The Sacred Valley in Photos

Machu Picchu may be the most famous site in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. We spent five days visiting Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu and Salinaras and only scratched the surface. Here is a look at some of our favorite moments from our visit.


Pisac, just a 40-minute collectivo ride from Cusco, is a delightful little village, famous for its ruins and its market. The day we arrived, I came down with a nasty 24-hour virus, complete with fever and chills. So, while the Señora of the casa where we stayed rubbed herbs on my face and made me special maté, Alex was left to explore the ruins on his own (he failed to take photos). We stayed a second day to visit the market, which was an amazing visual feast. Oh, and we were treated to a beautiful rainbow sun dog!

Sun Dog


Ollantaytambo was our favorite town in the Sacred Valley. It is definitely touristy, but the ruins are spectacular and the town very walkable. After visiting the ruins, we enjoyed a lovely evening stroll along one of the Inca canals at the foot of the mountains and an amazing vegetarian dinner in a beautiful garden.

During the height of the Inca empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emporer Pachacuti. During the time of the Spanish invasion, it served as a stronghold of the Inca resistance.

View of Ollanta town from the top of the ruins

Fortification wall

Current farming of potatoes on one of the ancient terraces

Machu Picchu

The setting of the most famous of the Inca sites is nothing short of breathtaking (and not because of the altitude). We enjoyed a long afternoon at the site, including a hike up to the sun gate (where Inca Trail trekkers enter the site) and a thorough investigation of all its nooks and crannies.

Stone pegged designed into buildings allowed roof structures to be lashed to the house.

Alex mugs for the camera to show off the impressive Inca stonework. In this case, a ring used to support a wooden door pillar. Stones were cut and carved using only mallets, stone hammers, metal bars and abrasive sandpaper

Incas’ sacred rock mimicking the shape of their sacred mountain (Salkantay)

Temple of the Sun


One of the less visited attractions in the Sacred Valley, the salt pans of Salineras have been in continuous use for over 1,000 years. A thermal spring of salt water at the top of the mountain is routed into hundreds of terraces where the water evaporates and the salt is collected. We hiked up here from the bottom and walked among the salt terraces on skinny “trails.” I don’t think we were actually supposed to be doing that (the one tour group we saw at the end stuck to the road above the salt pans) but no one told us we couldn’t, so we enjoyed a self-guided up close and personal tour.

Onward to Bolivia!

New birds in the Sacred Valley: torrent duck, golden olive woodpecker, slate throated redstart^ (^ denotes birds seen in other countries previously on this trip)

Total New Species in Peru: 176

We Went to the Amazon (and Saw a Swimming Jaguar)!

“Run away!” These are two words we didn’t want to hear from our guide in the Amazon jungle.

Already backing away from the growing buzz, we turned and ran back up the trail as the bees poured out of the hive in the massive clump of bromeliads that had fallen from the jungle canopy a few days before. Michel, our guide, and Jason, our new Aussie birding friend, stirred them up as they walked ahead of us.

We watched from a distance as the swarm slowly mellowed, and after we walked-quietly-then-ran past the obstacle nearly blocking the trail, we rejoined Michel and Jason and laughed, “Everything here wants to kill us.”

The sun was setting, the trogons were calling, and we were discovering the mysteries of the Amazonian jungle.

Erin booked our nine-day trip to Manu National Park before we left the U.S. When she was a kid she read a Scholastic story about a plane going down in the Peruvian Amazon and a girl somehow surviving in the jungle by drinking her own urine, eating frogs, etc. It was by far the most important destination on our trip. “I have to go to the Peruvian Amazon,” Erin told at least 70 people before we left.

Capybaras are the world’s largest rodent. Apparently tasty too, because you don’t see them outside of the Reserve Zone.

Manu National Park is one of those very special places in the world. It is a subwatershed within the greater Amazon Basin and encompasses both high-elevation cloud forests and the dank lowland jungle. It is home to 15,000 plant species, 1,000 bird species, and has earned labels like “biosphere reserve” and “world heritage site.” At 4.5 million acres (about the size of Delaware), the Park is one of the largest protected rainforests on earth.

