Category Archives: Adventure

That Time We Got Stuck in the Argentinean Salt Flats – Part Two

Check out part one to read the beginning of our salt flats saga.

image

After more than two hours and ten kilometres of walking, we arrived at some buildings that we’d been hoping might house some people. We were pretty disappointed to find that the buildings were just empty shells, but our spirits were lifted when we saw a guy riding towards us on his motorcycle. Finally, someone who might be able to help us! By using my stumbling Spanish and showing him a picture of the truck on Zevi’s phone, I managed to convey our situation to him. As I was trying to explain our plight he taught me the Spanish word for “stuck”, which would prove to be very useful later. He couldn’t drive us anywhere since he didn’t have any passenger seats, but he did lead us back to some buildings near to where he was staying in the hopes that we’d be able to get cell phone service. We were at a point where calling 911 seemed to be our best bet – we weren’t sure what the police would be able to do for us, but we felt like our situation was dire enough to warrant an emergency call. However, despite our new friend’s attempt to position first Zevi’s, then my, and then his phone at varying angles on a rock where he said there was usually cell service, none of us were having any luck getting through. Eventually we had to give up and figure out our next move.

Even though the guy who had been helping us told us that waiting by the virtually deserted highway in hopes of flagging down a car would be futile, there really wasn’t anything else for us to do. As we dragged our exhausted bodies towards the road, both Zevi and I glanced at a broken down shell of a building and wondered if that was going to have to be our shelter for the night. Neither of us said anything, but we were both really starting to worry that that huddling behind those ruined walls by the side of the road might be our fate that night.

Sleeping out in the wilderness might not have been such a concern if we had accounted for the fact that we might still be outside when the sun went down. We were in such a hurry to leave the truck, which at that time was roasting in the sizzling desert heat of the salt flats, that taking warm layers hadn’t crossed our mind. I was wearing a t-shirt and a thin skirt, and Zevi was wearing a lightweight long sleeved shirt and shorts. Standing by the side of the deserted highway as the sun began its slow slide down below the hills, we started to wish that the four water bottles in our backpack could be magically transformed in to warm coats. We found a couple of rocks by the side of the road that functioned as a makeshift seat, and I sat on Zevi’s lap as we tried to keep each other warm. The minutes wore on and on, and, just as our friend had predicted, no cars came. We were both trying to stay positive and be strong for each other, but as we sat there I felt so absolutely helpless and hopeless. This was the most dangerous situation that either of us had been in. I’d never felt more vulnerable, and I don’t mean that I felt like I was in a place where I could share my feelings, I mean that I seriously felt like we might not make it out of that windy, deserted Northern Argentinean countryside. It was incredibly scary, and even thinking back on it now makes my heart race a bit.

We’d been waiting for what seemed like forever, and we were both almost ready to break down. After coming up with a few ideas, all of which we ultimately decided weren’t going to help our cause, Zevi suddenly exclaimed that he thought he’d seen a vehicle moving towards us. When I looked and saw nothing we figured that the stress and exhaustion were making him see things that weren’t there, as much as he wanted them to be. A few minutes later, though, we discovered that he hadn’t been hallucinating, as a beat up orange truck came in to view and laboured towards us. We jumped up and down and frantically waved with every ounce of energy we had, hoping to convey our desperation to the driver of the truck. The relief we felt when he slowed to a stop is indescribable.

Our saviours were a farmer, his wife, and their numerous children, all crammed in to a single bench seat in their elderly truck as they made their way back home from an All Saints Day church service. I told the driver our story, and although his countryside Spanish was nearly impossible for me to understand, I managed to decipher his offer to stay with them in their house just up the road. Let me tell you, I was thanking my lucky stars that I’d decided to do that Spanish minor in university at this point. On top of this, he let me know that he thought he’d be able to recruit some friends and get our truck out in the morning. I couldn’t believe that we’d gone from utter to despair to incredible good fortune in a matter of minutes. Zevi and I couldn’t get the smiles off our faces as we settled in to the back of his truck. The respite from the wind was such a huge relief – we would have slept there all night with no complaints!
image
image
We bumped and jostled our way about five kilometers up a dirt road to the farmer and his family’s humble home, where, incredibly, they gave us a room to sleep in and fed us llama stew for dinner. They had no electricity or running water, but we certainly weren’t looking for luxury at that point. As we ate our dinner and drank our tea, the farmer’s wife came and told me about her children and their way of life. Although this was definitely a negative experience overall, the chance to chat with some true locals and see how they lived was the silver lining.

