Friday, 3 May 2013

Four day trek to Machu Picchu


The Inca Trail 













Day 1

A 4.30am pick up awaited the group on the first trekking day. The group were taken to Ollantaytambo, a 2 hour coach trip deep into the mountains. The coach wasn’t exactly new and coupled with the terrible roads, the ride quality left its mark on my spine. A stop for an overpriced jam and egg roll later and we were off again 45mins further into the mountains to the start of the Inca Trail. The road / track surface depreciated dramatically, leaving our decrepid coach and my spine in tatters by arrival. On arrival we were welcomed by an army of short stout red men, clapping spiritedly by the possibilities of a 29 person tip.





The trek started gently with rolling wide shale paths alongside the Urubamba river. Some students had a rather sharp awakening to the weight of their bags and the reality of the task ahead. At this very early stage it was already easy to develop a hatred for the many trekkers hiring porters and an admiration for the underpaid army of porters carrying up to 28kgs along the trail like a swathe of ants.









We awaited with some caution as we were thinking how much food could be brought up in bags and then cooked within 20 mins. However, we soon realized that Llamapath were keen to ensure we all ate very well – far better than we had the last couple of weeks. The food was excellent with four different starters.




After lunch we only had another 90mins up hill until camp. However the first real ‘uphill’ hit some people quite hard, soon realizing that uphill in Peru is properly uphill, no gentle slopes here.



Day 2

Day 2 is notoriously the hardest day of the Machu Picchu trek, many of us knowing this well before we left. However, to some this came as quite a horrible surprise. 


The path out of the campsite was a fairly sharp uphill from 7am all the way to the top of the mountain at dead woman's pass reached by the whole group at 10am. Some found it slightly harder than others and there were no shortage of grimaces and questions of fitness asked by the back end of the group.


The views along the route were incredible and made for good reasons to stop sporadically. By the top however much of the mist had drawn in and reduced the view slightly, though many by this point were just happy to sit down.


Fortunately from there until lunch the only way was down, a long way down. 


As lunch came the morning had taken its toll on some of the group, deciding that sleep was the best option.

In Inca style, a down hill is usually followed by a significant uphill and we weren't disappointed after lunch. Regretting eating the massive lunch supplied by the chefs we waded up the steepest steps seen on the trek so far. This lead all the way up to another pass and Inca look out tower.


After a another 2 hrs of up and down hills we finally reached another Inca fortress precariously sitting on a three sided cliff face, unknown as the inaccessible place. Sadly we were again scuppered by the mist with visibility of about 20ft. However, the lack of a view did not distract from the realisation of how ridiculous building on top of such a place was.

A further 30 mins a long a FLAT cobbley path lead us to the second campsite. For many this was a welcome sight. The day had been very long (10hrs walking mainly uphill) and had taken its toll on many. However, at dinner all was forgotten and the hot chocolate and coffee was greeted with cheers.


Day 3

The exertions of the previous day meant for some very tired bodies. Yet the sun was shining and the view were far better than the previous evening, showing a beautiful panorama of some the Andes highest mountains. 


The path was very different to the previous two days. Apparently we had now entered the 'eyebrow of the Amazon' and this was quite evident from the change in flora and forna and the ever present frog noises in the background (I was determined to see one).


The walk was far easier than the previous day, much of it fairly flat. Sadly by mid morning the mist had again rolled in, meaning the views were not great, even from the Inca look out towers dotted along the trail.



By mid morning  the terrain had become very jungle like, with the path becoming a fairly steady downhill with cobbley steps. This continued for at least 2 hours until it finally opened out into a beautiful valley.




Once at the opening of the valley and with the mist clearing it became apparent where we had actually walked. One of the most noticeable things on the trek and in the sacred valley is the seemingly impossible places at which the Incas decided to build terraces to grow crops. One of the largest and most remote of these was just before reached camp, located on a very steep mountain side looking over the valley. Complete with llamas it was quintessential Peru.




After this Inca site it was only a quick 20mins downhill to the camp, for a relaxing evening before the final day.

