The morning of our second day on the trail (and every morning after that) Wilbert woke us up. He came to the door of each of our tents and said, "Buenos Dias! Coca tea?" One of my dreams in life is to be woken by someone handing my a cup of tea, and then to drink that tea in my bed. Or in this case, in my tent.
It had been a hot night, I slept without my sleeping bag and was still sweaty. Because we were so low (by the standards of this trip) and near the river, it was hot and humid.
After packing up our bags and getting our snacks from Domingo, we were ready to cross the river. The suspension bridge washed out last year, so we got to ride across in a open cage suspended about twenty feet above the Apurimac River on a cable. One person pushes you out and then either you pull yourself the rest of the way, or someone on the other side reels you in.
From there, it is a mere 1800 meters (5905 feet) up the hill to Choquequirao. I would describe the hike as a grueling sufferfest or a sweaty slog. I was drenched and every time we got to the top of one ridiculously steep switchback, there would be another one ahead that looked exactly the same. It was purgatory. I would have cried if I had the energy, but all I could do was place my trekking poles, take four steps, and place the poles in front of me again. We were in the shade most of the time, otherwise it would have been really miserable.
Everyone (except Kelli--she is a machine) had one hard day on the trip. This was mine.
As we climbed the mountain, trumpet flowers gave way to penstemons, lady slippers, and ferns. We crossed a small creek cascading down the mountain and got to dunk our heads and cool off for a couple minutes. After the millionth switchback, I drank the juice box Domingo packed for me and felt a lot better.
Lunch was on a small farm/campsite. Several families lived there, on these super steep slopes, and I wondered what it must be like to live a day and half walk from the nearest small town. No electricity, no running water, just making a living with subsistence farming and selling a few sodas and beers to tourists. When I think of living off the grid, I picture us with solar or wind power, and a cistern to catch water. This is really off the grid.
Domingo caught up with us and cooked quinoa, veggies, mashed potatoes, avocados, and garlic bread. Maybe beef for the rest of the group. We were not roughing it. I had a beer, wrestled with a dog and a little kid, then took a quick nap on the grass. I no longer felt like crying.
After lunch, Wilbert told us it was "twenty minutes over rolling hills" to Choquequirao. About an hour later, after dragging myself up and down steep inclines, we arrived. Fortunately, there were a lot of pretty flowers along the way to distract me. And I learned an important lesson about Wilbert's perspective on distances.
Choquequirao, also called "Chuqi K'iraw," "Cradle of Gold" or "Choqek'iraw," is on one of the spurs in the Salkantay Mountain Range. Much like Macchu Pichu, Choquequirao was built high on a ridge above a sacred river. In all directions, you can gaze on high mountains, including three apus, or mountain gods. Both Macchu Pichu and Choquequirao have upper and lower levels built around a central plaza and have an elevated platform (usnu) at one end. And they are both surrounded by stone-walled terraces for growing crops.
The differences between the two Incan cities, is that Machcu Pichu is mostly uncovered, while Choquequirao remains mostly overgrown by the jungle. No one knows how many buildings are waiting to be rediscovered. And since it is a two day walk, whereas Machcu Pichu only requires a bus ride, Choquequirao is relatively empty. When we arrived, there was no one else there other than a few UNESCO workers. We had seen just two or three other groups on the trail. At Macchu Pichu we would see hundreds of people.
I walked up to the usnu alone. It was a flat area above the main plaza used for sacrifices and spiritual ceremonies. Ross had been talking about the "good energy" in the mountains, and everyone raves about the spiritual significance of these Incan cities. I definitely wanted to feel that, to have some sort of spiritual experience, but those things usually don't happen for me. Until I walked onto that usnu.
Maybe it was vertigo, but my whole body was tingling. I had to sit down on the low stone wall circling the platform. That made me feel even more tingly. There was energy flowing through my body. I don't know if it was Inca magic or a gift from the sun god, but something was going on up there. Later, Ross, Felicia, Amy, and Kelli all had similar experiences.
