Peruvian Adventure

With the main goal of our Peruvian adventure being my hike to Machu Picchu, documented in my previous post, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the other wonderful experiences we shared as a family. We began our adventure at 11,152 feet in Cusco. The city was bustling with the annual Inti Raymi only a few days away. The Inti Raymi, or sun festival, is the Incan celebration of the winter solstice. People were coming to Cusco from all over the world to experience the festival. The Inti Raymi starts in Cusco with the Incan king proclaiming the celebration to be held at the fortress of Saqsaywaman, at 12,142 feet above the city of Cusco. It was a once in a lifetime experience watching locals celebrating their history. Everyone was dressed in the brilliant colors of Peru.

We had several days to explore Cusco and attempt to acclimate to the altitude and lack of oxygen. Coca tea was provided at every opportunity especially breakfast. It is rumored to help with the altitude. I wouldn’t be able to say scientifically if it helped or not, but the three of us escaped any significant altitude issues. I personally felt that significant water intake was equally important. Our lips stayed chapped. My videos of the trip are on YouTube if you search Dennis Thrasher.

We had wonderful days exploring the cathedral, museums, Incan palace, shops and the food, oh the food. All of the restaurants received fresh produce daily from local farmers. The food was truly special in each restaurant we visited. We had our first Cuy (guinea pig) and alpaca steak along with wonderful stews, potatoes and fresh breads. It was an easy walk downhill to the main plaza followed by a difficult uphill walk back due to the lack of oxygen. We would rest by stopping in the local shops to explore. The hotel provided oxygen in our room to ease our tired bodies to sleep.

Following the Inti Raymi, our trip continued into the Sacred Valley for magnificent views of the mostly agricultural region. Mt. Veronica, the area’s highest peak, loomed in the distance at 18,642 feet.

We visited several interesting sites in the Sacred Valley. Along with the magnificent views, we visited a large salt mine and an Incan agriculture experiment station called Moray. The Inca had learned that each tier of their terracing had a slightly different ecosystem. They experimented with what grew best in the different areas. It’s possible they even used this site to genetically modify crops.

We had time to visit a local shop that specialized in naturally dyed alpaca wool products. All the brilliant colors of Peru were made using various natural items and techniques. Needless to say, the locals parted us from some of our money.

We worked our way to the end of the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is a charming village complete with its own set of Incan ruins and stunning mountain views. Ollantaytambo is completely walkable. You can stroll the stone streets and shop, eat or visit a couple sets of ruins.

After a nice day in Ollantaytambo, our family separated the next morning. I left early the next morning to hike KM104 (details in my previous post) while the ladies had a free day to shop and explore to their hearts content. They would leave by train later in the day so we could meet up at our Aguas Calientes hotel. It is important to note that luggage is not allowed on the train. We each packed a backpack with a few clothes and toiletries and left our luggage in hotel storage. One of our tour team members picked up our luggage and returned it to our original Cusco hotel.

The family made their way to the Aguas Calientes hotel later that evening to find me washed and completely collapsed in the bed. They thought I was dead – ye of little faith. Dinner and Pisco Sours were included with our hotel. The Pisco Sours eased the leg pain. The morning would bring our greatest adventure. A full tour of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu is one of the new wonders of the world and an UNESCO world heritage site. It is truly a special place that you could explore endlessly. We had most of the day to explore before returning to town for dinner and shopping. Our evening train would return us to our Cusco hotel. We would spend one last night in Cusco before boarding a flight to Puerto Maldonado, the beginning of the Amazon River.

We left our original guide and driver at the Cusco airport. Once we landed at the small airstrip in Puerto Maldonado, we were picked up by hotel staff and taken to the docks. We boarded long, skinny river boats to make our way down the river to our jungle cabana. We would have two and a half days to explore the Amazon Jungle. We were shown our three walled jungle cabana and assigned a naturalist almost immediately. We took a short hike with our naturalists where he explained all of the plants and animals we encountered. We returned for a 5 star dinner complete with beer and wine. The hotel ran on generator power that was turned on and off at specific times. They turned off the power while we were on tours. They would restore the power at meal times and until about midnight.

