In Cusco, the Navel of the Inca World

Our first day of acclimatization started yesterday. We made it to 3800m which is really good for the first full day in the Andes. I think the more important acclimatization, however, was our introduction to the deep spirituality of the mountains and the lands of the Inca.

Really, when you are traveling to a great mountain I think it is really important to be introduced to the story and the spirituality of the mountain before you ascend. This is what we are in the process of doing now. We visited Saqsaywaman, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay – all spiritual centers for the Inca overlooking Cusco which is known as the navel of the Incan empire that once stretched from Columbia down to the tip of Argentina. Cusco was the heart of the Incan world.

looking into Cusco from Tambomachy

Off in the distance, we could barely see Apu Ausangate the place we will be heading on Monday. The Inka religion uses the term Apu to refer to a mountain that has a spirit that is alive. The mountain is certainly sacred and is truly connected to the Incan world as a place of great significance as a giver of water from its glaciers. Farmers around Cusco still take a yearly pilgrimage to the mountain, barefoot to collect a piece from the glacier. They then return to sprinkle the water over their fields.

The walls of Saqsaywaman

This is a really important way to travel. Learn about the significance of the place where your feet will tread before starting on that part of the journey. When you do this, the trek will have so much more significance. It will bring about meaning that we could not have imagined before the trek.

This is a good link to what we are doing. This is not just a holiday trek. We worked hard raising money for Christie Lake Kids before we left. Our actions in the months before the trip will have meaning to people we do not know back in Ottawa.

It seems appropriate then that we are learning about the Inca symbols, the spirituality of water, the apu and the mountain. Learning brings on respect and greater respect leads to powerful experiences.

Today we continue our acclimatization by traveling to the Sacred Valley and Pisaq. Another much more famous traveler, Ernesto Che Guevara traveled there in 1952. He wrote:

After trekking for two hours along a rough path we reached the peak of Pisac; also arriving there, though long before us, were the swords of the Spanish soldiers, destroying Pisac’s defenders, defenses, and even its temple.

The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey. Ernesto Che Guevara

Part of our learning is not only about the Incas but also the destruction of this great culture and civilization by the Spanish. All stories here come back to tales of the conquest. It is also the story of reawakening. It certainly was for Che Guevara as he traveled through Peru in 1952 and it is for us.

The trekking and the learning continues apace.

Inkakorset, Chakana, betydningen af | Inka-Design

The Inka Cross or Chakana is a strong symbol of the old cultures of the Andes and is considered the most complete, holy, geometric design of the Inkas. This symbol is often found in old places and holy centers in the Andes in Peru and in Bolivia. The Chakana has had, and still has, a considerable meaning to the Inkas and it also represents many meanings in its design.

A: At the top to the left

Future
Present
Past

B: At the top to the right

Hana Pacha – Heaven
The upper world, light sophisticated energy. The stars, divine creatures, and gods.

Kay Pacha –The earth
This world, light and heavy energy, here and now, Mother Earth. People’s lives.

Uqha Pacha –The Underworld
Heavier energy, but not Hell, may be lucky, beautiful things. Death.

C: At the bottom to the left

Peace
War
Intelligence

D: At the bottom to the right

The holy animals:
Condor/eagle: represents the upper world in the sky
Cougar: represents powerful land animals
Snake: represents the lower world

Top

Wiracocha / God

Bottom

Pachamama / Mother Earth

Christie Lake Climb for Kids is in Cusco!

We have made it to the ancient Incan capital of Cusco! After 17 hours of traveling, we have arrived and are starting to acclimate to the high altitude here. We are at 3400 m and at this height, your body quickly starts to act in strange ways. A flight of stairs is a feat, repacking your bag is a challenge, walking up a beautiful street can leave you panting with a racing heart.

street scene in Cusco

This is a beautiful place. Cusco is nestled in the Andes, the people are welcoming and the streets are bustling with energy and life. Our group is excited and ready to go and now after a good rest, is in great spirits and adjusting to the altitude challenge.

Acclimatization is an interesting process. The first day is a bit of a shock, there are a lot of breathless moments. Tomorrow will be better so we will have our first short hike of 3 kilometers in the morning. The key will be to walk slow, slower than you would ever walk on a downtown street in Ottawa. The next day will be even better, then we start trekking in the Andes at over 4300 m for five days. We can see the mountains now and we know this will be a great challenge.

The bustle at the end of a Cusco day

While we still have wifi, I will continue to write. This is a very positive group and we are raising money for a great cause. The physical and mental work ahead is daunting, but I am sure that we are all up to it.