image

True to his promise, in the morning the farmer had rounded up a couple of neighbours and gotten all of the necessary supplies together in order to extract our truck from its salty, muddy trap. We drove on to the salt flats, and, although I’d warned him that we’d traveled a long way, I think our chauffeur was a little surprised as we journeyed further and further away from the road. When we finally had our truck in our sights, we parked a little ways back so that the farmer’s truck wouldn’t suffer a similar fate to ours. We carted shovels and boards and tarps to our truck and the farmer and his two friends got to work with a little help from Zevi. It took them an hour to extract each wheel from the mud’s powerful grip, using bottle jacks and planks to prop the wheels up little by little. As I watched them chew their coca leaves and drink their boxed red wine as they worked diligently in the hot sunshine, I wondered what poor soul they’d practiced this technique on in the past. They seemed to know exactly what to do.

When all of the wheels were out, Zevi and I were gripped by a new stress. What if this tactic hadn’t worked, and we were forced to abandon our truck in the salty desert? We tensely watched as one of the men slid into the drivers seat and gingerly eased his foot on to the gas pedal. Nothing happened. All our fears were coming true, and my heart sank. After some adjustments, he tried again, and this time we saw the sight we’d been dreaming of for the last twenty hours. The truck was free! We held our breath as he drove over to where the farmer’s truck was parked – getting stuck again would be devastating. Thankfully, he made it, and there were hugs and high fives all around.
image
It was hard to express our immense gratitude to the people that saved us, but we gave them almost all of the money we had as a small show of our appreciation. We held our breath as we drove across the rest of the salt flats, and didn’t really exhale until we got on to a paved highway. Zevi had been eager for adventurous drives, but we’d both had our fill of treacherous roadways for the foreseeable future. We’d also had our fill of salt flats for the foreseeable future, and possibly forever. It was a traumatizing experience, but for as much bad luck as we’d had, we got equally lucky when that farmer stopped to pick us up. We spend so much time avoiding strangers, especially in foreign countries, but you never know when one might save your life.

Tagged ,

That Time We Got Stuck in the Argentinian Salt Flats – Part One

image

When you get back from a long distance adventure, there’s generally one story that gets told over and over again. It’s the one that your closest family members and friends have heard numerous times, because every time you’re with someone who hasn’t heard it they insist that you tell it again. For us, the story that everyone has heard is about the time we got ourselves in a pretty bad situation during our road trip in Northern Argentina. Zevi does a pretty good job of telling it, but I’m going to give it a go myself, because no account of our trip would be complete without it.

We’d had a beautiful and adventurous day of driving a tiny rural highway that wound up and down high mountain passes, and after conquering that crazy road, we were feeling pretty relaxed about the rest of our day. The salt flats had been something we’d been excited about for a long time – they were one of the first things we’d pegged as a must-see in Northern Argentina. Since we knew that a lot of tourists visited them, we didn’t really think much about any risks that might be involved in checking them out. We figured that we’d drive out, take some cool photos, and be at our hotel in ample time to grab some dinner.

After driving about an hour and a half from the small town of San Antonio de los Cobres, we were super excited when we looked to our left and saw a white expanse of crusty salt glistening not too far in the distance. We were keen on securing ourselves a prime picture taking spot that wasn’t too packed with people, so we decided to take an unmarked side road towards the flats. As we bumped and rolled our way on to the salt, we were excited to see that we would have the entire area to ourselves. It was so beautifully secluded, which we thought was strange given that it was a well-known tourist attraction, but we were happy to be solo.

We really wanted to recreate those cool reflection photos that people take on salt flats that I’m sure many of you have seen, so we were excited when we saw a small blue lake on our GPS. We decided to drive towards it in hopes that we could get some amazing shots of our own. Between our excitement about being on the amazingly expansive salt flats, the promise of capturing some top notch photos, and the euphoric high from having conquered that risky mountain road, we weren’t even a little bit worried about the fact that we were driving kilometres upon kilometres further from civilization. The salt appeared to be solid, and it seemed unthinkable that we could run in to any sort of trouble.