During our stay, we had a night river cruise to see cayman, a jungle hike, a lake boat ride to see rare giant river otters, a jungle canopy tour and a night jungle hike. We found a tarantula nest during the night hike.

We said our goodbyes as we worked our way back up the river to the airport for our last stop before returning home. We had 24 hours in Lima before we were done.

We were met at the Lima airport by our new guide and driver. Lima was much more cosmopolitan than the rural Cusco. They took us to the last hotel of our stay. We walked to the closest plaza and enjoyed our first ceviche, raw seafood slightly cooked in citrus juice mixed with onions and peppers. The following morning we had a half day tour of Lima before our return home. We explored the cathedral that held Francisco Pizarro’s remains, the catacombs and the famous Love Park before our night flight back to the US.

Peru is not to be left off your bucket list. We found the people warm and inviting. The food rivals anywhere in the world. The views were endless and beautiful. Do yourself a favor and plan this trip now.

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Finally Machu Picchu

Finally Machu Picchu has been my motivation for the last two years while working towards my goal of hiking KM104. Two years ago I completed the 52 hike challenge in preparation for this difficult hike. The challenge helped me rediscover my love of the outdoors and prepare me for off road hiking in difficult terrain. Still, I didn’t feel I was getting enough miles in to be fully ready. Last year, I started walking 12-15 miles a week attempting to build my stamina. There was just one unknown factor I really had to conquer, the lack of oxygen at altitude. There just isn’t anywhere close to Alabama to prepare for high altitude.

I’ve wanted to make this trip my entire life after seeing Machu Picchu in a National Geographic magazine when I was around 10 years old. This trip was to celebrate my 50th birthday and 25th wedding anniversary. Two very special occasions to say the least. Video of this hike is available on YouTube by searching Dennis Thrasher for those interested.

The adventure started very early catching the Peru Rail train from the charming town of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is a charming place in and of itself. It is beautifully nestled in the Sacred Valley complete with its own Incan ruins. Ollantaytambo is where the road ends. The only way to Machu Picchu is by train or foot. The Peru Rail train follows the gentle curves of the Urubamba River until it reaches kilometer marker 104 (KM104). The train pulled to a stop in the middle of a temperate rain forest. My guide and I jumped off the train into the track’s gravel bed. We were the only two getting off at this stop.

We checked in at the trailhead after crossing the Urubamba River on a rustic suspension bridge. We presented our passports and hiking permit as the number of hikers is limited each day. We proceeded across the base of the mountain to our first set of ruins, Chachabamba.

A “bamba” is a rest stop along the Inca Trail. A place to get food and fresh llama before continuing on your journey. From the ruins of Chachabamba the pain begins. KM104 works it’s way slowly across and up the mountain. Stone stairs and wooden bridges exist where would normally be a steep incline. It is a steady four hour uphill climb where the lack of oxygen is immediately noticeable. All my preparations, including losing 25 pounds, were necessary to complete this climb.

After about two hours of climbing, the first views of Winay Wayna are visible across the valley. This is an adrenaline rush as Winay Wayna is the halfway point and end of the most difficult portion of the trail. I looked back at my progress.

There are still miles to Winay Wayna as we work around the mountain to the base of a waterfall before making the final assent into the ruins.

Once in Winay Wayna, we took a break and explored the site. There are no roads to this site. You can only see it by hiking. Both the ruins and views are spectacular. The grounds are carefully tended by the llama that live here.

Once rested, it was 300 steps to the top of the ruins and back to the trail. The trail was more rolling as we crossed a “draw” between two mountains. We were finally on Machu Picchu mountain. We hiked another couple miles and entered the check out station thus marking us off the trail. It was only a short distance to the famed monkey stairs. A set of fifty near vertical stairs were all that separated us from the Sun Gate at the top of Machu Picchu mountain.

