Merrythought – Pineapple Cup Sailboat Race, February 2017


It has taken me just over a year to finally edit a video and write about a life-changing experience I had in February 2017.  The time is now right to report on that.  This blog and video attempt to highlight the beauty of sailing a fantastic boat like Merrythought in challenging seas, while celebrating the courage of eight men who survived a near tragic event at sea, hundreds of miles from the nearest land — February 19, 2018.


VIDEO TRAILER: Merrythought –Sailing with Michael Peacock, Antigua to St. Petersburg, May 2014 (00:03:02)

I have sailed with my dear friend, Michael Peacock on his lovely 62 ft. racing cruiser sailboat, Merrythought, before.  In May, 2014 we sailed from Antigua in the Caribbean to St. Petersburg Florida in what was an exhilarating 10-day adventure sailing “blue water,” as sailors call the open ocean.  Click on the thumbnail photo for a short trailer of that adventure.  A full 23-minute video, Merrythought –Sailing with Michael Peacock, Antigua to St. Petersburgh, May 2014 is available on my YouTube Sailing Playlist.



VIDEO: Pineapple Cup – Miami to Jamaica, February 2017 (00:20:38)

In February 2017, I joined skipper/owner, Michael Peacock and his crew on the beautiful 62 ft. aluminum racing cruiser, Merrythought.  We were to sail in the annual Pineapple Cup sailboat race from Miami, Florida to Montego Bay, Jamaica.   On February 5, 2017, we left Miami and were first to cross the starting line in very light wind.  We had an experienced crew of seven; I made up the eighth.  I was the only crew member without extensive professional sailing experience, although I have done a few blue water voyages, spent a couple of years in the South African Navy before college, and enjoy sailing my own Hobie Cat in Belize each year.  Mike Peacock has owned and has been sailing  and racing ocean-going sailboats most of his life.   Each crew member had extensive experience, Mike Haber with a lifetime on the water, and Rusty Nicholson, Sean Harr, Colin Cameron, Jordan Peacock, and Christian Graff, all with extensive experience as professional crew on sailboats.  I had full confidence in this excellent collection of sailors!

Knowing the grace, speed, and historical record of this beautiful boat, we felt we had a very good chance to do well in this race.  Merrythought won it in 1991 in 5 days, 20 hours.

By sundown the wind had come up, and continued to strengthen throughout the night.  For three days we had some amazing sailing, making excellent time.  Then, in the early hours of the fourth day, in the pitch-black, dark, moonless night in heavy seas, near-disaster struck.  At 02 AM the boat ran aground on a rock outcropping.




After we made it to Jamaica, I wrote the following email to my family.  Jessica and Dan and Gavin and Lolly in Chicago, Thomas in Vietnam, Yuki and Ryusei in Japan, and Katie traveling in Japan, Myanmar, and Vietnam.  I was impressed with how at that moment we were scattered around the earth, but how an experience such as this made me feel a bond with my family stronger than I could comprehend.

A PERSONAL MESSAGE TO MY FAMILY: “So this is how it ends…”

February 8, 2017

Port Antonio, Jamaica

Dear Katie, Tommy, Yuki, and Ryusei, Jessica, Dan, Gavin, and Lolly,

“So this is how it ends,” was the first thought that went through my mind as I was thrown out of my bunk in the middle of the night with deafening scraping noises as our sailboat ran full speed into a rock formation in the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba.

The second thought was one of immense gratitude. At that moment I felt that if this were the end, I am grateful.  And an amazing peace and calm came over me.

There is so much depth to an experience such as I this; so many emotions.  And I miss you all so deeply.

This was a serious accident.  On the third night, early morning of the fourth day, just after skipper/owner Mike Peacock and I went off watch at midnight, having just fallen asleep in my bunk (our next watch was at 4 AM; one only can sleep two to three hours at a time) I was jolted clear out of my bunk as our boat hit a huge rock outcropping in the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti.  It was a major crisis with the danger that the boat would sink.  With more than 200 miles to go.

I grabbed my passport from my backpack and stuck it in my pants pocket.  “That way they can identify the body,” I thought, as I hastily put on the ever-present life jacket.

I scrambled up the ladder after Mike and climbed through the hatch onto the mid-deck.  As I clipped the tether of the life jacket onto a railing I saw the dangerous situation we were in: sails tearing from the weight of the waves breaking over the boat turning the boat almost on its side, the keel stuck in the rocks; the boat being pounded onto the rocks which were barely visible in the glow of  Merrythought’s running lights in the black, moonless night.

I don’t mind telling you that my distinct, immediate, and crystal clear thought was, “So, this is how it ends…”

The crisis worsened as the boat continued to be lifted, just to be thrown onto the rocks again.  In a flurry of efficiency the crew hauled all the sails down as quickly as possible, with the next wave lifting the boat even higher.  Why is the boat still in one piece?  No boat could withstand this pounding without getting demolished on the rock!

Through this all, I was amazed at my own calm, the clarity in my mind, and the sense of acceptance that flooded over me.  I was so very impressed with skipper Mike Peacock as he calmly continued the MAYDAY! calls on the boat’s radio, trying to reach the Coast Guard unit located in El Salvador while calmly barking out orders of what needed to be done to protect lives and the boat. There was nothing else to do but try to deploy the life raft, many miles from the nearest land, the West coast of Cuba.  “Prepare the life raft. Be ready to abandon ship!” ordered Mike.  “MAYDAY, MAYDAY” he continued to call on the radio.  These are not the words one wants to hear on a dark, stormy night at sea!

Mike continued to engage the engine, the boat lifting in the huge waves, many times coming so perilously close to capsizing, and then being slammed down onto the rock with amazing force.  Everyone, with life jackets on and harness tethers clipped to the boat, was holding on for dear life.  Launching a life raft on the lee side of the boat (on the weather side of these rocks) would be suicidal, as it would be ripped to shreds.  And likely the boat could kill a few of us anyway as it would be thrown on top us.  So the decision was to stay with the boat and hopefully a Coast Guard helicopter could reach us before it was too late.

I was amazed at the calm and efficiency of everyone on board, including yours truly.  It was as if everything suddenly moved in slow motion.  Our vision was clear, our focus intense, as we continued to try to save the boat.  Not a person of this brave crew panicked; instead everyone calmly and efficiently worked to save the boat!

I thought about my life and privileges in nano-second flashes.  I realized that if I survive, my life needs to be different, making a difference in the lives of others on a much greater scale than hitherto.  And even as at that moment there was great uncertainty about our hope of survival, the love and faithfulness to my family became an immense, re-affirmed commitment.

Suddenly a huge wave lifted the boat.  Mike fired the engine in reverse, then forward, and the boat actually lifted off the rocks holding it.  It slowly turned to starboard, and as if in a dream, a miracle, we were afloat and free from the rocks.  As the boat slowly moved away from the rocks everyone jumped into action, looking for the major leaks which would certainly sink the boat.  Amazingly, there was only one serious leak.  The crew immediately went to work to stem the flow as best as they could.  A lot of “McGyver stuff” went on as the boat’s water pumps were engaged, electric wires stripped to rig an extra pump to try to stay ahead of the water entering the boat from a tear in the bow.

Merrythought is an aluminum boat,  the hull plates would bend and stretch some, but only one seam actually separated.  If she were a fiberglass boat she would have been shredded on those rocks.

While going through the rest of the boat carefully, we could hear the faint thud-thud -thud of a helicopter coming over the horizon.  About two hours after the accident a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter arrived.  Of course, there was no moon and it was still pitch black dark.  Until daybreak this welcome helicopter hovered above and circled around us, their huge lights providing welcome light to help us continue our assessment of Merrythought.  After assuring the officers that the boat seemed to be structurally okay, and we only had a spurt of water entering the boat from the starboard bow, they lowered a very large gas-driven water pump in an orange waterproof case into the water.  We recovered it and hauled it onto the boat where we secured it on the deck.

As the helicopter took a last turn around Merrythought and disappeared into the sunrise, the Coast Guard officer could be heard over the radio, “I hope I don’t hear from you guys again.”

Someone remarked that they will never complain about paying taxes again!

At first light,  all hands still on deck, we fabricated a collision mat and crewman Christian dove under the boat to affix an epoxy and fiberglass patch to the crack, which we then covered with this collision mat.  It was amazing to see the improvisation of this amazing crew, and the care taken to save Merrythought!

We decided to proceed to Jamaica where there would be a facility to fully inspect and fix the boat seaworthy for the return to the USA.  We had three pumps going 24 hours a day.  We sailed and motored at low speed the remaining distance, for almost three days, and arrived on the opposite side of Jamaica at Port Antonio – the race was supposed to end at Montego Bay on the other side of the island.

After hoisting the boat out of the water on a huge derrick crane, we were not surprised to see the damage: bent hull plates, at least a foot of the keel stripped off and mangled, and the rudder shredded at the bottom. How this wonderful boat survived and brought us safely here to Jamaica is a miracle diffcult to comprehend, but very much appreciated.

Eight grown men huddled in a circle, and said a prayer of thanks for our survival.  I don’t mind confessing that there were a few tears…

Unfortunately the boat damage is quite extensive. I do not see how it could be repaired in this short time to sail it back to the States next week.

I am quite emotional about this experience as I write this, knowing how close we came to a tragic disaster with eight lives on board. The true implications are only hitting me now as I look out over this very beautiful harbor at Port Antonio, with Merrythought out of the water on slings attached to a huge crane.

I suppose it is a bit of an aftershock as the reality only really sank into all of us just now, as we cried and held one another in a circle in a group hug.

It is wonderful to be alive and having survived something this profoundly dangerous.

Please know that I love you all. Please let’s remember how short and fragile life is. And please, let us continue to be a family like no other till I die.

I also wanted you all to know that I received an email that Ria is back in intensive care in South Africa. They have signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order.  I spoke with Nici and she said the bedsores create such infections that she became extremely ill again.  Her heart is also beginning to fail and they suspect a blood clot in her lungs.

Martie also sent an email and said it is not good.

Katie, by the time you read this you will probably be in Vietnam, and I will be in South Africa.  I wanted you to know that having just had this dramatic experience reaffirms for me one of my core beliefs: family comes first.  I am staying in contact with Nici, and have arranged to leave the island on Sunday to go to South Africa.  I will be back to meet you in Chicago on February 24 when you get back from Japan, Myanmar, and Vietnam.  I will try to call you or Skype later today.

Love to you all.

Your loving father, Oupa, father in law, and your admiring husband.



This video attempts to highlight the beauty of sailing a fantastic boat like Merrythought in challenging seas, while celebrating the courage of eight men who survived a near tragic event at sea, hundreds of miles from the nearest land.

VIDEO: Pineapple Cup – Miami to Jamaica, February 2017 (Running Time 20 Minutes)


Here’s the rest of the story:

We limped into Port Antonio early in the morning on February 8, 2017 having nursed Merrythought gingerly through three days of beautiful seas, not sure what we would find.  It was announced that we had retired from the race.

After securing the boat on trestles in the Port Antonio harbor boatyard we hired a driver with a van to drive us across the island to Montego Bay.  Mike had rented a villa there for us to stay the week of the race festivities at the Montego Bay Yacht Club after which we were to sail back to the U.S.

Mike and a couple crew members returned to Port Antonio the next day to start repairs on the boat.  It became evident very quickly that repairs would not be completed in time for the planned sail back to the U.S. in one week.

VIDEO: Diving in Montego Bay, Jamaica

After a couple of days with my Merrythought crew friends, scuba diving with Christian, and taking a day-journey up the mountain to visit Mayfield Falls.  I decided to fly back to Miami a couple of days later.  I had received word that my sister, Ria, who had a stroke in October 2016 and was bed-ridden had been readmitted to the hospital where she was in critical condition.

