20% - That was one of our goals when we booked the trip for Rio De Janeiro. We wanted to fall within the 20% of those that visit Brazil that don't get mugged. The other goal, Christ the Redeemer. This was going to be both of our sixth modern wonder of the world, and sadly our seventh wasn't the same.
A lot more planning went into this trip. From safety, areas to absolutely avoid, places of interests, and most of all clothes that would conceal phones, cards, and necessities...again, to hopefully avoid being mugged.
Rio De Janeiro
First stop, of course, Concovado Mountain to see the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. Knocking off another Modern Wonder from the bucket list. In addition to the statue, it also came with a breathtaking view of the city below. Seeing the different neighborhoods and favelas scattered around. A clear separation of wealth and poverty.
Next, Parque Lage and Botanical Garden, a park at the base of Concovado Mountain. Immediately as we approached the atrium of the mansion I couldn't help but have Snoop Dogg and Pharrell playing in my head, "Beautiful". Seeing that video back in 2002, it was spot on. Everywhere I looked, I couldn't help but hum the tune. Was so catchy.
Continuing with following in the footsteps of Snoop, Santa Teresa was the most logical to venture next. Walking through this quirky neighborhood of art, vibrant colors, and steep winding streets, it was almost easy to let our guard down and forget all the hype of Rio being a dangerous city. Was a cute, quant area. The Selaran Steps (Escadaria Selaran) was the main attraction. Arriving just before sun down, the crowds were minimal, leaving the steps almost just to ourselves. Church of our lady of the Candelaria was our last stop just before dark. Such a beautiful church, with a heavy history.
After dark in Rio is not in a tourists best interests. Once the sun starts to go down, find a safe place and call an Uber back to the hotel. Why risk? Again, we're not looking to be one of the 80%.
Copacabana - classic and famous beach. No, we weren't in Rio during the prime season, but still it did not disappoint. People working out on the sand, volleyball courts, and even with overcast sky the weather wasn't too hot but still a bit muggy (no pun intended).
We had one more stop on the list before we headed to Sao Paulo to finish out our trip. Morro da Urca and Sugarloaf Mountain. We attempted to go up the day before, but the low clouds would have left visibility nil to nothing. Morro da Urca is the first stop of a cable car ride up to Sugarloaf Mountain. Allowing for more views overlooking the beautiful city of Rio.
Sao Paulo, the financial center of Brazil. Still with the plan to not get mugged (Yes! this was our main topic of the trip), suiting me up with hiding items in my "garments" and we headed out.
A main stop was Mercado Municipal de Sao Paulo. Probably not making the smartest choice to walk through some sketch areas to get there. Rehan putting on his "mean" face and me nonchalantly, but confidently, making eye contact with those we passed and just kept on walking without any sense of hesitation. We arrived at the food hall. Rows and rows of stalls. Then upstairs filled with restaurants (I won't deny it, we ate most our meals here).
Now, when most trip advisory sites rate a church one of the top 10 attractions in a city but one of the most dangerous for tourists to visit, we had to debate our odds. So far we were on the winning side of safety. Maybe tempt it a little more? Rehan putting on his best stank face, we made the walk for Catedral da se de Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo Cathedral). The cathedral was beautiful. A sort of typical Roman Catholic, gothic revival mix. Inside was stunning, outside structure itself even more breathtaking, turning around and facing the park that it adjoins to... terrifying, but strangely familiar. We laughed. It felt like home. Walking past drug addicts and homeless, all of which was no different than walking through downtown Portland. Of course, keeping our phones hidden, limited photo's, and not being an irresponsible unknowing tourist, we were good.
Our trip was sadly coming to an end. I was going to miss shoving three phones in my bra, along with cash and cards hidden in a secret pocket inside my pants... we had one more stop. Liberdade. Home to the world's largest ethnic Japanese community outside of Japan. Also, one of the most prone areas to be pick pocketed. Its game time. Bumped into, shoved, and pushing our way through crowds, all items still tucked snug and safe in their hiding spots on my body.
We are 20%!
Prior to this trip I was feeling pretty pumped. I lost over 35 pounds, changed my eating habits, was exercising daily, and had done an overall cleanse of the mind. I thought I was ready to go on a long week jungle adventure in Peru. Why not? I was the healthiest I have been in over a year. How hard could it be? LOL. I was about to find out. No amount of planning could have prepared me for this week.