Scientists have recorded 2,000 species of insects in just one of the enormous kapok (ceiba) trees

A number of communities lived in this ecosystem until, in the 1920’s, Mr. Ford and his Model T invaded. Well, actually it was the rubber industry. People from different tribes in the Manu area were enslaved by rubber entrepenours and those tribes were forever lost.

The rubber boom was thankfully shortlived, but in the 1970’s a logging road was punched into the forest and the valuable cedar and mahogany trees began disappearing. Luckily, with the timber barons came a few people, including a famous Polish-Peruvian taxidermist, who saw (and stuffed) the animals that were being lost, and advocated for a park, which was created in 1973.

Today, the mystery of the Manu is probably best represented by the Mashco-Piro people, an “uncontacted” nomadic tribe that lives within the Park boundaries. Those people who were enslaved to work the rubber industry? A group of them escaped and settled in what would become Manu National Park. Thus the vast majority of Manu is completely off-limits to people, which has allowed this “new” tribe of people to remain undisturbed for decades. However, a number of recent contacts have occured with the Mashco-Piro, including a raid of one of the guard stations upriver from where stayed, which is now closed.

Trip mates Jason, Theresa, and Christine. Not indigenous.

Our visit to the Manu began with the tour van picking us up at 4:30am in Cusco, and by mid-morning we were at the Park entrance, surprisingly 10,000 feet high in the mountains. By this time we had established two important things: 1) Our guide Michel was well-versed in birds and his English was good; and 2) The third member of our tour group, Jason, was the exact opposite of what we expected/feared for our 9-day trip — a comfort-seeking 60-something who booked this on a whim to see some monkeys.

No, Jason is a 31-year-old Aussie bird-nerd who will ignore a small army of mosquitoes picnicking on his arm if it means he can get a good picture of the Drab Water Tyrant. Turns out he has a great eye, too. We were ready to rock.

Ready to rock

Our impromptu birding session (flowerpiercers, tanagers and hummingbirds) at the park entrance ended and we began to drive down, waaay down, a road that clearly has no business existing. Halfway through we were informed that the primary bridge was under repair so we would be walking our gear across a new temporary bridge to a different van waiting for us. Fine.

Not pictured: the bee stinging Erin’s ankle while carrying boxes over a 500ft-high temporary bridge

Landslides dotted the valleys, including above and below the road

But the new “van” was actually a short bus circa 1980 that barely fit on the one-lane gravel road (and I use that term loosely) with 1,000-foot dropoffs enough to give anyone’s sphincter a workout. Our only solace was that the bus was driven by an old logger-turned-tour-driver who knew the road like the back of his hand. Unfortunately that didn’t stop Erin from nearly having a nervous breakdown as we plied the cliff-side road.

Our 14-hour travel day ended when the sun set at 6pm and we arrived at our first night’s accomodations. But not before seeing wooly monkeys and more incredible birds, including one of the most unreal birds you can imagine: the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. It is one of the stupidest names for one of the stupidest looking birds you have ever seen. Oh, it is also the national bird of Peru. And we got to watch about 7 of them attempt to impress some non-existant female birds at their mating lek.

I will buy a Coke for whoever can come up with the best caption for this Cock-of-the-Rock photo

“Breakfast at 5,” said Michel. Our second day started early because we had to catch our boat and start our journey down the Madre de Dios River to our next lodge. We arrived at the bustling gateway community of Atalaya and said goodbye to cars for the next six days.

I’m on a boat!

Sorry, couldn’t resist. Mom and kitty in Atalaya

On our boat ride we passed farms burning in between chunks of second-growth jungle, small piles of large-dimension lumber sitting mysteriously on the shore, and many boats going up and down the river. The boat drivers didn’t wave to each other. They weren’t sharing an adventure. There were tourists like us and then there were people working; working in the buffer zone of Manu National Park. And that is when it hit home: the Amazon is not as untouched as I thought. Even in National Parks. Not by a long shot.

The slashing and burning of jungle for cattle is still a reality

Growing up with National Geographic magazine and Nature, I had sewn a mental quilt of what the Amazon should look like: unbroken jungle for days with primal-looking people living in anonimity and intrepid adventurers visiting with much effort and sacrifice.

It turns out the Amazon is more like a patchwork quilt, and only a few squares are like I imagined. The rest, the majority, is cleared, farmed, burned, logged, mined, and more recently, squeezed for oil and gas. It reminded me of the moment in college when I learned that only ~10% of our forests in the United States were untouched by logging.

But I digress. Back to the jungle. This is a hoatzin that we saw on our first day on the boat. They make scary hissing noises and babies are born with claws on their wings. Seriously.

Hoatzin – craziest looking bird on earth?

Our first afternoon at the Pantiacolla Lodge was a time to get settled, since we would be here for three nights. Erin relaxed in the hammock on the deck of our shared cabina and I decided to bite the bullet and drink some stupid Nestle instant coffee.

For those who don’t know us, we boycott Nestle because it has tried for six years to bottle public water in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area an hour from our house (read more). My organization, Bark, and a ton of others have succeeded in stopping the proposal so far.) The humidity and heat was making me fall asleep standing up, so there. I drank the Nescafe.

And thank goodness, because I was wide awake when a troop of tamarin monkeys came passing by us at the beginning of our afternoon bird walk.

Female saddle-back tamarins mate with multiple males, ensuring the multiple “dads” help her carry the babies, which are unusually large for young primates.

The next morning I was at the dining hall at Pantiacolla at 5am, waiting for the group to congregate and head to our first parrot clay lick, when I heard an ominous roar in the distance like that perfected by Hollywood sound engineers to portend doom. I convinced myself that I was hearing static from the lodge radio. Then the male red howler monkey in the tree 100 yards in front of me responded to the miles-away call with his own roar.

This is what they sound like

Red howler monkeys lounging around

After a wonderful morning of birding at the clay lick we went further upriver to a hot springs. Yup, you heard that right. It was 80 degrees outside, 80 percent humidty, and we went to a hotsprings. It was awesome.

The stream water pouring in at a “cold” 75 degrees to offset the scalding thermal spring feeding the pool

There we were joined by our two other tripmates: Christine, a 60-ish British molecular biologist living in Germany and Theresa, a young Chinese tourist. They arrived to the hotsprings on a different boat and together we went back to our lodge. Christine was packing binoculars and a copy of Birds of Peru (yay!) and Theresa was packing a nice camera and was excited about everything that moved (phew!). Our team complete, we went for a bird hike that afternoon.

Our birding hikes always included finding some of these guys on the trail. You don’t ever ever ever want to get stung by a bullet ant

“On the boat at 5,” said Michel. Nobody is complaining about the ten-hour boat ride because today we enter the Manu Reserve Zone. No logging, no farming, only a limited number of tourists and what a difference it made. Pantiacolla, our tour company, owns a big chunk of land, which explains the tamarins and great birds at the lodge, but once your boat turns off of the Madre de Dios River and starts up the Manu River into the reserve, everything changes.

First of all, the river is chocolatey with soil being washed down river. Unlike the Madre de Dios, the Manu does not start in the mountains, it drains highly erosive jungle soils. Secondly, the wildlife didn’t just start showing up, it literally came to us in our boat.

Oops sorry, our pic isn’t that great. Turns out when animals swim to your boat you lose control of your body.

Jason did a little better. Thanks for the photo!

The collared peccary huffed and puffed its way across the river and when it made it to shore it slowly moseyed across 100 yards of sandy beach, despite being easy prey in plain sight.

Jaguar head

Yup, 15 minutes after a tropical pig swam by our boat, the top predator of the jungle also swam right in front of our boat. According to Michel, we had a 10%-15% chance of seeing a jaguar, and all of us thought that was the percent chance of seeing a spotted cat butt disappear into the forest. Instead, we got to watch one of the most powerful animals I have ever seen drift by while we soaked it in.