VIDEO: Merrythought crew at Mayfield Falls, Jamaica

I traveled to South Africa via Atlanta and had a wonderful, although sad, visit with her, my niece Nici, and the rest of my South African family.  I flew back in time for a client meeting in Sarasota on February 23, and then headed to Chicago for the weekend on February 24.  Katie had spent the previous three weeks traveling in Japan, Myanmar and Vietnam, and I was anxious to see her, Jessica and Dan and Gavin and Lolly, with the wonder of this amazing, life-changing experience still so fresh.  And I missed Thomas, Yuki, and Ryusei who Katie had just visited.  I was looking forward to hearing their news.  Having been on opposite sides of the world, I was also excited to hear about Katie’s journey in Myanmar.

Mike was able to complete temporary repairs, including finding someone to weld an aluminum plate over the tear in the bow.  Unable to get a new keel and rudder shipped from the U.S. the damaged parts were sawed off, and a few weeks later he and a skeleton crew sailed the boat back.  Merrythought was sold by the insurance company and I heard that she is somewhere up in Connecticut.

Now, a year later, my sister Ria has made good progress and was able to move home.  Still not ambulatory, she requires 24-hour care, but continues to have her old positive spirit even through this adversity.

I wrote this blog to remind me of this life-changing experience juxtaposed with the fragility of life as I witnessed and remember the life-changing result that an unexpected occurrence such as our near-disastrous accident or Ria’s stroke produce.  May we all remember how short life is, live life to the fullest each day, keep our families first and foremost in our thoughts and deeds, and help take care of those who are less fortunate than we are.

Posted February 19, 2018

Hurricane Earl: Belize August 3, 2016

Devastation on Ambergris Caye, Belize

YouTube Logo Cropped

Click the YouTube icon for a short video of the Hurricane and the aftermath

We have spent an amazing week at Belizean Cove Estates on Ambergris Caye, San Pedro, Belize.  We were supposed to leave yesterday, Thursday August 4, 2016.  On Wednesday night August 3, 2016, however, we survived Hurricane Earl, a category One storm (with winds gusting to 85 or 90 mph, it was close to a cat Two storm) which swept across Central America, with Belize  and our island right in its path.  So, all flights out of Belize were cancelled, and the first we could get on is Saturday.

My BIG regret is that Thomas and I are missing the Pelotonia 100-mile bike ride on Saturday!  Hopefully we will be back Saturday night to go to Dexter MI to see Jessica in My Fair Lady at The Encore Musical Theatre on Sunday.

Our dock before the Hurricane Earl destroyed it on Wednesday night. My Hobie Cat ready to sail.

Our dock before the Hurricane Earl destroyed it on Wednesday night. My Hobie Cat ready to sail.

This bench ended up on the beach at Capricorn

This bench ended up on the beach at Capricorn


We took down the Hobie’s mast and removed anything that could break in the coming hurricane.

It was amazing to see the frenzy and energy in the  town of San Pedro, and around our condo at the Cove as everyone prepared for the storm, shuttering buildings, closing store, moving boats to safety.  In a driving storm with very strong winds in advance of the hurricane, we moved my boat to higher ground.

We moved the Hobie to higher ground in a driving rain and wind storm.

We moved the Hobie to higher ground in a driving rain and wind storm.

Waves already breaking over the reef 10 to 15 feet high, 800 yards out.

Waves already breaking over the reef 10 to 15 feet high, 800 yards out.

I took some pictures of the waves already breaking more than 10 feet high over the reef, 800 yards out.  The storm is expected to make landfall in about four hours.  The surge was already several feet higher than normal, with waves beginning to cover our dock, normally three feet above high tide.

Waves beginning to cover our dock

Waves beginning to cover our dock

We battened down and prepared to wait out the night in our condo.  The wind strengthened and the rain started pouring, with the waves now literally washing clear up and over our storm wall and up tp the condo.  At about 10 PM the electricity went out, and the storm started in full strength.

The storm picked up strength by 10 PM. Our dock is stll there, with waves now washing clear over the storm wall.

The storm picked up strength by 10 PM. Our dock is stll there, with waves now washing clear over the storm wall.

With the wind howling and rain battering our condo, we went to bed and hoped for the best.

We woke up at first light and wend outside in the still howling wind to inspect the damage.  It was devastating to see the exent and the power of a category 1 hurricane.  I cannot image a category three or four!

Our dock was almost completely destroyed.

Our dock was almost completely destroyed, the palapa and front half of the dock gone!

Our dock was almost completely destroyed.  They found the roof of the dock palapa (see the first photo in this blog) at El Pescador, a mile up the beach.  A section of our dock was lying next to Capricorn, 500 yards up the beach, and the benches from our dock palapa was at our neighbors’, three properties north!

Capricorn's dock severely damaged...

Capricorn’s dock severely damaged…  the palapa completely gone.

A section of our dock 500 yards up the beach

A section of our dock 500 yards up the beach

The bench from the inside of our dock palapa, over at Capricorn.

The bench from the inside of our dock palapa, over at Capricorn.  See the second photo above.

Falling coconuts can kill a person! Katie checking our Capricorn's boat

Falling coconuts can kill a person! Katie checking our Capricorn’s boat

A section of sea wall on the way to Coco Beach

A section of sea wall on the way to Coco Beach

My Hobie survived! No damage...

My Hobie Cat, Amazing Grace, survived! No damage…

Later in the day we took a golf cart to San Pedro.  We were just stunned by the damage.  No dock was spared.  Everyone had suffered complete or near-complete loss of anything facing the ocean.  I was old by our local friends that they had never seen this much damage before, even when they had a category three storm.  Since this storm came directly from the ocean, the storm surge just took everything in its path.

The dock to the left of Amigos Del Mar, our dive shop for the past 15 years, was completely destroyed. That dock contained a building

The dock to the left of Amigos Del Mar, our dive shop for the past 15 years, was completely destroyed. That dock contained a building which housed the gas station for boats.  It was now lying in front of Cholo’s Bar on the beach.

The building containing a store and the boat gas station was where that hole in the dock is now

The building containing a store and the boat gas station was where that hole in the dock on the left is now


The chaos and damage is incomprehensible…

Ryusei and Katie on the Amigos Del Mar/Colo's beach

Ryusei and Katie on the Amigos Del Mar/Cholo’s beach

Where does one start? Yuki and Katie in front of Estele's

Where does one start? Yuki and Katie in front of Estele’s

The spirit of these Belizian people is unbreakable.  As children play in the park, our friend, René sums it all up, “The price we pay to live in Paradise.”

Children without a care in the world, even the day after Hurricane Earl!

Children without a care in the world, even the day after Hurricane Earl!


“The price we pay to live in Paradise.” – René, our diving boat skipper for many years at Amigos Del Mar.

YouTube Logo Cropped

Click the YouTube icon for a short video of the Hurricane and the aftermath

Post Script: August 6, 2016

For many years we have spent at least a day catching lobsters with our friend, Will Alamilla, father of our friend Crazee Eddie Alamilla. Almost every time we would end up cleaning the lobsters at Wills “castle/shack” on the water South of Ambergris Caye, making fresh civeche, and drinking a few Belikins (the local beer). On Tuesday this week (the day before Hurricane Earl struck) our sevn-year-old grandson, Ryusei, was delighted to catch a few fish as we enjoyed the company and wisdom of this wise Belizean lobster fisherman, who has been coming to this shack since he was 14.  Will is now 74, and still dives for lobster to supply the restaurants in San Pedro every day. 

Will LOVES his shack built on stilts on the water.  Once we were sitting there, taking in the horizon, waves breaking over the reef in the distance.  Will, who has had a hard life on this island, put life in perspective for me when he said, “Aren’t we lucky.  People in the world are suffering and we are sitting her in paradise having a good time.”  I love

I just had a call from Eddie to tell me that Will’s shack had been completely washed away by Hurricane Earl. That is devastating news.

Our hearts truly go out to Will and his family.


Will Alamilla’s “castle /shack” on the water

Will Alameia has been catching lobster in these waters for more than 50n years

Will Alamilla has been catching lobster in these waters for more than 50 years

Ryusei catching a fish - one of many - from Will's porch.

Ryusei catching a fish – one of many – from Will’s porch.

Update: August 11, 2016

Today I was able to reach Will by telephone.  He reported that to date he has only been able to find about 10% of his lobster traps and that he is heart broken about his shack on the water.  He reported that, since the shack was located in the Hol Chan Marine reserve, he would not be allowed to rebuild it unless he reconstructs it immediately.  The problem is that with greatly diminished income as a result of the loss of his traps, he would not be able to afford the materials.

This afternoon I wired Will the money to rebuild his shack – a token of the appreciation and respect we have for Will, a gift from my family to Will and his.


Grové Family in Mashatu, Botswana – January 2016

Grové Family in Mashatu, Botswana – January 2016

Sundowner on Pitsane Hill

The Grové family visited Mashatu from January 1 to January 4, 2016.  Our ranger was Kenosi, and our tracker Lovemore.  We were extremely impressed with these wonderful two Batswana!  My name is Willie Grové, and my wife Katie and I have visited Mashatu a number of times since as early as 1976, and have sent several American friends to Mashatu

Oupa and his boys on top of Pitsane Hill

over the years.  It has been and remains our favorite game experience in Botswana!  I have posted many of our experiences in Africa on my New Trekker Adventures Ltd. website, including photos and videos.  These include a short video of a visit to Mashatu in 1997.  I have posted a video of our most recent experience on YouTube.  Our sincere thanks to our wonderful guides, and camp manager Peter for another great experience.  This time we traveled with our whole family, including our two grandsons, Gavin Cooney and Ryusei Grové.  They along with our daughter Jessica and Dan Cooney, and our son Thomas and Yuki Grové thank you for a terrific experience!  Videos are on YouTube



VIDEO:  Grové Family on Safari in Mashatu, Botswana.  January 2016

SLIDESHOW:  Grové Family on Safari in Mashatu, Botswana. January 2016


Andean Explorer and Amazon Adventure 2016 (1)

The following posts cover our Peru and Amazon adventure with friends Bill Riat, Jim Simon, Jim Macklin, Dave Jordan, and Dick Alkire, from May 14 to 27, 2016.

Arco Santa Clara, one of the four entrances to Cusco

Arco Santa Clara, one of the four entrances to Cusco

Andean Explorer and Amazon Adventure 1

Blog Post 1

May 14 to 16, 2016

Saturday, May 14: Traveling to Peru today.  Arrive in Cuzco tomorrow.

I was invited to travel to Peru by my friends, Bill Riat, and Jim Macklin – biking buddies with whom I ride my bike more than 100 miles to Portsmouth, Ohio each year.

We just completed this year’s ride last Saturday, May 7, 2016, and here we are off on the next adventure.  We are joined on this trip by friends Dick Alkire, Dave Jordan, and Jim Simon.

It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

If it is true hat it is not the destination, it is the journey that counts, we were off to a good start!  We arrived at Port Columbus airport at 4 PM for our 6 PM American Air flight to Miami where we would connect with our LAN flight to Lima, Peru at 12:44 AM.  Unfortunately a baggage handler drove his cart into the airplane’s wing, and our plane was incapacitated.  “Not to worry,” the agent said.  “They are sending a plane from Chicago.”


We went back to Eddie George’s to pass the time, because now our flight was expected to depart at 8:15 PM, if the plane from Chicago made it at the expected time.  We rushed back to the gate at about 7:30, and discovered the plane had not even left Chicago yet!

We had a short discussion with our pilot (waiting for the same plane), who assured us that if we could take off no later than 9:30 we should still make our connection.  Bill said, “If we give you $200, could you fly a little faster?”  Of course, by now we were getting a little nervous, because missing our connection would mean waiting at least a day in Miami, if we could even get on another flight the next day.

Finally at 9:15 PM we boarded and took off exactly at 9:30.  Of course we landed in terminal A, at 12:00 AM, the time the Lima flight started boarding, and the next flight departed out of terminal J which is in the next county.  A gate attendant warned, “You must do a power walk.  They won’t hold the flight for you!”  We literally ran the one or two miles (only slight exaggeration!), and were the last to board our plane, which took off barely 10 minutes later.

After a very comfortable 5 1/2 hour flight during which we slept all of three hours, we landed in Lima where we cleared customs and immigration, collected our luggage and made our short 1hr 10 min flight to Cusco.

Cusco.  Ancient City of the Incas

Day 1: Sunday, May 15 – Exploring Cusco

Our plane glided in over beautiful mountain tops and landed in the beautiful, ancient, sacred city of the Incas, nestled in the fertile valley surrounded by towering mountains.

Arriving in the Sacred Valley of the Incas

Arriving in the Sacred Valley of the Incas – landing in Cusco

The Sacred Valley of the Incas was undoubtedly a key area of settlement to the Incas. Its agreeable climate and fertile plains make a rare and fruitful combination for the high Andes. It was also the route to the jungle and therefore an area with access to the fruits and plants of the tropical lowlands.  The Sacred Valley served as a buffer zone, protecting Cusco from incursions of the Antis, the fierce jungle tribes who from time to time raided the highlands.  Today, the Sacred Valley remains a lush agricultural region supplying the city of Cusco with much of its produce such as maize, fruit and vegetables. 

Cusco is a city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range.  It is the capital of the Cusco Region as well as the Cusco Province. The city has a population of about 450,00.  Located on the eastern end of the Knot of Cuzco, its elevation is around 3,400 m (11,200 ft).

The site was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th into the 16th century until the Spanish conquest. In 1983 Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  It has become a major tourist destination, receiving nearly 2 million visitors a year.  (

After flying all night we arrived in Cusco, ready for the adventure...

After flying all night we arrived in Cusco, ready for the adventure…

We were met by our guide, Thomas, from Sobek Mountain Travel, our outfitter.  Thomas took us through the bustling streets of Cusco to our hotel, the Monasterio.

Cusco Street

Cusco Street

Arriving at the Hotel Monasterio

Arriving at the Hotel Monasterio

Front Entreance

Front Entrance

Reception Lobby

Reception Lobby

As its name implies, the hotel sits on the site of a Jesuit Monastery, built in 1595 to train catholic priests.  Prior to this date it was the Palace of the Inca Amaru Qhala.  Today, you won’t find any Incan remains in this property but you will find an exquisite example of colonial renaissance style architecture.  The hotel is a world famous Cusco landmark, and within easy walking distance from many of the ancient buildings and other wonders this city offers.

After a quick rest and lunch were were met by Thomas who guided us to the significant places we needed to experience.

But first Bill had to take a few pictures of an Inca woman and her daughter in traditional dress.  And of their Alpaca.  We soon found out that there would be many more such opportunities for a few Sol (Sun) the local currency.  (3 Sol is about $1.00)

Bill taking a picture of a traditional Inca woman and her daughter in traditional dress, and their Alpaca

Bill taking a picture of a traditional Inca woman and her daughter in traditional dress, and their Alpaca

maybe he didn't pay enough?

…maybe he didn’t pay enough?

Plaza de Armas

We moved on to the main city square, Plaza de Armas.  Known as the “Square of the warrior” in the Inca era, this plaza has been the scene of several important events in the history of this city, such as the proclamation by Francisco Pizarro in the conquest of Cuzco.

The Spanish built stone arcades around the plaza which endure to this day. The main cathedral and the Church of La Compañía both open directly onto the plaza.

Plaza de Armas with

Plaza de Armas with the Church of La Campañia on the left and the statue of the Warrior King on the right

Plaza de Armas with Cusco Catedral to the left, the Church of La Compañía to the right

Plaza de Armas with Cusco Catedral to the left, the Church of La Compañía to the right

Ancient Inca Stonework

We moved on to explore the narrow alleys and streets of Cusco where we found excellent representations of the famous Inca stonework.  Using only stone tools and no cement or mortar, these precisely carved stones stand today as a monument to the craftsmanship of these ancients.





An of course we once again admired the beautiful colorful clothes of the traditional Inca people.


Qurikancha and Convent of Santo Domingo

The Convent of Santa Domingo

The Convent of Santa Domingo

The Qurikancha (“golden place”) was the most important sanctuary dedicated to the Sun God at the time of the Inca Empire.  According to ancient chronicles Qurikancha was said to have featured a large solid golden disc that was studded with precious stones and represented the Inca Sun God – Inti.

DSC00048 (1)

Spanish chroniclers describe the Sacred Garden in front of the temple as a garden of golden plants with leaves of beaten gold, stems of silver, solid gold corn-cobs and 20 life-size llamas and their herders all in solid gold.

DSC00056DSC00063 (1)

The temple was destroyed by its Spanish invaders who, as they plundered, were determined to rid the city of its wealth, idolaters and shrine.  Nowadays, only a curved outer wall and partial ruins of the inner temple remain at the site.

With this structure as a foundation, colonists built the Convent of Santo Domingo in the Renaissance style.  The building, with one baroque tower, exceeds the height of many other buildings in this city.

The only remnant of the original Temple of the Sun is the rounded protrusion to the right of the Convent of Santa Domingo

The only remnant of the original Temple of the Sun is the curved outer wall to the right of the Convent of Santa Domingo

We left to go play with some Alpacas..

Our guide, Thomas, explaining the history of The Catedral

Cusco Cathedral

Back at the Plaza de Armas our last exploration for the day was the Cusco Cathedral.  Simply called Catedral, the main basilica cathedral of the city was built between 1560 and 1664.  Stone was used as the main material, which was extracted from nearby quarries, although some blocks of red granite were taken from the fortress of Saksaywaman outside Cusco.

Our guide, Thomas, explaing the history of the Cusco Cathedral

Our guide, Thomas, explaining the history of the Cusco Cathedral

This great cathedral presents late-Gothic, Baroque, and plateresque interiors and has one of the most outstanding examples of colonial goldwork.  Its carved wooden altars are also important.


We entered this sanctuary and were blown away by the beauty and the wealth represented here.  Thomas explained that most Peruvians practice a combination of the Catholic faith and traditional Inca religion.


Dinner and Rest

We spent a long time in Catedral, and when we emerged it was dark.   We were exhausted from more than two days’ travel and exploration of a most amazing city as we admired the beautiful Plaza de Armas after dark.

Plaza de Armes at night

Plaza de Armes at night

We enjoyed a lovely dinner…



…and arrived at our hotel exhausted.  I am sure everyone was in bed by 9 PM!

Hotel Monastero Main Courtyard Gardens at night

Hotel Monasterio Main Courtyard Gardens at night

Monday, May 16: Day 2 – Exploring Cusco

After a lovely breakfast we set of to explore the rest of the city.  We walked through the Plaza de Armas, and once again enjoyed the spectacular Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús (Church of the Society of Jesus.)  This church, whose construction was initiated by the Jesuits in 1576 on the foundations of the Amarucancha or the palace of the Inca ruler Wayna Qhapaq, is considered one of the best examples of colonial baroque style in the Americas.  Its façade is carved in stone and its main altar is made of carved wood covered with gold leaf. It was built over an underground chapel and has a valuable collection of colonial paintings of the Cusco School.

Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

A wonderful bonus: we were entertained by a group of 5 or six-year-old kids practicing for an important festival coming up in Cusco in a couple of weeks.  Too cute!  Click on the photo below or on the link for a 30 second video. (Kids dancing in Plaza de Armas)

Kids dancing Plaza de Armes

2013 Playlist Kids dancing in Plaza de Armas

Next we walked through the Arch of Santa Clara, one of the four gates into the city…



…and ended up spending a delightful few hours in the local market, Mercado San Pedro.

Here is a slide show of our market visit

The slideshow will play automatically, displaying each slide for about 5 seconds…

We finished the day with a visit to the Inka Museum


Museo Inka is a state owned museum run and managed by Cusco’s San Antonio Abad University.  Located just off the Plaza de Armas to Plazoleta Nazarenas, the museum is set in a huge colonial mansion.  There were about 24 exhibition rooms to view, each dedicated to different periods of the Inca and Spanish history of Peru.  Overall, I was disappointed with the layout of the museum.  There seemed to be only a limited amount of information (even in Spanish) about the items exhibited, or even what they were.


Nevertheless, it was a good way to explore and view some of the history and some of the items we read about in the book Last Days of the Incas.

We retired to our hotel, tired and ready for a lovley meal at a local restaurant.

May 17 to 19: Exploring

Day 3, 4 , and 5 to follow – amazing treks, and totally impressive Inca ruins.

Please see Blog Post 2

Saqsaywaman, ancient Inca temple and fortress

Q’enqo, Sacred ancient ritual bathing

The village of Ccorao

And the famous Pisaq – our first serious trek: to the ancient terraces and mountaintop Inca ruins.


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See Blog Post 2

Andean Explorer and Amazon Adventure 2016 (2) – Exploring the Ancient Inca Ruins in Cusco State


Blog Post 2

May 17 to 19, 2016

Exploring the Ancient Inca Ruins in Cusco State and practice hikes to prepare for the Inca Trail

Tuesday, May 17: Day 3



Saqsaywaman is a citadel on the northern outskirts of Cusco,, the historic capital of the Inca Empire.  Sections were first built by the Killke culture about 1100.  The complex was expanded and added to by the Inca from the 13th century; they built dry stone walls constructed of huge stones. The workers carefully cut the boulders to fit them together tightly without mortar. The site is at an altitude of 11,200 ft.

In 1983, Cusco and Saksaywaman together were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List for recognition and protection.

Located on a steep hill that overlooks the city, the fortified complex has a wide view of the valley to the southeast.  Archeological studies of surface collections of pottery at Saqsaywaman indicate that the earliest occupation of the hilltop dates to about 900AD.


Located on a steep hill that overlooks Cusco, the fortress has a wide view of the valley to the southeast

A view of the Paza de Armas in Cusco from the Saqsawayan hill

A view of the Plaza de Armas in Cusco from the Saqsawayan hill

The Inca used similar construction techniques in building Saqsaywaman as they used on all their stonework, albeit on a far more massive scale. 


Bill Riat in front of one of the massive stones

The stones were rough-cut to the approximate shape in the quarries.  They were dragged by rope to the construction site, a feat that at times required hundreds of men.   The stones were shaped into their final form at the building site and then laid in place.


The work, while supervised by Inca architects, was largely carried out by groups of individuals fulfilling their labor obligations to the state.  In this system of mita or “turn” labor, each village or ethnic group provided a certain number of individuals to participate in such public works projects.


Jim Macklin in front of a stone that must weigh 100 tons!

After the Battle of Cajamarca during the Spanish Conquest of the Inca in the 1500s, the Spanish found the Temple of the Sun “covered with plates of gold”, which the Spanish removed along with priceless other treasures.

Jim Simon an Dave Jordan

Jim Simon an Dave Jordan

After Francisco Pizarro finally entered Cuzco, his brother Pedro Pizarro described, “on top of a hill they [the Inca] had a very strong fort surrounded with walls of stones and having two very high round towers.  And in the lower part of this wall there were stones so large and thick that it seemed impossible that human hands could have set them in place.  They were so close together, and so well fitted, that the point of a pin could not have been inserted in one of the joints.  The whole fortress was built up in terraces and flat spaces.” (


We spent considerable time admiring these amazing buildings, climbing to the highest point to get the best view of the full expanded complex.


Tambo Machay


A steep path provided us with our first hike of the day, as we made our way up to the ancient ceremonial place.


Tambo Mackay ceremonial baths with the four display sports where the embalmed bodies of deceased royalty were placed during the annual ceremonial bath

Tambo means guest house, machay  means cave.  An alternate Spanish name is El Baño del Inca (“the bath of the Inca”).  It consists of a series of aqueducts, canals and waterfalls that run through the terraced rocks. The function of the site is uncertain: it may have served as a military outpost guarding the approaches to Cusco, as a spa resort for the Incan political elite, or both.  An annual ritual involved taking a bath in the crystal clear spring, with the embalmed bodies of the deceased kings being placed in four spaces above the spring



As in so many places on this journey, the locals were displaying their many colorful wares for purchase along the path.

The locals were displaying their many colorful wares for purchase along the path.

The locals were displaying their many colorful wares for purchase along the path.



On the way to Pisaq we travelled through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery, and stopped at a lookout point above the village of Ccorao, surrounded by beautiful farmland in the fertile valley below.


This was also our first view of the Urubamba River, which flows all the way to Machu Picchu and beyond.


