Category Archives: hiking

Ecuadorian highlands: Cuenca to Quito

16,000 miles in the shadow of Volcan Chimborazo

16,000 miles in the shadow of Volcan Chimborazo

I am happy to report that our days of torrential rain in Ecuador are behind us. Since we last updated, we spent a mostly restful day in Cuenca, five challenging days of riding on the PanAmerican highway, and two fun (but not very restful) days in Quito. We have been able to do longer days without the rain and mudslides, but our constant companions, wind and mountains, are still with us. First, some pictures from our lovely day in Cuenca. Everything was closed because it was a Sunday (yet again!!), but we still did a good deal of wandering.




Leaving Cuenca was surprisingly easy. We flew downhill on a huge highway, taking up a whole lane. Other cyclists had told us that the PanAmerican in this stretch was pretty rough trafficwise, but we found it to be just fine. All the vehicles gave us plenty of space. The best part of the day was lunch – pizza! Our last night in Cuenca we bought two large pizzas, and we carried one of them down the highway and ate it for lunch. Deelish!



That day we made it even farther than we expected, and we ended up in the tiny crossroads town of Zhud. It turns out that there is nothing in Zhud except a long line of stalls selling fried pork with corn and potato dumplings. There are no hotels, nothing. We ended up camping at the local covered football field after watching the local kids play until sunset. It seemed like a great place… then the wind picked up.

All night long the wind blew and blew. The tin roof over the field was breaking. It banged against the rafters continuously, and chunks of it ocassionally were fell off and were blown across the concrete field below. In short – there was very little rest for us!

The supposedly very busy Panamerican highway became a barely trafficked two lane road that wove up and down along the Ecuadorian Andes. We had two days of fantastic riding under blue skies. We spent a night in a town that runs on train tourism.



Downtown Alausi


We also decided to take a dirt road shortcut to avoid a major city (and a major climb!). This shortcut was actually very pleasant, and even included some bonus pavement. That night we slept in the only hotel in the city of San Andres. It was a very fancy place! Strangely, there was not a single restaurant in the entire city (we asked multiple people), so we ended up making soup on the roof with our camp stove.




Our last night before Quito we spent in the city of Latacunga with a host family. This was our first time using Warmshowers in all of South America! We spent a nice evening with them chatting about how Ecuador has changed in the last decade. They told us that in the past year the polic installed many traffic cameras along the highways to enforce speed limits. Apparently one city to the south has made $2.6 million in tickets over the last 6 months alone!

The last day of riding into Quito was all along a busy two or three lane highway, but we rode safely and made it without any close calls. It was a surprisingly simple entrance to a massive city. Our friend Tarik, who we first met before we were even a couple, is living in Quito right now and offered to host us for a couple of nights. We found his place and were welcomed by his girlfriend, Zora.


There were several great volcanoes along the route



Ridiculous $5 (each) breakfast



We’re wearing normal-people clothes, ah! (Laundry time)

We spent three nights and two days with them, and had a blast chatting, eating, and seeing Quito. We went to old town, climbed up a church tower, saw an outdoor concert, rode in a cable car, and hiked up a volcano. We also made granola, ate their delicious cooking, and used their fast internet to find an apartment in State College for when we return. In all, it was an action-packed weekend for us! Thank you, Tarik and Zora, for being excellent hosts. You really tired us out though!


A delicious ‘tortilla’. Those are some Washington State apples the background, by the way.





Looking down to Quito


In our next update (sorry we got a bit behind): visiting an Ecuadorian market town, a dire mechanical problem, and entering our final country.

11 days hiking around the Huayhuash mountains

Hiking success - finally!

Hiking success – finally!

This time, our hiking experience was a complete success. Yippee! There were no gastrointestinal problems, no blisters, and no awkward guides. In short, we had a great time. In this post I will try to give you an idea of what this trip was all about. Highlights include the stunning scenery and all the fun we had with the friends we made in our hiking group.

The Huayhuash mountains are a stunning, high altitude range in the heart of the Peruvian Andes. They contain the world’s second highest tropical mountain, and many incredible glaciers. We hiked around the entire range, and enjoyed (nearly) every moment of it. Hopefully you won’t be too overwhelmed with all the photos of fantastic scenery!

