Browse Month

September 2016

Hiking Rainbow Mountain

Once upon a time, a great rainbow fell from the sky and landed in the mountains of Peru. Well, at least it could have happened and it sure does look so, but there is a more scientific explanation behind this amazing destination. So how is this surreal mountain?

Located 3 hours by car or bus from Cusco, Rainbow Mountain or Vinicunca as it’s named in Spanish, is a really colorful mountain ridge located 5100 meters above sea level. Even though the crowds are increasing each year, it’s still not very touristic so you can get a really nice day in the Andes mountain without crowds worth mentioning. The reason why it’s not very crowded is that it’s a pretty challenging hike: you hike from 4200 meters up to 5100 meters, so you will get short of breath of even suffer from headache and nausea. But does good things come easy? I don’t think so. It doesn’t matter if it’s mountains, work, sports or relationship – if you want success, you have to commit!

I was picked up by a van at 3 AM in Cusco and we set course towards Vinicunca. The first 1,5 hours the roads were OK, but the other half of the ride they get really curvy and bumpy. Especially the last hour, it’s only dirt road with steep cliffs down in the valley. I actually puked twice on the ride, but I’m very sensitive for motion sickness. So I reached the starting point a little out of shape, you could say.

We arrived around 7 AM and it was freezing cold, but that changed as the sun came up shortly after. A quick breakfast and we were ready to go – a group of approximately 15 people. If you want, you can rent a horse in the start and it takes you almost to the top, leaving only 10 minutes of hiking. Since I felt really bad, I actually rented a horse but ditched it after 1 kilometer. If you have two legs, why don’t you use them?

We were really lucky with the weather so it was warm and mostly blue skies, though they said it could be freezing cold. About 2,5 hours later we stood on the top and the view was amazing! So was also the view along the hike where you could see the Ausangate mountain with an altitude of ca 6 380 meters above sea level. We spent around 30 minutes at the top, and then set up a pretty high pace on the way down. The longer you stay in the high altitude – the bigger the risk for getting sick with headache and nausea!

After a quick lunch in the “basecamp” we set course towards Cusco again. This time no motion sickness and to actually see the roads we were driving on this morning was really amazing and sometimes almost a little scary too.

I truly encourage you to do this if you are in the Cusco area. It can be tough, but I can ensure you it will be worth it.

Tips
– Spend at least 2 full days and night in Cusco to acclimatize. I stayed one week!
– Bring water, minimum 2 liter preferably 3.
– Bring snacks! You get a small breakfast, but you will need some fast energy along the hike. Carbohydrates keeps the altitude sickness away together with water.
– Bring clothes for all seasons, we are talking high altitude mountains after all.
– Negotiate the price in Cusco. You should not pay more than 90 Soles = around 27 US Dollar.
– If you don’t feel hiking the entire way, share a horse with another person. Some people in our group did.

Enjoy!

PS! Don’t forget to follow my instagram @johantravelstheworld and snapchat JohanTravelsTheWorld for more frequent updates. Blogging while traveling and on weak WIFI-connections is a bit tough from time to time 🙂

Alpacas

Rainbow Mountain

Ausangate mountain

 

Killing time in Cusco

After one week in the city and area of Cusco I find it about time to write some words about this place. Even though I was here a couple of days before going to Machu Picchu, I’ve deliberately been waiting with my “sentence” on this place. I thought it would be more fair to pick my words right before leaving, instead of right after arriving.

Cusco is located in the Andes mountain range on an altitude of 3400 meters above sea level. As I disembarked the flight from Lima (which is on sea level) it only took me a few minutes to feel the altitude. I got a little dizzy, but luckily enough it didn’t last for more than half an hour – which I was really glad for. Many people suffer from altitude sickness when they arrive in Cusco. Headache and nausea for a couple of days is some what normal they say. The only medicine is actually time – give your body time to adapt to the thin air. There are other tricks that can help like drinking lots of water and eat food rich on carbohydrates. And also, not to forget, here in Cusco they offer you coca tea and to chew coca leaves. Coca leaves you say? Yes, it’s the ones they make cocaine from. Rumors say it helps against altitude sickness, though there is no documented research supporting it. I have been drinking the tea, but chosen to stay away from the leaves. I think it’s just placebo and don’t want to fall victim to this gimmick which I believe is just a way of commercializing even more on the tourism here. Speaking of tourism by the way – how is the city?

Cusco is the center for tourism and adventure in Peru. The city it self is not so impressive I would say, but the surrounding areas are. Here you  can visit high mountains, deep valleys, jungle, ruins and of course Machu Picchu. Totally I’ve spent a week in here, with 2 days in the Machu Picchu area. If you ask me, it’s more than enough! Perhaps you need 1-2 days to acclimatize to the altitude and then 4-5 days to some nearby trips or maybe a mountain trek. The city does not have much to offer: some architecture, ruins, average food, a big scenic square and all this you can actually do in a day. The reason I’ve spent almost a week here is to acclimatize to a coming high altitude mountain summit. The days have been filled with hiking the surrounding mountains which more look like hills, eating food, relaxing and spending time with some really great people in the hostel. Here I’ve met som really nice people from France – au revoir, amigos. And also, the local market has been visited every day. A full worthy big, tasty and healthy meal for 1,7 US dollar is just amazing.  It’s been a great week in this very touristic city and I definitely recommend to visit, due to the surrounding attractions. Now this restless soul is ready to move on.

