Usually when I write these postcard posts, I end up writing way more than you’d find on the back of a 3X5 piece of paper. This time, I’ll make it quick. Last week my wife and I headed up to the sunny San Juan Islands for a little camping. We found a nice spot by a lake on Orcas Island and settled in for a couple of days of hiking, reading, and getting sun burned. This trip marks a shift for me personally and professionally (more on that in a future post) and it was a wonderful opportunity to breathe some fresh air. Life is moving quickly and I’m having trouble finding the words to sum it all up so I’ll end here and leave you with a couple more photos to enjoy. Cheers!
This week, I’m hitting the road and taking my office to the rugged beaches of southern Oregon. I’m looking forward to sweeping views of jagged sea stacks and bleached driftwood peeking over the top of my laptop. Who knows, I might even take the occasional break to do some hiking and kayaking too. I know, it’s a hard life. Continue reading
Primordial rainforest thick with strange bamboo and the spreading canopies of big trees. Rugged mountains flanked by black glaciers and streams that run as green as jade. Deep valleys cut by icy blades and filled with lakes bigger than most cities. This is Patagonia, the end of South America and to me, it felt like the end of the world. Continue reading
The country of Chile runs 2,700 miles down the Pacific coast of South America, from the arid reaches of the Atacama Desert in the north to the bitterly cold waters of the Drake Passage in the south. Almost smack-dab in the middle, you find the capital city of Santiago.
Maybe I’ve been gone for too long, but from the moment I left the airport, I got the feeling that I was home. I don’t know if it was the avocados, the wine, or the laid-back coastal vibe, but Chile — Santiago especially — felt like this crazy upside-down version of California. The landscape was familiar, the climate was too, and parts of Santiago could blend seamlessly into Los Angeles or San Francisco. Continue reading
It’s dry here. Drier than almost any other place on earth. You would have to go to some of the alien landscapes in the interior of Antarctica to find a place with less rainfall. On the bus ride from Arequipa to Tacna — a Peruvian outpost on the border with Chile — I couldn’t help but think the closest thing I had ever seen to the Atacama Desert were the photos sent back from Mars rovers. Sometimes the bus would travel for an hour without passing a single blade of grass or scrubby bush. The hills and mountains looked like barren and unmovable sand dunes of shale. Where we encountered life, it clung tightly to the sides of small rivers; desperate for water and shade. Continue reading
Colonial Arequipa was built from stones that look like they came from another planet and has a vibe like no other place I’ve visited in Peru. On the surface, this city with it’s gridded streets and familiar plaza-centric structure shouldn’t feel any different, but walking through it brought back more memories of southern Spain than Cusco or Puno. Continue reading
Four days ago I watched the outskirts of Cusco disappear in the rearview mirror of the bus. In these short few days of travel, I’ve already covered several hundred miles and visited two cities. The first was Puno, a town people visit mostly because it is on Lake Titicaca. The funny thing was, I never even got on the lake. Continue reading
I’m writing this post from a bus on my way to Puno and Lake Titicaca in southern Peru. Before my wife and I get caught up in the busyness of our travels through Peru, Chile, and Argentina, I thought I would take some time to reflect on the last five months and say goodbye Cusco. Continue reading
Hey everybody, I know I haven’t written a postcard for a couple of weeks so I wanted to make this one really special. This week I have a video postcard to share and this one documents my trip to a curry house.
You might not think of Cusco, Peru as a place to eat curry but trust me, one can only eat so many potatoes and guinea pigs before you’re desperately searching for food from any continent other than South America — food with a little more flavor, food with a little more spice.
When we showed up at Korma Sutra curry house in the San Blas neighborhood, I got exactly what I was looking for. Apparently this restaurant is famous for a particularly spicy curry. One so spicy that you get a beer and a certificate of achievement if you can finish it. Of course I had to try. You can watch the video to see if I walked away with my prize or broke down in tears.
This last week was so full of adventure I am not sure where to start. I could talk about my visit to an organic farm, long walks in the Sacred Valley, visiting churches and temples, or hiking 11 miles above Cusco to see ruins.
I think, for the sake of brevity and my sanity, the place I will start is the one place everyone seems most excited to hear about. Machu Picchu is the more-or-less lost city of the Incas that splays out on a sloping hillside above the Urubamba River.
There are three ways to reach this wonder of the world. You can, if you are lucky enough to get one of the few coveted permits, hike to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail. However, the majority of people take the train, which costs somewhere between $70 and $450 depending on how much luxury you want to travel in. The third option is to travel a precarious road around the backside of Machu Picchu to a hydroelectric plant and then walk or ride a local train the rest of the way.
My wife and I, along with my brother, my sister, and my friend Ben, chose the last option. That is how we found ourselves in the back of a Toyota hatchback bouncing down a road to the small town of Santa Maria located about 100 miles outside of Cusco.
When we pulled into Santa Maria the driver turned off the main road and onto a dirt road towards Santa Teresa, another small village on the way to Machu Picchu. The road followed the Urubamba River and rose steadily for a few miles. Soon the canyon began to narrow and the road climbed higher on the cliffside.
