Friday, August 15, 2008

TR - Peru - Part 1

Trip Report – Part 1
7/29 –8/12/08

Race Results
Inca Trail Marathon (27.5 miles)
Machu Picchu, Peru
Wed, Aug 5/08
Marathon # 307 - Country # 92
8:51:23 – 4 OA – 1 AG

TWO down – EIGHT to go! Country #92!

Planning for this trip/adventure began more than one year ago. I wanted to run a marathon in Peru and the Sports Manager and I always wanted to visit Machu Picchu so why not do both at the same time? When I researched the race I learned that the Peruvian government only permits 500 hikers per day on the Inca Trail so the sports/tour agency had to book slots many months in advance. Our son Chris also wanted to see Machu Picchu and he agreed to join us and run the marathon (his first) with his Dad. We booked the trip one year in advance.

I selected the race in Aug because I would have time to do altitude training at our summer home in the Rocky Mtns of Colorado before the race. The marathon had two passes above 13,000 ft! Chris planned to meet us in CO before the trip to also get some altitude training in before the race. We were very disappointed when he was T-boned by a truck while riding his bike in early June and suffered a broken patella. His leg was to be in a cast for 8 weeks and he had to cancel the trip.

We left CO early to enjoy a few extra days in Lima and Cusco before the main group arrived in Cusco on Aug 2/08. As we made the long flight to Lima I read about the history of Peru, the Incas and the Inca Trail. At its height the Inca Empire controlled nearly 1/3 of South America and more than 10M people. It all started in 1438 in Cusco (or Qosqo in the Inca tongue of Quechua). Contrary to popular belief the word “Inca” does not refer to the citizens of the Inca Empire who are more correctly called “Quechua People”. The only true “Inca” was the ruler of the empire who lived in Cusco.
In 1530 the Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro arrived and defeated the Quechua people. Today the majority of Peru’s population descends from the native Quechua line. 80% speak Spanish and 16% still speak Quechua – the 2nd language of the country.
OK – history lesson over – time to begin the adventure.

We arrived in Lima late Tue night and were picked up and driven to our hotel in Miraflores – a modern suburb located on the Pacific Coast with lots of great hotels, restaurants and bars. We took a late night stroll along the main avenue to get our bearings and enjoy a local beer. Since the package included a city tour on our return to Lima on the last day we spent the day exploring Miraflores and shopping at the many local markets for the obligatory souvenirs and jewellery we buy in every country. And we quickly learned that homemade craft such as baby clothes were very cheap in Peru. Needless to say our new granddaughter Priya is going to be the ‘fashion queen’ in Portland, OR!

On Wed we took an early flight to Cusco and checked into our hotel near the main square – the Plaza de Armas. Cusco reminded me of Reno, NV. It is located in a valley and surrounded by the Andes Mtns. The topography is barren in that region. Cusco is located at 11,200 ft and has a population of 400,000. The center of the city is very compact and it is easy to walk everywhere. We had two days before the main group arrived so we explored Cusco and did more shopping (for Priya). We visited the Plaza de Armas and several other plazas near the city center and then ventured up into the San Blas neighborhood where the artists live and work. I wanted to try ‘cuy’ (guinea pig) – a local delicacy. I had eaten cuy in Equador and wanted to taste the Peruvian version. Equador grills cuy with lots of spices – Peru bakes cuy. Equador won the cuy taste test! The Sports Manager refused to eat cuy? (See photos). I also tried apaca several times. It is very common on menus and tastes good. Beer is cheap in Peru ($4 for a liter) but wine is not ($5/6 per glass). Food is cheap if you eat the ‘tourist’ menu of the day ($3 w/o booze) but cuy costs $20?

After all that food and cheap beer I needed to run and adjust to the 11,000 ft altitude. But where to run? The streets are narrow and crowded and the drivers are crazy! The hotel suggested I run to the Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman – but they neglected to say that the ruins were located ‘uphill’ in the Andes Mtns at 12,200 ft! The first day I ran on the side of the road to the ruins before I discovered there was a shortcut via Inca stone steps. I came down the steps to practice/train on the stone steps. The 2nd day I ran up via the steps and continued on to the Inca ruins at Qenco (about 12,500 ft). I was sucking air by the time I reached the ruins but the run back down to Cusco was OK. The steps were steep but wide and I naively thought I was doing fine on Inca steps! Little did I know!