We had lunch in the charming town of Pisaq, and explored the very extensive market.


Willie and Bill at lunch in Pisaq. Our wonderful guide, Thomas in the background

The market in Pisaq

The market in Pisaq

After lunch we piled back into our van for the drive up to the famous ruins at Pisaq.


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The Inca constructed agricultural terraces on the steep hillside, which are still in use today.  They created the terraces by hauling richer topsoil by hand from the lower lands. The terraces enabled the production of surplus food, more than would normally be possible at altitudes as high as 11,000 feet.


With military, religious, and agricultural structures, the site served at least a triple purpose. Researchers believe that Písaq defended the southern entrance to the Sacred Valley, while Choquequirao defended the western entrance, and the fortress at Ollantaytambo the northern. Inca Pisaq controlled a route which connected the Inca Empire with the border of the rain forrest.

This was our first opportunity to experience some serious climbing as we made our way o the top of the mountain fortress and temple.






Exhausted we drove down the switchbacks and on to Urubamba to check in at our hotel, the Tambo del Inka.










Tambo del Inka Resort on the banks of the Urubamba River


Wednesday, May 18: Day 4


We took a scenic drive from the valley up to onto a highland plateau to visit the market town of Chinchero (12,398 ft.), passing through farmland areas with a patchwork of beautiful fields and adobe houses with red tiled roofs.  The snow-capped Andes mountain were spectacular in the morning sun.


The snow-capped Andes mountain were spectacular in the morning sun.

At a lookout point we stopped to admire the view and pose for a group photo…

Our guide, Thomas, Dick Alkire, Jim Macklin, Bill Riat, Wilie Grové, Dave Jordan, Jim Simon

Our guide, Thomas, Dick Alkire, Jim Macklin, Bill Riat, Wilie Grové, Dave Jordan, Jim Simon – the snow-capped Andes behind us.

…and we enjoyed watching the local farmers at work…

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We had a lovely time photographing a mother and her young daughter with their alpaca.


We continued to Chinchero, which we found a most interesting place.

Also known as The City of the Rainbow, Chinchero is located 28 km. northeast of Cusco at an altitude of 12,400 ft.  It is situated midway between the highlands and the warm valley, and is surrounded by the snow-clad mountains of Salkantay, Veronica and Soray.  The view from here is impressive.


Chinchero, the most typical town in the sacred Valley of the Incas, is an Inca city which the conquerors wanted to “civilize” and establish their culture, but they were never able to achieve it completely.  Its inhabitants live in the almost untouched Inca constructions where their ancestors lived and built the greatest and most prosperous civilization in America.


The current population of Chinchero lives in an old pre-Hispanic settlement and is one of the most representative remains of early Andean cultural resistance.  Its settlers, dressed in multicolored clothes, maintain their Indian race, only speak Quechua and still keep their age-old customs which they refuse to abandon.

We were fortunate to enjoy a presentation of traditional weavers, who served us fresh mint tea right from their garden.

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Moray and The Salinas Salt Works


We continued on to the impressive earthworks at Moray, but stopped on the way to observe some people harvesting potatoes, and making a fire in an earthen oven to cook their lunch of potatoes.


Women preparing fire in mud-oven to cook potatoes Click HERE or on the image above to see a short video clip.

2013 Playlist  Inca Women Harvesting Potatoes

Moray or Muray (Quechua) is anarchaeological site in Peru approximately 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Cuzco on a high plateau at about 3,500 m (11,500 ft) and just west of the village of Maras.


The site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is approximately 30 m (98 ft) deep.  As with many other Inca sites, it also has a sophisticated irrigation system.


The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth, design, and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and the bottom.  It is possible that this large temperature difference was used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops.  Speculation about the site has led to discussion about Moray as an Inca agricultural experiment station. Its micro-climatic conditions and other significant characteristics led to the use of the site as a center for the ancient study of domestication, acclimatization, and hybridization of wild vegetable species that were modified or adapted for human consumption. (Wikipedia)


After exploring the many very interesting terraces, we were treated to an excellent picnic lunch with the lovely Helena serving a delightful meal and a good bottle of wine.

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After lunch we traveled through the beautiful countryside, the higher peaks of the Andes filling the horizon…


… and arrived at the trail head for our hike to Salinas, the salt pans established here centuries ago by the Incas.


The trek was mostly downhill through the most beautiful scenery.


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Soon we arrived at the mountain pass above the ancient salt pans of Salinas. This was a strategic trading area in Inca times.  The Inca established these pans to harvest salt from the very salty water coming from a spring deep inside the mountain. This is still a very important activity today, and hundreds of tons of salt is harvested here each year.

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As the sun started its descent in the West, we made our way back for a lovely dinner and to rest up for another trek tomorrow.


Thursday, May 19: Day 5


Videos in this blog

2013 Playlist Hike from Pumamarca to Ollantaytambo

After breakfast we drove to the town of Ollantaytambo at the northern end of the Sacred Valley.  A former Inca administrative center, it is the gateway to the Antisuyo (the Amazon corner of the Inca Empire)

An ancient switchback cobblestone road up the mountainside from the fertile valley below  brings us into the town square from where we have an excellent view of the ancient Inca ruins we will explore this morning.

View of the fortress from the town square

View of the fortress from the town square

At the time of the Spanish invasion and conquest of Peru, Ollantaytambo served as the last stronghold for  Manco Inca, leader of the Inca resistance at the time.  Nowadays the Ollantaytambo ruins and town are an important and popular tourist attraction in the Sacred Valley.  The town’s primary attraction is the Ollantaytambo Fortress on the outskirts of the settlement in a section known as the Temple Hill.

The fortress and Temple Hill

The fortress and Temple Hill

In the 15th century Inca Pachacutec conquered and began to rebuild the town of Ollantaytambo, constructing terraces for farming and an irrigation system. These huge terraces make up what is called the Fortress or Temple Hill.


Our group in front of the massive agricultural terraces

Our excellent guide, Thomas

Our excellent guide, Thomas


Dick and Bill with the Temple Hill in the background

The town became home to Inca nobility. After Inca Pachacutec’s death, the town and its surroundings fell to the hands of his family and then eventually into those of  Manco Inca, who used Ollantaytambo as a retreat from the attacks of the Spanish. The fortress of Ollantaytambo, originally built for religious purposes, was the site of a major battle, one of the only successful ones against the conquistadors.  From high above in the terraces of Ollantaytambo the Incas managed to hold back and defeat the Spanish.  In addition they flooded the plain below forcing the Spanish to withdraw.  With the Spanish defeated, Manco Inca retreated to the jungle stronghold of Vilcabamba shortly after the battle, knowing that the Spanish would return with even more force.  The fortress of Ollantaytambo was soon captured by Pizarro and his men.  (Wikipedia)

We visited a local hotel courtyard, and were pleased to visit a working family home inside the huge walls where jim demonstrated the use of an ancient shovel, still in use today.

Entrance to a Hospidade (hotel) courtyard. Notice how thick the outer walls...

Entrance to a Hospidade (hotel) courtyard. Notice how thick the outer walls…

View of a granery storage high up the mountainside. The dryer air enabled longer storage of their grain

View of a granary storage high up the mountainside. The drier air enabled longer storage of their grain

The Face of Wiracocha and the Storehouses above the Town of Ollantaytambo

The Face of Wiracocha and the Storehouses above the Town of Ollantaytambo

We explored some more of the town before taking of for our afternoon trek.

Taxi stand in Ollantaytambo

Taxi stand in Ollantaytambo

I bought a sweet little backpack for Lolly Grace Cooney, my two-month old granddaughter in New York

I bought a sweet little backpack for Lolly Grace Cooney, my two-month old granddaughter in New York                   Photo Credit: Thomas on Willie’s Sony

A narrow dirt road took us high into the Andes, through villages above the Sacred Valley to a lovely picnic spot to have lunch in the mountains – once again served by the lovely Helena – and to start our trek for the day.

We drove up the narrow road to the Pumamarca campsite

We drove up the narrow road to the Pumamarca campsite


Start of our trek back to Ollantaytambo, almost 11,000 ft. Click on the image to be directed to a short video of this hike.

2013 Playlist Hike from Pumamarca to Ollantaytambo

We set off on a beautiful trek through the mountains, walking along ancient terraces for much of the way.  At one point Jim Macklin broke out in “The Hills are Alive”, and the whole group was inspired to sing “Climb Every Mountain”, not an easy feat at these altitudes!

Bill at the start of the trail

Bill at the start of the trail

Amazing scenery!

Amazing scenery!

Amazing scenery - ancient terraces close to the end of the hike

Amazing scenery – ancient terraces close to the end of the hike

These day treks were essential to prepare us for the difficult trek on the last leg of the Inca Trail tomorrow.

We were met at the trail-end by our driver, Wasi, and made it back to the hotel for our last night in Urubamba.

2013 Playlist Hike from Pumamarca to Ollantaytambo

Tomorrow we take off for the last leg trek on the Inca Trail, and for Mach Picchu!


See Blog Post 3








Andean Explorer and Amazon Adventure 3 – Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Andean Explorer and Amazon Adventure 3

Videos in this blog

2013 Playlist Inca Trail Trek

2013 Playlist Climbing Montana Machu Picchu

 2013 Playlist  Return to Cusco and Corpus Christi Festival Parade

Blog Post 3


Click on the iamage above or on the YouTube icon to see a video: Inca Trail Trek

May 20 to 22, 2016

Trekking The Inca Trail, climbing Montana Machu Picchu, and exploring Machu Picchu

Friday, May 20: Day 6

The Inca Trail

2013 Playlist Inca Trail Trek

We were up before 5 AM, had breakfast, and sleepily piled into the van for the hour-long trip from Urubamba back to Ollantaytambo where we boarded the train to Machu Piccu.  We would be dropped off at Km 104, in the middle of nowhere, at the trail head of the last day trek to Machu Picchu.


Boarding the train for Kilometer 104, the Inca Trail trailhead

Boarding the train for Kilometer 104, the Inca Trail trail head.                                                   Photo Credit: Dick Alkire


Dick, Dave and Willie on the Machu Picchu train.                                                                                Photo Credit Bill Riat

On the train to Machu Picchu

Our guide, Thomas, Jim Macklin, and Jim Simon the train to Machu Picchu.                                   Photo Credit: Bill Riat

Km 104 - drop-off for the Inca Trail trailhead

Km 104 – drop-off for the Inca Trail trail head.                          Photo Credit: Our guide, Thomas with Bill’s Sony Camera

We all made the 5ft drop from the train ladder to the ground below, except Jim Simon whose backpack launched a ferocious attack as he left the train.  Only a minor injury, however!

We started over the bridge spanning the river and started what turned out to be a very challenging 8-hour trek, with many elevation changes, steep, uneven stairs cut out of the rock or built by Inca hundreds of years ago.

Starting the trek - we are still smiling! Phot Credit Bill Riat

Starting the trek – we are still smiling!                                                                                                  Photo Credit Bill Riat


The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (also known as Camino Inca or Camino Inka) consists of three overlapping trails: Mollepata, Classic, and One Day.   We opted for the One Day, since we have already had three days of fairly difficult hiking behind us, and time was short.


The trail soon became steep and difficult…

Starting the trek

On the trail

Beautiful flowers along the trail. Photo credit: Bill Riat

Beautiful flowers along the trail.                                                                                                       Photo Credit: Bill Riat


Beautiful flowers along the trail.                                                                                                        Photo Credit: Bill Riat

 Beautiful flowers along the trail. Photo Credit: Bill Riat

Beautiful flowers along the trail.    This orchid is endemic to the Andes.


Winaywayna Fortress (Forever Young) where we would have lunch, still one hour away…

We stopped at a beautiful and refreshing waterfall for a rest, before tackling the final almost impossibly steep steps and terraces to to top of the mountain, and to the fortress Winaywayna (Forever Young)


We stopped at a beautiful and refreshing waterfall for a rest

We took a short rest at a beautiful waterfall about 15 minutes from the base of Wa

We took a short rest at a beautiful waterfall about 15 minutes from the base of Winaywayna



A welcome and refreshing, short break before the final push up to Winaywayna (“Forever Young”)

Soon we arrived at the stairs leading to the top of the ancient Inca ruin, huge agricultural terraces and remnants of 500-year-old buildings preserved very well.  This last climb before lunch was PRETTY INTENSIVE…



Just as one thought it was the final set of steps…


…there were more – even steeper climbing!