Day 4

Started VERY early, we were all up by 3am walking 20mins to the check point and then waiting at the front of the gate to make sure we got to Machu Picchu first that day. By 5am we were allowed through and made our way along an undulating path for 90mins to Sungate. However, Sungate should have been renamed mistgate, as sadly we could not see more than 20ft in front of us and what were supposed to be the first views of Machu Picchu were lost in the clouds.


A further 40mins along the path were arrived at Machu Picchu to everyones happiness and relief. Though the relief was swiftly followed with the disappointment at the view (See Below).


Fortunately after 30 mins the mountain gods heard our pleas for a view and the sun came out. We then had a tour of Machu Picchu with our guides and 2000 other tourists. 


Needless to say Machu Picchu was amazing and simply unexplainable. It was difficult to actually take in the enormity of the building work and architecture on top on a steep mountain side. No pictures could do the place justice. What truely does not come across in any pictures is the shear scale of the place and the height changes from the top to bottom. This is unquestionably one place that you must visit in your lifetime.




After a few hours looking around Machu Picchu we all got the bus down to Agas Calientes, a town developed entirely for tourism. The group spent the afternoon waiting for the train, enjoying the bars and restaurants. Some of us ventured uphill to the hot springs. On fist glimpse these springs looked very much like mud baths and a health hazard, yet once braved we realised why they were so popular. 








By 5pm we were all fully relaxed and ready to go home on the train back to Ollaytaytambo a 2 hour train ride, followed by a further 2 hour coach ride back to Cusco.


Overall the trek walk a great experience for all, it served as a physical and mental challenge for many. If you have the opportunity we cannot emphasise enough how worthwhile the trek is. Taking the train up just doesn't allow you appreciate all the other buildings along the trail that make Machu Picchu so much more special and important to the Inca people. 

Finally a big thank you to our guides, porters and chefs. The porters and chefs worked incredibly hard to make sure everything ran smoothly and that w ate so well for the 4 days.













Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Does going to altitude help you reduce fat mass?


Fat Metabolism at Altitude

Increases in the energy requirements of individuals, and the subsequent breakdown of energy stores such as fat, have been shown to result from time spent at altitude amongst both healthy and obese individuals. Thus, leading to the suggestion hypoxic physiology has the ability to induce favourable changes in weight and fat mass amongst a human population.

It may therefore be suggested that exposure to hypoxic conditions, or altitude, has the potential to serve as both a preventative, and treatment method against the growing problem of obesity in today’s society.


The exact mechanisms behind such reports however are largely unknown and continue to be debated due to the large number of confounding factors present during field work and expeditions. Factors including changes in diet, increased physical exertion, extremes in weather conditions and lack of food availability can all play a role in weight loss at altitude.

Moreover differences in findings within the previous research highlight the complex nature of inquiry and the difficulty in investigating the effect of hypoxia in isolation on these factors. Nevertheless such findings of weight loss and changes in body composition have been attributed to other physiological factors including suppression in appetite (leading to a subsequent decrease in food intake and thus a negative imbalance in the energy equation) and biochemical alterations in fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Perhaps more importantly, previous research has also attributed a major part of these losses in weight to reductions in fat mass further supporting the potential for use in a health and clinical setting in which a loss of fat mass would be beneficial.

One of the physiological investigations being carried out during our time in Peru intends to address such an issue with weight loss, taste sensation, energy expenditure and fuel utilisation (the amount of fat, carbohydrate and protein used to fuel our bodies) all being measured at different stages of the trip. The investigation aims to answer the following research questions;

1.      Does an eighteen day exposure to hypobaric hypoxia have a significant effect on an individual’s body weight?
2.      Does exposure to hypobaric hypoxia alter the energy expenditure and fuel utilisation of healthy individuals?
3.      Does energy expenditure and fuel utilisation alter throughout differing stages of acclimatisation to hypobaric hypoxia?
4.      Is there a lasting effect of altitude exposure on energy expenditure upon return to sea level?

