Month: June 2015

I Climbed A Mountain

In my post about my trip to Peru, I briefly mentioned that the hardest day was when I climbed Machu Picchu Mountain, but that fortunately I made friends and we all got each other through it. Here’s a bit more about my two days at Machu Picchu and, of course, the photos.

First look at the Machu Picchu ruins

First look at Machu Picchu ruins

As I mentioned, I am good at following advice, especially when I receive the same advice more than once. In this case, I was told to spend two days at Machu Picchu. As I also mentioned, I did no research before the trip so I did not fully understand why I would want two days there.

It was only a few days before arriving that I started to understand the lay of the land. At “Machu Picchu” one can see the ruins of the town/estate of the ruler and agricultural terraces; hike to the Sun Gate; and climb either Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu Mountain. Luckily, my tour company booked me a ticket to tour the ruins and climb Machu Picchu Mountain because there are a limited number of climbing tickets sold each day.

During my afternoon tour of the ruins, my guide explained to me—more than once—how to reach the entrance to the mountain climb. She also told me that I had to sign in and start climbing the mountain before 11.00 am. When she walked me to my hotel, she explained it all again.

Almost at my (incorrect) destination

Almost at my (incorrect) destination

The important point was that if I missed the mountain entrance, I would walk to the Sun Gate, which was nice enough, but not what I should do. I understood this point perfectly. However, I failed to execute the instructions properly. As you have figured out by now, I missed the entrance and found myself at the Sun Gate after about 45 minutes of easy walking.

A large group of Californians was walking at the same time and kindly took photos of me when I asked, but no one engaged me in conversation even as we kept passing each other at different points on the trail. It wasn’t a great feeling. Then I felt worse when I realized I was about to reach the Sun Gate and had missed the mountain entrance entirely. I did not even remember to take a photo at the Sun Gate. All I wanted to do was drink a few sips of water and make my way back to find the missed turn. After asking for directions from a few guides along the walk back, I found the turnoff.

I generally believe in karma (meaning some larger force sending you what you need when you need it) and felt it to be in full action on this day. I met J & J, a mother and daughter from Brooklyn who were starting the climb at the same time. They asked if I wanted to climb with them. Had I not screwed up and walked to the Sun Gate, I never would have encountered them and my whole mountain climbing experience would have been significantly less fun.

Something else I did not know until I was in the middle of it is how hard the climb was going to be. My guide told me it would take about an hour and a half, but didn’t mention that it is a very steep climb, mostly up uneven stairs. I started to feel my legs burn after a short time, which continued for the two hours it took us to reach the top.

Machu 03

At the top with J & J

The views were amazing. The feeling of accomplishment when I reached the top was amazing.

As they say, “Ignorance is bliss.” Had I known what I was in for, I might not have attempted it at all. Or, I would have gone in expecting the worst and then would have spent most of the climb confirming that expectation. Instead, I had no idea what lay ahead and passed the time in great conversations with J & J, who were on the trip to celebrate the daughter’s 20th birthday. She wanted to document the occasion,  so we stopped to take fun photos along the way and traded cameras for a while so I we could snap shots of each other.

We parted soon after descending but I am forever grateful that our paths crossed. A perfect example of being in the right place at the right time.

Peru (minus Machu Picchu)

I am very good at listening to suggestions of places to go, foods to try, etc. So after (seemingly) everyone said that I had to go to Machu Picchu, I got the message. Peru became number two on my list of  “Places Near Colombia You Must Travel To,” right after Galápagos. When I realized it is common to travel to the two together in one trip, my plan basically was set. The photos are here.

Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman just outside the town of Cusco

Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman

The best decision I made was to use a travel agency. To cover the standard itinerary* there are lot of logistics beyond the hotels—planes, trains, and automobiles—really! I’m good at figuring out all of those things, but I am starting to realize that I don’t enjoy it very much. Also, I’m good at recognizing when there are professionals who have mastered all of this already. Why should I reinvent the wheel?

I did not know much more than “Inca ruins” when I started booking my trip. By the end, I had gained a lot of respect for this (not so ancient) civilization. The way they cut rocks perfectly to fit together without needing mortar is crazy impressive. And we can still see the clear differences between the techniques used to construct everyday buildings and agricultural terraces versus the temples.

The water still flows through the terraces at Tipon

Tipton: water still flows in the terraces

Although I asked to join other groups, I ended up having a private tour every day. This was great for my language skills because for two days I had the guides conduct my tours in Spanish. Since it was just me, they could speak more slowly and use simpler words than they would have with a group of native speakers. But, I admit, it also was lonely at times. Luckily, just when I started climbing Machu Picchu Mountain—the hardest day of my trip—I made friends and we all got each other through it. (I wrote a separate post about this day and have an album of Machu Picchu photos.)

I loved learning about a history and culture that were completely unknown to me before the trip. I loved eating a lot of good food (overall, the food was much better in Peru than in Colombia). I loved the challenge of climbing a mountain. I loved making chocolates.

I have now joined (seemingly) everyone in recommending travel to Peru.