Almost there…                                                                                                                               Photo Credit: Jim Macklin


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With difficulty we all made it to the top where we had a well-deserved rest and lunch.


Lunch break at the top of Winaywayna

Lunch break at the top of Winaywayna

Lunch break at the top of Winaywayna

Lunch break at the top of Winaywayna. Photo Credit and Boots: Bill Riat

Lunch break at the top of Winaywayna.                                                                           Photo Credit and Boots: Bill Riat


Leaving Winaywayna for the last three hours of the trek

We started out on the last three hours of the trek.  The mountain seemed steeper, the steps taller and narrower.


Soon after leaving Wanaywayna the steps became steeper, taller, narrower


The steps became steeper, taller, and narrower.                      Photo Credit: Bill Riat

From Winaywayna the trail undulates along below the crest of the east slope of the mountain named Machu Picchu.  The steep steps leading upward to Intipunku (The Sun Gate) are reached after approximately 3 Km of extremely difficult climbing, the steps knee-high and half the width of one’s foot.  Reaching the crest of this ridge reveals the grandeur of the ruins of Machu Picchu, which lie below.  It is one of the most important archeological constructions.  Intipunku was once the main entrance to Machu Picchu, accessing it rpm the Inca Trail.  This site was the main entry point from the South into Cusco, and the gate would have been protected by its military.  Inti Punku is dedicated to Inti, the Sun god.

Last stretch 1

Jim starting the last climb before entering Intipunku, The Sun Gate


Willie following right behind him…                                                                                                   Photo Credit: Jim Macklin

Last stretch 2

…and Bill Jim Simon and Dave finishing the virtually vertical steps.

The last 200 feet of steps carved into the steep mountainside by the ancients was almost impossible to climb…


…but the emotion and the feeling of accomplishment as we walked through the Sun Gate, the full view of the wonder of Machu Picchu displayed before our very eyes more than a thousand feet and an hour hike below us, was almost too much to behold.


We walked through the Sun Gate, Machu Picchu far below us – still one hour away

Filled with emotion, congratulating each other on the success of our trek, we stood in awe at this terrific sight.


Jim and Willie – filled with emotion, congratulating each other on the success of our trek, we stood in awe at this terrific sight.


Thomas, Bill, Jim and Jim – filled with emotion, congratulating each other on the success of our trek


On the edge of he Sun Gate, Machu Picchu Ruins far below, with the winding dirt road another 30 minutes to Machu Picchu Pueblo below

Soon we left to finish the last 1,000 feet, one hour trek, down the mountain to Machu Picchu.


We stopped above the ancient ruins for some pictures…


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We made it to the base of the mountain by 4 PM, seven an a half hours after setting out on the Inca Trail in the morning at 8:30.  We thought that was a reasonable accomplishment for a group of old guys!


Leaving Machu Picchu to catch the bus to Machu Picchu Town.                                                    Photo Credit: Bill Riat

We boarded one of the buses taking travelers down to Machu Picchu Town on the hair raising, multiple switchback, dirt road.  The buses kicked up a dust cloud like an early morning mountain fog.

A herd of buses taking people down the mountain on the hair raising, multiple switchbac dirt road kicked up a cloud of dust like an early morning mountain fog.

A herd of buses taking people down the mountain on the hair raising, multiple switchback dirt road kicked up a cloud of dust like an early morning mountain fog.

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a hair raising 30-minute bus ride down the dirt road switchbacks to Pueblo Machu Picchu

We arrived in Machu Picchu town just about 5 PM, and walked through the crowded market to find our hotel and our friend Dick Alkire.


Machu Picchu Town (also called Aguas Calientes – Hot Springs)                                                        Photo Credit: Bill Riat


We walked through the crowded market to find our hotel                                                       Photo  Credit: Bill Riat

Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel

Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel                                                                                             Photo Credit: Bill Riat

We were met by our friend Dick Alkire, who took the train all the way to Machu Picchu.  Dick is receiving a bovine heart valve in a couple of weeks and we thought it wise for him to skip this strenuous trek!

Arrive Inka terra

We were very happy to meet up with Dick Alkire at the entrance to the hotel

Inhaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Motel

Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel                                                                                          Photo Credit: Bill Riat

We celebrated with the local beer, Cussqueña, and after a good shower and a hearty dinner we went straight to bed, exhausted.


Well-desreved Cusqueña cerveja – Bill was already in the shower…                                                              Photo Credit: Dick Alkire

Tomorrow morning I leave early to climb to the summit of Montana Machu Picchu (Machu Picchu Mountain), and then will join the group at about mid-day to explore the famous Machu Picchu ruins.  I learned that they only allow 400 climbers a day on Montana Machu Picchu, so i was really impressed when our guide, Thomas, showed up before dinner with my permit to climb the mountain tomorrow morning at 9 AM.

      2013 Playlist  Inca Trail Trek


Saturday, May 21: Day 7

Climbing Montana Machu Picchu


2013 Playlist  Climbing Montana Machu Picchu

I heard that Machu Picchu Mountain is the most spectacular yet one of the most overlooked optional treks available at Machu Picchu, so I decided I really wanted to climb this mountain in spite of the strenuous trek we had yesterday.

Located to the south-west of Machu Picchu citadel and towering 3,050 meters (10,111 feet) above sea level, the mountain trek offers unparalleled views of the famous Inca sanctuary and panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountain scenery.

At its summit Inca priests once performed rituals on special dates as well as liturgical greetings to the Salkantay Apu.  The snow-capped peak, Apu Salkantay, is one of several sacred mountains that ring Machu Picchu. For centuries, the Incas have honored each mountain — or Apu — as a unique, divine consciousness.  Little did I know what a profound experience it would be for me to stand at the summit of Montana Machu Picchu and see Salkantay Apu.

I was up at 6:30 AM, had a quick breakfast, and made it down to the bus stop in Machu Picchu Pueblo.


After a quick breakfast, I made it down to the bus stop in Machu Picchu Pueblo.

Montana Machu Picchu 10

A hair raising ride up the mountain to the entrance of Macchu Picchu

After a hair raising ride up the mountain to the entrance of Macchu Picchu, I walked through the entrance to this holy, ancient Inca citadel, and made it to the intersection of the Sun Gate and the Machu Picchu Mountain Trail.


Montana Machu Picchu trail head

I signed in at the checkpoint at the base of Montana Machu Picchu.

I arrived at the check point at 9 AM where I had to check in and show my passport and permit.  The nice lady explained that I have six hours to complete the climb, but “If you are not at the summit at 12 PM you must turn around and come back down.”  The trek is supposed to take three hours or more, depending on one’s fitness.  We had arranged for me to meet the rest of the group at 12 PM, so I had exactly three hours to make this 2,300 ft. climb, and return to Machu Picchu by Noon.

The going was fairly gentle for the first five minutes, and then became immediately steep.  After the check-in hut the trail follows a fairly even ascent of about 30 – 35  degrees  for about 1 hour.


The going was fairly gentle for the first five minutes, and then became immediately steep

I made it to the halfway point in 55 minutes, so I was pleased with my progress.  I took a two minute rest and drank some water, while admiring the amazing views of the valley below from this vantage point.


A spectacular view from this vantage point, about 1,000 feet up

Exactly at 10 AM I set of for the last half of the climb.  Gradually and steadily gaining altitude, the views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains become ever-more impressive.   The trail became steeper, the “steps” taller and narrower.


The trail became steeper, the “steps” taller and narrower.


views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains become ever-more impressive.

By now I was sweating profusely, and wondering if I could make the two-hour deadline to the top.  Trekkers on their way down would quietly encourage one with, “almost there,” “it is worth it,” and “only 20 minutes more.”  Total strangers in a common quest, supporting one another.

I was moving as fast as I could at the 10,000 ft. altitude, worrying if I would meet my deadline of 11 AM to the summit.  Steps as high as my knee and as narrow as the width of my foot made the task no easier.  Finally, sweating and exhausted, I saw the summit.

Montana Machu Picchu 11

About 20 minutes to go. The trail winds along the side of the mountain, the summit directly behind me.

Winding on for another 15 minutes or so, the trail passed through a stone gateway before following the narrow mountain ridge to the summit.

At this point, as I was approaching the final steep steps to the summit, exhausted and panting from the exertion, an amazing thing happened.

My wife Katie’s mother, Grace Tharp was one of the most wonderful people in my life, and I felt as close to her as I did to my own mother.  Grace Tharp was an avid gardener, and she loved butterflies.  She said, “Happiness is like a butterfly.  If you chase it, you may never find it.  But if you just sit still for a few moments it may light upon you.”  Grace died about 14 months ago.

As I approached the summit, suddenly, out of nowhere and unusual for this altitude, a swarm of butterflies appeared in front of me.  “Hello, Mother,” I said, almost in tears, as I started feeling the familiar sensation of relief, gratification, and euphoria I have experienced at the summit of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and both times I reached Everest Base Camp in the Himalaya.


A butterfly taking off in flight after briefly landing on my nose to feast on the minerals of my sweaty skin

I sat down for a moment to collect myself as the butterflies swirled around my head, one of them briefly landing on my nose to feast on the minerals of my sweaty skin before taking off in flight.

Suddenly they were gone and I heard myself say, “I guess you were not going to stick around too long, but thank you for the sign, Mother!”

I picked myself up off my rock perch and started up the final couple hundred feet up to the summit, the steps steep and narrow.

Montana Machu Picchu 9

I started up the final couple hundred feet up to the summit,

Montana Machu Picchu 7

The drop-offs at this point are vertical for a thousand feet on both sides, the trail narrow; one pretty much climbs on the razor edge of the mountain leading to the summit.

Montana Machu Picchu 8

Final approach to the summit of Montana Machu Picchu

It was exactly 11 AM, the allocated time for my climb achieved.  A worthy goal.

For the second time in as many days the view took my breath away.  I walked to the edge of the very narrow summit, a two thousand foot drop right at my feet.

Montana Machu Picchu 12

I walked to the edge of the very narrow summit, a two thousand foot drop right at my feet.

In the distance I could see Salkantay Apu, the clear morning sunlight reflecting off the now-capped peak.

3,000 ft. below me lay the Urubamba River valley, the gorge in the mountains carved over millions of years.


3,000 ft. below me lay the Urubamba River valley…

Directly below me, more than 2,200 ft. down, I saw the most spectacular view of the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, the people exploring down there as small as ants.  Behind Machu Picchu the famous mountain Huanya Picchu.


Directly below me, more than 2,200 ft. down, I saw the most spectacular view of the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu!

I panted for a while, composing myself, while enjoying the energy and the spirit flowing into me from the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu.  In the words on John Muir, the care of the world fell off me like the leaves from trees in the autumn wind.


I spent about 20 minutes at the summit, lost in the euphoria of the view and sence of spiritual and physical accomplishment.  With a start I realized that it was now 11:20, and I needed to meet my friends at the entrance at Noon.

I tore myself away from this scene, and started the trek down the mountain.


I tore myself away from this scene, and started the trek down the mountain

I have always liked downhill more than uphill – I love using my trekking poles almost as crutches, and enjoy the challenge of finding secure footholds at high speed.  I literally “ran” down the mountain, finding the small steps, stepping on an uneven rock, avaoiding other slower trekkers.  Nobody passed me on the downhill.

I made it down to  check-in hut exactly at 12 PM, less than 45 minutes.  I finally met up with my friends at the Sacred Rock, and joined theme, continuing the exploration of Machu Picchu  which they had started about an hour earlier.