During our 18 day stay at altitude basal metabolic rate (BMR) (the number of calories required to fuel the body’s expenditure at rest) tests will be carried out at three differing stages of acclimatisation and be compared to the results of the same tests carried out both before and after our sojourn. Of particular interest is the question of whether or not individuals expend more energy whilst at altitude and if so if this is explained by the aforementioned confounding factors or if there is an underlying alteration in biochemical factors.

Integral to the accurate assessment of such parameters is the use of the Cortex MetaMax 3X which has been used throughout the investigation in both the laboratory and altitude based sessions. Pictures below.



As previously stated findings from this study may add to the current understanding of weight loss, energy expenditure, taste sensation and the biochemistry of fuel utilisation at altitude and may lead to the development of a weight loss technique through intermittent hypoxic exposures for an obese population. Furthermore if such an investigation can go a small way in informing the physiology behind weight loss at altitude as intended, there is potential for this information to aid those wishing to maintain weight during trekking in such conditions.

video




Friday, 12 April 2013

Eager expectation

After a very relaxing day pottering around Cusco, bartering in the markets or perusing the museums, the team are now busy packing for tomorrow's trek to Machu Picchu. At 5pm the Llama Path trekking company came and gave us a talk about the trip and what to expect, with a few surprises regarding the wake up times and the expectation of tipping. (Surely you should not being asking for a set tip in advance - by definition a tip is in relation to the quality of service received??) Anyway, we are all in excited spirits and are preparing for our 4am wake up call and 4.30am departure.

The research kit will be coming with us. Mark has been presented with the unenviable task of carrying the scales, which are incredibly light but just an awkward shape to carry around for 4 days. These Seca scales were kindly provided by Cranlea medical equipment suppliers as the lightest available, they have been great so far - with an incredible amount of usage and knocking around. The other issue is that everyone will have to be completing their research daily diaries very early throughout the trek (between 3-5am everyday). This may make for some slightly disorientated or unhappy measurements going on in the dark.

Anyway, I for one am excited and am looking forward to the challenge that awaits. Roll on tomorrow...



Day Nine - Goodbye Huacarpay School

Farewell Huacarpay - the gloves are off!

The day started with Ben's fat study where the subjects took part in a taste test to see if altitude affects their taste receptors. Preliminary evidence suggests that taste is suppressed at altitude, but we will see from the findings.



However taste senses were heightened as few enjoyed billy bear ham and squidgy cheese, that accompanied the usual bread and strawberry jam at breakfast this morning. 

The track was calling for the third and final time, with walking boots at the ready we set off at 9am for a memorable day ahead. Being the last test it was typical that everything went perfectly and everyone was very organised! Spirits were high as photos and videos were being taken left right and centre, soon to be put together as our educational video about participating in a 6 minute walk test at altitude. There were variations in performance and walking styles, which of course had to be videoed as some were very controversial as to whether they were a light jog. Although two were still struggling slightly from pooru, it seemed that most have eventually acclimatised to the altitude throughout the time in Cusco and the 6 minute walk tests. The runners of the group couldn't resist a quick 100m race at the end of the session. Tensions were high and a photo finish was prepared as there was controversy over running shoes. Nevertheless it was a clear win for the shod runner, aka James, leaving a barefoot Harry slightly behind!




Off to a hot and sunny Huacarpay (31 degrees) where a ceremony and food was being prepared for everyone. As the gardening gloves and paint covered clothes were left behind it felt strange not getting our hands dirty, but was rewarding to admire our hard work and see how appreciative the children and teachers were. While the food was being prepared, the boys were teaching their amigos the soccer am crossbar challenge, needless to say there was a "language barrier" or their "trainers were too big", so their amigos taught them a lesson instead. While the boys were being boys and burning some energy, the girls got their bronze on and assisted the teachers on the thank you feast. When lunch was served we were able to enjoy the delights of alpaca, chicken and homegrown vegetables, such as potatoes and sweet corn and plenty of salad. This showed how grateful they were for all our hard work, and we were thankful for the food we received, especially the fruity finish.


