TREKKING IN THE ANDES: Things I wish I’d have known

When I began my 5-day trek last month with Apus Peru, I didn’t know what to expect. I had done a bit of backpacking around the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and a 4-day trek in the Himalayas of Nepal, but I knew this would be a completely different experience.

Megan on a warm sunny stretch of the  Vilcambamba trek!

Megan on a warm sunny stretch of the Vilcambamba trek!

The first thing I noticed on my trek was the climate of extremes. In our 8-hour drive from Cusco to the starting point of the trek, we drove over a high mountain pass where I could see my breath in the thin cold air. A few hours later, we were in the jungle, eating bananas and sweating in the hot sun. In the Andes, the weather changes drastically from moment to moment, especially as the sun goes down. As soon as sunset is over, the temperature drops immediately to sub-zero Celsius. This means that, when trekking in the Andes, layers are essential. When we started trekking early each morning, I would shed my jacket, fleece, and thermal in the first thirty minutes of sunlight, eventually hiking in just a sleeveless top. Packing multiple layers that can be easily shed is a very smart move.

Camping at altitude - you need to be prepared!

Camping at altitude – you need to be prepared!

When I was sleeping up at the high-elevation sites, even equipped with a cold weather sleeping bag, I froze during the night. I’d definitely recommend renting a high altitude bag if you feel the cold! I remember waking up in the middle of the night shivering, even with a knit hat and gloves on. I would also recommend packing warm clothes even if it takes up room in your pack. You can send it with the mules during the day and use it at the campsite when the sun goes down. At Machu Picchu, however, the weather was scorching. In the humid jungle, when the sun is beating down, it gets very hot very quickly. I wore shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt, and still spent the day sweating my way around the ruins.

I almost did not bring a flashlight on my trek. That would have been a big mistake. In the Andes, the sun sets around 6:00pm every night, and its pitch black by 7:00pm. If I hadn’t brought a light, I could have run into some serious trouble with a misstep in the outhouse tent. A water bottle is another must; the cook boils water every night to fill the passengers’ bottles in the morning, and again at lunchtime. It’s important to stay hydrated after sweating out all of the liquid during the day, so one or even two water bottles should definitely be on the packing list. Another important item is bug spray. The insects are not an issue up in the mountains, but in the jungle they are relentless.

Our fabulous Guide Urbana, leading the way!

Our fabulous Guide Urbano, leading the way!

The terrain on our trek was a bit different than what I had expected. I had envisioned spending the first two days hiking exclusively uphill, then after crossing the summit hike downhill for the last two days.  Although my guide told me that this is the pattern on some treks, on the Vilcabamba to Machu Picchu route (http://www.apus-peru.com/treks/vilcabamba_machu_picchu.htm) we crossed multiple passes each day, going up for a few hours, then down for the next few.

Snowcapped Splendour!

Snowcapped Splendour!

This afforded us some incredible vistas more than once per day. These downhill sections were tough on the knees; I didn’t bring hiking poles, but they would have been very helpful during these times and I’d recommend renting the poles if you don’t have your own.  The major challenges I faced were bug bits, sunburn, and hunger. Apus provides snacks for mid-morning, and the meals are very filling, but I was still glad to have brought little chocolate crackers to tide me over while hiking and burning so many calories.

Nosey llama, early morning misty clouds and Machu Picchu!!

Nosy llama, early morning misty clouds and Machu Picchu!!

Hopefully this blog helps give you some more background to what you might need to bring. Although I could have been a little better prepared if I had known exactly what I would be facing, I had an incredible 5 days trekking with Apus. The trek exceeded my expectations and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

 

World Food Day 16th October

Today is World Food Day! World Food Day was endorsed in 1980 to acknowledge that “food is a requisite for human survival and well-being and a fundamental human necessity.” This is a day to highlight the global issues of starvation, malnutrition and poverty.

Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) used bright colours and organic forms to express a reconciliation of humans with nature, notions that echo this year’s World Food Day theme. Image courtesy of the Hundertwasser Foundation.

Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) used bright colours and organic forms to express a reconciliation of humans with nature, notions that echo this year’s World Food Day theme. Image courtesy of the Hundertwasser Foundation.

Unacceptably, some of the more isolated high Andean communities across the country struggle with these issues all too frequently.

One of the World Food Day objectives set by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) http://www.fao.org/getinvolved/worldfoodday/en/ is ‘to encourage the participation of rural people, particularly women and the least privileged categories, in decisions and activities influencing their living conditions.’