That is, until we did start to run in to trouble. We’d arrived at the area where the GPS told us that there would be water, but there was no water to be seen. All of a sudden we heard a splash, and felt the truck lurch downwards as it cracked through the salt in to the muddy water below. We had found the lake, but it was under the salt, rather than on top of it. This was the first moment when I realized that being so incredibly alone might not be such a great thing after all, and I told Zevi we needed to turn around and get out of that area ASAP. He was in complete agreement, but as he turned the truck around, we sank in again. At this point we were both starting to panic even as we popped out of the mud and continued on our way. Our fears were validated when we sunk in a third time. This time we didn’t pop out. We were seriously stuck.

image

I don’t think I realized the true gravity of the situation at first, or at least I wanted to remain optimistic. We had experience getting ourselves free from Calgary’s snow banks, so I figured we’d be able to maneuver ourselves out of there with a little a little rocking back and forth and pushing. Unfortunately, none of our tried and true techniques got us anywhere. In fact, we may have actually been making things worse. Finally we surrendered to the fact that there was absolutely no way we were getting ourselves out of there. Suddenly our solitude was a serious problem.

People always say that if you run in to trouble the thing to do is stay with your vehicle until help comes to you. We had driven so far out on to the flats, though, that no one was going to be coming our way any time soon, so we had no choice but to trek towards the road and try to flag down a passing car. It was a scorchingly hot day, so we made sure to slather on the sunscreen and bring all of the water we had for our walk to the gravel highway. Using his GPS app, Zevi figured that the walk would be about five or six kilometres, which we thought would still give us enough time to find help and get towed out that evening. That dream started to dwindle as we walked on and on, crunching our way through the seemingly never ending salt only to arrive at a muddy swamp where one false step would suck us in to our hiking boot tops (Zevi learned this the hard way). Every so often I’d exclaim to Zevi that I could see someone in the distance, but my hopes were dashed when I realized that the wild donkeys looked an awful lot like people when you looked at them from just the right angle. Honestly I think I could have tricked my mind into thinking that almost anything looked like a human at that point – I wanted so badly to find the saviour that would bail us out of this increasingly dire predicament. We walked on and on towards what we thought might be buildings, looking for any sign of civilization.

Stay tuned for part two where I’ll wrap up this story.

Tagged , ,

Hiking Lady McDonald

Lady McDonald - Heather, Adelle, Caleigh

For her birthday, a friend of ours invited us to go for a hike up Lady McDonald, and Zevi and I jumped at the chance to get out to the mountains. Located just North of Canmore, the hike is a quick trip from Calgary. Thirteen of us gathered at the bottom of the trail and started making our way to the summit. It was a gorgeous blue sky day, and not even an accidental wrong turn could dampen our spirits!

Lady McDonald start Lady McDonald Zevi Lady McDonald Heather Adelle Lady McDonald mountain view Lady McDonald rocks

The way up was a pretty steep slog, with barely any flats or downhills to be found on the trip to the top. The trail was well marked, though, and although we had to navigate through a few rocky sections, I never felt unsafe or unsure of my footing. I’d worn a tank top under my long sleeved shirt not really expecting to strip down to just that layer, but on the first half of the hike the sun was so strong that I was actually sweating in my sleeveless shirt! Definitely not the weather I’d normally expect to find in the mountains in March.

Lady McDonald treesLady McDonald summit Lady McDonald summit 2 Lady McDonald summit Heather Lady McDonald inukshuk

Once we got nearer to the summit, things started to feel a bit more like early spring. The wind picked up, the clouds rolled in, and we started to see a few more patches of snow. There was still far less snow than I’d generally expect to see at this time of year, though. One of the great things about this hike is that you get to see gorgeous views all the way up, which erased any disappointment of not making it it to the actual summit. We were told that it was a fairly challenging scramble to get there, and that with the frigid wind howling the way it was it was pretty unrealistic to take that on. I was pretty happy with what we’d accomplished, and although I didn’t run up and down the mountain twice like one of our friends did, my legs were definitely burning by the end.

Crazyweed group shot Crazyweed wings Crazyweed steak Crazyweed ribs

We capped off the day by stuffing our tired faces with delicious food at Crazyweed. There aren’t many better ways to spend a Sunday than enjoying fresh mountain air and a great meal with friends!

Tagged , ,

Cafayate – Part 2

I know it’s been a while since our South America trip ended, but I want to write about the last part of our trip before I totally forget about it! So, from time to time I’m going to go back and revisit our big adventure. 