After the monkey stairs and a short additional hike, we crossed over the mountain and through the Sun Gate. All I could think was “finally, Machu Picchu”. It only took forty years.

The remaining two miles were all downhill and the lack of oxygen much less noticeable. We hiked down to the famous photo spot.

We headed to the bus that would take us down the mountain to Aguas Calientes. There I would get clean, rejoin my family and have the national cocktail, a Pisco Sour. Exploring Machu Picchu would have to wait one more night. This Cusquena Roja is for you.

52 Hike Challenge Memoirs 

So what did I learn on my 52 Hike Challenge?  After all, I had a lot of time to think.  Surely something worthwhile came from this effort.  I finished 52 hikes, 178 miles in total, in 10 1/2 months.  I hiked Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Spain.  I must have learned something, and I did indeed.


First, I learned Alabama, my part of the world is as pretty as any other, you are just familiar with it.  You have to leave the car to find the prettiest spots.

Not only did I hike and confirm my love of the outdoors, I also stopped to smell the roses.  I explored the small towns.


I learned you can still be physically and mentally strong at 50 (ok 48).

I learned there are no cellphone signals at the best hikes.  Hike prepared and be safe.

Spider webs across trails mean you are the first one hiking today.  Watch for snakes and bears.  While on the subject, big lizards sound like snakes when you’re alone.

Climbing hills in life sucks, but the top has the best view.  Stay strong my friends, and never quit.

Mental toughness and work ethic will carry you as far as your education.


I would love to have shown you everything but you can’t live broadcast waterfalls, they are always in a hole. You’ll have to visit yourself.


Anytime you catch a break going down, you’ll eventually have to walk back up, just like life.

I don’t hate snakes as much, they are fascinating at a safe distance.

I learned how to offset my pictures so my Facebook profile picture doesn’t mess it up.

I love and miss my family when they’re not with me.


I had 72 degrees temperature variances in hike temperature, plan for it.

Proper equipment makes things easier.

To my daughter, don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do, lift those weights, jump those horses, get off the couch and find your life passion.


Sometimes planes fly into mountains, what legacy are you leaving?


Keep toenails short for downhill walking, just sayin.

Shortcuts always, always end poorly!  Stay on the trail.

Lastly, please keep Gatlinburg in your prayers.  We left town Sunday morning before the fires made it to town.  I’m hearing that our cabin on Sunday was burned down on Monday.  We drove past the fire as we were leaving but I never thought it would make it to town.

Hike #32 (n/a) – Pigeon Hill Loop Trail


This 5.0 mile trail was also at Kennesaw Mountain Georgia.  I hiked this trail back to back with the Mountain trail making for a 10 mile and 94 flight day.  My feet reminded me that I’m still working my way up.  The trail itself had rolling hills but was notably more flat than the Mountain trail.


I noticed the complete lack of water on Kennesaw Mountain.  It made me wonder how so many men could be supported here.  This trail gave some of the answers.  The troop lines were closer together here, but it was clear to me that the Southern troop line extended off the mountain and past a significant stream.  This must have been to protect a water source for the men.

The number of people reduced steadily as you leave the main mountain area.  Still, the park was being heavily used for hiking, trail running and dog walking.  There were many alternate parking areas were you could have easy access to one trail or another.  It would take a little time to explore all this park has to offer.

Hike #31 (58G) – Kennesaw Mountain NMP


Kennesaw Mountain NMP was the location of a major battle in the taking of Atlanta during the Civil War.  The high ground was owned by the confederate army.  The full hike is 5.0 miles up the main mountain and the neighboring Little Kennesaw Mountain.  There are shorter or longer options available.  There is also a shuttle to the top if you don’t hike.  The park is free to the public and was very busy on this Memorial Day.