Thankfully Jason took this video:

The jaguar is the third largest wild cat in the world and has the strongest bite for its size of any cat. After watching it drag itself out of the river I can say that the jaguar is built like a tank.

Okay, one more photo from Jason:

It’s a boy!

Honestly, after this happened we were all stunned. There were a lot of “I can’t believe it”s. The trip could have ended there and we would all have agreed we got our money’s worth. But it was only day five! And besides, that very same afternoon we had another magical wildlife encounter.

Giant otters, or los lobos del rio as they are known in the Manu, are the largest and cutest members of the weasel family. The are highly endangered and increasingly popular thanks to a wonderful special by the BBC.

Salvador Lake, an oxbow lake formed by a former channel of the Manu River, is home to the famous family of otters in the TV show. And after 10 hours in the boat, still shaking our heads at the jaguar, we arrived at our camp in the Manu Reserve for the next two nights and immediately walked 30 minutes to the lake and began paddling around looking for otters. And there they were: eight adults and four babies.

Giant otters are identified by their neck markings.

In silence the five of us watched the otters as the sun set with no concern for the pitch-dark hike through the jungle that awaited us. We had headlamps so no biggie, right? Our headlamps illuminated bullet ants, whip-scorpions, and a seven-inch-long bright yellow leech on our hike back. I can’t imagine what we didn’t see.

Bugs, especially of the biting variety (sand flies, mosquitoes, chiggers, sweat bees, etc) played a large role in our Amazon adventure. Perhaps most memorable were the sweat bees that swarmed our faces while we stood on a platform 120 meters (about 400 feet) up in a giant kapok tree. As we gazed out over the surrounding forest and nearby oxbow lake, they made their best effort to take up residence in our eyes and nostrils. Alex and I couldn’t hack it and descended after about 15 minutes. Back on the jungle floor, we swatted mosquitoes for 20 minutes while we waited for our tripmates.

The view from 400 feet in the air

The last morning of our trip, we visited the Blanquillo Clay Lick at dawn, one of the true highlights of the whole tour.

Sunrise on the way to the famous Blanquillo clay lick

Every morning, multiple species of macaw, parrots and parakeet gather to feed at the lick. It is believed that minerals in the clay help in digesting toxins ingested in their regular diet or provide an important source of sodium. Blue-headed, yellow-fronted and orange-cheeked parrots, and the stars, the red and green macaws, all arrived by the dozens or hundreds to feed at the lick. The flurry of color and sounds was breathtaking and a beautiful end to a once-in-a-lifetime trip!

Our complete album of photos of video of the trip are here.

Manu Bird List: scarlet bellied mountain tanager, mustached flower piercer, brown backed chat tyrant, tyrean metaltail, masked flowerpiercer, mountain wren, black throated flower piercer, shining sunbeam, blue and yellow tanager, variable hawk, white throated tyrannulet, creamy crested spinetail, red crested cotinga, white collared swift, spectacled redstart, black faced brush finch, masked trogan, superciliaried hemispingus, cinnamon flycatcher, blueband toucan, andean potoo, dusky-green oropendola, cock of the rock, highland motmot, plumbeous pigeon, yellow throated tanager, orange-bellied euphonia, green jay, common bush tanager^, black eared hemispingus, golden naped tanager, bronze green euphonia, montane woodcreeper, golden crowned flycatcher, black phoebe^, blue and white swallow^, russet backed oropendola, amozonia blue grey tanager, tropical kingbird^, speckled chacalaca, silver beaked tanager, booted racketail, sparkling violetear, chestnut fronted macaw, red capped cardinal, palm tanager^, dusky headed parakeet, great potoo, yellow rumped cacique, social flycatcher, southern rough winged swallow, violaceous siskin, swallow tanager, violacous jay, bananaquit, grayish saltator^, purplish jay, neotropical cormorant, giant cowbird, white winged swallow, little blue heron, amazon kingfisher, swallow wing, mottled back elaenia, bluish fronted jacamar, long tailed tyrant, black billed thrush, fork tailed woodnymph, black capped donacobius, hoatzin, orange backed troupial, smooth billed ani, striated heron, purple gallinule, pale legged hornero, squirrel cuckoo^, yellow capped woodpecker, yellow browed sparrow, roadside hawk^, burrowing owl, undulated tinamou, cattle egret^, black caracara, fasciated tiger heron, olive oropendola, casqued oropendola, collared trogan, scarlet macaw^, spix’s guan, cinnamon throated woodcreeper, black fronted nunbird, black vulture, lineated woodpecker^, fork-tailed palm swift, black crowned tityra, double collared seedeater, emerald toucantet^, blue throated piping guan, blue crowned trogan, cinerious mourner, yellow bellied dacnis, white eyed parakeet, scarlet hooded barbet, green honeycreeper^, king vulture, white hawk, rufous motmot^, mealy parrot, white fronted nunbird, blue headed macaw, blue headed parrot, gray capped flycatcher, boatbilled flycatcher^, plumbeous kite, white winged swallow, drab water tyrant, yellow billed tern, silver flycatcher, purple honeycreeper, crested oropendula, vermillion flycatcher, streaked flycatcher, buff rumped warbler^, osprey, spotted sandpiper, cocoi heron, pale vented pigeon, ringed kingfisher^, pied lapwing, tui parakeet, cobalt winged parakeet, blue and yellow macaw, large billed tern, black and white hawk eagle, greater yellow headed vulture, horned screamer, black skimmer, anhinga, red and green macaw, sand colored nighthawk, green kingfisher^, orinoco goose, sungrebe, razor billed currasow, collared plover, pale winged trumpeter, green and rufous kingfisher, gray necked wood rail, muscovy duck, wattled jacana, green ibis, purple gallinule, slate colored hawk, agami heron, rufescent tiger heron, bi-colored hawk, pink throated becard, limpkin^, bare necked fruitcrow, sunbittern^, screaming piha, gray breasted martin, wood stork^, capped heron, swallow tailed kite^, yellow crowned parrot, orange cheeked parrot, laughing falcon, chestnut billed seedfinch, short crested flycatcher (^ denotes birds seen in other countries on this trip)

Straight to the Source

Every year for our wedding anniversary we don our backpacks and head somewhere wild. This year was no different except for the first time, we are in another country. While deciding where to go, Alex noticed a small highlighted box in our Lonely Planet guide to Peru that mentioned a seldom visited but truly unique place: the source of the Amazon River.

Actually, the Amazon River has four sources, but the one furthest from the mouth emanates from a rock face high on Nevado Mismi, just a few hours from our house in Arequipa. And when I say high, I mean HIGH: 5,168 meters (16,955 feet!) above sea level to be exact. We realized it would likely be a grueling journey, but this was our 10th anniversary and it called for an exceptional destination.

Lonely Planet offered little detailed information so we turned to the interwebs, where we found a few blogs with descriptions of the journey and one tour company that offers a guided trek.

We devoured the details in the blogs and turned to the tour company for more information and to rent the necessary camping gear to keep us alive 16,000 feet in the air. With the help of Saul at Peru Adventures Tours, summit post, Brendan’s Adventures, and Viva South and Central America, we had just enough information to make it to our destination without getting lost or dying of frostbite.

Our first challenge began on the way to the bus terminal in Arequipa, when we realized neither of us had our debit cards and we had only 120 soles (about $40) between us.

Not to worry though, because we had a credit card. When we arrived in Chivay, we immediately sought out a hotel that would take plastic.

Church in Chivay’s Plaza De Armas

One of many statues adorning the walking-only tourist street.

“No hostals in Chivay take cards,” said the lady at the tourist office. Caramba!