Christie Lake Kids Goes to Peru

In a few days, we leave for the mountains of Peru. We are 17 climbers all raising money for Christie Lake Kids – transformative recreation for low-income children here in Ottawa.

A year ago we started putting this experience together. Our small team recruited hikers, planned fundraisers and over the space of eight months raised over $25,000.

This is the big idea. Come up with an exciting experience then recruit fellow adventurers who are willing to raise money for kids and work together to train for a demanding physical experience.

Climbing in the Peruvian Andes is an arduous experience. We will trek for 5 days and 4 nights reaching as high as 5200m (Mt. Everest is 8,848 m). Over the five days, we will never go below 4300m which means we will be living in a high altitude environment for an extended period of time, more than most of the group has attempted before.

We are a new group, we didn’t all know each other before this whole thing started. We have trained together and have held really fun fundraisers together, but the first time the entire group will be together will be in Cusco, Peru. We are united in our love of adventure and the willingness to support a truly wonderful organization that is changing the lives of children every day.

We are supported by Christie Lake staff, three different travel agencies, a wonderful local artist (who just happens to be one of our daughters), two outdoor gear stores which have sponsored us and given us equipment discounts, two physical trainers, various corporate sponsors (whose logos we will take to 5200m) and a tremendous number of individual stores and donors who have supplied silent auction items and venues for our group fundraisers. We also have so many contributors who have helped us surpass our original funding goal by $10,000. We now stand somewhere over $25,000!

just some of our sponsors from our first group fundraiser

So, with such a large community of supporters, I think it will be important to let people know how we progress through the mountains.

To do this, we will be using a great tool first suggested to me by Ottawa adventurer, Elia Saikaly. We will be using the InReach satellite tracker. Once activated, the tracker will send out a waypoint every ten minutes.

The InReach track I created on the way up Kilimanjaro last year. You may notice, there is no track down the mountain. For some unknown reason, I turned the InReach off once we reached the summit!

The link you can use to follow our progress is here: – https://share.garmin.com/climbforkids

I will also be able to use the InReach to post messages on Twitter and Facebook. We have some preset messages ready to go and I am able to send other messages during our trek. Here’s the tag #climbforkids.

We have also tried to catalogue most of the events that have taken place over the past year. For this, we are using an Esri Story Map, a great communication tool that allows you to tell a story using maps, video, audio recordings and pictures.

One of our Esri Story map pages highlighting an earlier fundraising achievement by the group.

I have a bunch of cameras that I will use to document the trip. The most important part of this will be to get the stories of the individual group members – why are they doing this, what are the challenges they see ahead, how did it feel to put yourself out there as a fundraiser?

The training is over and so is most of the fundraising (we are still happy to take donations here!) The story gets really interesting now as we pack our bags and get ready for a gruelling 11-flight from Ottawa to Cusco. We have a great group and we are raising money for a wonderful organization.

We all hope you follow us up the mountain!

A Virtual Tour of the Ausangate Region – Climb for Kids!

Welcome to Rainbow Mountain Cusco Journey through an undiscovered land of wild desert landscapes, snow capped peaks, herds of alpaca, and arrive at the ultimate destination – The “Rainbow Mountain” hidden deep in the Andes. Throughout your journey you will pass through a vibrant green valley with the impressive Ausangate mountain towering in the distance. You will experience first hand how locals live in the mountains and even have a chance to speak with them. As you get closer to the Rainbow Mountain you will begin to see the first signs of the colored minerals that formed the painted hills. Your guide will explain what makes up the existence of the “Rainbow Mountain”, and finally with one last push you will hike up to a vantage point that gives you a 360 degree view of the beautiful landscape that makes up this sacred land.

Trip Advisor

For the past week, I have been featuring photos that I received from the wonderful people at Merit Travel, the people who are organizing our Christie Lake Climb for Kids! adventure planned for August 2018.

The photos are truly amazing and most are shots that I can’t find anywhere else. Even the locations like this shot of the Red Sand Pass are unsearchable on Google. To me, this is a good thing. It shows how remote this area is. Even a recent Netflix documentary we watched called Peru: Tesoro Escondido had no mention of Ausangate or the Rainbow Mountains.

We are certainly trekking into territory that is remote and obscure. That is great!

I have also found some amazing 360 images on Google Earth using a feature I didn’t know anything about called Photo Sphere. Take a look at the Google Earth shot of Ausangate Mountain below – each of the blue dots are Photo Sphere shots taken around the mountain. The shots are spectacular and all are done in 360. They make up a beautiful virtual tour of the Ausangate region.

