Thursday, July 11, 2013

Peru: Hiking the Sun Gate Trail and Exploring Ollantaytambo

Welcome to Peru Week on Pro-Soup Propaganda! In case you missed it, this week I'm talking about my recent volunteer vacation to Peru with Conservation VIP and REI! Monday of next week I'll cover Jonathan and I's week on Easter Island.

Our time together was winding down by this time. These days were going to be the last full days that we were going to have together. I wanted to have fun every minute of it!

Sunday was our free day and several of us decided to hike Intipunku, the Sun Gate Trail. This is the last part of the Inca Trail, so it is often pretty busy with hikers and their porters. It's not too long, maybe just over a mile, but since the trail is alongside the mountain and out in the open, we knew it would be pretty hot. I was actually already not feeling well. I'd had a sore throat for a few days, but tried to rally myself and feel better. 

The hike in the beginning goes up...up...up...and then flattens out. We were calling it the "Shade to Shade" trail because we'd scurry from each shaded spot to the next, taking mini breaks along the way! The view was amazing because we were so high up! It was also the most clear morning that John from CVIP said he'd ever seen on these trips, so we felt pretty lucky since the last time we were at Machu Picchu it was so cloudy and foggy most of the day.

By the time we made it to the top I was feeling pretty bad, but successful because I'd still managed to do the hike with everyone. We got some great photos, as well. Unfortunately, the longer we hiked the worse I felt so while the rest of the group ended up staying the rest of the day at Machu Picchu I headed back to town and relaxed the rest of the afternoon. The next day my throat hurt so badly and I was spending so much time coughing that I stayed in bed most of the day, which was a bummer because the rest of the group did volunteer work in a local orchid garden and they said it was really pretty!

On our last full day together we started off by adventuring around Ollantaytambo. It was built by the Emperor Pachacuti in the mid-1400s. He took over the region and started building beautiful terraces and a temple containing the Wall of Six Monoliths. Royal families would come stay, so one can imagine how pretty the area is. If it's good enough for Inca royalty it's good enough for me! (I definitely suggest clicking on the Wikipedia link there and checking it out because the page is so interesting.)

We walked to the top of the terraces to the temple area. The most impressive part is the Wall of Six Monoliths, giant stone slabs perfectly connected together. We looked around the area for awhile and then headed back down into the town to do some sightseeing and find the guinea pig house.

Yup, you heard me right, we went to a house that was full of guinea pigs that we got to feed! The family that lives there were really nice and showed us many neat things, such as the stone that the woman used to grind seeds and grain into flour to cook or bake with. When we arrived at the house and stepped inside all of the guinea pigs went, "CUY! CUY!" which is why they are called cuys!

After we all had a chance to feed grass to the guinea pigs we left Ollantaytambo to head to Awana Kancha, a co-op on the way back to Cusco. Upon arrival we got to feed llamas, alpacas, and vicunas! They galloped up to us upon our arrival and greedily started snatching grass from our hands. After we ran out of grass they lost interest and left us alone. Fine!

My favorite part of being at the co-op was listening to a woman there speak about all of the natural things they use as dyes for the alpaca wool. I didn't realize that there were SO many colors that could be made from natural ingredients! She spoke beautiful Spanish and was very interesting and informative, even though I couldn't understand all of what she was saying. She was very emotive with her hands and you could easily follow along. After we heard her speak we went into the co-op's shop to look at all of the beautiful handmade textiles. If I wasn't saving for Antarctica I could have easily picked up a few of the sweaters and bedspreads I saw there! (And scarves, hats, gloves, etc...) I will just have to go back someday with some spending money!!

As we drove back to Cusco the sun was beginning to set. It was so beautiful and I had had such an amazing time with these people. I'm so thankful I was able to do this trip and learn about and see all the things we got to see and do!

We got back to the hotel and freshened up a bit before dinner. We had our last meal at a restaurant we'd enjoyed previously. It was sad to know that this was my last night with these people, but hopefully I am able to remain friends with them in the future and even travel with them!

If you have ever considered going to another country and volunteering, CHECK THIS TRIP OUT. I think about going back to Peru on a daily basis now and just need to figure out how I can make it happen! You will not be sorry you took a trip with CVIP and REI (or any other volunteer vacation, but I'm just stating my totally awesome experience ;o). 

If anyone has any questions about the trip I'd be happy to answer them!

The sun shines over Putucusi!

Made it!! (Just barely.)

I am sweaty and feel like dying here. Totally nervous.

Armida, picture of serenity!

Ollantaytambo terraces

Giant bromeliads

Wall of Six Monoliths

Hands down, one of the most beautiful places I've ever been

Obligatory tourist photo

This block was in the process of being smoothed

Mountain on the other side of Ollantaytambo

The museum and Inca gutters

Inca "barbed wire"


Nom nom nom!

Showing us how she grinds grain on her table

Pondering how awesome life is and how I can travel more...

Woolie buddies at the Awana Kancha!

Baby vicuna was very nervous but still managed to grab a little greens!

All of these wools were dyed with natural ingredients! AMAZING!!

The cochineal beetle that carmine is made from

Different things such as saliva and lime juice can make the carmine different colors

Driving back to Cusco

I'll miss you Cusco!

Tomorrow's post is about my solo trip to Lima for a few days! I got to meet an internet friend and see the Nazca Lines!!

Past posts:
Monday: Exploring Cusco and Sacsaywaman
Tuesday: Exploring Machu Picchu
Wednesday: Volunteering at Chachabamba and Being Forgotten by the Train

Check out the rest of my photos from my trip here!

Love reading about my adventures? Consider donating to my Smarty Pig fund! I'm saving up for a six week trip to Antarctica, Patagonia, Argentina, and Chile in January and February, 2014. Your donation can help me continue these adventures!


  1. What an amazing day! I LOVE the photo of you pondering! :) Also, HOW COOL is the carmine? So much knowledge in villages like this ... They'd probably freak if they saw the chemicals that Americans are around all of the time! Red 40??? No, just use carmine, a cricket, and some saliva!! ;) I'm looking forward to the rest of your adventure.

    1. Hey oh, look I'm replying to your comment four days later! Wheeeeee! ;o) The cochineal beetles were AWESOME. Like, I've read about them in books my whole life, so to see them in real life was so neat!

  2. Wow, what an incredible place!!! And those guinea pigs.. haha!

    1. They were soooo cute! I wanted to pet them, but they were only interested in food. ;o)

  3. Machu Picchu is definitely on my bucket list

  4. I'm sorry that you got sick on your trip. Big bummer! Those guinea pigs are awesome. I've never seen anything like that. And I love llamas. Seriously one of my favorite animals.

  5. Omg those guinea pigs and vicuna! I appreciate how honest you are about the amazing experience but also the reality of the physical toll at the same time

    1. Thank you! I just wanted to share my experience because I didn't think it looked too hard. I mean, it's pretty much flat with some stair areas, right? Noooo, SO HOT, ha ha!