We’d had a great day of wine tasting in Cafayate, so the next day we decided that we wanted to do something a little bit different. The owner of our hostel had told us about a hike close to town that would take us to some beautiful waterfalls and give us the opportunity to swim in the Rio Colorado, which would be a welcome respite from the heat of Northern Argentina. Although most people who did the hike hired a guide from the local community, we were told that it was possible to do the trek without one. The only caveat was that the trail was not well marked, or marked at all, really, so we might have trouble finding our way on our own. Feeling like we wanted to save some money and be independent, we decided to give it a shot solo. The man who greeted us at the entrance to the parking lot was not happy with our decision and tried to tell us that we were obligated to hire a guide, but we stood firm and set out unaccompanied.

Rio Colorado Cafayate hikeRio Colorado hike

If you’re thinking about doing this hike, you should know that no one’s exaggerating when they say that the trail isn’t marked. The trek was basically a big guessing game, where we jumped from one side of the river, which was more of a stream in this blazingly hot and dry November, to the other attempting to navigate our way up the valley. There was a group with a guide just a bit ahead of us that we tried to sneakily follow for a while, but eventually we lost them and it was up to us to find our way again. We never felt like we were in danger, and in a way it was kind of fun to chart our own confusing course, but I do understand why they encourage you to hire someone who actually knows where they’re going.

Rio Colorado hikeRio Colorado Cafayate hike

After we’d been hiking for a couple of hours we became really unsure of where the trail went next, so we decided to stop. We were running low on water and the sun was unrelenting, so we really didn’t want to go much further anyways. Luckily we were stopped right by a little waterfall with a nice pool, so we got to go for a swim. The water was absolutely frigid but it felt great after hiking in the heat!

Puppy in the window CafayateEl porvenir Cafayate

After finding our way back to our car and going back to our hostel to change (and seeing a very cute doggy in the window!), we headed out to do some more wine tasting. We had some bad luck with the first few places we went to being closed so we almost gave up, but we ended up going to some great tasting rooms in town. We really loved how casual the Cafayate wine tasting scene was. Unlike much of Napa and Mendoza, most places had no problem with drop ins, and prices were extremely reasonable.

Cafayate steakChef at Cafayate parilla

We’d eaten dinner the previous two nights at the beautiful wine bar attached to our hostel, but on our last night in Cafayate we wanted to try out something different. I think there’s a rule that you can only go so many days in Argentina without having a steak, so we decided to check out the parilla that our hostel recommended. Cafayate is a pretty small and not particularly touristy place, but we definitely felt like we were off the beaten path when we finally arrived at this hole in the wall restaurant. We sat down at a plastic table on the sidewalk and proceeded to have a parilla experience that was lightyears away from any of the places we’d eaten at in Buenos Aires. There was no menu, so I walked up to the sweatpants-clad chef and asked him to bring him whatever he thought was good. As you can see in the picture above, his grill was built in to the side of the restaurant, so this was street meat at its finest. When our entrees arrived at our table, we both took one bite and confidently proclaimed that this was by far the best steak we’d ever had. Instead of our usual sirloin or rib eye, we’d been given bonier cuts, and the meat was so incredibly tender and flavourful that I was rendered speechless. My only regret was that we’d waited until our last night to go, so we wouldn’t be able to return. The whole experience just reaffirmed something I already knew about eating out. As much as I love eating at fancy, high end restaurants, sometimes the most amazing food comes from some guy slinging meat on the side of the road, or from a little nondescript hole in the wall.

Cafayate still stands out to me as one my favourite stops on our trip, and one of the places I’d most like to return to. With great wine, delicious steak, beautiful natural surroundings, and a laid back atmosphere, how could we not fall in love with this little town?

Tagged , ,

Climbing Baldy Pass

Baldy pass mountain walking

We’re pretty lucky here in Calgary to live so close to the mountains. I definitely don’t take enough advantage of our proximity to the gorgeous Rockies, so when Julia asked me to join her for a little hike up Baldy Pass I was game. We were lucky to have a gorgeous blue sky day and relatively warm temperatures as we set out on the 45 minute drive to Kananaskis. I couldn’t believe that we’d be able to climb to the top of a mountain without snowshoes in February, but that’s what a warm winter and relative lack of snow will do!