We then all gathered in our newly restored coliseum where our farewell ceremony took place, filled with thank yous from us and our new amigos. We were presented with a handmade card, recycled denim wallet and keyring and freshly picked flowers to show their appreciation of all our hard work over the 2 weeks. We were then able to give our goody bags to our amigos, although some didn't quite believe it was for them! They all opened them as soon as they sat down and liked everything inside, such as bubbles, doodle pads, pens and pencils and frisbees! There were plenty of photos taken to remember our last day at Hurcarpay and emails were exchanged so we are able to keep in touch. On arrival back at the hostel everyone was eager to walk into the plaza for an English meal at Paddy's Pub, which went down very well!


Now that's what I call Peru 2013

This is a light hearted blog with little science behind it but will hopefully tell you more about our experiences on the trip so far. It also shows that our cognitive ability of knowledge of music as well as imagination has not declined in the low oxygen levels. This is:

Now that's what I call Peru 2013

1. Hot, hot hot- Arrow
This song is for the students who spent a total of 900 minutes cycling in a heat chamber at 40 degrees Celsius for the study on the effect of heat acclimation. Each person averaged 268 miles throughout the heat acclimation sessions.
2. Sweat- Snoop Dogg
There certainly were a lot of sweaty people at the end of each early morning session before lectures. Special mention to Luke Holland who regularly looked like he was drowning in his own sweat and regularly lost 3kg in sweat in a 90 minute cycling session.
3. Milkshake- Kelis
This refers to the gorgeous/disgusting milkshake containing ice cream and double cream used for the fat metabolism study it really was an opinion divider.
4. What's your flava?- Craig David
The second part of the fat metabolism study was looking to see whether the subjects could taste a variety of flavours and whether that changed while at high altitude.
5. Walking on the sunshine- Katrina and the Waves
The six minute walk test has taken place out in cold Eastbourne, in the labs and in the hypoxic chamber. However we have chosen this song as we think it is very apt for our final 3 walking tests on the local Cusco athletics track while basking in the sunshine.
6. Hips don't lie- Shakira
Some of the walking techniques used in the walking tests have been unique to say the least. The most successful technique found so far is swivelling the hips like Shakira herself (the learning effect has been taken into account)
7. What's it gonna be- H2O and Platnum
The hydration study has led to regular conversations about urine which is an extremely bizarre topic conversation for a group in their late teens and early 20s. The study has involved a lot of drinking of water (H2O) in order to stay hydrated.
8. Turbulence- Lil Jon and Laidback Luke
The song title is a very good description of a lot of our flights particularly the last one from Lima to Cusco.
9. No air- Jordin Sparks
It may be a pretty obvious one but this refers to the lack of oxygen in Cusco that really does seem to leave you with no air.
10. Ain't no mountain high enough- Marvin Gaye
The first thing you notice while looking out of the tiny windows of the aeroplane is that there doesn't seem to be anywhere flat to even land a plane. I think most people will agree that the views created by these mountains eclipse the torment of walking up and down them. Lets see if we still think this after the Inca Trail.
11. I'm horny- Mousse T
The whole group has been shocked by the driving standards in Peru, where it seems instead of looking you have to listen to the horn of the car that they are just about to crash into.
12. Who let the dogs out?- Baha Men
The number of dogs in Cusco is astonishing with one constantly in sight. However it isn't like Eastbourne with dogs firmly attached to their owners, instead these are stray dogs scavenging for food and chasing the runners amongst the group.
13. Rollin'- Limp Biskit
If we were to put all the rolls we have eaten in a line, we could probably create our own trail to Machu Pichhu. Us bloggers have had an average of 4 rolls a day, but when you can but a roll for the equivalent of 7p you can't go wrong.
14. Jammin'- Bob Marley
And what better filling to have with these copious amount of rolls than jam. In a new country without the same standards as we are used to, strawberry jam has been the safe choice for lunch. Added to being provided with jams and rolls for breakfast everyday as well.
15. Highway to hell- AC/DC
We have already talked about the poor driving standards but a particular scary experience is the drive from Cusco to the outskirts of the city in Huacarpay. This long stretch of road really is the highway to hell with appalling overtaking the norm, whether that is over train tracks, round corners or when another coach or lorry is driving straight at you.
16. Another brick in the wall- Pink Floyd
'Hey teacher leave those kids alone' sounds a bit harsh on the teachers at the school as they have been lovely and welcoming throughout our welcome but we think this is the best song for the kids of Huacarpay school. The kids have welcomed us with open arms and we have made some special bonds. At the end of the work at the school we exchanged gifts and had some great pictures taken with kids who seemed to really appreciate the hard graft we put in.
17. Hi ho hi ho- 7 Dwarves
With our pic axes, spades and sickles the group have resembled the 29 Dwarves while working at the school.
18. Wonderwall- Oasis
Wall building turned into a theme of the work we completed at the school which involved a lot of hard work and frustration in building it up. They truly turned into wonder walls and something that the incas would have been proud of.
19. Circle of life- Elton John
One of the major changes made to the school is the coliseum which has been changed adding a circular concrete path.
20. 5 colours in her hair- McFly
One of the final jobs of the project was to paint the playground equipment, tyres and lines for the football pitch onto the playground. It resulted in a lot of messy people, who seemed to get more paint on themselves than the things they were supposed to be painting.
21.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Day Eight - Tools Down