Tonight is (hopefully) my last night in Cusco. 03.00 AM the coming night I’m leaving to summit a really high mountain, Vinicunca on 5100 meters above sea level. The hike it self is not very technical, but the high altitude will be really challenging and I’m expecting headache and in worst case also vomiting. At the same time, I know that my fitness level is far above average and so is my experience with hiking, mountains and high altitude. Though, I choose to be humble because you never know how you will react to extreme altitudes and I know from earlier that it can be a nightmare. Fingers crossed! The reason I wrote “hopefully my last night in Cusco” is that the plan is to leave Cusco for Bolivia tomorrow with the night bus at 10.30 PM – on the one condition that my head is not too bad after the long day tomorrow. Time will tell!

A small curiosa: I must say that I really start to enjoy the nomadic life. The freedom and not having any duties is something I wish everyone will experience at least once in their lives. I will just go where the flow takes me, or the night bus.

Cusco

 

Wonder what the wonder Machu Picchu is like?

Probably you have heard of the “Seven wonders of the world”. Nowadays there are actually so many lists of wonders that you could get confused by less; seven ancient wonders, new wonders, natural wonders, city wonders, industrial and on it goes. Though, I believe the one wonder that many people has on top of their bucket list when it comes to these wonders is Machu Picchu. At least I had this one on the top, so you could say that I went there with pretty high expectations. So how was it?

For those of you in a hurry: it was touristic, lots of mosquitos and totally fantastic! If you are a little more interested and maybe even planning to visit MP one day, you should keep on reading for another two minutes.

What is actually Machu Picchu?
It’s an ancient Inca village built on a mountain 2,430 meters above sea level in Peru, close to the city of Cusco. Archaeologists believe it was built around 1450 and it was inhabited for about 100 years, when the Spanish came and conquered Peru. Even though they never found MP, they brought diseases which spread and wiped out the entire MP-people. It wasn’t actually until 1911 when the American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered it that it got international attention. Since then, it’s been claimed both a Unesco World Heritage and one of the “New seven wonders of the world”.

How to get there?
There are different ways:
– you can trek the famous Inca Trail. Limited places and I think you have to book this about one year before going.
– you can trek the Salkantay Trek which is a 5 days / 4 nights trek. Pretty popular and said to be a nice experience.
– you can go by train or bus, and in this way make it a day-trip. I did this due the bad weather forecast and to save some time.

What did I think of it and what to expect?
I decided to do this as a day-trip, even though I was keen on trekking the Salkantay but the weather forecast was very wet the coming days. 4 AM in the morning a minibus picked me up in Cusco for a 2 hour drive to Ollantaybambo. From here we took the train, Inca Rail, along the Urabamba River and valley for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. A very scenic train ride and the train was super comfortable – which it should be considering the price, coming back to that later. We arrived in a small village named Agua Calientes or also called Machu Picchu village, finally almost there! Immediately when disembarking the train I got the feeling “tourist trap”. It was so commercial and touristic! After walking one minute from the train station I saw a line, approximately 200 meters long and I thought: “That can’t be mine – this is low season!”. I was wrong. That was the line to the buses taking us a little more than 400 meters straight up to MP. Fortunately the line went pretty fast and the bus ride took only 20 minutes on steep dirt roads with amazing scenery giving a hint of what to come. So at around 10 AM we were finally there!

There were no lines worth mentioning getting in to MP. Everything was smooth and they separated Spanish-speaking people from English-speaking and matched with respective guides. It was only a 3-4 minute walk/hike from the entrance until you came to the “post card view area” – and then it was worth every single dollar and second. It was breathtaking! The combination of mighty nature with lots of peaky mountains and an impressive architecture was just amazing. It looks so big and unreal when standing there. But don’t get fooled by the outside – it was built in very smart ways too. How they had built regarding rain, humidity, erosion, draining, to keep warm and so on was really amazing. All this of course I would never find out without the guide. The guided tour took 2 hours and you walk through the entire “maze” and I definitely recommend a guided tour or else you won’t understand much of it – than just to admire it’s beauty.

The weather was good and after the guided tour, the crowds were no concern anymore. It swallows a lot of people and also many left after the guided tour, since they had a train ticket back to Cusco. MP closes at 5 PM so I had 5 hours exploring on my own, but luckily I was companioned by Ahn from California and Kari from Hong Kong. So we strolled around admiring and absorbing this wonder of the world for another 4 hours in good weather together with some other people and lots of lamas just walking free.

After all, this was a really good experience. Yes, it’s very touristic – but what amazing place is not any more? I guess we can both thank and blame Mark Zuckerberg for that. I choose to thank him making the world a smaller and more open place to live. It’s a long day getting back and forth but really worth it. It’s perhaps the most amazing place I’ve ever been and I’ve been to a few.

Just feel free to ask me if you have any questions. Below I will sum up som tips I’ve collected during both planning and doing this trip

Tips
– Go in the dry season if you want good weather and clear views, June – September. More crowded but I would recommend it compared to be there in rain and low hanging clouds.
– Mosquito spray!!! There are lots of mosquitos there and to put it this way: I have lots of itching memories on my body after MP.
– Book in advance. The train tickets are limited per day and get sold out fast in the high season. I was very lucky getting a ticket just one day before going there.
– It’s expensive, about 220 USD for the day trip so don’t get shocked. I think it’s a lot for a tourist place, but still worth it. What drives the cost are the train tickets. A return trip is about 140 USD I think.
– The day-trip is definitely OK, but if you are fit enough and in the high season so you have a “guarantee” for good weather I would recommend the Salkantay Trek.
– Don’t forget your passport. I honestly think I had to show it at least 10 times collecting tickets, boarding trains, buses and entering MP.

Machu Picchu