LEAVE // 04.14.2018 | 06:30 AM PDT | PORTLAND, OR
ARRIVE // 04.15.2018 | 11:19 AM CDT | CUSCO, PERU
TRANSPORTATION // ALASKA AIRLINES | LATAM | AVIANCA
LAYOVER // ORLANDO, FL | 2 HOURS // LIMA, PERU | 11 HOURS
(HOTEL ACCOMMODATIONS IN LIMA, PERU (WYNDAM) | CUSCO, PERU (HOTEL TIERRA VIVA))
Day 1: Choose Your Own Adventure
As soon as we arrived in Cusco the elevation took its affect. Headache, stomach cramping, and if you moved quicker than a slug crossing a street everything around you would spin, causing you to feel lightheaded and dizzy. On a good note, no vomiting. We immediately decided to walk around the town to speed up the acclimation process, which thankfully worked. Quickly overcoming the dreaded sea sick feeling and shopping around for the best deal on the jungle trek to Machu Picchu.
We took the chance of not reserving anything prior to arriving in Cusco for the jungle trek. After doing some research online it would have run us an easy $400+ US dollar/per person, but we waited and it definitely paid off. Average price were $180+/per person depending if we also wanted to include the rafting, zip line, and any of the additional hikes at Machu Picchu (which we did). Picking out the different options and pricing it out from one tour company to the next, we finally settled on the one that left the following morning at 7:30am and was the lowest price of $510 total, which included rafting, zip line, and the Machu Picchu Mountain hike passes for two.
Day 2: Bicycling & Rafting
The van arrived at 7:30am, driving from hotel and hostel picking up other travel companions that we would get to know very well over the next few days. Driving through the Sacred Valley then up to Abra Malaga where we started the first part of our adventure; mountain biking. Surprisingly, even though the elevation was much greater than in Cusco (over 4500 meters above sea level) it did not seem to affect me as much anymore. Still with a headache, but fortunately the dizziness and stomach cramping had dissipated. Gearing up and picking out our bike of choice, trying not to think about the last time I was on a bike was at least 10 years prior. Hoping the old saying "It's like riding a bike" (meaning, its something you never forget how to do) was actually true. We set off down the mountain side.
At first a little wobbly, but once I got the feel for the brakes and shifting I was on my way. Waiting for openings between oncoming cars, I slowly leap frogged my way forward. Increasing my speed a little more after each person I passed. This was fun! After stopping for a short 20 minute break, we were off again. This time with a warning there would be a few rivers we'd have to pass through. Taking this information as there would be potential bridges we'd need to go over, reality this meant actually riding straight through water that was spilling over the top of the roadway (aka. the river actually passes over the road). Few hours pass and only one near slip when my front tire slipped into a crack and nearly took me down, we made it to the bottom. Soaked from riding through the "rivers", seat shaped bruise on my rear, and a huge smile on my face... we were headed to the river for the next adventure; white water rafting.
Class 3 rapids are definitely something that give you a good workout. Paddling through the waves, trying to stay inside the raft, and avoid obstacles. Fortunately, we were the only raft from our group that did not seem to lose a person in the water.
Day 3: Inka Trail
Staying at a hostel in Santa Maria, 5:30am wake up call, we were back on the trail. Today was going to be the long day. Over 8+ hours of walking, no bus if we opted out, just our feet to move us forward. The next few hours were about to challenge everything in me.
Making my way uphill. Trail getting steeper and starting to alternate between steps and dirt path. Looking uphill as the others in my group disappeared around the bend. Rehan following close behind them, unfortunately with our few bottles of water in his backpack. I wasn't sure I was going to make it and we were barely only a 1/2 hour in.
2 1/2 hours of continuously going up. Stopping to give my lungs a rest. Still putting another foot forward and climbing onwards. We finally made it to the "Monkey House". Giving us a chance to take a break, learn about the land, people, and their tequila, coffee, and chocolate making process. I wasn't going to complain. This was a much needed rest from that dreaded uphill battle. Only to start the trek again after an hour, uphill again. How much higher could we possibly go? Finally, we open up into a portion of the famous Inka Trail. With only a meter wide walking path and a large drop on the side, the view was breathtaking. One slip though and you would be yet another statistic lost to the jungle. The trek was still tough but it wasn't as strenuous as it had been just moments before. The path was more flat with some ups and downs, which was more my style. Hours passed, stopping for those golden photo opportunities, and taking a group photo before ascending once more to where we would be stopping for lunch.
After a two hour break, taking a power nap on a large flat rock, we were back to walking. Rested and picking up the pace. The second half of the trail had a bit more obstacles to go around. From large rocks that you needed to climb up and over, twists/turns, ups/downs, and a pitch dark tunnel. Not to mention the very creative ways the trail took you to cross the river at multiple points; balancing as you walk across a fallen log, sketchy wooden bridge, suspension bridge, and two guys pulling you across in a wooden basket on a wire. Don't look down and it's all "safe" as long as you don't lose your balance. Vertigo is definitely a thing to avoid, if you can.
The end of this long day was the relaxing soak in the thermal hot springs. Paying just s/.10 per person, this made the long day worth the pain before settling into the hostel in Santa Teresa for the night.
