Tag Archives | Follow Your Dreams

The Inca Trail – Part I

How does one begin to write about the experience of the Inca Trail, a journey that had been on my bucket list for more than 10 years?

The Plans

When a good friend, K, asked me to organize a trip for her and several friends to do the Inca Trail in April 2014, she insisted I book a spot for myself. I hesitated. It was November 2013 and I had made the decision to intentionally step away from my day job for a few months to travel and to work on this side of my life. The choice was undoubtedly a good one – it led to a month in Greece, my first group photography exhibit and my regular blog posts – but as with all contract and freelance work, there was no guarantee that I’d find a client for the new year. Could I afford the trip? Savings for the day-to-day was covered, but a trip to Peru? What if no new gigs came up? What if…?

F*ck it, I thought. The Inca Trail had been a dream for far too long. I was not going to miss this opportunity to walk the trail.

The tour was booked with G Adventures, one of the partners I work with through my travel consulting gig. In fact, K and I had met on a G Adventures trip through Tibet 6 years earlier and as anyone who has been a part of these small group tours can attest to, one of the biggest rewards is the incredible friendships that result with people you’d otherwise never have met.

Flights

Just wanted to start off with a quick TIP about flights.

I organized the air travel for six of our group of seven (the G Adventures group was the max size of 16). All seven of us, though, flew LAN Airlines for the international portions to and from Peru as well as the domestic portions. While the flights themselves were fine, we all had a terrible time trying to complete anything other than check-in via the website. For me, even check-in was confusing with mixed messages between the LAN airline site and its codeshare partner site. Additionally, the kiosks that were available at the Cusco airport were useless for anyone who wasn’t a member of their frequent flyer program. Unfortunately, there are no signs to indicate this and you don’t realize it until you’re about 5 steps into the process… in Spanish.

So if you’re flying LAN, my recommendations are to: 1) try and have your travel agent book your preferred seats while buying the fare; 2) failing that, call the reservations team to change your seats; 3) or sign-up for LANPASS.

Also, a specific tip for the Cusco airport. If you like to be (more or less) on schedule or if the idea of potentially missing your flight causes you to feel faint or sends your pulse racing uncontrollably, I HIGHLY recommend you ignore the advice you might receive from your hotel’s front desk that you need only arrive 60 minutes before your flight from Cusco to Lima.

It’s not that this necessarily isn’t enough time; it’s just that when you’re still standing in the check-in line 30 minutes before departure, at many other airports this is a clear signal that you should just give up and start asking about details for the next flight. Despite the fact that all the employees to whom we asked the question ‘Are we going to make our flight?’ all answered in the affirmative, most of us found this incredulous. Cusco’s airport is small though so once you’re checked in, security and the walk to the gate is a very quick process, particularly for early morning flights. The employees there are far more laid back than us North Americans are used to but that doesn’t mean they don’t know the routines and timings of the airport

Where to Begin…? 

How about llamas and alpacas? I’m not very good at telling the difference… the ears are apparently a telltale sign, but I’m terrible with these kinds of details.

Fittingly, the llamas and alpacas bookended my time in Peru.

My first pic is of an alpaca (I think) that we were feeding. Some of the alpacas were fully in there with us, pushing to the front of the fence and eager to take the stems we were holding out even when their mouths were full; others… not so much. I have a suspicion we weren’t the first to foster these delicious green munchies so those that hung back were probably contentedly satiated.

                                Feeding alpacas in the Ccaccaccollo community… look at those eyes!

My second pic is of a llama… uh, I think. As we were saying our final good-byes to Machu Picchu and making our way towards the main entry/exit for the site (Spoiler: I completed the trail! Apparently, some don’t… more on that in the next post), we were more than a little startled to see two llamas wandering up the steps, pausing at random to munch on the surrounding grass. 
This little fellow/gal (and companion, whose backside you can just make out to the left) was kind enough to make its way by me… or perhaps more accurately, to allow me to pass by it. Rather than being spooked by the swarms of curious tourists, they seemed to me to be a little wary and just wanted to be left alone to eat. 

      Surprise llama sighting as we exited the Machu Picchu site

Day 1: A Little Tip About Cusco

The tour that we selected started with Day 1 being the day of arrivals to Cusco. We’d read, though, that spending two days in Cusco is a better option as it allows you to acclimatize better to the altitude. Unfortunately, our schedules didn’t allow for it so we only had the one day before the tour began to settle in.