At Apus Perú our business is trekking the Andes. We do this on a ‘leave no trace’, sustainably and environmentally conscious basis. But what of the families whose paths we do cross? Those who live where we pass through?

Chaullacocha, Lares trek Photograph courtesy of Michael Marquand

Chaullacocha, Lares trek Photograph courtesy of Michael Marquand

From the onset, Apus Perú have supported local high Andean communities through the development and support of various projects from our mutual work with Threads of Perú, http://www.apus-peru.com/responsible-travel/community_projects.htm to our Annual Christmas Chocolatada: http://www.apus-peru.com/responsible-travel/christmas_chocolatadas.htm.

Every person who treks with Apus Peru donates $15 to Threads of Peru, or sustainability projects in the Andes.  Since starting out, Apus Peru has donated close to $50,000 to Andean communities with the direct intention of alleviating poverty and more specifically, acknowledging and supporting the role that empowered women can play in facing sub standard conditions.

Dana Blair, Project Coordinator for Threads of Peru meeting with the women weavers of Chaullacocha

Dana Blair, Project Coordinator for Threads of Peru in a business meeting with the women weavers of Chaullacocha

We firmly believe that the work we do with rural Andean communities greatly reduces the risk factors contributing to the core issues that World Food Day is all about. For more information about how Apus Perú and their partner NGO Threads of Perú address poverty in indigenous rural communities please visit: http://threadsofperu.com/missionandmodel/.

The women of Chaullacocha displaying some of their wares

The women of Chaullacocha displaying some of their wares

Now for a more ‘foody’ perspective… two staple produce of Perú; Quinoa and Potato, can be made into deliciously heart-warmingly, tasty recipes. Here are two of the best (and easiest) to try your hand at: 

Quinoa in plant form, beautiful, colourful and best of all .. tasty and good for you!

Quinoa in plant form, beautiful, colourful and best of all .. tasty and good for you!

Risotto de Quinoa. Ingredients:  onion, bacon, aji Amarillo, white, black AND red quinoa, (who knew?), chicken breast, salt, pepper, crema de leche (sour cream), cheese.

Now for the technique: Cover with cold water and bring the black, red and white quinoa to the boil until it is tender. Fry the chicken breast and cut it in parts. Fry the bacon, onion and aji Amarillo and put the quinoa in it. Add salt and pepper and fry it for a few seconds in the crema de leche. Serve on a plate with the chicken on top with a sprinkle of cheese for the final taste! YUM!

Delicious: boiled potatoes in a creamy, spicy sauce

Delicious: boiled potatoes in a creamy, spicy sauce

For the Papa Huancaina click on this page for a visual step by step recipe treat! http://perudelights.com/papa-a-la-huancaina/

Then once you have finished your delicious plates of Peruvian goodness, consider this for suggestions on how to limit your food waste: http://www.greenworks.co.za/reducefoodwastepage.html

Eat thoughtfully! Happy Trekking!!

UN Food and Agriculture Organisation

UN Food and Agriculture Organisation

Fascinating shapes and sizes of… Non-potato Andean Tuber Crops

Peru, and the Andean region in general, is famous for its incredible variety of potatoes.  A lesser known fact is that the Andes are home to a great diversity in tubers in general, many of which receive little attention outside of Peru, or even a specific region.

A beautiful and intriguing variety of oca and other andean tubers, variety is the spice of life!

A beautiful and intriguing variety of oca and other andean tubers, variety is the spice of life!

In addition to potatoes, tubers such as oca, lisas (or ulluco) and mashua (or añu or isañu) are very popular in local dishes and prominently featured in local markets.  Much like potatoes, oca, lisas and mashua are pre-Inca crops, and an important part of the Andean diet.  Here is a little more about each:

Oca- Here in Cusco, oca is left to sit in the sun for approximately a week to sweeten before eating.  Once ready, it is used in soups and a variety of other dishes.

Lovely Sweet Ocas....  que rico!

Lovely Sweet Ocas….
que rico!

Lisas- Lisas are very popular in soups and dishes such as aji de lisas.  It´s leaves are also edible and very nutritious.

Lisas!

Lovely Luscious Lisas – que rico!

Mashua- Like oca, mashua has a stronger, peppery taste when raw.  It is also commonly left in the sun for some time to sweeten its flavor.