The main group arrived on Sat. The group totaled 22 people - most from the USA but a few from the UK and Australia. About 13 were running the marathon in 1 day, 5 were hiking the marathon/trail in two days, 3 were planning to take the train to Km 104 and hike the final 4 miles of the trail and the Sports Manager (the wisest of all?) planned to take the train all the way to Machu Picchu. We began our first organized tour of the trip with a city tour. We visited the Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral. When the Spanish conquered the Quechua they destroyed all the Inca buildings in Cusco and rebuilt their churches and homes on top of the Inca foundations using the stones from the Inca buildings. On many streets you can see the remains of Inca foundations (the stones are carved to fit perfectly w/o mortar) next to the sloppy Spanish foundations (stones don’t fit and mortar was used). We visited Qorikancha, the most important temple of the Inca Empire where the Sun Temple (covered in gold plate) and the Moon Temple (covered in silver plate) were located.

On Sun we toured the Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman. Since that word is difficult for tourists to pronounce everyone calls it ‘Sexywoman’. The remains of a fortress and temple are located on the site. After making a too-long stop at a textile factory we continued on to ruins at Qenco, Puca Pucara and Tambomachay. We finished the day with a 4.5 mile training run from the village of Yuncaypata to the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. The run started at 12,800 ft and descended on a section of the Inca trails to 12,000 ft and back up to the Temple of Moon at 12,600ft. The run was led by our main Quechua guide Abelardo (a good runner who had no problem with the altitude). I managed to stay close to him and a (hard-core) female ultra runner, Roxanne, from Atlanta until we reached the Temple of the Moon. After a quick visit to the temple we continued on a more technical downhill section to Cusco where a few fast/good downhill runners passed me. We were starting to establish the pecking order for the marathon?

On Mon we traveled by bus to the Sacred Valley of the Incas with a stop in Chinchero to visit a Quechua home and family that made their own textiles and weavings from scratch. They showed us how they washed apaca and sheep wool in natural soap and dyed the yarn with natural colors, etc. I kept telling the Sports Manager that we should move there so she could learn all those neat and ancient skills? I won’t tell you her response! We bought more things for Priya! After shopping we visited some more Inca ruins located in Chinchero. After the tour we stopped in the middle of a high plain (12,600 ft) and Abelardo led a 2nd training run on a trail that descended gradually for a short time and then dropped steeply past the salt mines at Maras and joined a steep, technical dirt trail that descended to the Urubamba River (9500 ft). We all chased Abelardo and Roxanne again. The run was supposed to be 7 miles but when I passed 70 minutes and was hurting because I was running a sub-10 min pace (at altitude) I knew that it weren’t no 7 miles. Turned out to be 8 miles and I was the 4th runner to reach the bus. The pecking order for the marathon had been established!

After the run we checked into a beautiful hotel in Yucay and got together for a pre-race meeting. The race director went over the course and logistics for the race. There were no race bibs since the government would not allow a race/marathon to be held on the Inca Trail. Officially we were all ‘fast’ hikers! All those running the Inca Trail in one or two days would camp on the trail and had to pack one bag accordingly. The rest of our clothes and belongings were to be sent on to Machu Picchu or returned to Cusco. At that point and with two training runs under our belt a few runners decided to opt out of the marathon and hike the final 4 miles of the Inca Trail?

On Tue we departed for Urubamba where half the group chose to go on a whitewater-rafting trip on the Urubamba River. I was in the half that chose not to raft – I didn’t want to get wet before the hike to base camp and I didn’t want to risk an injury on a raft that could spoil my run? Instead our half drove to Ollantaytambo where we visited a Quechua home to see how they live in the same manner as their ancestors. The homes are made of adobe and have one large room only that accommodates all family members (and the cuy). See the photos. Even the skulls of their ancestors are kept in the home! After the interesting visit we drove back to the river to cheer our rafting comrades across the finish line on the Urubamba River. Everyone enjoyed the raft but many were soaked! We then enjoyed a quick lunch in Ollantaytambo before we drove to Piscachucho at Km 82 on the Inca Trail where we would start our hike to base camp on the Inca Trail to begin the marathon. Those not running the marathon went back to the ‘luxury’ hotel In Yucay for another night.

I will end this part of the report at this point to give everyone a rest and continue the marathon in Part 2.

Stay tuned!

No comments: