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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rainbow Mountain, Peru- A Walk into the Unknown

Rainbow Mountain Peru
Take this tour with FlashpackerConnect Rainbow Mountain "Vinicunca" 

We traveled throughout Peru for a full month. Longer than we expected with our limited time in South America, but not nearly enough to cover everything. We explored the city of Lima, the mountains in Huaraz, the area of Cusco, and the Sacred Valley of Machu Picchu. We spent nearly half that time trekking in the Andes mountains and exploring the vast landscape. Our most recent trek was the Ausangate Trek. Traditionally done in 5 days circumnavigating the massive Ausangate Peak, a sacred mountain for locals as it is the largest in the area.

Ausangate trek Peru

After reading bits and pieces of this trek on line, I stumbled upon a picture of what I can only describe as a rainbow in the mountain. This soon became an obsession for me to find out where the mountain was and how we could get there. Knowing that it was close-ish to the trek we were planning, but not able to find any information online we were at a loss. We were so close, we just had to go see this mountain. We went in to guide shops, scanned social media, and still came up empty handed. Now with one day before we were to take off, we stumbled upon a distorted map of an old trail. Having somewhat of an idea where the mountain was we made some notes on the map and took off.


Rainbow Mountain Peru
Rainbow Mountain
Every adventure seeker dreams of an undiscovered land. A place that is off the beaten track, where you get away from it all, but is there such a place anymore?

Vinicunca Mountain (Rainbow Mountain) in Peru is one of these places where travelers have yet to discover. A secret that has been kept so well there is no information about it.

The journey will take you minimum 6 days to complete. A high altitude adventure that will keep you begging for oxygen as you strut above a constant 14,000 feet. You cross 5 passes ranging between 15,000 and 17,000 feet. You pass thousands of roaming alpaca and llama. You walk through beautifully diverse landscape that changes daily from snow capped peaks, to neon red desert mountains, to marshy pampas. The real reward however is when you arrive at the painted hills hidden deep in the Andes. Resembling a rainbow, this mountain will require extreme route finding, harsh camping conditions, and a strong determination, but it will not leave you disappointed.

Want more? You are rewarded on the first day and last with a relaxing soak in natural hot springs and the best part is you will be on a trail that gets very few visitors each year. This is a destination not to be missed for any adventure seeker.

The Journey:

The start of the trek we were instantly greeted by herds of alpaca and llama, starting around noon we only hiked a few hours before the clouds came with uninvited rain and we set up camp for the night. Content that we were stationed right next to a hot springs we waited out the rain and enjoyed some coca tea to stay warm before enjoying a nice long soak to prepare our muscles for the extreme days ahead.

Ausangate trek

Day 2 we prepared our less than desirable Peruvian oatmeal. Everyone always says, "when you're on the trail it really doesn't matter what you're eating as long as you have food" well in this instance, that's not the case, and unfortunatley we brought two large bags of it... our only morning substance for the next 5 days. We fueled our bodies out of shear necessity and took off to conquer our first pass of the journey. We continued on for the next few hours with Ausangate mountain in full view, passing deep blue lakes, and transferring into a desert-like landscape.

Ausangate Trek

Ausangate trek

Day 3 was "The day" the day we were to find the rainbow. Preparing for a difficult day ahead, (and high hopes of finding what we were looking for) we were up early, fixed our oats and took off a few hours earlier than usual. First thing ahead of us was a steep climb up a daunting 16,000 foot pass, over 1500 feet of elevation gain in less than a half a mile. Steadily, we make our way up taking frequent breaks to marvel at the snow capped peaks behind us while chunks of ice the size of a car break off and plummet into the glacial tarn below. One step after another we again pass herds of alpaca, and we traipse over lavender colored sand; already it feels as though we are in a different world, but it's only a precursor of what is to come.

At the top of the pass we grab for our map to have another look. Every few minutes it seems we stop to check our map to make sure we are on the right track, and gasp for more oxygen.

Rainbow Mountain Peru

We make our way through the lush green valley and begin to climb our second 16,000 foot pass for the day, hoping the whole way that this was the pass we needed. Three hours later we reach the top, and a rush of emotions stream through my veins. We could see it. The mountain we were looking for. It exists, and it was only a few hours with in reach. Not that it was going to be an easy task to get there though, we still had many miles and a deep valley in standing in our way.

We made our way down the side of the mountain covered in dark red sand and scree, half way sliding to a small lake. We relaxed, reloaded with water, and chomped down some peanut butter tortillas. It was still before noon, and very few clouds in the sky. On an adrenaline high, from our discovery, we took off again for the ultimate view of the rainbow.

When we finally arrived at Vinicunca I was again overwhelmed with emotions. It was better than I could have ever imagined and it was just us and the Andes. Surrounded by a splattering of neon reds, electric yellows, and soft blues. It was as though it shouldn't exist in reality - as if Dr. Seuss created it himself. We sat there in silence awed by the beauty that exists in this world, and stunned that so few travelers have ever been here.

Rainbow Mountain Peru
Rainbow Mountain "Vinicunca"

Rainbow Mountain Peru
Rainbow Mountain "Vinicunca"

The rest of the trek was nothing short of a backpackers dream. We crossed four more passes, slept under a sky crowded by stars and colors from the milky way, swam in some beautiful (yet cold) lagoons, and didn't see a another trekker until the last day where we again rested our muscles in a natural hot springs.

Brandon and I have seen some amazing things and been on a lot of adventures, but this is one that we will never forget. A journey to the secret, painted hills of the Andes mountains where we walked into the unknown. What will your next adventure be?

NOTE: If you would like to take a day trip to the Rainbow Mountain or a multi day trek on the Ausangate visit www.flashpackerconnect.com for more information or email flashpackerconnect@gmail.com to book a tour. You are now able to get to this amazing place on a day trip from Cusco, Peru. Have fun!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Do What Makes You Happy

After a long sabbatical away from writing Brandon and I have finally sat down to relax again and reflect on our travels. Asia was an incredible adventure with wonderful food, people, scenery, and culture but it was time to move on. We learned alot about ourselves and what is most important. We have achieved already what we set out to do in the first place, and that was to discover a new way of thinking, explore how others live, and stretch our bodies both physically and mentally.

When we first set out on our adventure, I knew that traveling wouldn't always be like a vacation, however I never realized how unglamorous parts of it would be. We have trekked through monsoons, spent hours searching for a bed in 100 degree heat, with everything we own on our backs, endured 15 hour bus rides, and have gone to bed hungry. However, the negatives of traveling don't even begin to compare to the amazing memories we have made.

I often get told "you're lucky to be able to travel like this" and I can't help but think to myself that luck has nothing to do with it. Brandon and I decided after months and months of happy hours out in Seattle (the best way to come up with a plan), that we would make this dream a reality. and while I don't need to go into the details again, we made it happen. We planned. We saved. We worked.

I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try a new path, see what happens. Life is full of surprises. For Brandon and I, we like the adventure of change, of the unknown. Predictability is nice, comfortable, and easy, but if you really think about what your dreams are, what you've always wanted to do, is it what you're doing now? If it is, I commend you, but if it's not, take that leap of faith and see what happens, the unknown is not as bad as you may think.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Coffee from Around the World

It was here in Vietnam when we realized that the important ritual of drinking coffee is not just something we do in the US. To the locals here, they have a meticulous process to make the perfect cup of joe depending on what you order.

Gaffe Sua Da- Ice Coffee with Milk
We ordered our first round in Ho Chi Min via hand motions, and attempting to pronounce the word "gafee" the way the guide book explained. The lady behind her stand said something and we nodded yes, as if we knew what she said, hoping we would end up with a delicious cup of strong coffee. Two tall tumblers were placed in front of us with an aluminum filter of some sort resting on top, and what looked like a thick milky substance at the bottom of the glass. Slowly we watched drip by drip of our coffee work its way to the bottom of the tumbler, wondering when we were ever going to drink this coffee. Suddenly two more glasses were put in front of us, both filled with ice and a tall spoon. We look at each other, then at the lady serving us, she motioned for us to stir the maybe one inch of coffee that ended up in the bottom of our glass, and the thick milky substance together. We do as told for about a minute to ensure everything is mixed well, she then gestureed again for us to pour it over the ice, which now has a bit of water at the bottom as well. Again, we do as told, and mix again. Finally its time to try. I take a small sip from the blue straw that was given to me and am immediately punched with a jolt of caffeine mixed with sweet condensed milk. A Vietnamese favorite that soon became an addiction for us - and a new obsession to try coffee from around the world.

Egg Coffee
About a week later in Hanoi we did a little more research on coffee in Vietnam and discovered the egg coffee. A magnificant concoction of egg yolks, sugar, espresso and who knows what else. We order two cups at the first cafe we could find who served it and anxiously wait nearly 10 minutes while the owner whips up our drink. We give it a small stir and taste the creamy top layer that is sweet mixed with the slight taste of espresso, something that I have been craving for dessert ever since. The small cup is just the right balance between sweet dessert-like layer on top and the delicious shot of espresso on the bottom, that I saver every sip whilst sitting on small blue plastic stools and people watch.

Looking back over our travels there has been so many different kinds of coffee that we have enjoyed. I'm not talking about beans from around the world, but the style in while locals enjoy their coffee. For instance, in the US, when I think of coffee, I think drip coffee in a small mug that is continually filled up while I enjoy breakfast at a diner. I also think of a delicious latte with maybe a bit of sugar in it. Yes, there are endless choices of gourmet coffee, but I would stand to guess that filtered coffee is the number one consumed style of coffee in the US. Some like it with cream and sugar, others like it black.

As we continue our travels, I am anxious to see how the rest of the world takes their coffee.

When traveling through Indonesia there are also a few common styles of coffee that locals gulp down. Bali koppe, bla


Vietnam is a country full of food, scenery, and unfortunate history. It has some of the most diverse landscapes to explore ranging from the largest caves in the world to dense jungle, to acres and acres of rice paddies chisled in the mountainside. Our time here was limited, however we put together a plan that consisted of starting in the Southern part of the country (Ho Chi Min) and working our way North into trekking territory. It's been a mear two weeks and we already have been able to see so much of the country and eat many of its delicious foods.

Arriving in Ho Chi Min City, where we were greeted with an endless amount of new food. After being in Indonesia for nearly two months, and eating the same thing every day, we were more than ready for a change. All of the Vietnamese food is fresh. They use a plethora of colorful veggies, homemade rice noodles, freshly baked baguettes, and mounds of spicy chilis, we even tried escargot for the first time - a plate full of snails cooked in sweet lemongrass with fresh chilies chopped on top for a delicious kick. Another favorite staple for us has been the Bahn Mi, a sandwich wrapped in a crispy baguette, with carrots, cucumbers, and chilies, pate, and a grab bag of meats and other ingredients - always delicious, but always a mystery. This turned out to be one of our favorite on the go meals.

Knowing that if we wanted to see all of Vietnam we would have to move fast, so we woke up early our first morning in Vietnam and took a walk to the local market, through the park. What we saw was a sight to see; locals all over the park getting their workout in before the heat of the day set in. But this wasn't your average jog in the park... watch the video below to see what I mean! Brandon and I videoed as discreetly as possible, but were laughing so hard we were crying. This video would later entertain us for the entirety of our upcoming 15 hour bus ride.

With the Cu Ci Tunnels near HCMC we rented a motorbike and took a day trip to visit the Viet Cong's underground tunnel system that was used during the French and Vietnam war (called the American War, to Vietnam natives). A tour brought us around and explained how the tunnels were used and other tactics that were implemented during the war. I felt extremely undereducated not fully knowing the United States side of the war. The tunnels were interesting to see but completely loaded with propaganda and I wasn't sure what I could actually believe. We ended up leaving with an unsettling feeling in our guts that made us want to learn more about the war.

The next stop on our tour of Vietnam was Mui Ne, a sleepy little town that has little to offer with the exception of some beautiful sand dunes, and a lovely stream that we hiked through. Our day started at 4am when we rolled out of bed to ensure we made it to the dunes before anyone else did. Anytime a overcrowded tourist spot is on our agenda it involves Brandon and I getting up before dawn to get a glimpse of the attraction without the hoards of touts trying to sell to us and tourists ruining the experience. We arrived at the white sand dunes first and proceeded to hike in about 30 minutes to the top of one of the peaks. Channeling our inner child, we spent the next hour or so racing each other down the dunes, staggering our way back up, jumping off the peaks into the pillow soft sand, and spitting sand out of our mouths from face planting.

After the white dunes we made our way to the red dunes where it was now almost 8 am and the area was already bustling for the day. We took a glance stayed for only 20 minutes or so and headed off to find Fairy Stream, which happened to be the most beautiful spot of the day. Tucked away from the city and hard to find, we climbed down some dirty stairs into a muddy stream that at first looked like it was a waste of time. We walked another 20 meters or so until the trash subsided and a pristine river opened up cutting through a steep red canyon on one side and lush green trees on the other.

From Mui Ne we hopped on our first overnight bus of our travels. After reading horror stories I said a little prayer, took a sleeping pill, and passed out, the entire way. To my surprise, I loved this way of traveling. A sleeper bus, which is what all the long distance busses in Vietnam are, is not your typical bus, the seats have all been stripped and two levels of small beds have been built in to accommodate only the smallest Vietnamese person. With my 5'5" frame, I just barely fit, completely able to stretch my legs out and sleep comfortably, however for Brandon it's a different story - in order for him to fit, his knees are bent high in the sky, for the entirety of the 15 hours.

Rested and feeling fresh (thanks to that sleeping pill), we arrive in Hoi An at 5am, one of Vietnam's biggest tourist destinations, and rightfully so, it is absolutely beautiful with silk lanterns of all shapes and sizes lining the streets, old french colonial buildings with colorful flowers in potted plants, and a winding river that cuts through the edge of town.

Hoi An is a place you may only intend on staying a few nights, but it can easily suck you in for more. There is shopping galore of intricately handcrafted items and loads of tailors ready to create a one of a kind item designed just for you. Of course I had to get a little black dress made and get the full tailor experience of picking out my material, design, getting measured and fitted. The four seamstresses, who spoke only Vietnamese, pulled and pinned every inch of the dress each fitting I had, as if no input from me was necessary, they knew exactly what they were doing. Only three visits and two days later I had a new dress that fit me like a glove.

The rest of our time in Hoi An was spent biking around the town, admiring the beautiful crafts, walking around the markets, and drinking copious amounts of ice coffee with condensed milk. When night fell we would walk the streets filled with glowing lanterns and local music playing from inside the restaurants. Our last night we hired a women to row us down the river. We drank some local beer, listened to the buzz of the town, and made a wish as we each released a candle into the river.

From Hoi An we would have another overnight bus to bring us to Phong Nha, home to the largest caves in the world.