Greek girls because I thought it would be warmer. Day two of our hike was meant to be the hardest. We were going to summit to about 15000 feet before lunch. It was also the most beautiful day, besides Machu Picchu. It was freezing when we first left, but as soon as we started hiking and the sun peaked out from behind the jagged mountains the layers started coming off. One of the hardest things for me was going to the bathroom. It had been over 24 hours since I’d last had a proper toilet, and we had done quite a bit of walking. Squatting and trying to your business was not that easy. Our hearts were still pounding, so we took it slow. We admired the landscape, the llamas and alpacas. It was just us and nature and a few villagers. You would see the farmers in the hills running after their flock in sandals, and here we were in proper hiking attire, walking slowly, and about to keel over. It was a long slow hike up, especially the last part which was the most steep, but it was so worth it. The view of the Lares Valley was calming. After spending time is a busy, firework loving, car honking Cusco, it was nice to be in a more remote and peaceful part of Peru. I felt more connected to the country and what it represented. We left camp before the helpers had finished taking it down. They had packed up camp and zoomed passed us on the mountain. At the end of our trek I called them loco for running up the mountain. After summiting, we took a nice well deserved pow wow. Photos were taken, food was eaten and I stretched. We were going to descend basically everything we had just walked up and then some for the rest of the day. Lunch was after the initial decent. The view for lunch was probably my favorite of the hike. I did acquire a bit of a headache and had some coca tea with lunch and took an Advil. I felt better, and then proceed to whack my head on my way out of the lunch spot. So mixed with lots of walking and high altitude, my head was throbbing. We left lunch early because it had started to rain. It was only a light rain, and it stayed away just in time for us to reach our next camp for the night. It was on the edge of another village. We arrived at 4, but I had to take a nap. My head hurt. Plus it was raining, and there wasn’t much else to do. After happy hour and dinner, we retired to our tents for bed. This place had about as proper of a toilet you can have in the middle of the Andean Wilderness and helped alleviate some stomach cramps. We were awoken the following morning with the same wake up call. Buenos Diaz Senorita, Muna tea. I slept much better that night. I wore socks. I wore my yoga pants and rain pants. And I wore my ski thermal and a fleece. I was toasty. We were only walking half a day on day three. Once we reached Ollantaytambo for lunch, we would have the day to explore before taking the train to Aguas Calenites or Machu Picchu Pueblo. And for night 3 we would be staying in an actual hotel, where we wouldn’t freeze, a true bed, proper toilet and we could shower! It was a dream come true for my group. The hike into town was a downhill gravel road. And it destroyed my feet. Since I wasn’t able to let my feet breathe because there was a lot of horse poop around, so I always wore my boots, or it was cold so I always wore my socks, my feet looked like they had been in the shower for to long. I had blisters all over my toes, the one on my pinky made the toe double in size, and the balls of my feet. I think the worst part was the athlete’s feet I started to develop. It was tearing my sensitive skin. As soon as we reached Ollantaytambo, the boots and socks came off. I apologized for any offensive smells. We didn’t explore the town. In our defense it was pouring rain, but we were also beat, and my feet hurt. So we sat in the cafe and drank awful coffee until our train. The train ride was gorgeous. Even with its misty atmosphere. Our guide picked us up at the station and showed us our hotel. We had 20 minutes to shower before dinner. Luckily I had a room to myself. It was an amazing shower. And I was really excited that I could wear shorts and no socks to bed. We got back from dinner late. It was a great time, but we all missed our cook’s food. He was an amazing cook, and earlier that day we had said our goodbyes to our team except the guide. We went to bed around 10 or 10:30 that night and had a morning wake up call at 4:00am. The reason for our trip had finally arrived. We were going to Machu Picchu. Our guide did not knock on our hotel doors and hand us a cup of tea, but the hotel did provide us with a sack breakfast. Everyone looked clean and refreshed from our days in the Andes. We had to get in line for the bus which wasn’t leaving til 5:30. Even