Arriving back at Machu Picchu at 12 PM, I joined my friends in exploring the site

Helpful Info

From Peru Guide website

Time needed: 2h30 minutes accent, descent – 1h15,  plus 30 minutes at the summit. 4 1/2 to 5 hours
Altitude of summit:  3,082 meters (10,111 feet) above sea level.
Height to climb from Machu Picchu: 652 meters (2,139 feet).
Terrain: Inca Trail stone path steps and in places grass/dirt.
Recommended footwear:  Training shoes, light weight walking boots.
Entrance time: 7 – 11am.
Trail head: in the south-west of Machu Picchu citadel.

2013 Playlist  Climbing Montana Machu Picchu


Exploring Machu Picchu

While I was making my way down Miontana maccu Picchu, our group started the Machu Picchu exploring tour.


Dave, Dick, Jim Simon, Bill, and Jim Macklin at the start of the Machu Picchu tour                Photo by our guide, Thomas


Satellite view of the Machu Picchu site Credit:                                                                                               Google Earth

A Guide to Machu Picchu

Credit: Peru Guide website

Lost to the outside world for over 500 years and never found by the Spanish conquistadores, Machu Picchu is the finest example of an Inca citadel anywhere in Peru.  Perched on a secluded mountain ridge on the edge of Peru’s Amazon Jungle, its many agricultural terraces and expertly crafted buildings and temples seamlessly merge into the mountainside.


Photo Credit: Dick Alkire

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, a New Wonder of the World and simply one of the most beautiful places on the planet, Machu Picchu offers the best insight into a mysterious lost civilization and embodies everything about the mighty Inca Empire.

Machu Picchu: A Short History


The Urban Sector                                                                                                                         Photo Credit: Jim Macklin

The Origins

Built during the reign of Inca Pachacutec (1438 – 1471), Machu Picchu took some 30 years to construct. Due to limited historical information the true and original name of this epic Inca citadel is unknown.  The name Machupicchu (written in English as Machu Picchu) was given to the citadel by Hiram Bingham after its scientific discovery in 1911. The name, a Quechua word, derives from the mountain that lies to the south-west of the citadel, and today it is widely accepted that that the name Machu Picchu translates as “Old Mountain.”


The view from below the Rock Quarry, Montana Machupicchu towering over the citadel

The Citadel

Machu Picchu covers a vast area of approximately 22.3 acres, and is constructed on a mountain ridge high above the Urubamba Valley.   Machu Picchu is split into two main sectors: the Agricultural Sector in the south and the Urban Sector in the north, of which both are roughly equal in size.

Granite stone was the main building material used in the construction of Machu Picchu, which was obtained from onsite quarries and others within close proximity.  The Agricultural Sector is largely made up of row after row of stepped terraces and store houses, whilst the Urban Sector is made up of streets, corrals, kanchas, storehouses, lodgings and impressive temples.  The finest Inca construction techniques were reserved for the Royal Quarter; the best examples are found at the Sacred Plaza, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.


The Urban Sector                                                                                                                                   Photo Credi:; Bill Riat


The Temple of the Sun                                                                                                                             Photo Credit: Bill Riat



The Itiwatane (Solar Clock) in the Sun Temple of the Sun                                                                  Photo Credit: Bill Riat

The Residents

It’s not known precisely how many people lived at Machu Picchu, but historians estimate that the population was between 1000 – 1200 people.


During archaeological excavations in 1912 a total of 107 burial caves situated around the Inca city were found. Archaeologists under the direction of Dr. George Eaton recorded 164 human skeletons, of which a disproportionately high number were adult females. In recent years medical experts claim that the methods used to determine sex and age of the skeletons during the original expedition where not highly sophisticated, leading to debate about the actual findings.


The Temple of the Condor

The Spanish Conquest


The Rock Quarry

Between 1537 – 1545, as the small Spanish army and its allies started to gain ground over the Inca Empire, Manco Inca abandoned Machu Picchu, fleeing to safer retreats.  The residents took with them their most valuable belongings and destroyed Inca trails connecting Machu Picchu with the rest of the empire.   Machu Picchu was never found by the Spanish, and subsequently was left untouched, lost to the dense Amazon Jungle for the next 5 centuries.

The Re-discovery

On the morning of July 24, 1911, Hiram Bingham the young Yale University lecturer and explorer sFile0244tumbled upon the Inca City of Machu Picchu.  Led by a local pheasant famer Melchor Arteaga and a young boy called Pablito, Hiram Bingham was taken to the sprawling Inca citadel, hidden below a blanket of dense Amazon Jungle. Incredibly Machu Picchu was initially overlooked by Bingham, spending only a short time at the citadel before continuing his expedition to find the last known stronghold of the Incas – the city of Vilcabamba.  Although Hiram Bingham was the first to really bring Machu Picchu to the world’s attention, evidence shows that other explorers had arrived at Machu Picchu many years before.  In 1874 the German explorer Herman Göhring registered the citadel on his expedition map.  Later, in 1901 Agustin Lizarraga left his name engraved on a wall of the three Windowed Temple, which was recorded as part of Hiram Bingham’s findings, but later omitted from his memoirs.

1912 Archaeological Expedition

In 1912, The National Geographic and Yale University led my Hiram Hingham organised an excavation of Machu Picchu.  With support from the Peruvian Government and help from local hired labour, Bingham set about to unveil the hidden secrets of the Inca city.   Starting in strategic locations around the citadel, they opened tombs, recovered important structures from the heavy jungle growth, made archaeological digs and photographed the area.


Although the excavations were extensive, very little of great importance was found. Thousands of small articles were recovered including pieces of pots, plates, jugs cups and vases. Lithic materials found included hundreds of hammer stones, mortars, grinders and polishing stones. Due to the degradation from the humid climate little clothing or fabrics where recovered.  No hierarchical mummies were discovered, with only tomb number 26 located on the trail to Inti Punku yielding significant importance.  Many of the articles recovered from Machu Picchu were later (rightly or wrongly) shipped to Yale University in the USA, where further scientific examinations were carried out. In recent years, after a high profile campaign by the Peruvian government, most of the items have now been returned to Peru and are on display at La Casa Concha Museum in Cusco’s historic centre.


Getting positive energy from The Sacred Rock                                                                            Photo Credit: Dick Alkire


The Astronomical Mirrors Room


The Astronomical Mirror was used to study the night sky


The Astronomical Mirrors were used to study the night sky

Machu Picchu Today

Today, this epic Inca citadel is one of South America’s (if not the world’s) greatest archaeological sites.  In 1981, Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary and later in 1983, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Official tourism figures for 2015 showed that Machu Picchu received over 700,000 international and national visitors, peaking during the months of June and July.  Currently the Peruvian government has set a limit of 2,500 entrance tickets per day, but international interest is increasing at a rapid rate, with tourism figures growing by approximately 10% year on year.  Worries over the environmental impact from over exploitation by tourism is a growing challenge for the future of Machu Picchu and indeed tourism in Peru.

Source: The Only Peru Guide


We had a late lunch, and stood in a huge line to catch the bus back to Machu Picchu Pueblo for our last night  at the Inketerra Machu Picchu Pueblo hotel.



Sunday, May 22: Day 8

Travel Day to Cusco

2013 Playlist Return to Cusco and Corpus Christi Festival Parade

We caught the 8 AM train back to Ollantaytambo.  The Inca Rail train was very comfortable.  Their website invites one to ” EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC OF TRAIN TRAVEL: Treat yourself to a journey in harmony with mystical Machu Picchu.  Ornately decorated carriages with comfortable seats designed for your enjoyment of the landscape through panoramic windows en route to and from the age-old Inca citadel.   The train offers “comfortable seats with tables in front to share the journey with friends or family, ample windows to admire the stunning countryside, relaxing background music, and an appetizing selection of cold and hot drinks, prepared using fresh fruit juice and Andean herbs.” – Inca Rail website.


The Inca Rail train was very comfortable.                                                                                         Photo Credit: Bill Riat

After about two hours of traveling through stunning scenery we arrived back at Ollantaytambo where we were met by our driver, Wasi, for the two-hour trip back to Cusco.

About 15 kilometers from Cusco, the road was suddenly blocked by officials.  Our van happened to be the first to be stopped.  This was fortunate, since it gave us a VIP-ringside seat to the start of the Corpus Christi Festival parade.


We got out of the van, and in seconds we were immersed in the parade and festivals as thundreds, no, more like thousands of costumed dancers, passed by, with many well-decorated people carrying floats and large images of the 15 patron saints of Peru down the main highway.  They were on their way to the major celebrations in Cusco, singing, dancing, and leading and following band after band as they pass by.




Photo Credit: Bill Riat


DSC00838 (1)

What a wonderful bonus to be so fortuitously entertained by the wonderful, friendly Peruvians on their special festival day!

We made it to Cusco mid-day, had a wonderful lunch, and took the rest of the day easy.

Tomorrow we fly to Puerto Muldonado for a few days in the Amazon Rain Forrest.

2013 Playlist Return to Cusco and Corpus Christi Festival Parade



Cheetah Conservation Fund Reception, January 2016

The Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia

Founded in Namibia in 1990, the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) is the global leader in research and conservation of cheetahs.  CCF is dedicated to saving the cheetah in the wild.

The vast majority of wild cheetahs are outside protected areas, in areas populated by humans. Saving this magnificent animal from extinction requires innovative conservation methods that address the welfare of both cheetah and human populations over large landscapes. CCF has developed a set of integrated programs that work together to achieve this objective. CCF’s programs have effectively stabilized and even increased the wild cheetah population in Namibia.

CCF’s mission is to be the internationally recognized center of excellence in the conservation of cheetahs and their ecosystems. CCF will work with all stakeholders to develop best practices in research, education, and land use to benefit all species, including people.

CCF is an international non-profit organization headquartered in Namibia, with operations in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and partner organizations in several other nations.

Cheetah Conservation Fund Event

This was one of the most fantastic evenings Katie and I have experienced at our home!

In the beginning of January, 2016, shortly after we returned to South Africa from Botswana where I filmed a terrific experience as we watched a mother Cheetah teach her four offspring to hunt  (See my short video clip on 2013 Playlist  – blog and full Mashatu experience to follow) I received an email from Suzy Lucci at the Columbus Zoo asking if Katie and I would be interested in hosting a reception and educational evening for Brian Badger, Operations Manager of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia.  We jumped at the opportunity and had a lovely evening, with Brian sharing amazing tales of conservation, cooperation, and education in Namibia.

Please take the time to review the very informative website for The Cheetah Conservation Fund, particularly the introduction from Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of CCF.

Dr. Laurie says:

“We’re a conservation organization working to combat the problems that afflict the human communities that live alongside cheetahs and threaten the cheetah as a species with extinction.”

Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of CCF

Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of CCF

“But we do all that we do for a single purpose – to win the race to save the cheetah. We’ve lost 90 percent of the world’s population of cheetahs in the last 100 years.”

We had a wonderful evening with friends, new and old, and learned from Brian Badger how import the mission of CCF.

Enjoy the photos below, and go to the CCF website if you feel moved to make a contribution to help support the important work the Cheetah Conservation Fund does in Namibia and indeed elsewhere in Africa.

Suzi Rapp

Columbus Zoo, Animal Programs Director

We are indebted to Suzy Rapp and the Columbus Zoo staff for giving us the opportunity to host such a wonderful evening on behalf of the Columbus Zoo and CCF.

Suzi Rapp was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. She is a graduate of Upper Arlington High School. She attended Ohio University and earned bachelor’s degrees in Health and Human Sciences and Education. She began her career at the Columbus Zoo over 29 years ago in the Education Department. While she was a part of this department she designed many of the Education programs still used at the zoo today. In 1987 she developed the Promotions Department to accommodate the demands of up and rising conservationist, Jack Hanna. During her time in this department she has raised over 200 animals.

She is currently the Director of the Animal Programs department where she coordinates all the animals that travel out of the zoo for Jack Hanna’s programs and community outreaches. Recently she has worked to develop the new exhibit, Animal Encounters Village that brings animals up close and personal with visitors at the Columbus Zoo. She was also a key person in bringing the new Joel Slaven Animals on Safari show to the zoo.

Suzi is an untiring ambassador for Cheetahs around the world.

Suzi Rapp with Jungle Jack Hanna

Suzi Rapp with Jungle Jack Hanna

Photo Galery

Below are a few photos of the evening.  Just click on an image for a larger version of the thumbnail, from where you can then just click on the Next button to advance the slides.