Baldy Pass - TreesBaldy Pass - Julia  Baldy Pass - Heather Julia selfie Baldy pass - Midway view

The first part of the hike was a pretty straightforward climb through the trees, up a dirt pathway that wound progressively higher in the forest. Because of the damage caused by the floods in 2013 we lost the trail after a little while, but we picked through the trees and found traces of what we thought were a trail as we went up. The slope started to turn into steep scree, so we figured we’d stop for a bite to eat and find the trail after we’d replenished our energy reserves.

Baldy Pass - Midway trees Baldy Pass - slope view

We never did find the trail again on the way up, though, and things got a lot more difficult as we got closer to the top. The scree got steeper, and at certain points I felt more like I was rock climbing without any equipment rather than going on the leisurely stroll I had bargained for. There were moments of despair when I thought we might never reach the top, and even more dramatic moments when I thought I might never see Zevi again. I may possibly have overreacted just a little bit, but I’m no pro rock climber, and some of what we were doing felt a bit riskier than I would have liked. We had no choice but to continue, though, because going down would be even more terrifying than pressing on. Luckily I had Julia to lead me to the top and reassure me that I (probably) wasn’t going to die on this mountain.

Baldy Pass - Peak Baldy Pass - Peak Selfie Baldy Pass - Peak Julia Baldy Pass - Peak Cairn

Once we made to the top it was pretty easy to forget how traumatic the way up had been. It doesn’t get much better than that view! It’s amazing how being on top of a mountain can make you feel so insignificant but so powerful all at once. It’s one of my favourite feelings, standing on top of a peak I just worked hard to climb up and looking down at the beautiful part of the world we’re so lucky to live in. If it happens to be with one of my favourite people, even better.

The way down was significantly easier than the way up, and sliding our way down snowy hillsides and gravely slopes felt like a breeze compared to what we’d gone through on the way there. A couple of weeks later, the feelings of terror that were so acute as we struggled our way up the mountain are all but forgotten, and now all I have left are memories of the amazing views from the top. Usually when you push yourself to keep going when all you want to do is stop, you end up stronger for it. And sometimes, you end up with some pretty gorgeous photos ;).

Tagged , , , ,

Road Tripping in Northern Argentina

DSC_5285.JPG
After spending twelve wonderful days in Buenos Aires, we were off to see a completely different side of Argentina. We headed up north to Salta, and from there we rented a truck and headed off on one of the craziest and most memorable road trips I’ve ever been on.
Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , ,

Exploring the Colca Canyon

As Cusco equals Machu Picchu, Arequipa is practically synonymous with the Colca Canyon, and many travellers treat it as a jumping off point for treks in to the second deepest canyon in the world. Although we thought we might do a longer hike, and I know that it would have been great to do so, we were pretty exhausted from our time in the jungle, so we decided to make things a little easier on ourselves by opting for a single day excursion.
Continue reading

Tagged , , ,

The Peruvian Amazon – Part Two

This is the second of two posts about our stay in the Amazon. Find part one here.

IMG_0309.JPG

DSC_4837.JPG
On our second morning in the Amazon we were up bright and early to visit a clay lick in the hopes of seeing some birds eating there. Apparently the clay in their stomach helps them filter out the toxins from the jungle fruit that they eat. We lucked out and managed to squeak in there before it rained, which meant that got to see a ton of macaws and parrots, among others. Unfortunately we couldn’t fit our enormous zoom lenses in our backpacks (even our imaginary ones were too big), so we had to observe as our fellow travellers took pictures of the far away birds. We definitely didn’t have a prime picture taking set up for the jungle, so most of our animal photos are blurry blobs in the distance. There’s only so much room you can devote to photography equipment on a three month backpacking trip. We lucked out on our way back to the lodge and spotted a couple of capybaras, which are the world’s biggest rodents.
Continue reading

Tagged , , ,

The Peruvian Amazon – Part One

This is the first post of two on our experience in the Amazon. Find part two here

We’d been to big cities and explored ancient ruins, so naturally next on our list was heading to the remote jungles of Peru. That’s the natural order of things, right? Anyways, we arrived in the small city of Puerto Maldonado after about a thirty five minute flight from Cusco. It’s amazing how much things can change in just half an hour. When we left Cusco it was about eleven degrees and quite dry, and we stepped off the plane in Puerto Maldonado into thirty-plus degrees and some noticeable humidity. We’d been expecting a pretty dramatic rise in temperature, but it was still a bit of a shock after spending most of the previous week wearing all of our warm layers.