The hike starts at the gift shop and proceeds up the mountain at a challenging incline.  It is roughly a mile to the top.  Being Memorial Day, cannons were being fired at the base of the mountain as I made my way to the top.   Once there, you can see the position of four cannons and a scenic view of downtown Atlanta.  It made me wonder what the view would have been during the Civil War.  Past the Atlanta skyline, you can also see the distant Stone Mountain.


The confederate soldiers were at a disadvantage even holding the high ground.  The Southern cannons were inaccurate smooth bores while the Northern troops had highly accurate rifled cannons.  The entire mountain was covered in trenches built by Southern soldiers for protection.  Troop positions were noted on signs throughout the park.


The mountain itself was covered in large boulders that no doubt played a role in protecting Northern troops as they took the mountain.


The top of the mountain was covered in bluming cacti which are unusual to the area.


This is a lovely mountain hike that can be added to an Atlanta visit.  Still, the constant trench lines remind you of what happened at this place.  Many of the wounded from this battle and those that followed were transported by rail to a small, inadequate hospital beside Auburn University, my alma mater and current town.  Most to never recover.

Hike #30 (n/a) – Dismals Canyon


Dismals Canyon, about a hour north of Jasper, was one of my favorite hikes yet.  It is near the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama and continues the same rain forest feel as Natural Bridge.  I can’t imagine why this hike didn’t make the top 50 other than being short and on private property.


The location was nicely developed with a soda counter for lunch and a covered deck for resting.  The hike itself proceeds down about 5 stories into the canyon and continues 1.5 miles though spectacular scenery with a creek crossing or two along the way.

On this hike, do make a reservation one week in advance for the day/night combo.  The canyon is known for what they call “dismalites”, a type of glow worm if you will.  These are only found in a few places in the world.  My understanding is that this larvae lives about six months.  They weave a small silky web around themselves and glow to attract food sources into their webs.  It was explained that the larvae were the main reason for the notably fewer mosquitos in the canyon.  Still, bug spray and a red lens flashlight would be recommended.  On the .5 mile guided night tour, they take you to several darker areas were you can view the glowing larvae.  I was unable to capture this on my camera but borrowed a photo from their website.  We were told that Jessie James used this area as a hide out and was one of the first to write about the Dismalites.


I can only compare the view to looking at the night sky.  It was a very interesting treat.

We had some time to kill between our day hike and night tour.  We explored the nearby Bankhead National Forest and the Houston County Jail.  The jail is the only surviving log jail in Alabama.  It was very small and had convenient urination holes through the logs to the outside.  I guess they didn’t plan on holding many female prisoners back in the day.

Hike #29 (n/a) – Natural Bridge


Natural Bridge is found in the town of the same name just North of Jasper, Alabama.  It is a short 1.0 mile hike to one of Alabama’s neatest geographical features.  In fact, the hike is optional.  The bridge itself is only about 100 yards from the ticketing area.


The natural bridge was made by a plume of iron ore stretching over sandstone beneath the ocean that once covered Alabama.  When the ocean receded, the sandstone washed away leaving the iron ore bridge.


The hike passes the natural bridge and continues on a short loop through an equally impressive canyon.  The high, jagged rocks are also worth the visit.


I’ve never really explored this part of Alabama.  The entire area felt more like a rain forest than is typical of Alabama.  Don’t forget the bug repellent as the shady, moist conditions were perfect for mosquitoes.


For dinner, get off the main roads and go into downtown Jasper.  The old part of town was charming and filled with nice places to eat.  We ate at Warehouse 3 Nineteen.  Everyone enjoyed the meal as well as the warehouse charm.  You don’t want to miss it.

Hike #20 (n/a) – Mijas Urban Hike

  
So sad, our last day in Spain.  We made a quick trip over to Mijas, another small coastal village.  We went to the old part of town for some quick shopping.  Our first sight was the donkey taxi system.  

   

Mijas was a charming village.  We had our best homemade chocolate con churros here.