Incredible vistas in the Huayhuash

Incredible vistas in the Huayhuash

Huayhuash_091To start with, we arrived in the city of Huaraz on June 24. That same day we decided to book a tour. After talking with three different agencies, we decided to use Huascaran Adventure Travel. One agency was very sketchy (just a guy at a desk making calls to donkey drivers), and another sounded really great, but their tour only had one other hiker signed up. Huascaran Adventure Travel, however, offered a very nice alternate route into the mountains, private transportation, happy (and cute) donkeys to carry all our gear, five meals a day, and five other travelers in the group. We committed to the tour that night, and paid (in US cash!) the next day. On the 26th we were picked up at 5 am to drive to the mountains.

This post is much longer than usual, because I didn’t feel like breaking it up into two (sorry). For those of you that don’t feel like reading the daily reports, I provide a summary. You can read it, then skip straight to the pictures!


The Huayhuash circuit lives up to its reputation as one of the world’s premiere hiking destinations. Each day we saw fantastic vistas and the trail was mostly in very good condition. The campsites were always scenic and comfortable, although some had truly horrendous toilet facilities. In one case, the unflushable toilet literally fell over! The route passes through many privately managed ‘conservation areas’ where we were charged almost daily. In total, we paid 205 Soles (about $65) each to cross through and camp in these communities. In some cases we resented the charges, since the bathrooms were in such horrible condition that most people didn’t bother using them.


Toilets of doom

We were very glad to have taken the guided tour, despite the cost ($60 per person per day). It was relaxing to have everything taken care of, and the guide, cook, and drivers were all competent and professional. We did bring our own tent, but in retrospect wish we had not. The donkey drivers never managed to put it up correctly, and each day we had to rearrange things to ensure our tent wasn’t stretched too much or damaged.

We were also very happy to have joined the group that we did. We really had a blast with Tarunya and Adam, and enjoyed spending over a week with them. The rest of the group was also friendly, but they were less prepared and we were often separate from them. Eduardo’s shoe made his progress pretty slow for a number of days, and Alexandra spent many days riding on the group’s horse instead of hiking. We learned that this was actually her very first camping trip! I cannot imagine embarking on an 11-day high altitude trek without at least a bit of practice! She was a trooper though, and did tough it out all the way to the end.

If you are considering a major hiking excursion at some time in the future, I would absolutely recommend that you consider a trip to the Peruvian Andes, and to Huayhuash in particular. We were definitely skeptical about committing so much time to a hiking trip, but we are very glad we did it!

Day 1:

Napping away the nausea before setting off.

Napping away the nausea.

The drive took about 4 hours. I (Daisy) was reminded of why we don’t take buses, as I was seated near the back and had a couple of lovely vomits into plastic bags as the bus wound its way up and down the steep Peruvian mountains, bumping along some of the roughest dirt roads we’ve seen on this trip. Luckily, I bounced back into full happiness once we were out of the bus. It was so exciting to be starting our hike! We were let off in the tiny hill town of Quero, where we ate a snack, shouldered our packs, and set off for a gentle stroll uphill.

That first day was mostly about getting to know the folks in the group, and letting unacclimatized group members get a bit more used to the altitude. Our group consisted of an Australian couple, Adam and Tarunya, a Peruvian couple from Lima, Eduardo and Alexandra, and a Peruvian American currently living in Arizona, Juan Carlos. Our guide, Hector, was friendly and easygoing. Hector kept the pace very slow all day to make sure everyone was comfortable, so Jason and I were fresh and full of energy the entire time. We ended in a rustic town called Maguey. This town is only accessible via the 5 mile long hiking trail we had just completed, and that night it seemed like every child in town came out to play soccer in the field where we were camped. The cook, a young fellow named Jesus, prepared us a traditional dinner called ‘Pachamanca’ that is cooked in a pit of hot stones. Yum!



All the food for 11 people for 11 days





Making Pachamanca


All children are free range in Peru

Day 2:

Rain ready

Rain ready

The next day was just as easy as the first. We spent the morning walking slowly uphill through a lovely agricultural valley. The only catch was the weather: it was raining. Yuck! Jason and I were fully decked out in rain gear and ponchos, though, so we were still comfortable. Once we got to higher altitude the rain turned into snow, and the group decided to push on towards camp instead of eating a picnic lunch.