Luckily before the trip we sewed an emergency stash of dollars into our backpacks, so we busted out $40 to change. Alex and I made the rounds to the local banks and tiendas, but apparently moneychangers aren’t too keen on dirty $20 bills that have been folded up in a secret pocket of your backpack for two months. One teller even chuckled while Alex stood there sweating.

So after exhausting all options, we had the same $40 we started with. Alex walked to a hostel that, according to Trip Advisor, was run by a saint of a woman; he was not sure what he was looking for but what he got was the name of a hotel that supposedly took cards.

We hoofed it to the hotel, confirmed that we could indeed pay with a card and got a room. A little voice in my head told me we should pay immediately, but then I thought, “no, don’t worry.” Plus we were both feeling a little smug for having just navigated this whole hiccup with nothing but our broken Spanish. I should have listened to that little voice though because the next morning, we were informed that only cash would be accepted.

I insisted that we could only pay with a card (or the dirty $20 that no one wanted), and it soon became clear that the credit card machine worked, but the 16-year-old boy “running” the place simply didn’t know how to use it. After a call to his mom who walked him through the steps, plus some help from me, we were paid and ready to begin the real adventure.

Central fountain in Plaza de Armas

Thankful that we weren’t washing dishes for the rest of the day to pay for our room, we walked to the center of Chivay to find a collectivo (i.e. a minivan that crams as many people as possible in, leaves when full and stops at various points on its way to a final destination).

We found a van fairly quickly with the right town names emblazoned on the front, but we were only passengers #2 and #3.

Alex is ready, but that bench in front of him needs three more people and a bag of dead chickens

After an hour, the van was full and we took off. By the time we left, we were packed in like sardines with people sitting in seats and on the floor, giant bags of vegetables, and a bag of dead chickens at our feet.

About 40 minutes later we arrived in the middle of nowhere–our starting point. We were bristling with anticipation as we watched the van drive away.

Then we stepped onto the trail.

The first day was a gradual climb up a beautiful valley. Hiking along a seldom used jeep road we saw a few alpaca and sheep ranches but overall we were overwhelmed by the remoteness of it all.

Over the course of the day we were reminded of the altitude. Alex would bend over to take a photo and start gasping for breath when he stood up. “Don’t forget to breathe” became our mantra.

We started the day at 3,800 meters. Due to the lower pressure, at that altitude there is about 38% less oxygen available per breath. We ended the day at the deserted village of Ran Ran at 4,522 meters (14,836 feet).

You can identify the ruins of Ran Ran as post-Spanish due to the presence of a church

No one seems to know why Ran Ran was abandoned

Towards the end of our day, we gazed down on alpine lakes filled with amazing Andean birds, like the Andean Goose, Giant Coot and Puna Teal. Finally we came over a ridge to find the large laguna that indicated we were close to our destination. A lone shepherd and his herd of alpaca, llama and sheep roamed at the far end of the lake. A fitting end to our first day in the Andes.

The sun set at 6pm and we were asleep by 7pm. Really. Unfortunately, we were both awake a little after 10pm and that is when sleep became a dream. “What time is it?” I asked. Alex replied, “12:15″…”2:20″…”4:10.” And then we drifted into a solid sleep for an hour and a half until the sun hit the tent and we were relieved of the freezing temperatures.

Our 2nd day took us from a hike that felt vaguely familiar (sort of like hiking the hills of Southern California with a little more desert thrown in) to a landscape best described on Brendan’s blog as Tatooine from Star Wars.

As we gained elevation, we transitioned from the alpine lakes and montane grassland and shrubland (known as the puna ecosystem)…

…into the land of sand and rocks.

We saw our first viscacha (the Andean Chinchilla), a flock of Andean parakeets (yes, parakeets!), and a gorgeous waterfall.

We also got our first view of our destination, Nevado Mismi, in the distance.

We hiked across a massive plateau where vicunas roamed and the wind off the mountain gusted in our faces.

Eventually we reached the Quebrada Carhuasanta valley (“quebrada” is a creek) where we would camp  at an elevation of over 5,000 meters. The icy wind didn’t let up and we rushed to set up the tent for a reprieve.