The arrows point out some of the Google Photo Sphere shots.

 

Here is one of the Photo Sphere shots. Unfortunately, I can’t make it 360 in this post.

I would give this a try. While this is a remote area, there are easily 30 360 images you can take a look at that are most likely a part of our upcoming trek.

A great way to dream away wintery days!

Climb for Kids – A photo per day!

I just received some stunning photos of the area we will be going to this summer in Peru. They are too good to keep to myself so I am going to start posting some on this blog.

As I post more photos, this edition of the blog will get better and better. Maybe we will even pick up the four or five additional climbers we need to get this terrific adventure going!

Here is today’s photo:

The Ausangate trekking circuit goes through some of the most beautiful landscapes of the Cusco region. The five or six days of this itinerary goes around the Ausangate Mountain –  Awsanqati in Quechua – along with hot springs, and pristine turquoise blue and red lakes.

OK, maybe a second photo

Our first Lodge is located in the Uyuni Pampa, at an altitude of 4,368 m.a.s.l. (14,331 ft.). It is a valley with meadows, furrowed by the ice-cold waters of the Quencomayo River, and a grazing place for a great number of alpacas from the community of Chillca. From the lodge, there is a privileged view of the snow-capped Mount Jatun Jampa; an Apu (Sacred Mountain) visible at the end of the valley.

from Andeanlodges.com

More to come!

No Yoga for Old Men!

Have you ever done a downward dog with your dog? I have. I think this actually sums up my yoga prowess at this stage of my life!

I am finding that at 59, things don’t seem to move the way they used to. Today to make a statement against the crazy -30 C weather outside, I did 35 minutes of yoga inside. Just like my 31 days of posting challenge, I think it might be a good idea to try 30 days of yoga!

So, why does everyone who instructs yoga look like a lithe and graceful elf? I am more like a lumbering, wheezing stickman. All the joints hurt. Forget any idea of bending from my waist and touching my forehead to the floor. If you watch me closely, you may notice a slight, painful bend, but the floor is light years away.

I do yoga most weeks. We have a group in the community who work out for 90 minutes in a painful collective therapy session. I like it. I like pain I guess.

Being strategic, I hide off to the side with my friend, neither of us can really do the poses, but we are very good at the groaning and complaining. Fortunately for us, we have a yoga instructor who has the patience of Job and she never gives up on us.

I will just speak for me, but is it possible to turn into a petrified man? I think I can actually feel my joints calcify as I stretch out.

yup you got it right Leonard

How did this happen? How will I keep this up for 30 days of yoga? What is that new pain in my hip?

Our yoga instructor says its the crazy weather we have been having that causes the pain. My partner says I am just old. Our dog gets to lick my face when I do a downward dog.

So, who knows?

I do remember trekking in the Western Highlands, 26 kilometres a day over really rough terrain for a week.

 

I was there, I did this

I do remember making it to the top of Kilimanjaro, even though I fell after and tore a quad muscle (maybe that’s the problem).

I think I took this shot, but high altitude plays with your memory

So, I will struggle through with Adriene’s yoga, she can’t see me anyway. I will continue to go to our group yoga sessions and I will continue to hike and climb whenever I can.

I ache, but so did Leonard, so I am in pretty good company.

Response to George Couros: 4 Ways To Not Let Others Dim Your Light

One of the great things about walking all day is that you have lots of time to think. This latest post has been on my mind and I think after walking such a great distance, it is a good idea to put this out there.

Again, George Couros is an inspiration, but this is something that was on my mind throughout our West Highland Way trek. I would encourage you to read his entire post. He makes a great deal of sense and I just wish more people in senior administration would do more than just retweet his work and ponder what he is saying.

I hope that what George writes and what I am writing here will help people who are going through similar experiences. If this is you, read carefully what George writes and don’t let anyone ever dim your light!

The reality of our world is that people get threatened when other people shine their light on the world.  This bothers me even more so when it is educators doing it to educators, as our jobs are to empower those we serve, not try to bring them down.  If you are doing this to a colleague or peer, would you do it to a student? Would you do it to my daughter if she was in your classroom?  In education, this is unacceptable.

Here is my response to the post.

Thanks George, a very good post and excellent advice. There does come a time however when you need to consider leaving the system when those in positions of higher authority have made the decision to block you any way they can. I guess this come under #3 ‘move on and ignore’.

You are right to point out that it is strange that educators can treat other educators poorly, but my experience tells me that with a few notable exceptions, educators forget who they are (or were) the higher up the corporate eduladder they climb.