DSC_4692-0.JPG

IMG_0302-0.JPG

PA062390-0.JPG
Since we were the first of our six person group to arrive, Paul, our guide, had time to take us on a little tour of Puerto Maldonado. With all due respect to Puerto Maldonado it’s not exactly a hotbed of tourist activity, and most people treat it as a jumping off point to the jungle as we were doing, so we basically covered everything in half an hour or so. It was fun to see all of the moto-taxis zipping around, and visit the market, where we managed to find a flashlight among the stalls jam packed with every household item you could think of as well as the usual fruits and vegetables.

IMG_0303.JPG

DSC_4702.JPG

IMG_0304.JPG
After a short drive to the Tambopata river, we boarded the boat that would take us to the lodge. All of the boats on the river were long and skinny with benches on each side, and even weight distribution was pretty key. Sudden movements were not a good idea, as I found out when I tried to jump quickly over to the other side of the boat to take a picture on one of our boat rides (oops). It was about an hour and a half down the river, and along the way we ate our lunch of vegetarian fried rice out of the large leaf it was wrapped in. It was filled with salty soy-meat, little pieces of squeaky cheese and various vegetables and even as an unabashed carnivore I thought it was pretty delicious! Eating out of the leaf just added another level of novelty – it was fun to pretend for a little bit that we were natives of the jungle, eating the way they might. That fantasy didn’t last long though. We stuck out like a sore thumb with our comparatively pale skin, although you couldn’t see much of it through our long pants and long sleeved shirts. I was pretty envious of the locals in their summer clothes as I sweated in my leggings and thick socks, but the warning of bug bites kept us pretty covered up for the first little bit.

DSC_4715.JPG
We arrived in the lodge and got settled in our little bungalow. Inotawa lodge has no electricity, except for between the hours of six and nine PM when the dining room was lit up and plugs were available at the bar to charge any of our various electronic devices. Our bungalow, however, was completely power free, so we relied on candles, flashlights and our questionable night vision when it got dark. Though perhaps a little inconvenient when we wanted to read before our eight o’clock dinner, it was actually really nice to be off the grid for a little while. It’s so easy to stay connected on the road now, which I really appreciate, but I welcomed a few days of truly distraction free living. It forced us to truly slow down and just relax when we weren’t out on a jungle excursion, and I actually managed to read a book or two.

All of our meals were provided for us by a team of cooks at the lodge, and we were lucky enough to get some top notch food. It certainly wasn’t anything fancy, but there were a variety of options and everything really hit the spot after a long day of hiking and being outside. There would always be a meat option, either pork, beef, or chicken, and it was usually in the form of a slow cooked and very flavourful stew. There was always white rice, and I don’t know what they did to that rice, but MAN was it good. I want to know how they prepared that stuff, because it was definitely much better than what I make at home. I’m guessing there was lots of oil involved, but I’m going to claim blissful ignorance on that front. The meal wouldn’t be complete without the ever-present Peruvian second starch, which would come either in the form of potato, plantain, or some sort of sweet potato. The token salad was always super salty and practically inedible, but I tried to appreciate the fact that they at least offered it.

IMG_0305.JPG

DSC_4724.JPG

IMG_0307.JPG

IMG_0306-0.JPG

IMG_0308.JPG
Getting up before six was the norm, but it really wasn’t all that hard since the darkness forced us to go to bed by nine anyways. Just after we arrived, we went on a creepy night walk, where we saw lots of cool bugs and a spider that was a little too big for Zevi’s liking. We went to sleep under our mosquito netting trying not to think too much about the creepy crawlies we’d just seen mere metres from our bungalow.

Tagged , , ,

Salinas de Maras

DSC_4550.JPG
Anyone who’s been to the Cusco area can probably attest to the fact that it can be overwhelming trying to figure out what to see and do. There’s so much ancient history and so many different preserved cultural sites that you see something different every day for a week and still not cover it all. We knew we’d go to Machu Picchu, but what else should we see? Our time was relatively limited and we didn’t want to blow our budget, so we had to choose wisely.