Each day on the trail the two donkey drivers, Ronald and Joffrey, were responsible for taking down all the tents, packing up all nine donkeys, and getting to camp before us. In camp they also set up all the tents for us! This was great on the days with bad weather, because there was always a warm, dry place waiting. On day 2 we had our highest camp for the whole trip: 4,500 m, or 14,800′. It was windy and cold, but in a beautiful spot far from everything.






Neither of us remember taking this picture



Day 3:

This was our first morning at high altitude on this trek, and it was sure cold! Hector woke us up with hot coca tea when the ice was still thick on our tent. The first couple hours of hiking were in the shade of the mountains, so we kept all our clothes until the sun finally reached us. Over the top of our first pass we finally got a glimpse of the Huayhuash range in all its snow-capped glory.

The trail was mostly in good condition, but there was one tricky section that was more akin to rock climbing than hiking. The donkey drivers had to help push the donkeys up this part!

That night we camped with other groups for the first time. For most hikers, this is where the circuit begins. We were very glad to have hiked the alternate approach, as it gave our group members more time to get used to the altitude and it gave us more time to get used to the super relaxed pace. Each day we felt ‘fresh as lettuce’ (a common saying here), even after doing the full day’s hike.



I’m wearing so many clothes that it looks like I gained 45 pounds overnight!




Hiking success - finally!

Hiking success – finally!

Day 4:

Every camp had at least one dog, and this one had a puppy, too!

Every camp had at least one dog, and this one had a puppy, too!

Another cold morning, and another slow climb out of the valley where we camped and over a pass. Today was another easy day for us, but not for everyone in our group. The two Peruvians from Lima had all the fancy gear, but they apparently hadn’t used it prior to this trip. One fellow found that his shoes had a small defect that irritated his ankle so much that he spent the second half of today limping down the trail until he finally made it to camp. His partner began to suffer from the effects of altitude, as she has lived at sea level her entire life and spent almost no time acclimatizing. She was also very cold at night, and unused to hiking. These facts combined to make it a tough day for her.

We had lunch in camp, which was located in an absolutely stunning valley. After eating, Hector took us and the Aussies to see a nearby laguna. We had a great afternoon hike with them. That night Eduardo, the guy with the shoe defect, asked us if we thought the hike was hard. We had to reveal to him that it was essentially rest for us, and he looked incredulous. Really, we didn’t plan to tell him, but we certainly couldn’t lie!

Snack time at the top

Snack time at the top







Full moon on the mountains

Day 5:

The giant avalanche looks like a white waterfall.  Can you find it?

The giant avalanche looks like a white waterfall. Can you find it?

Today was when the views really started, and we even got to see a massive avalanche! It was also even easier than normal, since Eduardo and his lady, Alexandra, were both struggling for most of the day. All the hiking was still done before lunch though!

Our camp was right next to lovely glacial lake. It was such a beautiful location, and the daytime sun so warm, that we took a little dip to get some of the dirt off before dinner. It was also sad though, because even in this pristine and isolated location there was still litter and garbage strewn about. Even directly in the lake we could see empty tin cans, and shampoo containers. That night we learned that Alexandra was still feeling the effects of the altitude, and was considering evacuating to a nearby town. She decided to see how she felt in the morning though.




Day 6:

The day dawned foggy and cold. Alexandra thankfully was feeling better, but Hector still decided to split our group into two. The slower group would stay with him, and we would join Jesus and the Aussies. Today was one of the most challenging days of the circuit, but also with some of the most spectacular scenery. We climbed up Siula Pass at 4,800 m (15,780′), which was steep and cold. It was absolutely worth the effort though, as there were fantastic views of the mountains, glaciers, and glacial lakes.

Because our group was split, we arrived in camp over 1.5 hours before the rest of the hikers. Alexandra was a real trooper, and made it up and over the pass. On the descent, however, Hector called for a horse to come get her for the last bit into camp. Everyone seemed pretty tired by the time they arrived! We spent a wonderful afternoon playing cards with Adam and Tarunya while everyone else laid down to recover.





The "postcard" shot

The “postcard” shot



Day 7.

9 bottles down and at least 4 to go... This was well before dinner was served.

9 bottles down and at least 4 to go… This was well before dinner was served.