Wilie Grové

January 31, 2015


Nepal Earthquake Disaster – 2015

earthquake-relief-donate-now-sizedThank you so much to the many clients and friends who sent emails, LinkedIn posts, Facebook posts, and phone calls.  How did you all know how profoundly this tragedy in Nepal, in Kathmandu, in the Himalaya, and on Everest would have affected me, and how much your caring comments and concern would mean to me?

Hover curser over photo to advance the slideshow…

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Tragedy in Nepal

On Friday, April 18, 2014 a massive avalanche killed 16 Sherpas on Everest.  That was the worst disaster in Everest’s history.  Little did we know that just one year later a much worse disaster would devastate Nepal, Everest, and the Himalaya.  And then on October 15, 2014 terrible avalanches killed at least 20 trekkers in the Himalaya, particularly on the Annapurna Circuit trek.

Click on the image above to see the book online. The proceeds of the book, as well as many donations directly attributable to this book has made a significant contribution to the Maya Sherpa Project (MSP)

Click on the image above to see my book online. The proceeds of the book, as well as many donations directly attributable to this book has made a significant contribution to the Maya Sherpa Project (MSP).  I hope to continue this effort on behalf of the victims of this terrible tragedy.

But the earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25, 2015 is a human tragedy beyond our imagination. 

The official count  of those who died in the tragedy now stands at over 8,000, but it is likely that it could be well over 10,000 as new information of bodies uncovered surface.  Villages that are mostly inaccessible are only now being reached, and the news in many cases is tragic.

My friend, Ram Pahari, proprietor of Himalaya Journeys writes that his family is fine, except a grandpa in his family’s remote village who died after several days from his injuries.  Most of the people in his village were working in the fields, anbd fortunately the earthquake struck in the middle of the day.  But barely a building in his village is standing, and nowhere to shelter from the rain – the monsoons are starting about now – since all the buildings are unsafe or collapsed.  No water, food, shelter, sanitation.

And that is the story throughout Nepal.



Second Eartquake Hits Naamche Bazaaar

And then a second earthquake hit, with the epicenter at Naamche Bazaar, a village I have visited several times on my way to Everest and back.  I stayed with Mr. Khamal in the Khamal Tea House.  Mr. Khamal is featured prominently in my book, Everest!  A Trek to Base Camp and Back.  I took him a copy of the book in 2013 on my way to Everest, and I became quite a celebrity among the other trekkers and the locals having published this book.  But Mr. Khamal was an even bigger celebrity being in my book!

All my attempts to contact Mr. Khamal after the second earthquake have been unsuccessful.  I have no idea if he, his family, and his lodge survived.DSC00808With Mr. Khamal in the Khamal Tea House.  Mr. Khamal proudly displays his copy of my book, November 2013
DSC00806With my fellow trekkers in the Khumalo Teahouse.  Mr. Khumalo had just presented us with prayer shawls to commemorate our safe return from Everest Base Camp, November 2013

I have been in a stupor, a state of despair since the first earthquake.  I cannot imagine the pain and suffering in a country where there already was so much deprivation.


earthquake-relief-donate-now-sizedThe need in Nepal is great.  According to authorities the two earthquakes for the most part decimated a year’s gross national product.  Money has been contributed and help has been arriving in droves.  But the real need will be over the next two or three years or longer, as an already impoverished country labor to rebuild.  I have no doubt that these wonderful people will eventually rebuild their lives, but it will take time and a lot of money.  I have been working with The Maya Sherpa Project since 2011.  My book, Everest!, A trek to Base Camp and Back has supported this organization with profits from the book and donations from folks who have received or purchased my book.  I know the people on the ground in Nepal, and trust my friend Pattie Moon who founded The Maya Sherpa Project.  I know every dollar contributed will make its way to a needy family or a Nepali person in distress.

my 2013 trekking buddies with Pattie Moon, founder and Executive Director of The Mya Sherpa Project. Kathmandu, 2013

My 2013 trekking buddies with Pattie Moon, founder and Executive Director of The Maya Sherpa Project at The Hotel Manang, Kathmandu, 2013

I quote from The Maya Sherpa Project’s website:

Here is what we know and suggest we can do to help, with your assistance.
The United Nations estimates that as many as eight million of Nepal’s 28 million people have had their lives disrupted by the earthquake. Over 1.4 million people need food assistance, and tens of thousands are thought to have been left homeless. There are many large, international aid organizations doing tremendous work on the front line, in providing the immediate and basic needs such as food, water and shelter at this most emergent time. If you are interested in contributing to this early stage of relief, please consider contributing to The American Himalayan Foundation.

However, we understand many of you would like to make a more direct impact in this recovery effort. We, too, have this in mind as we look at the needs of our Nepali family and friends. Our first-hand communication with those in Kathmandu and in the outlying mountain villages indicates that there will be ongoing needs for an extensive period of time. In particular, assistance with housing, medicine and daily essentials during the upcoming monsoon season is of considerable concern. And then the compelling rebuilding phase of recovery. The Maya Sherpa Project can’t solve the large scale recovery issues in Nepal, but we have the capability, through your support, to assist those Nepali and Sherpa friends we know and currently serve. And then, in turn, these souls can support their neighbors, family and villages more fully.

In this spirit, we have created a donation based fund that will provide direct support to our Nepali and Sherpa friends and their villages. All funds, supplies and equipment will go directly to support of recovery efforts with the assistance of our Maya Sherpa managers that live and work in these villages on our behalf.

End of Maya Sherpa Website Quote

Making a Difference in the Lives of the Victims

With the details unfolding and more tragedy coming to light, the human tragedy of the people of Nepal who perished and the difficulties their families will now face, are becoming clearer each day.  Please consider sending a small contribution to the Maya Sherpa Project.  The Maya Sherpa Project (MSP) has now set up a special fund – Donating online is easy – just click on the button below.  Any amount is appreciated.  No amount is too small.  Just do it!

How fragile life in that extreme remote, beautiful, spiritual, but dangerous part of the world!  But how happy the spirit of the Sherpa people and the other ethnic groups of Nepal.   That is what attracted me to the work that Pattie Moon – Maya Sherpa Project (MSP) is doing – taking care of the families and children of these gentle folks. One person at a time.  On the ground, where we know that each dollar contributed reaches a person or a family.

Gaiety of Spirit: Pushed From Your Own Heart

Patti Moon introdGaiety of Spirituced me to a book about the Sherpa nation.  I particularly appreciated it after returning from several weeks, day after day in the mountains, with these wonderful people.  The book is Gaiety of Spirit: The Sherpas of Everest.  I would highly recommend it if you want to learn about the Sherpa people and their resilience in a harsh world.

On the trail on the way to Everest I came across a person soliciting small contributions from trekkers.  I pulls on my heartstrings every time I read this sign and the closing plea, “… because people must do this thing which are pushed from your own heart.”


We made small donations on the trail to Everest

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis sign, soliciting donations to maintain the trails just tugged at my heartstrings.


Thank you for considering helping the people of Nepal rebuild their lives and their country.


My previous Everest Blogs

Tragedy on Everest – My own experience

Everest 2013 – A Trek to Base Camp and Back

Click on the YouTube link to go to my Everest 2013 Playlist  YouTube Logo Cropped

Everest! A Trek to Base Camp/Kala Patthar and Back – November 2011

Click on the YouTube link to go to my Everest 2011 Playlist   YouTube Logo Cropped

Click on the YouTube link to go directly to the documentary video:  Everest! A Trek to Base Camp and Back 2011 (HD 1080i)   (00:49:00)


For more information, read:

These Are the 5 Facts That Explain Nepal’s Devastating Earthquake


Volunteers Burn Nepal’s Unclaimed Bodies as Death Toll Rises

Nepal Earthquake Village


Nepal Earthquake Disaster Update 1 – June 17, 2015

Devastating Earthquake, April 18, 2015

June 17, 2015

Updates from Nepal

It is one day short of two months since the first of two devastating earthquakes, followed by many aftershocks, changed the country of Nepal and its people forever.

The Maya Sherpa Project

The Maya Sherpa Project

Thank you  so very much to all who responded to the great need in Nepal.  Your contributions are already making a huge difference in so many ways and in so many places as you will see in this post.  But the need is great and getting greater as the Monsoon season approaches and the Nepalese people are in danger of disease and exposure.  Please revisit my earlier BLOG and consider making a donation to continue our support on the ground in Nepal.  Simply click on the Donate box to the left.  From here you can make a contribution using your Visa card or PayPal.  No contribution is too small.

Following are excerpts from messages and photos I have received: News From Nepal

From Pattie Moon, Founder of The Maya Sherpa Project

Dear Willie,

The Maya Sherpa Project is grateful for your generous donation and those of your friends for the 2015 Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund.

Thanks to your thoughtful gift, and that of many others, we will be able to offer support in a variety of ways for those whose lives have been irreparably changed by this wide-scale tragedy.  With our local MSP network in Nepal – and our organization’s experience providing help to remote Himalayan villages – we will be able to help the families and communities that need assistance, especially those who might otherwise be overlooked.

Neera Sherpa's family taking refuge in Kathmandu under a tarpaulin

Neera Sherpa’s family taking refuge in Kathmandu under a tarpaulin

A home in Rowaling Valley near Kathmandu

A home in Rowaling Valley near Kathmandu

Our commitment to this relief effort is a continuation of our 5 year-old non-profit organization’s charter.

“My vision for the MSP is to help bring basic education and medical care to my fellow Sherpas, in order that they can experience a life of greater well-being, while still maintaining the richness of our culture.” ~ Dawa Sherpa

To this, we now add the basic needs of food, water, housing and clothing, as well as bridges and trail access.


Dawa Sherpa, Sharon Lowe, Pattie Moon, Nancy Kramer 

The Maya Sherpa Project Board of Directors


This email from Pattie Moon yesterday, Tuesday June 15, 2015

Good morning dear friend,

I wanted to send you this email from Nima Sherpa, who is in the Khumbu with my younger son, Nick.  They have been working in Lukla (Nima’s village) but are now traveling up into the Khumbu.  The news is not good, as you will see.  Photos as well, of some of the places we know.  I understand that today they are going to Thame.

As far as their getting together with your friends Ram Pahari or Ramesh Karel in Kathmandu, I’m not sure there’s a possibility.  Nick leaves at the end of the month and Nima will be spending most of his time in the mountains, where he can be more useful than in Kathmandu.  

Perhaps you have heard of the government’s efforts to systematically assess, rate, tear down if necessary, and assign a monetary reimbursement to each and every home.  The Nepali military corps of engineers has been working in the Solu and are now heading north into the Khumbu.  I don’t know how this is proceeding in Kathmandu, but I assume something similar will – or is – occurring.  My understanding is that this is done with all the aid money from other countries, an amount in the tens of millions?

Anyway, we’re learning as we go, which is about all we can do right now.  Everyone I talk to from Nepal (including Nima and Nick) and all the important foundations (check out Peter Hillary and the Himalayan Trust: ) are saying that we must wait and assess what is the best course of action.

So, wait we do.  Blessings, Pattie


A note from Willie:

Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund Hillary, and Jamling Norgay Sherpa, son of Hillary’s climbing companion, Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, happened to be close to Everest Base Camp when the earthquake and a terrible avalanche from Everest hit.  Follow the=se links for this amazing story:

Sons of Hillary and Norgay took refuge in same village by chance during Nepal earthquake

Hillary and Tenzing’s sons describe surviving the Everest avalanche (VIDEO)

Peter Hillary: Mountain tragedy hits close to home:  An amazing report by Peter Hillary of his tragic experience at the time of the earthquake.


This email from Nima Sherpa to Pattie Moon yesterday, Tuesday June 15, 2015

June 15, 2015

Namaste PattieMom,

Good morning. How are you??  We are back to Namche Bazaar.  We went yesterday to Tengboche.  It was but scare while walking on the trail to Tengboche.  Between Namche and Kengjuma, there is landslide and rock falling from the top of that cliff.  Tengoche was badly damaged.  Most of the monks’ rooms have been demolished.  Top part of monastery has been came out.  Little gift shop at Tengboche has completely destroyed. Himalayan lodge where we had stayed last time is in bad shape.  That building need to rebuild from the bottom.  They are waiting for expert carpenter and a stone workers. 