We thought about getting the boleto turistico, a ticket that allows you to see a number of different Inca ruins for a set price over either one or a few days. It wasn’t cheap, though, and we realized that as interesting some people might consider them, we didn’t actually want to spend our time and precious soles travelling around seeing a bunch of different old stone structures. It’s probably a bit sacrilegious for me to admit that, but it’s the truth. The fact that most of the sites apparently don’t have much in the way of signage so they’d be pretty meaningless without a guide, which we couldn’t really afford, was another reason for us to skip them. There’s often a lot of value in seeing the stuff that everyone says you have to see, but it also pays to realize that you don’t need to do everything that Lonely Planet recommends. Anyone else struggle with this?

DSC_4557.JPG
We ultimately decided to veer a little bit off the beaten path on one of our Cusco days and head to Salinas de Maras. The Salinas are a grouping of hundreds of salt pools owned and harvested by the surrounding community. This spot wasn’t on our radar at all until we saw it a little ways down Trip Advisor’s Top Attractions in Cusco list, but we were intrigued by the pictures and the fact that it was something different from the Inca ruins we knew we’d be seeing lots of already. After doing some more research on how to get there, and with a bit of guidance from our hostel owner, we were on our way.

You know that old saying, “sometimes the journey is more important than the destination”? Well, our destination on this day was pretty incredible, but the journey was also a major part of the adventure. We’d been told that in order to catch a collectivo, basically a large shared taxi van, we’d need to go down a certain street. We didn’t have many details about how the system worked, but we were under the impression we should just watch for a van driving by and flag it down. After waiting on a street that seemed all too quiet for twenty minutes or so we decided we’d better walk down the block and ask someone for more guidance, only to discover that there was a guy very obviously advertising the destinations we were looking for. It’s a good thing we decided to move, or we would have been stuck waiting a block away out of luck!

Unfortunately we were some of the first to get in the van, so we had to wait almost an hour for it to fill up. Despite the driver’s yells and assurances to passersby that we only had two seats left to fill even when there were actually five or six empty, travellers were slow to trickle in. When we finally had a full house, we were on our way.

PA042197.JPG

PA042211.JPG

PA042215.JPG
Another moment of confusion came when it was time for us to get off the bus. Based on what our hostel owner had told us, we thought we should disembark in the town of Urubamba and then take a cab to Salinas de Maras from there. Our bus driver disagreed when we told him where we we were going, though, saying that we should have gotten off much earlier. Oops. He insisted that we get back in the van and instead let us off at a small dirt road, pointing to a trail zigzagging up a mountain and telling us that we should walk up that way. Okay…? He drove off and left us standing on the side of a deserted rural Peruvian road feeling more confused than ever. We weren’t mentally prepared for any kind of hiking that day, and we really didn’t know if his estimate of ten to fifteen minutes was accurate for us, or whether it applied more to people who were a little more adept at climbing in high altitudes. Needless to say, we were a little concerned, but we didn’t really have much of a choice, so we headed towards the trail he’d pointed out. Luckily the locals we encountered were very kind and were quick to give us guidance when they sensed our confusion. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the landscape was in the area, and I was happy to marvel at the desert covered mountains even if it did mean climbing a little more than we’d bargained for.

PA042208.JPG

DSC_4529.JPG

DSC_4532.JPG

DSC_4534.JPG

DSC_4537.JPG
As it turned out, his estimate really wasn’t that far off and we spotted Salinas de Maras little more than twenty minutes after we’d set off. From the first moment we laid eyes on it, we were both in awe. Rows and rows of salt water ponds covered the hills for a kilometre or more. The contrast between the white salt “walls” of the pools and the water, which came in shades from dark brown to light blue, was incredibly striking. As an added bonus, we basically had the area to ourselves, other than a few groups of locals that were working to harvest the salt. They were very kind and had no problem with us walking around as they worked and taking pictures. And we certainly weren’t stingy with the pictures. Every few steps we were struck by a different angle and perspective on this amazing place.

PA042241.JPG

DSC_4551.JPG

DSC_4556.JPG

PA042230.JPG

PA042249.JPG

PA042245.JPG
Salinas de Maras will most definitely go down as one of the most spectacular sights I’ve seen. It may be a little bit off the beaten path, but in an area so saturated with tourists I’m shocked that it’s not more heavily visited. Add the fact that it only costs seven soles to enter to it’s very unique beauty, and there’s no reason not to go if you’re in the Cusco area. Just make sure you’ve got a handle on the transportation situation before you go. Or don’t, because sometimes getting a little bit lost makes for the best stories.

Tagged , , ,