Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Inca Trail - A Woman's Perspective

A few days ago I received an email from a Zephyr traveler, Cathy, who was wondering about our Peru trip on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. She had questions about the camping, since she "very much dislikes camping". I thought about this and decided I was not the person to answer her, since I enjoy backpacking and sleeping in the woods. Instead, I recruited my girlfriend Devon, who grew up on Long Island far from any camping destinations but nevertheless loved our Peru trip this past April. Here is Devon's email to Cathy:

Hi Cathy,
Great to hear from you! I’m so glad that Allan told you to contact me,
because I can completely relate to all of your concerns. Before I went
to Peru, the idea of camping seemed extremely daunting to me. My idea of
a fun vacation has always included good, strenuous activity followed by
a nice, hot shower and a big, clean bed with a warm blanket.

Well, I want you to know that trekking on the Inca Trail was definitely
the highlight of my year! Our group was made up of about 13 Zephyr
customers and 27 porters. The porters carried everything, set up our
tents, and cooked and served our meals. The only things we carried were
our water, snacks, and rain jacket. Our days were filled with great
hiking, beautiful scenery, and interesting discussions. Each afternoon,
when we arrived at the campsite, our tents were pitched and an afternoon
snack was being prepared. Each tent had a tarp underneath it, a tarp
inside it, and two nice pads to cushion our sleeping bags. The tents
were very high-quality. There was an entrance on either side and the
zippers were extremely easy to open and close.

In addition, the staff pitched a cooking tent, a dining tent, and a
bathroom tent. The dining tent, which zipped closed on both sides, had a
long table and chair for each of us! We would all huddle in there to
play cards and chat before and after dinner, so when it was cold, we
never had to stay outside. Also, there was always a variety of hot
beverages and soups to keep us warm.

The nights did get cold, so I slept in long underwear, a fleece, a down
jacket, and two pairs of socks. Some nights, I even slept in my fleece
hat, and gloves! Because the porters carry your bag all day, you don’t
have to worry about packing too many clothes, as long as you stay within
the weight restriction.

As far as sleeping is concerned, most people slept very well, since they
had physically exhausted their bodies each day. I don’t remember having
any problems sleeping.

Getting up in the middle of the night was not a problem. The Peruvian
guides insist that you keep your shoes inside the tent, so as long as
you have your headlamp or flashlight to guide you, it is quick and easy
to jump out and then back in the tent. I personally prefer the woods to
the bathroom tents, so I did not bother walking over to the bathroom
tent. When it is dark, in the middle of the night, and no one is around,
it’s safe to walk just a few feet away from your tent and find a good spot.

I can honestly say that I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that
the trek involves “luxury camping.” Despite not having a shower or a
real bed, I didn’t really feel that we were roughing it. The hiking and
the views were so spectacular that I don’t remember missing any modern
“comforts.” We were served three hot meals (and one snack) each day, we
didn’t have to carry anything heavy, and the Peruvian staff was so
friendly and accommodating.

I hope that helps! Please let me know if you have any other specific
questions or if there is something that I forgot to address. (Definitely
take diamox to prevent altitude sickness in Cuzco and on the trek!)

I would highly recommend this trip!


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Update on our Friends in Tibet

Exactly one year ago I posted an entry titled Tibet Trekking. Scroll down to read the post. In that entry, I related the story of Dekay, the granddaughter of one of the elders of the village we visit on our trek each year. I had met her in the village and after a few translated discussions through our local guide Tenzin, decided to sponsor her for a year of English school in Lhasa, the capital, where she had never been.

What a life change that must have been for her! Would she miss her village? Would she study hard and learn English? Would life in the capital change her?

I did not return to Tibet this year, instead sending our trustworthy and accomplished guide Kathy in my place. Kathy had been an in-training guide last year with me and so knew the tour well. I asked Kathy to meet with Dekay and to give her my gift of another year's English school tuition if she judged all to be well. Here is her report:

"Dekay took her first day off from school in a year and spent it walking around with our group on our first full day in Lhasa. It was amazing to actually be communicating with her in English. She has obviously been working very hard and says she often spends weekend days in the Barkhor listening to tour guides speaking to their groups in English or conversing with friendly English-speaking travelers when she can.

On our last day in Lhasa, after the trek, Tenzin took me to visit Dekay's Aunt in the tea shop where she works and Dekay sometimes helps out. I drank tea until I thought I could hold no more and Tenzin translated for us while we chatted. Then Dekay, Tenzin and I went to see Dekay's school. It looked very run down by Western standards, with peeling paint and sparse classrooms, although they had painted cute motivational sayings in bright colors on the wall in English like "It's easy! It's fun!"

Dekay showed me her English book. It was book 5 of a series of workbooks. They do a lesson per day, which seems pretty fast. We also ran into her teacher in the street near the school. He says she is one of the best students. He is also young and handsome and I later asked Dekay if she thought he was cute and she just giggled. She's a sweetheart and I'm happy to report that city life does not seem to have corrupted her at all.

Next we visited a stationery shop and I bought pens and pads of paper for her whole class of 40 students, plus some extra supplies just for her (pencil box, highlighter, etc.) and a coloring set for her Aunt's young children. I also bought a globe for her teacher and showed her where you and I live. It was hard to get her to select things for herself. Shopping for her was probably the highlight of my trip."

Needless to say, on my behalf Kathy paid the next year of school tuition for Dekay. Recently, Dekay has obtained an email address and we write once per week or so. For Dekay, it is an excellent opportunity to practice English. For me, it is a reminder of my friends in Tibet and how the world is so small despite our differences.

Note: I did not supply photos of Dekay for this post as it is sadly still best in China-occupied Tibet to downplay contact with locals. The photo is of our group of trekkers with guide Kathy (lower right).