In regards to the altitude, I don’t think any of us were too much worse for the wear by having only the one day in Cusco. The major downside was that we didn’t have the chance to really explore and to get to know the town and based on our first day’s impressions, we weren’t super excited about it.

Thankfully, K had asked that I book us to stay for an extra night in Cusco after the tour ended. Our new hotel was to the northwest of the main square, Plaza de Armas, a section of the town that seemed a little bit nicer than where we’d been previously plus, as a huge bonus, it put us squarely on the Easter Friday parade route!

I’m so thankful we spent the extra night: Cusco is a wonderful town for wandering with plenty of original and old architecture for buffs like me. The narrow roads and lane ways lead to all sorts of interesting buildings, cute shops and openings to little squares.

Oh, and if you like to eat, you’ve got to try this restaurant: http://www.cicciolinacuzco.com. Amazing food, friendly and super helpful owner/chef and really good prices (compared to North American dining). The squid ink pasta (which, if you sit at the bar, you can see being made) is delicious.

TIP: Cicciolina is a small restaurant, so reservations are a MUST. We didn’t know this but got lucky and were given seats at the bar – for me, this was the best seat in the house: we had ring-side seats to the kitchen and bar! I couldn’t stop staring… until the food came. Then, I got busy.

Day 2: Supported Communities & Co-Ops

In 2003, G Adventures started a not-for-profit organization called Planterra to raise funds and support the communities where they operate. For more info on Planterra, please visit: http://www.planeterra.org.

To kick off our second day, we stopped off at a Planterra-supported women’s weaving co-op in the Ccaccaccollo community. We observed goods being weaved using traditional methods, but also saw how the supply and use of looms allowed these women to greatly speed up their work. Using natural stones, herbs and other elements, the women of the community showed us how they cleaned and dyed the fleece.

          Dying elements for the fleece

TIP: You’ve probably heard this already, but buying a hat and gloves at the weaving co-op is a wise choice for the four days on the trail and they make for memorable souvenirs that you will likely use again (I know I will – I live in Canada!) once you return home. We moved from stall to stall, not only looking for designs and sizes (I have tiny hands – I’ve known pre-teens with bigger hands – and I learned to hold them up for the stall owners/managers to assess who would either shake their heads or pull out a perfectly sized pair) but also for women that we felt comfortable with. Some were definitely pushier, but there were always others who gave off a more welcoming and laid-back vibe. 
We stopped off for lunch at Huchuy Qosco. This village was previously not part of the tour route and didn’t benefit from the country’s significant tourism industry. It now welcomes visitors to a Planterra-supported restaurant (it’s open to all tour groups, not just G Adventures), a three-wall structure – solid wall to the back, transparent walls to the sides that allow you to take in the beautiful surrounding scenery – built under the mountains. The food was prepared in a red stone A-frame building sitting across from and slightly to the side of the dining area and were all delicious local dishes. You definitely don’t go hungry on this tour. 

    The mountains surrounding the Sacred Valley Community Restaurant

That’s it for today’s post, but I’ll be submitting Part II on Thursday. Topic: Days 3 to 6, the Inca Trail.

For more info on the tour we took, please click here. If you have any questions about the tour, the sights, the food or anything else about my time there, please feel free to get in touch! 

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Photos from my Opening Reception – I Did It!

Firstly, a BIG thank you to everyone who stopped by the Opening Reception!!! And a second BIG thank you to Michelle and Shawn of Moniker Gallery who helped make the night a success!

I won’t lie – I was quite nervous leading up to the 7pm start, but having my family and my best friend there completely calmed me. As a steady flow of visitors entered the gallery – former and current colleagues, friends and friends of friends/family, people who’d walked by and those who’d come because of the listing in CONTACT , my main goal was for everyone – including me – to have fun.

Second truth of the post: it was great to see many faces I hadn’t seen in months and, in some cases, years, and to meet a number of new and wonderfully friendly people, but I spent so much energy worrying about whether people were having a good time that by the end of the night, I was exhausted! I’m sure the mental and emotional lead-up, organizing, and then actually bringing off the night also played a part, but for anyone who’s hosted an event, been a bride (as my best friend pointed out), or been in a similar role, as much as you want to enjoy the evening, you also want to be sure everyone else is enjoying it too! In far too many cases, I only managed to have a few minutes conversation before excusing myself to welcome a new guest or checking that another was enjoying him/herself.

Happily, I think everyone had a good time and liked the images! Any tiredness I felt was well worth it!

For more photos from the evening, please click here.