Can you believe it – another short day! We had a small pass to climb in the morning, which we took at a reasonable pace. Alexandra decided to ride the horse all day today, so the group was smaller but we stayed together. In fact, she ended up riding the horse every day from here on out. Today though, we were in camp before lunch, and what a wonderful camp it was: hot springs!

We spent all afternoon soaking in the luxurious heat, washing our hair and bodies, and generally lazing about. There was also more cards with Adam and Tarunya before dinner. Most notably, there was beer available at the small store next to the pools. The Peruvians bought copious amounts of beer for Hector, Jesus, and the donkey drivers. They were having such a good time that we were worried no one was going to make dinner! Luckily, Jesus did manage to cook up a tasty meal despite his obvious inebriation. The revelry continued long into the night, but we were quickly asleep in our cozy little tent.






Day 8.



The group was a bit slow getting moving this morning, since most of them had been up too late and gotten too drunk. Us and the Aussies were ready to go though! It was supposed to be a big, double pass day full of gorgeous views. The first pass was our highest yet: 5,000 m (16,400′). We felt great at the top, and even managed a group photo. The poor donkey that had to pose with us got so skittish that he almost backed off the cliff, but in the end it all worked out just fine.

The descent was steep and on loose dirt. At least half of the hikers in our group fell down at some point! No one was hurt though, thankfully. When we reached the bottom we stopped for lunch and watched the clouds roll in. It looked like a storm, and snowflakes started to fall just as we finished. Hector made an executive decision and called off the second pass for the day. We headed straight to camp instead, and good thing we did. Just after we crawled into the tents the sky opened up and the hail came down. The storm stayed all afternoon, but we were snug in the dining tent playing cards.








Day 9.

The storm cleared overnight, and it was another sunny day when we woke up. We spent all morning descending for a change, and then spent all afternoon climbing back up. At the bottom of the valley it was HOT, and we were down to our short sleeves for the first time in over a week!


Day 10.

This trek saved the best for last, as today’s hike was rich with fantastic views and surreal ridgetop hiking. In short, it was perfect despite the clouds. Everyone was hiking fast all morning, so we had time to do a bit of a detour on the last descent into camp. It led us to a viewpoint of the entire Huayhuash range, and then descended steeply for over 800m (2,500′).

There were glaciers looming over three lakes and our campsite, which we gratefully reached just before 4:00 pm. At 19 km, this was by far our longest and most rewarding day.









Day 11:

Our last day hiking was clear and lovely. We spent the first part of the morning climbing gently uphill with views backwards towards the mountains and forwards toward the river valley. We spent even more time going down down down into the heat of Peru’s lower altitudes. Ok, it wasn’t actually that low, but it felt like it! We reached the town of Llamac around 1 pm, where we hastily bought some soda and some fresh plastic bags. I was expecting another rough ride back to Huaraz, and wanted to be prepared!

Miraculously, I didn’t get sick at all on the four hour drive. It helped that I sat in the front, and also that the driver blasted classic 90s songs the entire way. We joined the Aussies in singing along to songs that transported us right back to high school. It was so fun!

Once back in town we gratefully showered, then met up with the group for one last meeting. The agency owner made us Pisco Sours and we spent a fun hour chatting and drinking. We had done it – 11 days in the Huayhuash.

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu


May21MP_008I know that in La Paz we decided that biking is far superior to hiking, but we decided to give it a second chance here in Peru. Of course, we had also booked our hike to Machu Picchu way back in January, so it’s not like we had too much of a choice! In the end, we had a great time. The weather was good, our guide was personable, the scenery was outstanding, and the food was excellent. For most of the 4-day hike we were in various stages of recovery and relapse from previous stomach ailments, so it was more challenging than it should have been for us. Besides the stomach problems the hike was a breeze. We did less than 10 miles a day, and the porters carried the heavy stuff. More on the porters later, since there is still our ride into Cuzco to describe.

Last time we updated we were spending a day in the city of Sicuani, about 100 miles from Cuzco. We were stuck there for a day because I (Daisy) ate a pomegranate that gave me food poisoning. I spent an entire day alternating between the bed and the bathroom, and Jason was absolutely wonderful about taking care of me. He only left my side to venture out for food. The next day I was recovered enough to ride, but just barely. We made sloooow progress towards Cuzco, and managed to make it about 45 miles down the road to a cute town with a simple hostel. The next day we again made slow progress, but it was fast enough and we entered the city of Cusco exactly on schedule. Minor miracle!