At some points the canyon wall was almost completely sheer. It was so steep that the road looked like a three-sided tunnel. There was canyon wall above, below, and on one side. On the other side loose gravel tumbled a thousand feet or so to the river below. (To see a video of this trip click here)
After about a half hour of tense driving, the canyon widened and the road switchbacked down to Santa Teresa. As we continued to the hydroelectric plant we saw the scars of past floods of the valley floor. Huge boulders were piled on top of each other and the remains of concrete suspension bridges stood twisted in the middle of the river.
Peru is famous for its variety of ecosystems. During the few hours we spent in the car, we passed from a steamy valley to a dusty canyon and back to a lush river valley. As we approached the first hydroelectric work the landscape was overwhelmed by thick vegetation and lush jungle crept toward us.
We unloaded our car and began the 10 kilometer walk along train tracks to Aguas Calientes — base camp for most visitors to Machu Picchu. Our hike included about 1,000 feet of climbing from 5,800 to 6,800 feet above sea level, but after living in Cusco (11,000 feet above sea level) I hardly noticed it.
The train tracks took us right along the river. The air was humid but not stifling and it was filled with birdsong. We passed many small settlements where women sold drinks and snacks to refresh hikers. The sun had fallen behind the mountains by the time Aguas Calientes was in sight but its light was still reddening the clouds above us. We found our hotel, took showers, grabbed some food and turned in early.
The next morning we woke up before 4 a.m., ate a quick breakfast at the hotel, and walked down to the bus stop. By 5:30 the bus was slowly climbing the Hiram Bingham Highway to Machu Picchu. A few minutes later and I was sprinting up stone steps to an overlook where I hoped to capture sunrise.
As I ran, I had two things on my mind; reaching the top before sunrise and before other photographers snagged all the good spots. When I scrambled over the last stair and onto a terrace with a panoramic view of the ruins I realized my race was pointless.
The high mountains around Machu Picchu pushed sunrise back about half an hour further than I had expected and unlike so many other famous places I have visited, there wasn’t another photographer in sight. In fact by the time the sun came up, there weren’t even that many people at the ruins.
Compared to a place like Angkor Wat, the contrast was shocking. There hundreds of photographers with insane amounts of expensive gear had turned up before dawn to shoot sunrise over the famous temple. Here I was one of two people who even bothered to bring a tripod.
After lots of group photos overlooking the ruins we started exploring with the help of our guide. I think the thing I found most interesting about Machu Picchu and the Inca Empire is how little people actually know about it. For instance, depending on who you ask, Machu Picchu could be a fortress, a temple, a convent, a palace, a vacation home, or even a portal for communicating with beings from other worlds.
Our guide preferred simple answers and said he thought it was just another city, albeit a city with an amazing view and likely some importance within the empire. Try as I might, I couldn’t convince him that it was actually a military base where royal warrior nuns trained to fight extraterrestrials.
The other thing that caught my attention was how recent the Incan civilization actually was. Some of the most famous ruins around Cusco were only 30 years old when the Spanish put the Incas’ empire building to an end by doing some of their own.
After we finished exploring the ruins, we opted for the thousand or so feet of stairs that lead down from Machu Picchu to the valley floor instead of taking the bus to Aguas Calientes. Once we reached the river we crossed to the other side and followed the train tracks in the opposite direction we had the day before.
At one of the small outposts along the tracks we paid a few soles to enter a large garden that included two beautiful waterfalls and an abundance of greenery. The woman who owns the gardens also runs a small restaurant where we stopped for lunch. It had a great view of the Urubamba River and cozy picnic tables.
We hiked back to Aguas Calientes along the rails. By this time most of the group was footsore and tired so we found some park benches to nap on before we caught the train back to Ollantaytambo that night. Even though it was dark, the train ride is worth describing because of how bizarre it was.
The ride home was set to a soundtrack of thumping Peruvian techno. This was punctuated occasionally by native dancing in the aisles. About halfway through the ride, the staff donned expensive clothes woven with alpaca wool and proceeded to have a fashion show in the middle of the train. Keep in mind that I was half asleep for most of this which made it one of the more surreal travel experiences I’ve ever had.
We pulled into the Ollantaytambo station around 8 p.m., and were able to find a cleanish hostel for about $10 a person. We went out to dinner close to 9 p.m., and I think just about everyone was falling asleep in their plates. I don’t remember much after that except collapsing into bed. It had been a very full day.
(If you would like to see a map of our journey click here)
My friend Ben Ayers made this cool video of our travels from Ollantaytambo to Hidroeléctrica (a.k.a. the back door to Machu Picchu). If you want to avoid the $70+ train ticket to Machu Picchu, it’s the only way to go. Hope you enjoy the video!
The cast of this video includes myself, Ben, my brother Nate, my sister Gabrielle, my wife Sonya, and our guide Abel.
Update: A video of the second part of our journey is now up. Thanks again to Ben Ayers.