Part of Khumjung and Kunde has badly affected.  It is common to see many cracks in each and every building.  They have already started to rebuild.  It was hard to see all those affected buildings  because of foggy weather.  However; we could hear a stone work along the way. 

There was a landslide on the way to Namche just after Phakding.  Some places, we saw a big crack across the trail.  Upcoming monsoon might take away that area. 

So far, I and Nick are the only hiker in this area.  There is a huge demands of carpenter and stone workers.

Each and every lodges are closed even in Namche Bazaar. 

Till today, we found Chaurikharka ( near my village) is the most affected area compare to Khumjung, Tengboche and Namche. 

We spent one night at Panorama hotel at Namche.  It was nice hotel but they was really  expensive for us.  They charged us more then what we had expected. We went some other guest house today but some were closed and some were under construction. Finally we end up at Hotel Kamal.  We are the only guest wherever we go. This place has Internet and price is reasonable.  We will stay one more night here then we will go to Kangma( my home). 

Due to the monsoon season, there is no regular flight.  Thupten is still in Kathmandu. He couldn’t fly due to bad weather. Nick might fly back to Kathmandu on 19th or 20th though his flight back to Bangkok is on 25th. There is an option to get in Kathmandu by bus from Salleri. however, road might be rough. So, it is better to fly from Lukla. 

My dinner is ready.  I will write you more in next email. 

Have a good day.

Love from Namche Bazaar


IMG_2489 IMG_2488 IMG_2510 IMG_2464

The devastation and damage observed by Nick Moon and Nima Sherpa, on the ground in Nepal from Fort Collins and Steamboat Springs, the US home of The Maya Sherpa Project 



A note from Willie:

I was happy to hear about Khamal Tea House.  I have stayed there with Mr. Khamal several times.  In my first blog I have photos with Mr. Khamal, and he has a copy of my book.  Maybe Nima could ask him to see it and give him my best wishes.  I have been unable to connect with him.



The following email from Ram Pahari, Tuesday June 15, 2015

Dear Willie  & All supporter Team,
Greetings from Himalaya Journey Treks & Expedition, Nepal.

Thank you for your great support & contribution to the earthquake victim people of Nepal. Thanks for your kind contribution.  Certainly , I will give Ramesh dollars for his personal use as you instructed and I will use rest of USD for earthquake victim people.

Thanks for your great support to earthquake victim people of Nepal

people of victim 1 victim people of village4

Ram Pahari distributing food purchased with our donations

earthquake damage house earthquake afected home 7

How does a person ever recover from this?  The despair and fear must be so intense!



Email from Ramesh Karel, my guide on the 2011 trek to Everest Base Camp and Back


Hello, how are you any family?  I hope you are doing fine over there.  I am doing fine here bless of you.  The temperature is hot here due to no rain long time.  There is still small magnitude Earthquake time to time until today.  We are hopeful that the Earthquake will over soon.  I am sending you couple of photo of destroyed in my area and two photo of temporary shelter of my parents in the village.  The God and friends give us to strength to bear in this the situation.

Thanking you!

Warmest regard


…And an earlier email from Ramesh Karel, describing the devastation:

I hope you are in good health and spirit.  Thank you for your heartfelt concern. It is tragic natural disaster that we are living through in Nepal now.  I wanted to reply to my well wishers  the earliest, but there was shortage of power and not good internet connection during the trek.

I am back from trek.  I am safe and so is my family.  Fortunately, no family members met tragic end, although the house has turned into a heap of ruins.  It was the time that saved their lives because at 11.56am, village people normally work out in the field.

 It is heartbreaking devastation – I could hardly stand the sight of whole village turned into a heap of rubbles.  My family members are living under the tarpaulin to fend themselves from the rain and the sun.  Very little help from the government so far regarding the resettlement.  

Trekking business has been badly hit and it will long consequence for us trekking workers in rebuilding the houses.  Helping hands and generous heart are welcome to contribute in rebuilding the ruined house.

I would highly value the efforts from friends who are willing to contribute to alleviate the tragic pain.

Warmest Regards


2015-05-03 18.04.33 2015-05-03 16.38.59 2015-05-03 16.38.44 2015-05-03 16.42.29

It is heartbreaking devastation – I could hardly stand the sight of whole village turned into a heap of rubbles” – Ramesh Kharel, Everest trekking guide.

2015-05-05 06.01.11 2015-05-05 05.58.39

“My family members are living under the tarpaulin to fend themselves from the rain and the sun.” Ramesh Kharel


The Maya Sherpa ProjectMaking a contribution to The Maya Sherpa Project ensures that every dollar donated finds its way to a Nepalese person in need.  Yes, the need is great, and the resources meager.  But your contribution to any organization helping in Nepal will work wonders.  Thank you for your caring support.  Financially and spiritually.

Of whom much is given, much will be required.

Or in Uncle Ben’s words of wisdom to Peter Parker in Spider-man: “With great power comes great responsibility.”


Willie Grové  

June 16, 2015



Nepal Earthquake Disaster Update 2 – October, 2015


Logo   Devastating Earthquakes, April, 2015

Updates from Nepal: October, 2015

In this update:

Click on the INDEX Title to go directly to the topic.  Click the back button on your browser to return to the top of this blog.

Overwhelming Generosity

Maya Sherpa Project Update

Nima Sherpa and Nick Moon’s Report from Nepal

Rebuilding the trail for the Nakchun Families and Scholarsips – Latest Update

Himalaya Club Relief House Project

UBS Optimus Foundation



Photo from Nick Moon and Nema Shirpa Nepal Visit – June 2015 (Click HERE for the report)

LogoOverwhelming Generosity 

Just over five months ago the first of two devastating earthquakes followed by many aftershocks changed the country of Nepal and its people forever.

In my last BLOG POST Nepal Earthquake Disaster Update 1 – June Lifetime of rebuilding17, 2015 I wrote of the Monsoons coming, and the additional challenge this presents for the gentle-spirited people of Nepal, particularly the Sherpa people living in the mountain villages of the majestic Himalaya.  We now have some first-hand news from Nepal, and from Pattie Moon, Founder of The Maya Sherpa Project.  Thank you once again for the many gifts already made for this cause, and for the ongoing support we continue to receive.The Maya Sherpa Project

Please revisit my earlier BLOGs and consider making a donation to continue our support on the ground in Nepal. Simply click on the Donate box to the left. From here you can make a contribution using your Visa card or PayPal. No contribution is too small.

LogoMaya Sherpa Project Update

From Pattie Moon, Founder of The Maya Sherpa Project

Nepal Earthquake Relief Update: October 2015
The Maya Sherpa Project is grateful for your generous donations and those of your friends for the 2015 Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund.

Building Road

Entrusted with much

In a country with such great need, everything is useful and much appreciated.

To read the Maya Sherpa Project’s full report, click HERE .


LogoNima Sherpa and Nick Moon’s visit to Nepal, June 2015

Resillient peopleUpon returning to the States, both Nima and Nick expressed their opinions about ways to utilize the generous donations the Maya Sherpa Project had received. They agreed that the best approach is to help rebuild village structures – the schools, health clinics, and monasteries – that will not be supported by government funding. Nothing could be more important, as these places are the heart of every Sherpa village; this is where they come together as a community to celebrate, share, learn, and mourn. And this is where they will find the support to help each other heal. The Sherpa are a resilient people, but first, let us help to get them back on their feet.

 The devastation is beyond our understanding or comprehension.


Many trails have been obliterated. The village of Nakchun which the Maya Sherpa Project supports had been cut off completely since the earthquakes – from Nick and Nima’s report


Many structures – homes, teahouses, and other facilities has been damaged beyond repair – from Nick and Nima’s report


Each tarpaulin or tent represents a home or other building which had been destroyed in this village – from Nick and Nima’s report

Click HERE to read the full report by Nima Sherpa and Nick Moon on the Maya Sherpa Project website.



Rebuilding the trail for the Nakchun Families and Scholarships – Latest Update: October 11, 2015

The village of Nakchun has been supported by the Maya Sherpa Project in many different ways over the past years.  Much of Nakchun has been destroyed by the earthquakes, and the only trail to the village was obliterated, isolating the villagers since April, 2015.   One of the first projects funded by the money raised for the Maya Sherpa Project’s earthquake relief effort is now underway – to rebuild this trail.

Here is an update from Pattie as recent as today, Sunday, October 11, 2015:

Here are the photos from the work that has just begun for the village of Nakchung. Such a great slice of the scenery in the Khumbu.  My, those valleys are steep!

Work has started to rebuild the trail to Nakchung  - the first of our projects in the remote Himalaya.

Work has started to rebuild the trail to Nakchung – the first of our projects in the remote Himalaya.

Somehow some construction safety hats have been found; essential as the continuous tremors could bring oin new rock slides at any time

Somehow some construction safety hats have been found; essential as the continuous tremors could bring on new rock slides at any time

The monk in the picture, he likely performed a small puja ceremony to bless our work

The monk in the picture likely performed a small puja ceremony to bless our work

We are also giving “scholarships” to the children from Nakchung, who have to now live and study in Lukla, since they also now can’t live in – and therefore walk from – their village to attend the Hillary schools in Lukla, 3+ hours each way every day . . . 6+ hours round trip, for children as young as 7!  I know this is common practice, but I have proposed that we continue the scholarships after the trail is again open, so that they don’t have to  spend that time walking. They could continue to board in other Sherpa homes, but return to Nakchung Friday evening until Monday morning. We shall see . . .

All this and more . . .

We are giving "scholarships" to the children from Nakchung, who have to now live and study in Lukla,since they also now can't live in - and therefore walk from - their village to go to school.

We are giving “scholarships” to the children from Nakchung, who have to now live and study in Lukla,since they also now can’t live in – and therefore walk from – their village to go to school. Although Lukla sustained much damage, it is a regional center which has received some assistance to rebuild.


LogoHimalaya Club Relief House Project For Earthquake Victims

In the mean time, the Himalaya Club worked in Nakchun to provide housing for the villagers.  Please take a few minutes to watch the video about the types of homes that are being constructed now; these 5 were built for the Nakchung families that were displaced by the earthquake.  It is for them that we are building the road back to their village.

Click on the YouTube play button or on the image below to view the video.  YouTube Play

 Himalaya Club Logo

UBS Optimus Foundation

I am also so very grateful for the support from UBS, both in my effort to help raise funds for a small NGO, the Maya Sherpa Project, and in a big way through the UBS Optimus Foundation. Some of our friends and clients made contributions to the UBS Optimus Foundation’s Emergency Relief effort, receiving 100% match for contributions over $1,000 for a limited period. Current contributions to the cause are still matched 100%, but the minimum gift to qualify for this match is now $5,000. It is amazing what a huge difference both these efforts will make to the stricken Sherpa and other people of Nepal.

The solar suitcases capture solar energy and use it to bring essential light and power to health facilities.

The solar suitcases capture solar energy and use
it to bring essential light and power to health facilities.

Like food, water and shelter, the lack of available electricity, particularly in the remote villages in the Himalaya, is a huge challenge. In one of the projects in Nepal supported by this effort, the UBS Optimus Foundation is funding 100 solar suitcases, some of which are already being used in Nepal helping to deal with the terrible aftermath of the recent earthquakes. The suitcases are used by local partner organization One Heart Worldwide for emergency medical care with a focus on obstetric and maternal needs in remote locations. In the longer term, the suitcases will be used to serve rural health outposts without access to electricity.

I will be attending an event in NYC on November 12, 2015: A Commitment to Philanthropy – an opportunity to learn more about our Optimus Foundation’s relief efforts in Nepal. Stay tuned for that update.

Please know that this letter is sent to you as much in the spirit of continuing to keep the awareness of this terrible tragedy alive as it is to solicit help financially in a small way.  Your thoughts and prayers are just as important.

Great power