As we approached Cusco we started to see ruin sites everywhere!


We had a bike lane for most of the ride into the big city.

The next day we met our guide, Ronald, for our hike briefing session. Ronald is about our age, and worked first as a porter when he was a teenager, then as a cook, and finally as a guide. Our hike started the next day at the incredibly early hour of 5 am when the minibus came for us at our hotel. It was about a 2 hour drive to the trailhead, where we loaded up our packs and started walking.


May21MP_005It was nuts. For each tourist that hikes this trail, there are about 2 people hiking it to support them. For our small group of 3 tourists, for example, there were 4 porters, a cook, and a guide. The porters carry these giant sacks (25 kg, 55 pounds) with simple shoulder straps, and many of them wear sandals as they run up and down the trail. They are supermen. Why do they need to carry so much? Because this hike turned out to be a luxury hike. We ate every meal in a meal tent, and they cooked elaborate meals fresh every day for all three meals. For breakfasts there were pancakes, or omelettes, for lunch and dinner we had soup followed by a plate with four different preparations. On our last night, there was even a fresh baked cake!


Enough about the food though. You probably want to know all about the beautiful mountains, lush valleys, and the Inca paved trail. Well, they were all just as wonderful as we had hoped. The mountains were so steep and impressive that it was like being inside a postcard. The valleys were full of rushing rivers and tiny hamlets. On the Amazon side, the forest was lush and we were serenaded by birdcalls. Finally, the trail was unbelievable. The Inca trail is carved out of steep hillsides and high mountain passes. For much of the trail we were walking up or down steep stone steps, and a couple times we had to go through tunnels created on the hillside. Walking this trail was like walking through a little bit of history.

May23MP_015 May23MP_022

On our first day we were mostly in a valley where people still live, so we saw Peruvians going about their daily life with livestock and crops. We also saw the first of many Inca ruins.

May21MP_012 May21MP_013

May22MP_003That night we camped in a farmer’s terrace, and spent time in the evening playing cards with our fellow hiker and our guide. Our group was small, just three, so we were lucky to be matched with Thiago, a friendly Brazilian. We had a nice time chatting with him during the day and in the evenings. When we had stomach problems he gave us some medicine, and when he got sore legs from the climb we gave him some ibuprofen, so we really were a team!

That night we fell asleep early, which is unsurprising considering the early start. The next day we got to sleep in until 5:30 AM! Ha. The porters woke us up by pounding on the tent and pouring us cups of coca tea. We spent all morning climbing up and up to a high pass with spectacular views. Many of the other tourists we saw on the trail seemed to be suffering from the climb and the altitude, but we had a nice time. The descent on the other side was tough! It was essentially a very long and very uneven staircase. We made it though!

May22MP_006 May22MP_012 May22MP_015

May23MP_003Our third day was our longest, and most eventful. We got up early again, and were climbing another pass for the first two hours of hiking. After that we got to poke around a lovely Inca ruin before walking through a cloud forest to yet another pass. In the afternoon it was all steeply downhill, and sometimes it was very, very steep. We reached another Incan ruin composed of agricultural terraces stretching up and down a huge hillside. It was stunning, and we learned that the Incas used some of their agricultural terraces as huge agricultural labratories. They domesticated and modified crops, as well as learning about what conditions produced ideal crop growth. The terraces, with their regular altitude shifts, made this possible.


May23MP_019 May23MP_020 May23MP_009 May23MP_023

Near our final camp was yet another ruin, and this one was our favorite so far. It was another agricultural workshop, but it also included 20 stacked baths where the pilgrims to Machu Picchu would wash themselves. The best part was wandering through the ruins without another tourist in sight.

May23MP_028 May23MP_029 May23MP_030

May24MP_006The final, much awaited day began at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am. The porters needed to catch the early train out of the valley, so we had to be out of our tents and moving super early. Of course, we didn’t move very far. About 5 minutes of hiking after leaving camp we had to sit and wait for 1.5 hours for the trail control to open. It was cold, but we managed. As the sky slowly brightened we hiked quickly towards the Sun Gate, the overlook from which we would get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu.

View from the Sun Gate.

View from the Sun Gate.