  

  

 We mostly shopped for our last items.  We visited a small bull ring also.  It stood in sharp contrast to the large bull ring in Madrid.  It reminded me of the small gladiator rings in the movie “Gladiators” prior to going to Rome.

   
 
We returned to Malaga for our final evening.  We decided to return to the beach for one last visit.  We had, in my opinion, our finest meal.  We enjoyed tapas at a beach view restaurant for a couple of hours.  We had sangria, grilled sardines, garlic shrimp and chicken skewers before some final shopping.  Tomorrow, we hiked an additional 2.5 miles, through Paris, on our return home.  

   
    
    
    
    
   
Until next time.    

Hike #19 (n/a) – Granada Urban Hike

  

  
Today, after a spectacular sunrise, we traveled to Granada for a tour of the Alhambra.  The Alhambra is one of the most impressive structures I’ve ever seen.  It is impressive in both its physical structure but also its unique blend of Muslim/Christian history.  Spain was occupied by Muslim forces for over 800 years.  Once retaken by the Christians, the fortress had Christian elements added.  While I’ve been here before, I never grow tired of special places.   This place is indeed special to me.  The last time I was here, Lucy was about 5 months pregnant with Megan.  We took a special picture here in front of one of the entrances.  We were able to reproduce that picture today.  We also had a young expecting couple with us on our tour.  They took their picture in the same spot as well as a group photo with us.  What a special moment.  We managed 5.6 miles today.
 
 

After our tour of the grounds, we had more time to shop.  Granada is known for inlaid wooden items (and Spanish Guitars).  We picked up a few items for ourselves and some friends.  We had time to continue our shopping once we returned to Malaga attempting to remember everyone.

 

We decided to have dinner in Malaga instead of our prepaid dinner since we were nearing the end of our journey.  We opted for a dinner at an Irish pub tonight.  I had fish and chips with mushy peas.

   

  

 

Tomorrow is our last day.  I’m starting to want to move permanently to Spain.  I’m in love with their way of life.  One odd but special thing I’ve noticed here.  I was never given a restaurant bill before asking for it.  The Spanish appreciate their customers are are willing for you to stay until you are ready to leave, no table flipping here. 

Hike #18 (n/a) – Malaga Urban Hike

   

   

Today we’re moving our home base from Madrid to the coastal town of Malaga by way of high speed train.  We had a long way to go, but still managed to get in 6.07 miles before bed.  We checked out early in the morning and made our way to the train station.   Sadly, this station was the site of the fairly recent Madrid terrorist attack.  These high speed train rides are really an event in and of themselves.  I wish we had these in the states.  Our ride today was three hours through beautiful countryside at 186 mph, at least once outside the cities.

  
    
Once in Malaga, we checked into our new hotel.  We lucked into an ocean view room.  I could have slept on the balcony.  At lunch, we had a slightly difficult time ordering due to the language barrier.  The waiter worked hard to help us understand our options.  Lucy and I both ordered what he called Chorizo.  What I hoped would be sausage ended up being a bowl of spicy broth with various pig parts.  While I skipped the organs, I did try tripe for the first time.  I found it to be mostly flavorless and tasted mostly of the rich broth.  Oh well, when in Spain.
We had a large amount of shopping time today around a central plaza.  We explored the shops and streets with euros hot in our pockets.  Lucy and Megan had to try a unique luxury, the fish foot spa.  You have to take care of both your feet and purple pedicures while hiking, so they jumped at this opportunity.  I was the cameraman for this operation.

   
   

We ended our day by finding our way to the beach.  Finally the elusive Mediterranean stretched in front of me.  It was all I hoped it would be.  Beautiful water and grayish volcanic sand as far as you could see.  

  
   
   
Our guide surprised me a dinner with a wrapped present.  She had found the red wine Torrijas that seemed absent in Madrid.  We enjoyed it in our room as we got ready for bed.  It was better to me than the milk version.  Maybe it was the baker, but more likely the thoughtfulness of our guide that made this great.  I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.