They can be very cruel and unforgiving to the point where on my case, they suspended me for three weeks without cause. While I was later vindicated and invited back into the professional fold, they never apologized which to me is inexcusable.

A year after my suspension, I retired from my board and I am much more at peace. I still have a great community of positive fellow educators that I work and correspond with, but I no longer have to suffer the negative soul destroying authoritarians who made my life so difficult.

Coming on to two years now after the suspension, it still rankles and this is something that could still be solved with a simple ‘sorry’.

How can we expect to make real progress in our education systems when the people at the top expect blind compliance. To forge a different path means that you could be punished with impunity.

That was the end of my comment today.

I don’t expect ever to hear from my former employers. It would be good if they took responsibility for their actions. It was shameful, but I have certainly moved on.

I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, I have had the privilege of assisting my partner through major surgery and I have trekked more than 100 km through the Western Highlands with my daughter.

I have left the past behind and I love the exciting challenges that the future presents.

Thanks George and the West Highland Way for getting this post written – finally! Now on to more great positive adventures in the future.

If You Want to Learn You Have to Walk

OK, so I didn’t post every day during the West Highland Way. Can’t blame the wifi – it was pretty good in most places. It’s all me. By the end of each day, I was totally exhausted, ready to eat, drink (a pint or two) then sleep.

It is totally exhausting to trek over 20 km a day over rough, and very beautiful territory. Colleen and I did this for over 100 km in all sorts of weather.

The walk really tested our limits and this is an exhilarating experience! At the end of the day, we could hardly move and I got used to padding around the hotels and B&Bs in my sock feet – it was too painful to wear my shoes!

There is an immense amount of learning that has gone on here. When you walk through a country for eight hours a day over pathways that are easily 200 years old the character of the land begins to seep in.

For both of us, we had more and more questions as the days lengthened. Where do the feral goats come from? Why are there so many abandoned stone houses everywhere? Who really was Rob Roy? What is the legacy behind Scottish giants like William Wallace and Robert Bruce? Why did the Glen Coe massacre happen?

It is thought that these wild goats are all that remain from the Highland Clearances

Each night after we poured over our trip notes (excellent!) for the next day we turned to our history books to answer some of these questions. Walking the country calls you to learn more about this beautiful rich land.

This was my constant companion – along with Colleen – throughout the trek

I know as we take a much-needed break today in Fort William (why is it called Fort William?) we will both be reading up and sharing information on what we are learning

hey dad, do you know what Celtic priests were called?

This is why a love of history is so important. It informs your travels and enriches the walking. The walking, in turn, brings out a curiosity to learn about the land.

What a wonderful way to travel!

Slow travel in Scotland

Slow travel is not so much a particular mode of transportation as it is a mindset. Rather than attempting to squeeze as many sights or cities as possible into each trip, the slow traveler takes the time to explore each destination thoroughly and to experience the local culture.

The Art of Slow Travel

I didn’t know this was a term, but slow travel is a thing and we are doing this now. We are spending our second day in the little town of Drymen, Scotland, 30 miles north of Glasgow. Tomorrow we start on the West Highland Way, a trail that was developed 30 years ago as the hiking craze took off in the British Isles.

I am traveling with my daughter Colleen who is just starting a journey that will take her all over Europe. We actually bumped into each other yesterday in the town square. No need for cell phones here.

I like the term slow travel for what we are doing. We have settled into our second B&B in Drymen and we will start hiking around 22 kilometers a day on the way to Fort William and Ben Nevis eight days away.

This is not a tour that will take in all of the Highlands of Scotland, this is a moderate 135-kilometer trek through the highlands ending with a climb up the highest mountain in the United Kingdom. A wonderful way to see beautiful countryside.

After climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro last year, I am most interested in travel that allows me to walk from place to place. Any form of motorized travel blurs the experience and takes me away from learning more about my surroundings.

What I have learned so far. Drymen was settled first (at least that is what we know) because it is located close to the Endrick River and a shallow fording of the river. There are supposed to be ancient fortifications guarding this ford, but I couldn’t see them.

 

Endrick Water

The town hosts the oldest licensed pub in Scotland the Clachan Inn. Established in 1734, it was once owned by a sister of Rob Roy. The pub is wonderful and offers at least 30 different types of scotches.

Right outside the pub is a road that stretches straight to Stirling and was built during the 1745 Highland Rebellion to link up key defensive positions for the British.

Not bad for 24 hours. Tomorrow will be more of a challenge, but as we travel into the Highlands, we will learn even more and meet more people who are out to discover a bit of Scotland. Lots to experience, but we will continue to do it slowly.

The beginning of our trail starting tomorrow.