A woman at market holds a basket of mashua, on left, and oca on the right

A woman at market holds a basket of mashua, on left, and oca on the right

So get exploring the markets and sampling the differing, delectable, delights of the Peruvian tuber family! “Buen Provecho!”

Celebrate Christmas at Machu Picchu 2013!

Maybe Machu Picchu has always been on your ‘bucket list’? Well why not fulfil that dream and tick it off your list this Christmas holiday?

Machu Picchu at first light as the clouds clear

Machu Picchu at first light as the clouds clear, foto courtesy of Megan Malley

Submerse yourself in the fabulous Peruvian culture that celebrates Christmas with a mix of Catholic and Andean beliefs.

Bustling Christmas Markets in the Plaza de Armas

Bustling Christmas Markets in the Plaza de Armas

Apus Peru have carefully designed special Christmas itineraries and tour packages that enable you to either visit Machu Picchu at Christmas, which many people say has a uniquely spiritual feeling, or participate in a special once a year trek that really centres on the ‘gift of giving’.

Hot Chocolate time at our Andean Community Christmas Chocolatada

Hot Chocolate time at our Andean Community Christmas Chocolatada

Other features of the Christmas itineraries highlight the mysterious city of Machu Picchu and cosmopolitan Cusco, where you can participate in a typical Peruvian event, like the Selling of the Saints market in Cusco.

Selling of the Saints a typical Cusqueño Yuletide festivity

Selling of the Saints a typical Cusqueño Yuletide festivity

Absorb the wonders of Incan archaeolgoical sites within the Sacred Valley like Moray, as well as participating in a local community project in Urubamba.

Get away this Christmas and make the most of your Christmas break, or vacation period by taking a holiday in Peru and experiencing a very different culture from your own!!

Apus Peru provide unique ‘sample’ itineraries which make a solid foundation for any visitor’s exploration to Peru. From these foundations you are able to create your own itinerary through the addition of:

  • Selecting one of four different travel styles, that offer the same itinerary but different accommodation and meal options.
  • Upgrading your culinary experience.
  • Adding in Lima, Nazca, Arequipa or Lake Titicaca extensions according to the time available.
  • Add a trek to non-trekking itineraries.

Here are our links to the varied and exciting packages that could make this Christmas a very special and memorable one for years to come: Happy Holidays!

http://www.apus-peru.com/tours/a-very-different-christmas.htm

http://www.apus-peru.com/tours/a-machu-picchu-christmas.htm

http://www.apus-peru.com/tours/cusco_christmas_packages.html

Apus Perú, Mosqoy & Marco!

It was International Youth Day on 12th August, so we thought we would post this to acknowledge the day and let you know a little of what we get up to ‘behind the scenes’

Amongst our other contributions to the local community and sustainability (see this link for details of our projects http://www.apus-peru.com/responsible-travel/community_projects.htm), Apus Perú are currently supporting a Mosqoy student here in Cusco to achieve his dream of becoming a professional in International Business Administration.

Here’s a little about the Mosqoy organisation… Mosqoy means dream in Quechua and was founded in the Peruvian Andes in 2006, by Canadian and Peruvian youth. Their mission in Peru is to “help break the cycle of poverty that impacts the indigenous Quechua people of the Andean mountains by providing post-secondary educational opportunities for the region’s promising youth”. Their mission links in very nicely with our approach of seeking out projects which recognize that insiders (Andean Peruvians) and outsiders (foreigners) all have strengths and weaknesses – and that by working collaboratively we can reach best practice. As Mosqoy appropriately quote ‘hand-up instead of a hand-out.’

For many of the higher Andean communities the cycle of poverty is escalating while their traditional way of life is increasingly threatened. Mosqoy´s aim is for this to be alleviated by providing students in Peru with opportunities for advanced education, enabling Andean youth to possess the tools necessary to be local leaders and role models! A philosophy that is core to our commitment to making a positive and sustainable contribution to the quality of life for rural Andean communities. Our donation is part of our contribution to education in the Andes.

A Mosqoy graduate working hand in hand with women of Rumira Sondormayo on a hygiene capacitacion in preparation for the arrival of international guests in August and September of this year.

A Mosqoy graduate working hand in hand with women of Rumira Sondormayo on a hygiene capacitacion in preparation for the arrival of international guests in August and September of this year.