We ate cheese, bread and GORP for dinner to avoid setting up the stove and cooking in the frigid temperatures.

We slept very little that night. Tossing and turning, at times gasping for breath. Even wearing multiple layers, fleece jackets, gloves and hats, we were cold. But we knew the reward would be worth it: reaching the source of the Amazon the next morning on our 10th anniversary.

Alex got up at sunrise, and ever my hero, set up the stove and made coca tea to ease the effects of the altitude. We sipped our tea and ate dry granola, psyching ourselves up to exit our sleeping bags and start hiking.

The day’s hike started with a steep incline as we inched closer to the mountain, taking deep breaths every two or three steps.

Once up on the plateau, the views into the valley were stunning.

It took a bit of searching to find the actual source. We crept along the rock face, finally spotting the spring in our binoculars. We climbed over massive boulders eventually arriving at the headwaters of the Amazon. A stream poured from a small cave, cold and clear.

We sat and gaped at what was really just a rivulet, amazed that it would eventually form the largest river in the world.

After snapping several photos and filling our water bottles, we continued around the rock face to discover the spring that jets from cracks in the wall.

The entire experience was nothing short of amazing.

We basked in our excitement and joy as long as we could knowing that the next hour of hiking would be a butt-kicker as we climbed a huge pass that we estimated at 5,300 meters (17,355 feet). We climbed slowly up the hill to the next plateau where we fully grasped the task ahead of us. The pass looked daunting to say the least. We rested for a few minutes, then began the final push.

I can say that without a doubt this was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. I developed a pattern of taking 12 steps, then stopping for three deep-ish breaths then another 12 steps and another three breaths. After what seemed like endless rounds of walk/breathe, I reached the top just behind Alex. Despite the pounding pain in my head, my racing heartbeat and the lack of oxygen, I was ecstatic, feeling the high of accomplishing this massive feat.

The gale force winds at the top of the pass forced us to descend quickly into a sweeping valley. Although it took us over an hour to climb, we descended the rocky slope and reached the puna wetlands in about 15 minutes.

We hopped from rock to rock through the braided channels and ponds feeling the physical relief of the descent.

The rest of the day was lovely: the view was spectacular, a light breeze blew and my Acute Mountain Sickness symptoms faded. We saw several herds of alpaca and llamas as well as their friendly herding dogs.

We settled for the night in one of the many abandoned stone alpaca corrals that dot the valley. And for the first time in four days, we got a sustained five hours of sleep.

Our last day, we awoke to a beautiful sunrise glowing on the mountains.

We headed out of the valley and onto the adjacent plateau before making our final descent into Tuti. As we climbed down a crazy steep and rocky trail, the pre-Inca ruins of the village of Naucallacta came into view.

We ate lunch in the shade of the largest of the ruined buildings admiring the beautiful stonework.

After one final steep descent we arrived in the small village of Tuti. We lucked into three collectivo rides in quick succession (and for very little of our remaining soles) that took us to the road where we had one final small hike down hill and across the Rio Colca to arrive at the beautiful Colca Lodge. We spent one romantic and relaxing night soaking in the hot springs, drinking wine and stuffing our faces.

And we made it back to our house in Arequipa the next day with 5 soles to spare.

Turns out, hiking to the source of the Amazon is a bit like being married for ten years: it’s challenging, rewarding, exhausting, and exhilarating, often in unexpected ways. And like our 10 years of marriage, the hike was worth every minute.

New birds: great thrush, black crowned night heron^, rufous collared sparrow^, white winged dove^, american kestral, white capped dipper, oasis hummingbird, andean goose, giant coot, puna ibis, andean negrito, andean flicker, ruddy duck, andean lapwing, andean gull, mountain caracara, puna teal, yellow billed teal, cordilleran canastero, black siskin, andean parakeet, white winged diuca-finch, peruvian sierra-finch, slender billed miner (^ denotes birds seen in other countries on this trip)