We were very lucky, and the conditions were perfect. The sky was clear, and we watched as the sun slowly climbed high enough to reach Machu Picchu. It was lovely. From there, it was all downhill to the lost city of the Inca.

May24MP_017Our adventure wasn’t quite over though. We still had to climb Huana Picchu, the hill behind the city. There is an ancient fortress at the top, and a long series of perilous steps that wind up the mountain. When we signed up for this ‘bonus hike’ we didn’t actually know how terrifying it would be! The trail wound up the mountain, and near the top it became a set of narrow, insanely steep steps. AfterMay24MP_018 a few celebratory photos at the top it was time to start down again, but this was the scariest part. Imagine climbing down with that view, without anything to hold onto, and on narrow, uneven, steep steps. It is unbelievable that up to 400 people do this (and survive) every day. It was a great relief when we were back on more even ground.


Even though we were done with Machu Picchu by 1 pm, we still had many hours before returning to Cuzco. The nearest town (accessed by a very curvy bus ride!) is called Aguas Calientes, and it is only accessible by train from the outside world. This made for a fun afternoon of wandering the car-free town and eating lots of cake and coffee. Our train left just after dark, and we were back in Cuzco close to midnight. A very long day!

Town accessed only by railroad.

Town accessed only by railroad.

The best part of returning to Cuzco was our welcoming party: Jason’s parents! They made the long trip to Cuzco so they could spend a week with us, and we have had a truly lovely time with them. You’ll have to wait for our next update to read about it though!


Three days hiking to remind us that bikes are better

Up at the top near La Cumbre, around 16,000' (nearly 5000 m)

Up at the top near La Cumbre, around 16,000′ (nearly 5000 m)

Our time in Bolivia (on bikes) has been restricted to the high and dry altiplano, but we wanted to get a glimpse of the tropical lowlands before leaving the country next week.  For this reason, we decided to do a three day hike that starts in the high mountains and winds down a river valley into the steamy jungle.  We also wanted to break in our new hiking shoes (bought in La Paz) before our 4-day hike to Machu Pichu which we will start in another couple of weeks.

Because we didn’t have backpacks, and we were nervous about undertaking the hike, we decided to hire a guide through a travel agency.  Our ‘guide’ turned out to be more of a porter and a cook.  This was all good and well, but we could certainly have carried our own gear and cooked our own food.  We were disappointed that he didn’t tell us anything about the areas we were hiking through, and even more so when it came time to return to La Paz.  It was a nightmare half day of finding public transportation (4 separate vehicles), and our guide seemed just as lost as we were.  In fact, Jason was the one who found us the main transport to La Paz!

Despite the shortcomings, we are glad we did the hike.  Our legs are more or less destroyed from descending so many miles on rough, slippery trails, but we got to see the lush jungle and even a wild monkey!  In the narrative below I’ll try to share a bit about our time on the trail.

Day 1:  
We were super excited to start the hike, and a little nervous too since it’s been over a year since our last real hike. We agonized over what items were actually worth carrying. We decided we only needed one sleeping bag, and that we didn’t need too much warm gear since we could use our sleeping bag liners as warm togas. We might have looked a bit funny, but it worked!



We were transported in a taxi to the highest part of the trail. When we got there it was high, beautiful, and cold! We got wrapped up in our sleeping bag liner togas, and started down the trail.  The views were good when the clouds parted enough to let us see. Our guide took off in front of us, and we made our own careful way down the steep and rocky path. This first bit of hiking before lunch ended up being one of our favorite parts of the whole thing. There were very few plants, but there were steep rock faces, cute llamas, and stone ruins. We watched the clouds rise from the depths of the valleys until we were in them, and for the rest of the day all we saw were clouds.

It was a long way down...

It was a long way down…


Just as we stopped for lunch the rain began, and it continued for the rest of the day. The path was actually very nice, and we mostly stayed happy, but not completely.  They didn’t give us a rain cover for the rented backpack, and we had to do quite a bit of shuffling to get our gear in places where it would stay mostly dry.

Stone-paved trail, in the Inca style

Stone-paved trail, in the Inca style


Everything got a lot greener!

Everything got a lot greener!

For the rest of the day we picked our way downhill steeply on slick stones, with our guide somewhere off ahead of us. It was with great relief (and the beginning of tired legs) that we arrived at our intended destination with a covered camping area.