Now for the ‘on the ground’ impact: Our student is called Marco. Marco’s family is from a village called Pallata, located 7km above Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. His father is a famer and his mother an “alma de la casa” or house mother. He has 4 brothers and sisters. This year, Marco has had one of the most difficult years of his life, as his family is struggling financially. Ever resilient, whilst studying, Marco continues supporting the family in whatever way he can, usually taking short term work contracts during school holidays.

As well as his educational commitments, Marco is an active member within Mosqoy’s volunteer service. He has hiked to several communities with their textile coordinator to translate between Quechua and Spanish. Most recently, he hiked up to Cancha Cancha (a small community above Huaran, reached on day 1 on the Traditional Lares trek http://www.apus-peru.com/treks/lares.htm) to translate for over 20 weavers. He also worked with his peer Rolando to create a beautiful presentation about the history, industry, and customs of his community of Pallata.

Cancha Cancha Community

Cancha Cancha Community

He is well on his way to achieving his goal and he expects to graduate in 2014.
Marco’s education will be sponsored by Apus Perú whilst he is studying with Mosqoy.
For more information on the Mosqoy organisation and how to get involved click here:

http://mosqoy.org/about-us/

Arequipa!

Arequipa, the White City or ‘la Cuidad Blanca’.

Founded on 15 August 1540 by Manuel Garcia de Carbajal, Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city and it is located at 2325 metres (8792 feet) above sea level. How did Arequipa get its name you may ask!? One story is that the Inca general Mayta Capac stopped in the valley and being so moved by its beauty said ‘Are quepay’ – ‘stay here’. Another story is that the Aymara Indians living in the valley called it ‘Ariquipa’ – the place behind the pointed mountain, meaning Misti.

Courtesy of Isaiah Brookshire

Courtesy of Isaiah Brookshire

Arequipa, Plaza de Armas clock tower. It isn’t possible, nor advisable, to visit Arequipa without whiling away at least a couple of hours soaking up the beautiful Plaza de Armas in the centre of the city. Its central clock tower, pictured here at night, palms and pigeons and the hustle bustle of cafes and restaurants within the old colonial archways are a lovely relaxing setting. On a good clear day, of which Arequipa famously has a lot, you can see the Mount Misti towering over this beautiful Plaza in the distance.

Courtesy of Isaiah Brookshire

Courtesy of Isaiah Brookshire

Courtesy of Isaiah Brookshire

Courtesy of Isaiah Brookshire

Here we have down town Arequipa, within easy wanderings on foot from the centre. You can see how Arequipa got its nick name ‘the white city’ built largely from the white volcanic stone, sillar, from the 3 surrounding volcanoes, of which Misti is one. Many old colonial houses have now been made into banks and shopping malls, admire a wholly ‘arequipeño’ architecturural style, a pleasure to walk around. 

Courtesy of Isaiah Brookshire

Courtesy of Isaiah Brookshire

Courtesy of Isaish Brookshire

Courtesy of Isaish Brookshire

Not far from the Plaza, this is Santa Catalina. A restored convent established in 1579 and now open to the public. It is totally surrounded by imposing high walls; somewhat of a city within a city. The nuns of the Dominican second order, who lived in the convent led a completed secluded life. There are currently around 20 nuns still in residence, confined to a small section, with the remaining space open to the public to explore. Characterised by vividly painted walls, an enchanting and fascinating part of living history to witness. A peaceful sanctum.

Courtesy of Isaiah Brookshire

Courtesy of Isaiah Brookshire

Happy Trekking!

Stop Press…! October Trek Discounts

In this month of Pachamama (August) we are offering a 5% discount on all new treks booked for October. Offer valid only until 31st August 2013.

So whether its the magnificent Ausangate 5 day trek,

Thank you to Michael Mossop for this Fantastic foto!

Thank you to Michael Mossop for this Fantastic foto!

our awesome Salkantay to Machu Picchu 5 day trek,

Apus Peru Salkantay treks feature breathtaking natural scenery

Apus Peru Salkantay treks feature breathtaking natural scenery

one of our cultural Lares Treks, with a visit to the amazing thermal pools in Lares,

Thank you to Lynn Dao for this beautiful foto along the Lares route

Thank you to Lynn Dao for this beautiful foto along the Lares route

or the Classic Choquequirao route, to name but a few,

Thank you to Mark Asbury for this amazing foto

Thank you to Mark Asbury for this amazing foto

start your trek planning and book before August 31st to trek in October for our 5% discount! For more information contact your sales consultant. Happy Trekking!