Something I told myself as the day went on: Physical weakness can be overcome, but mentally I needed to stay strong. These words resonated within me. Having a lot of time to think, lost in my own thoughts, encouraging myself, and rethinking my "life decisions". I did not quit. I will not quit. I kept going.
Day 3: Zip Line & Railroad Tracks
Another early wake-up, starting at 7:30am, we were going zip-lining today. This was my first time and the fear of heights was a little nerve wracking. Gearing up and then starting the hike up, again hating life as I barely made it to the top with a loss of breath and the feeling that my lungs were going to burst out of my chest. Now, looking over the edge. Waiting my turn. They hook me up and I was off soaring through the air. Oh my god this was fun. With only three zip lines, I was bummed it went so quick.
Sitting in the grass at the end of the 3rd zipline, waiting for the rest of the group to make it over, I look down and see another long tension bridge over the river. This one wasn't like the others that we came across on the hike yesterday. This was a little more intense. The boards being my leg length apart, using our zip line harness as a safety, one by one we were sent out onto it. Again, not looking down, focusing on the boards ahead, and balancing every step. I loved it. Except for the few times others on the bridge lost their footing and caused the boards to flip sideways, leaving me with some nasty bruises from the wires. Still, it was exiting. I'd definitely do this again.
The next 3 1/2 hours was something other than pleasant. Starting at the base of the railroad tracks, our guide deciding to take us through a "shortcut". Uphill again, crossing the railroad tracks as we come out of the trees for a quick opening, then darting back in and going up some more. My body was starting to hate me. Blisters on each of my toes. Two toenails taped down as they were in the process of falling off. And my hip was in a great amount of pain. I kept going up the trail. Never stopping. Still not quitting. Ultimately, though, still climbing.
The railroad tracks were a slight gradual incline as we walked along at somewhat of a brisk pace to start. Meeting at one of the bridges as a group, then parting ways for the fast to go faster and the slow to go at their own pace. I somehow faired somewhere in the middle. Only stopping a couple times. The pain in my feet were becoming somewhat unbearable. Shifting the way I step to take pressure off sore spots. Digging deep mentally and wanting to walk in silence and not be bothered.
Agus Calienta was in sight. Finally. The base of Machu Picchu was near.
Day 5: Machu Picchu
Keeping to the theme of barely having enough rest to let the muscles sync in and realize how much pain they were in. We woke at 3:30am to get into our respective lines. Me taking the bus and Rehan to the base of the 2000+ step hike, both heading up to Machu Picchu. As much as I wanted to do the hike and have that unbelievable experience, my body was giving up. At the risk of about to lose two toenails and my hip screaming, I opted for the bus to speed me to the top.
After the last few days of having clear skies, perfect temperature, and just the right amount of sun vs shade, today was less than perfect. We woke to rain, fog, and cold. Bundling up in our rain gear and hoping the clouds would burn off, we kept our hopes up and were going to enjoy this ancient beauty regardless of the weather.
As the tour came to an end, the guide leaving the group near the exit where we could enter again another two more times to roam the ruins on our own as long as we entered before Noon. Keep in mind, on entrance you start at the top and slowly you can make your way back down to the bottom. Once you pass a certain point though, there is no turning around and going back up without exiting and re-entering again from the beginning. I mention this because Rehan left for the Machu Picchu Mountain hike and I had gone down too far because I saw llamas and wanted to try to take a photo with them, not realizing I had gone past that point of no return and was unable to enter for my third time as I had missed the "enter 3 times before Noon warning". So I was stuck, waiting for him to exit for a couple hours. I was upset at first, but besides the sun gate, I had seen all of the ruins. I just didn't get a chance to really analyze all of it before I was forced out. Lesson learned! Yet again, finding myself alone with a lot of time to think and awe at what I had just accomplished the last few days.
Day 6 & 7: Huaypo Lake and Salinas De Maras
Sleeping in for the first time in almost a week back in Cusco, after taking the train from Agus Calienta the night before. Slowly taking our time to get ready for our 1pm reservation to go quading through the Sacred Valley. Unfortunately we were unable to go to Moray, but we were able to visit Huaypo Lake (which was a nice surprise) and Salinas De Maras which were both picturesque and something pictures will never do justice.
Day 8 & 9: Lima, Peru
Having just over a day and a half, wandering around Lima before our red eye flight back home. We ran into one of our trekking companions from Machu Picchu. Overall, this week went from inspiration, to soul searching, then ending in many laughs... this was a great way to end this journey.
LEAVE // 04.23.2018 | 01:05 AM CDT | LIMA, PERU
ARRIVE // 04.23.2018 | 12:19 PM PDT | PORTLAND, OR
TRANSPORTATION // ALASKA AIRLINES | LATAM
LAYOVER // LOS ANGELES | 2.5 HOURS