Cotopaxi Trek

by Cassie, September 25th, 2010 | No Comments

Our hike to Cotopaxi started out with great promise. We had a beautiful sunny day on our first day, and we had great views of the mountains. However, the hike took a turn for the worse after that. The weather became cloudy and rainy, and we lost our great views of the mountains. The hike also turned out to be more of an adventure than we anticipated. We thought there might be a few places where it would difficult to find the route, but it ended up that it was pratically impossible to find the route for almost the entire hike. There wasn’t any well-defined trail, and parts of the route description in the guidebook just described hiking cross country from one point to another. As a result, we ended up getting lost a lot, but we eventually found our way. We decided to end the hike early and head back to Quito. Fortunately, we got a ride from a group of day trippers on their way back to Quito. Check out the photos.

We were hiking around Cotopaxi for a couple days, and this was the brief few minutes early in the morning when we actually saw the mountain without clouds

Back in Ecuador!

by Cassie, September 24th, 2010 | No Comments

It’s been seven years since I studied abroad in Ecuador, and it’s been a lot of fun wandering around Quito where I spent three months. Some things are just as I remembered them, but some things are different. One of my favorite things about Quito was weekends in Parque La Carolina. I would go for a run in the park watching all the people enjoying the park. The best part was a couple aerobics instructors that would teach a free class in the middle of the park for anyone who wanted to join. It was lots of fun to go back to the park and see that it was just as I remembered it. :)

Aerobics in the park!

One great new addition to Quito is the bike lanes along Amazonas. Every other Sunday, they actually close down Amazonas street for bikers. Last Sunday, we rented bikes and rode throughout the city. There were lots of other bikers out riding, taking advantage of the closed down streets.

Riding bikes in Quito

Riding bikes in Quito

Some of the changes in Quito have not been as great. Unfortunately, they tore down the old bus terminal in the Old Town of Quito. Now, there are two bus terminals, one for buses south of Quito and one for buses north of the city. Neither bus terminal is convenietly located. We took a bus to go on a hike around Cotopaxi, and it took us about 45 minutes to an hour in a taxi to get to the south bus terminal. The bus terminal was new and very nice, but it is very inconveniently located. It used to be so easy to go to the bus terminal in the Old Town. You could take the trole there in about 10-15 minutes, and then, you would be off to any part of Ecuador. Now, it is huge pain to travel by bus outside Quito.

Counterfeit coins in Peru

by Cassie, September 24th, 2010 | 2 Comments

The day before we left Peru, we tried to pay with one of our 5 soles coins, but we found out that it was a counterfeit coin. We could hardly tell the difference, but the person who took the coin immediately knew that it was fake. The counterfeiters have done a pretty good job making the fake coins, and it is impressive that they make coins instead of just using a copier for the bills. See if you can tell the difference between the real and the fake coins.

The real coin is on the left and the fake coin is on the right.

Machu Picchu!

by Jonathan, September 15th, 2010 | 1 Comment

We made it to Machu Picchu! We both thought it was really cool, even though we´ve seen the photos 1000´s of times.  We got there when it opened at 6, and left when it closed at 5.  We hiked up in the dark, so we could see the sunrise from the ruins.  It was a big pain, but turned out to be worth it.

Machu Picchu at sunrise

The rest of the photos are here:

http://www.grinnellgallery.com/photos/schmitzc/machu_picchu_1/

Lares Trek

by Cassie, September 15th, 2010 | No Comments

We had a great time on the Lares trek! It had everything: beautiful snow-capped mountains, glaciers, lovely alpine lakes, and traditional Quechuan communities with people herding sheep, llamas, and alpacas. Plus, we ended the hike at a lovely hot springs, perfect for soaking our sore muscles from climbing over high passes. Fortunately, the weather cleared up, so we didn’t get rained on at all. :) Check out the photos.

Beautiful view of snow-capped mountains and an brilliant blue alpine lake

Tomorrow, we leave Peru and fly to Quito!

Ollantaytambo

by Cassie, September 5th, 2010 | No Comments

We spent a day in Ollantaytambo exploring the town and the ruins of the fortress/temple. The name of the town is hard to pronounce, but I think I’ve finally got the hang of it just as we’re leaving. :)   Ollantay was an Incan general and tambo is the Quechua word for resting place. This was were people came to rest while traveling throughout the Inca empire. This was where Manco Inca made his final stand against the Spanish before retreating into the jungle. He even dammed the Urubamba River and released it as the Spanish were attacking the fortress. But, the Spanish managed to survive the flood, and Manco Inca was forced to retreat. Check out our photos. Tomorrow, we’re taking the train to Machu Picchu!

View of Ollantaytambo Temple/Fortress and town from Cerro Pinkuylluna

Inca Ruins

by Cassie, September 4th, 2010 | No Comments

It’s been amazing wandering around the Inca ruins in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. They built these amazing buildings using only bronze age tools. They fit enormous stone blocks together without mortar. The precision of the stonework in the temples and palaces is incredible. You cannot fit a knife blade in between the stones. It is unfortunate that the Spaniards dismantled so many of the Incan temples and built churches on top of them. In Cusco, the Dominicans built a church on top of the Sun Temple and kept some of the old Inca walls as part of the church structure. However, the walls were covered with stucco and paintings, and no one knew that Inca walls were still there. Then, the 1950 earthquake destroyed most of the new church construction, but the old Inca walls were revealed and undamaged by the earthquake. Now, the old Inca walls remain uncovered for tourists like us to admire. :)

Enormous limestone blocks at Sacsayhuaman fortress/temple outside Cusco

The Inca walls are amazing! They fit huge stones together without mortar. The fit between the stones is so tight that you can't put a penny between the stones.

It’s not supposed to be the rainy season yet!

by Cassie, September 3rd, 2010 | No Comments

We headed out on the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu a few days ago. It was raining a little bit when we left Cusco, but the rain let up when we arrived in Mollepata. When we headed out the next day, it was sprinkling, but it continued to rain the entire day and the entire night. By the end of the day, we were cold and wet, and we hoped that the weather would clear the next day.  However, the next morning the weather was the same, and both of us were suffering from some kind of stomach flu and didn’t feel well. Also, there was snow on the upper parts of the mountains the next morning, and we still had to go over a pass of 15,000 feet, which was probably covered in snow. So, we gave up and just headed back to Mollepata and caught a bus back to Cusco. The rainy season isn’t supposed to start until November, but it has been raining on and off ever since we arrived in Cusco. We’re hoping the weather will clear up and get back to normal, but it looks like there is more rain in the forecast. We traveled from Cusco to Ollantaytambo today, and things are looking better. It is warmer here, and the clouds cleared up this afternoon so we actually had some sun. We’re going to spend a little time here doing some day hikes and then we’ll take the train to Machu Picchu.

The morning after and the weather is still cold and rainy. There is an impressive mountain behind us, but it is shrouded in cloud.