* By “standard itinerary” I mean Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu.

Trip details:

Dates: May 29-June 2, 2015

Places visited:

Cusco Day 1: Catedral Basilica de la Virgen de la Asuncion, Museo Histórico Regional, Sacsayhuaman ruins, Q’enqo ruins

Cusco Day 2: Pikillaqta Archaelogical Site of the Wari people, San Pedro Church in Andahuaylillas, Tipon ruins

Sacred Valley: Awana Kancha Alpaca Farm, Pisac market, Temple in Ollantaytambo (note: stay in Ollantaytambo if continuing on to Aguas Calientes; I was in Urubamba and there was no reason to be there)

Machu Picchu: ruins and Machu Picchu Mountain, town of Aguas Calientes

Tour company (HIGHLY recommended): Condor Travel


The Galápagos

I studied Spanish in Ecuador for a month in the summer of 1999, but did not have the time or the money to visit the Galápagos then. A Galápagos trip was high on my list of things to do when I decided to head to Colombia for Phase II. I was even more interested having listened to this episode of Radiolab a few months before my trip (the tortoise story is especially interesting).

Below are some highlights from the trip. Selected photos are on two pages: part 1 and part 2.

Giant tortoise

Giant tortoise

Seeing the giant tortoises: While snorkeling in Santa Fe Bay, we saw two giant tortoises swimming together and then many in the Cerro Colorado Breeding Station.

Appreciating the differences between the islands: The vegetation and topography differed between the islands (from sparse vegetation to densely green). There also were some differences in wild life, although sea lions were everywhere. The sun was strong, but we didn’t experience crushing humidity until the last morning, on San Cristóbal.

Enjoying the cruise: I was worried about seasickness and bad food. I started popping pills the moment we boarded, and mostly was fine with the motion of the ship. The food was delicious and varied.

See the chin strap by my ears & the bag’s two pouches

Proper equipment: I was so pleased that I made a wrong turn a few days before I left and ended up walking amongst street vendor tents. The $7 straw hat I purchased came with a chin strap, which I thought was silly at the time. You know where this is going. Even with the strap on, my hat was blown off a few times. As someone who is anti-sun, I also appreciated my long-sleeved, sun-blocking shirts.



Best swag: The tour company gave each person a small black bag with two zippered pouches—actual, separate compartments. Brilliant design (I later learned that they were created by women). They were just the right size for water, sunblock, the camera, and sun glasses. It only took me two days to realize that the stitching is the feet of a blue-footed booby.


Overall impression: I’m grateful I had the opportunity to visit the islands. I was disappointed we didn’t see more varieties of wildlife. Although the sea lions were adorable, they lost their appeal after a few days, especially when the wind blew their odor directly at us.

In some ways, I enjoyed the experience of an African safari more because the animals are more animated and interesting to watch. While some iguanas are beautiful, seeing them walk or climb on a rock just is not as compelling to me as watching giraffes or elephants. The sea lions were playing occasionally, but mostly they were lying in the sun. On the other hand, the Galápagos are a more interesting place to learn about geology and the evolution of plants and animals.


Trip details:

Dates: May 25-28, 2015

Islands visited: Mosquera Inlet, South Plaza, Santa Fe, and San Cristóbal. Detailed descriptions here (scroll down to “M/V Galapagos Legend Cruise “C” 4 days / 3 nights – (Mon-Thu)”)

Guide: Valerio Repetto, a passionate advocate for protecting the Galápagos

Ship: Galapagos Legend, booked through Klein Tours

Oh The Horror!


That’s the usual first response from people when they learn I’m traveling solo. (In Spanish, it’s either, “¿De verdad?” or, “¿En serio?”)

Women of all nationalities then tend to think it’s pretty great.

Latin American men are horrified. The questions then proceed along these lines:

Are you married?
Do you have a boyfriend?
Do you have children?

The horror usually intensifies when I give my answers:


It is a completely foreign idea that a woman of my age could be single, independent, and happy with her life as it is.

As a solo traveler, I often find myself dining alone. I appreciate when people engage me in conversation. It provides a little entertainment and is another opportunity to practice my Spanish.

But as I’ve been traveling as a tourist over the past two weeks, some of these nice conversations have morphed into uncomfortable situations. A few different men have decided that I want/need their intervention, and now it’s my turn to be horrified by their behavior. They don’t take no for an answer.

So here is my message to the Latin American men working in tourist locations:

When I say I don’t want to meet you after work to go dancing, I really mean that I do not want to go dancing.

When I decline another cocktail, I really mean that I do not want another drink.

Hanging with a sea lion in the Galapagos

Hanging with a sea lion in the Galapagos

And while I appreciate being asked if you can kiss me, when I say no, I really mean that I do not want you to kiss me. The fact that you think I’m beautiful and want to kiss me doesn’t change my answer.

I don’t want to distrust every stranger or immediately be suspicious of every guy who starts talking to me, so I am going to work hard to put this aspect of the past two weeks behind me and instead focus on the fun I’ve had. To help with that, I’ve included one photo of the fun part.

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