though we arrived at about 4:50, the line was already long, and we were on the 6th bus. The bus ride up was steep, windy and gorgeous. There were some people hiking up. We were glad that wasn’t us. We had done enough hiking, and still had some more to do at the site. We waited until the gates open at 6am, and watched the sunrise over Machu Picchu. Just like the Incas. We took some tourist photos, and our guide gave us the run down on the incomplete ruins. Thank goodness the Spanish never found it. We said our goodbyes to our guide, and decided to climb up to sun gate. Basically its another gigantic hill you climb, in the heat, to get an epic view of the site. Sun Gate is where the Inca Trail trekkers first see the ruins. It’s where the “sun first hits”. It was another long and hard hike, but beautiful. Everywhere you looked was beauty. Everything was so green, and ridged. We ate our lunch at the top and then made the climb back down. We took a few more tourist photos and decided we were ready to relax. After taking the bus down we grabbed lunch, did a bit of shopping in the market, and waited for our train. The next 3 to 4 hours were long. It was a train ride, and then an exceptionally long bus ride home. It was after 9pm when we got back to Cusco. And by the time we ate dinner and showered we all were going to bed close to midnight. It was a long but magical day. One I will remember forever.

Exploring around Cusco

I had a half day Friday. I left about an hour before my tour, so I had time to grab lunch and visit the ATM. It took me an hour to get home, traffic was horrendous, so I quickly changed and skipped the ATM and lunch. The tour guide was a 1/2 late picking me up so I would have had plenty of time to do the things I skipped. I used the last of my cash to get inside a church. I can go into detail about the Church and its history, but you can also google it. We got into the bus and made our way to some ruins just outside the city. Turns out I needed a lot of cash to buy a tourist ticket. There was no ATM nearby and no one took a card. I was going to have to sit on the bus for the entire tour when the bus driver decided to loan me some money. It was really kind of him. The ruins were beautiful and the history was kind of sad. The Spanish sort of annihilated the Incas and their traditions. It was a long tour with lots of sites to see, but I was also starving, and I started to get really cold. The tour ended, and I paid the bus driver back, got food and prepared for my quad tour in the am. The next day I left before breakfast, so I packed a few snacks. I was on a tour with all Remote Year people. They were friendly enough, but I was definitely the oddball. I was familiar with the quad. Peru is the 3rd country I have gone on a quad ride in. We road around some beautiful scenery. Saw some more ruins and a salt mine. I got extremely dusty, and we were gone all day. So now I had no breakfast or lunch, only my snacks. Overall it was a good day. After we returned from our adventure, the group of us went out to linner, and I made my way back to my place for a much needed shower. On Sunday I went river rafting. The guide retrieved me from my hostel and took me to the bus. We sat on the bus and drove around Cusco for an hour and then started our journey. When we arrived at the rafting spot, the guide told us we would zip line first. A few people didn’t go because they said it didn’t look safe. I thought it has to be safe because the company doesn’t want that reputation. A few people were hooked up wrong, and it wasn’t properly explained to me how to break. Everyone made it across. A different guide explained to me how to break, so the second zip line was a bit more enjoyable. Even though it was shorter. We then geared up for river rafting. I was in the boat where half spoke English and half spoke Spanish. The sun was hiding behind the clouds, but I had a great time. I sat up front and got extremely wet, but it was a blast. After river rafting, we had a delicious lunch and started the journey home. The journey home was awful. We got stuck in traffic like I had never seen, and I was exhausted. We were supposed to be gone for 6 hours and ended up being gone for over 10. And I think almost half of that was spent on the bus. I needed to do laundry before my trek, but that didn’t happen because we got home too late. I still enjoyed myself, but it had been a really long weekend. I spent my nights socializing in the bar in my hostel. I met some really cool people from all over the world, and my friends won the beer pong tournament. Meeting people is probably my favorite part about traveling. It makes me forget how terrible traffic is, or how exhausted I am.