My guide through all this, a Toronto photographer (and teacher) named Rob Davidson who has more than 30 years of experience, had told me that having this exhibition and seeing the reactions of others would change the way I saw my own work. He was completely right.

The moment I hung the final image and stepped back to take it all in – that these were my images, my work on display – I felt… well, overwhelmed. There’s been such doubt in my mind and, far more often than I’d like, in my heart, about whether I was good enough to continue down this road, to call myself a photographer. I’ve always known that the biggest hurdle for me would be to get over the fear of rejection and to show my work publicly, come what may. Whatever the reaction would be, I’ve always known that putting my photography out into the world would wipe away that fear: once you take a step forward, the fear disappears.

There are other fears and there always will be because I’m continually in search of the next challenge, the next opportunity for growth. I’m still searching for the right fit and, in my case, that can involve multiple facets, but I won’t give up. Sometimes it takes (way) longer than I’d like to get over the self doubt, but with experience (and, undeniably, age) comes the knowledge that I’ll get there eventually; something deep down will slowly but surely nudge, prod and, finally, drive me forward.

I’ve learned so much during these months and there’s still a ways to go, but I can proudly say that I’ve accomplished what I set out to do and, in the process, come to see that I am a photographer.

Next post… Peru!

P.S. If you’re in the Toronto area, please drop by the Moniker Gallery this Wednesday, May the 14th at 7pm for the show’s Closing Reception. Spread the word!

P.P.S. Images from the show will be uploaded to my website after the 14th. If you’re interested in receiving this link, please contact me with your email address. 

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An April blog post! And… My First Solo Exhibit!

Much like February and March – sadly – April has also been a very bad month for this blog.

March was the last month of my ‘day job’ contract and as the days, then weeks, went flying by, I realized that I had a big ‘to do’ item to focus on for the end of the month: selecting and editing the images for my first solo photography exhibit (more on this later). After a brief conversation with a far more experienced photographer – my adviser – I quickly realized that I would have a tight schedule for the last couple of weeks of March and the month of April:

  • The last 10 days of March: complete editing for no more than 25 selected images
  • The first 10 days of April: create test prints of the images, cull, tweak, reprint and repeat as necessary
  • The middle 10 days of April: take part in the G Adventures Inca Trail tour in Peru – yay!
  • The last 10 days of April: create final prints of the images selected for the show, mount, hang and prepare/organize all other items needed – e.g. promotion, food, music, transportation, etc.
  • May 1st: Opening Reception! 

Needless to say, this has been one BUSY month, but I’m determined to make this a positive experience, rookie mistakes and all.

The Show
Back in November, I applied and was accepted for my first group photography exhibit – click here for the blog entry.

I got to talking with the gallery director, Michelle, and loved her friendly personality and energy. I mentioned that I was thinking of having my first solo show and asked if she was amenable to having it at her gallery, Moniker Gallery. She agreed on the spot and suggested I do the show as part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, a month-long event where photographers from Canada and around the world exhibit their work at more than 175 venues around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Fast forward 6 months and here we are, on the eve of my first show: A Place – A Space – A Time… Learning to See the Light.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the images that will be part of the show:

If you’re in Toronto between May 1st and May 14th, please drop by and check it out… and do let me know so that I can meet you in person! Opening reception on May 1st, closing reception on May 14th, both from 7pm to 11pm – music, munchies and a cash bar!

A Brief Word or Two on Peru….
I promise there will be more to come – including pictures! – on Peru in the next entry, but I did want to include a quick description of the trip: it was, quite simply, an amazing experience.

The main reason for the trip was to walk the Inca Trail. We covered 45 km and 7000+ steps (up only) from the starting point, kilometer 82, to Machu Picchu, over 3 and a bit days. I won’t lie: it was harder than I expected. Catching my breath at the altitude levels we were reaching was a struggle, but I never thought about stopping or turning back – I always knew I’d reach the end goal, just with a lot more breaks. 🙂  And it was well worth it!

Making your way along the trail, you find yourself high up in the mountains – far closer to the peaks than a city girl like me could have pictured herself being – and with views of hidden waterfalls and sunlit valleys that really do take your breath away.

When we completed the trail, it felt like a HUGE achievement. It was the most physically challenging activity I’ve ever undertaken and I felt, and still do feel, quite proud about finishing it. And, most importantly, knowing everything that’s involved – the good and the bad – I’d recommend it to others and I’d do it all over again myself.

Thanks for hanging in with me and with this blog despite the dearth of posts.

In closing, my apologies to those of you who haven’t heard from me or seen me in a while…. I’ll be back and in touch soon!

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