It got wet.

It got wet.

Jason was very excited to see the bridge to a covered camping spot!

Jason was very excited to see the bridge to a covered camping spot!

That night was pretty fun. We had snacks and a little chat with our guide, Tomas. He has four mostly grown kids, one of which is in college. It was nice to chat with him, and this was our only chat for the rest of the trip, which was passing strange. He cooked us a yummy dinner of soup, pasta, meat, and some simple veggies. We chatted some more with a lovely Belgian couple also doing the hike, then headed to early bed.

Day 2.
Luckily, the day dawned a bit drier, and it wasn’t too cold.  Tomas insisted that we get up at 5:30 am, so the alarm went off in complete darkness.  We were hiking by first light.  The trail began to be overgrown with jungle-type plants, and there were many crossings of raging streams. The first three hours were super slippery, but after that the trail improved and we could walk more or less normally. Of course, by this time our legs were already sore from the previous day.

It was clear and not raining early in the morning.

It was clear and not raining early in the morning.



The entire day was long and tiring, but through lovely scenery with some great views when the clouds parted. At times the hot air rose from the valleys and made us feel like we were in a sauna. At other times a cold wind came down from the hills and cooled us off. The trail went up and down, following the side of the mountain and dipping down to cross many streams.  We finally emerged to our destination of Sandillani. It used to be a happening place, with manicured japanese gardens, an eco-hostel, and snack bars. Currently, however, it is abandoned and strewn with trash.  We set up the tent, hobbled around a bit, and were mostly incredibly sore from 8.5 hours of hiking.




Jason's nasty wet foot, I'm sure you wanted to see that!

Jason’s nasty wet foot, I’m sure you wanted to see that!

Working out some soreness with a hot water bottle massage.

Working out some soreness with a hot water bottle massage.

The trash pile is under the roof of the only covered camping spot.

The trash pile is under the roof of the only covered camping spot.

Day 3.
That morning was lovely – our other favorite part of the trip. The day dawned clear and the sunrise over the mountains was beautiful. We enjoyed taking pictures from the overlook and having a slightly more mellow morning. Our guide suggested that we get on the road by 7 so that we could be in town by 10 in time for the direct bus back to La Paz.




Our final descent to civilization was a mostly easy and pleasant 2.5 hour walk. We kept our pace up high so that we could get the bus, and we were super relieved when we emerged from the jungle. This was when things started to go wrong, however. Our guide seemed to have been confused about the timing to the bus, since this first town didn’t have one and it was an hour walk along the road to the next town. When we got there we learned that the only bus was at 2 pm. Our guide was supremely uncommunicative regarding how we would get back to La Paz, and he seemed mainly concerned about doing it in the cheapest way possible. We kept asking him what was going on, and he would respond evasively. He said we needed to get to the main road, but wouldn’t pay the 5 Bolivianos per person to get us there in a vehicle. We were exhausted at this point, but still unwilling to start paying for the transport that was included in the tour. We started walking, but luckily a truck was willing to give us a free ride.

Finally, we see a small town!

Finally, we see a small town!

At the main intersection we had to stand there and hope for a minibus to come by. After a long while, one did. It was a crowded and incredibly bumpy 30 minute ride in the wrong direction to get to the hilltop town of Coroico.


Once there we needed to transfer to a minibus for La Paz. The guide didn’t seem to know where to find one, and was hesitant to look at the nicer seeming ones because of price. Jason found the minibus for us, and within moments we were flying back down the bumpy road towards La Paz.   Our guide didn’t give us the promised lunch, so we bought empanadas from some ladies at a quick stop through the bus window during the ride. We finally reached La Paz, but still had to transfer once more to another crazy minibus to get back downtown. It was with very great relief that we returned the backpack, gave our guide a reduced tip, and hobbled back to the casa de ciclistas.

Looking back at the hilltop town of Coroico as we fly up the highway to La Paz.

Looking back at the hilltop town of Coroico as we fly up the highway to La Paz.

We are now taking another day of rest in La Paz to let our legs recover before we brave the climb out of the city.  My legs feel like someone has been hitting them with a meat tenderizer!  Next we will ride the two days to Lake Titicaca, where we might take another hike.  From there we will enter yet another new country: Peru. We have heard fantastic things about Peru, and we are very excited to get there!