I explored a little more before walking back down to the campground with Amy and Kelli. Despite all the running and strength training I've been doing, my quads were screaming. The blisters on my feet hurt. But I was psyched. I just walked for two days up and down steep, steep mountains to get to Incan ruins. Not many people get to do that. And we had another week ahead of us. Happy birthday to me, indeed.
This is part of a multi-blog series of campground reviews. You can click through others at the bottom of this post.
Yellowstone National Park has twelve campgrounds for car camping. I’m going to review a few of them, but all of the campgrounds are listed below and if you follow the link you’ll get to a page that allows you to look at photos and get more information on each one.
Overnight camping of any type (tent, vehicle, or RV) outside designated campgrounds is not allowed. You can get a permit to use backcountry campsites, but you need to backpack in to those.
The upside of the Mammoth Campground is that it is the only campground in the park open all year. Located near the north entrance of the park, it has easy access to the Boiling River and all the amenities in Mammoth and Gardiner.
The downside is that it is in the bend of a road, so it’s noisy as cars drive by all day (and night). The campground is in a sagebrush steppe, so it’s pretty open and you’ll have good views of your neighbor. If it was up to me, I’d camp just outside the park at the Forest Service’s Eagle Creek Campground.
Mammoth has 85 sites and most are pull-throughs. It’s first come, first serve—no reservations. The campground may be filled by 11 am, so arrive early to obtain a site. Campsite occupancy is limed to six people per site. You can stay for up to 14 days from July 1 through Labor Day, and 30 days the rest of the year.
This is a nice alternative to the Mammoth Campground since it is quieter and more secluded. It’s just 10-15 minutes (driving) from Mammoth. Indian Creek runs alongside the campground and is great for wading in and looking for macroinvertebrates. The Big Horn trail leaves from the campground, and is an easy walk—depending on how far you go. I like this campground because you could spend a whole day here without ever getting in your car.
Indian Creek Campground has 75 sites and 45 of them are pull-thoughs. Expect vault toilets. It’s first come, first serve—no reservations. The campground may be filled by 11 am, so arrive early to obtain a site. Campsite occupancy is limed to six people per site. You can stay for up to 14 days from July 1 through Labor Day, and 30 days the rest of the year.
This campground is huge, but it has always been surprisingly mellow when we’ve stayed there. The individual sites are pretty tiny.
The campground is located near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, on a hill across the street from the Canyon stores, visitor center, and lodge. It's nice to have easy access to the Canyon and the Upper and Lower Falls early in the morning or later in the evening when the crowds have dissipated.
Xanterra Parks & Resorts operates Canyon Campground and reservations can be made through their website. Same-day reservations can be made by calling 307.344.7902. Future reservations can be made by calling 307.344.7311 or 1.866.GEYSERLAND. There are 273 sites spread out over several big loops. There are pay showers and laundry on site. Campsite occupancy is limed to six people per site. You can stay for up to 14 days from July 1 through Labor Day, and 30 days the rest of the year.
Grant is a ridiculously large campground, but you can get quieter sites. Plus, it’s Yellowstone and more than three million people come through each year. The only way to avoid crowds is to get into the backcountry.
Xanterra Parks & Resorts operates Grant Campground and reservations can be made through their website. Same-day reservations can be made by calling 307.344.7902. Future reservations can be made by calling 307.344.7311 or 1.866.GEYSERLAND. There are 430 sites. There are pay showers and laundry on site, but two showers/night are included with your campsite. Campsite occupancy is limed to six people per site. You can stay for up to 14 days from July 1 through Labor Day, and 30 days the rest of the year.
As promised, here are the rest of the campgrounds in Yellowstone. For more details and photos, go to the webpage.
While You Are in Yellowstone
Yellowstone hikes for kids and families
Beaver Pond Loop (Mammoth)
Boiling River and Lone Star Geyser (Mammoth and Old Faithful)
Trout Lake (Lamar Valley)
Lost Lake (Tower/Roosevelt)
The Hoodoos (Mammoth)
More Campground Reviews
Make sure you check out these other campground reviews and find the perfect spot for your next camping trip.
Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies -The Best Provincial Park Campgrounds in Southern Alberta
AKontheGO -Alaskans Share Their Favorite Campgrounds
Kid Project -Sandflats Recreational Area, Moab, UT
Brave Ski Mom -Best Campgrounds in North America: Western Colorado Edition
Climb Run Lift Mom -Camping at the City of Rocks
The Campsite -Top 5 Backcountry Campgrounds in Banff National Park
TravelingMel -Yellowstone National Park Campground Review
Adventure Parents -Classic Campsites: Murphy Hogback Campground, Canyonlands National Park
Mommy Hiker -West Coast Campground Review - Sweet Summer Spots to Relax & Recharge!
OurBoler - The Best of West Coast Camping
The Kid Project - Camping and Climbing in Maple Canyon
Outsidemom - Our favorite campgrounds in the Western US
Active Kids Club - Camping in Ontario
Walk Simply - San Elijo State Beach Camping for Urban Nature Fun
Remember when I said I was going to keep these Peru posts to 10(ish) photos? Ha! Weeding through these photos to choose less than a dozen is downright painful. I'm keeping this one to 13, but I can't guarantee I can hold back on posting more in the future....
After a few days in Cuzco we piled into a van, along with two guides, two cooks, and the driver (that makes ten of us and all our stuff for eight days!) and drove to Cachora. It's a little less than six miles as the crow flies to Choquequirao, but it would take us two days and around 20 miles to get there. From those Incan ruins we continued up and over the Andes.
We started our trek, clean and excited, along a dirt road that turned into a trail. We walked past little subsistence farms and gazed over corn fields growing on steep terraces across the canyon. The Vilcabamba Range rose up, snow covered.
We stopped for lunch a steep ridge and dined on what would be the first of many amazing meals. As we took our time on the trail, our cook Domingo, sprinted ahead with a full backpack to get our lunch ready. I've never been on a trip where someone else cooked for me, and it was amazing. Almost as amazing as the food, was the view of Choquequirao and the Andean condor that flew right over our heads.
Choquequirao is a ruined Inca city, similar in structure and architecture to Machu Picchu. The ruins are buildings and terraces at levels above and below Sunch'u Pata, the truncated hill top. But, more on that later.
After lunch we started downhill toward the Apurimac River. It's about 3/4 of a mile straight down, but much longer on the switchbacks. Even though my quads were fried by the time we got down to the river, it was worth it to see the amazing mountain views.
We camped at Playa Rosalina, right next to the roaring Apurimac River. After dinner, Domingo, also a shaman, made an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to ensure we'd have a good trip. He laid down a circle of coca leaves, then added sweets, pretend money, figurines, food, and more. We each chose three perfect coca leaves to represent father, mother, and children and blew on them three times. We made wishes for friends/community, family, and ourselves before adding them to the offering. Domingo put the carefully wrapped offering into the fire and we all watched its smoke float into the sky.
Spoiler alert: The offering worked--we had a great trip.
Plan your own trip
Are you reading along and thinking, "I want to go on a trip like this!"? Call my friend Felicia at Bella Treks, she'll set you up. And it's not just Peru, she goes all over South America, Morocco, Yellowstone, and a ton of other places.
I'm back from Peru, and it was great. The ruins were otherworldly, the mountains were steep and lush, and the new friendships are timeless. As you know, I take a lot of photos, but I am restricting myself to ten(ish) photos per post.
We spent two and half days in Cuzco, exploring the city known as the navel of the world. Cuzco is above 11,000 feet and my heart was pounding as I walked up and down the streets. It was once the center of the Incan world.
Today's Peruvians seem to love festivals. There was a huge parade to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a bank, another parade the next day to commemorate universities, and May Day festivities the following week.
We also took some time to check out a few of the museums. There was some weird stuff in those museums.
The outsides of the buildings were pretty nice, too.
See that? Ten(ish) photos.
Right now I am in Peru on my birthday trip, touring Machu Picchu. I went ahead and posted this ahead of time so you wouldn't miss me.
Way back in March, the boys and I met some friends in Bozeman for an ice skating party. It was the first time they'd skated indoors and I thought they would appreciate the smooth, manicured ice.
Since the open skating is in the middle of the day, no one else was there.