April 10th

After a delayed start this morning due to much needed paint buying, we eventually reached the school, and discovered we would be planting with the children. All of the plants were blessed by the children, and then our amigos showed us how to prepare the ground and plant - with some of the children being more particular than others! Having furrowed the ground to the children's satisfaction spring onions and lettuce were carefully planted and watered, in some cases slightly drowned!

Having completed the gardening, it was time to finish painting. The remainder of the tyres and playground games were spruced up, whilst Becca and Laura attempted to paint a straight (slightly wonky) halfway line. Penalty spots and headApril 9th

We awoke to the sun shining on yet another glorious day in Peru with most of us still in awe from dinner the previous night at the newly discovered Irish bar, Paddy's Pub. Serving up delights such as steak sandwiches, shepherds pie and even chocolate brownies for decent prices, there is no doubt that this popular tavern will be visited multiple times in the coming days before we head off on the Inca Trail.

With the coach leaving at 9am we had an early start of hydration testing, breakfast eating and making our sandwiches for lunch. Breakfast saw the welcome return of scrambled eggs along with the jam rolls, basic yet still delicious and enough to last us until lunch time.

Upon arriving at the school, the group seemed motivated, refreshed from a good nights sleep and you sensed the enthusiasm within the team. Once there, the same steps followed before beginning the work; carrying tools and equipment from the coach, applying sun cream and organising ourselves into groups to focus on a particular job.

Once split into small groups, work could begin!

The jobs included removing small rocks from a huge pile of various sizes; this was carried out by Ben P, Harry and Neil before wheelbarrowing them over to the coliseum for Luke H and Kane to start constructing the path.

A larger group helped clear the grass by the tyres in the playground and then advanced into painting them, giving the playground a pristine new look yet still keeping its original character. Painting the apparatus was carried out by Sophie P and Lottie, among others, using bright colours to revive the dull appearance of the play area. The strimmers were once again used to full effect by Luke N, Alan and Dom. Alan also assisted mark in attaching doors to the greenhouse.

One area that needed particular attention was the guinea pig enclosure. Security was enforced through the addition of wire netting by lee and Oli, with Ben D and James working from the inside. Hopefully the rodents will appreciate their new and improved home!

Approaching the final hour of the day a game invented by the group to use the remains of 3or 4 tyres was created (allowing the children to bounce on them like a bouncy castle of some kind). This involved digging and then placing the tyres into the right positions so it was a safe and friendly game to the Peruvian children. A few laughs were shared at the end of the day when a comedic duo of Kane and Ben P encountered some issues when attempting to paint the top of a slide. Alex and his photography work was used throughout the day to capture photos of the group working 'in the moment'. I'm sure all of you reading this will get to see them in the near future!

As the day ended Paddy's Pub was on the agenda again...

A terrific trip and experience so far to help others around us and have the satisfaction of making a difference to the children's and the school's future.

The time of our lives yet we've only reached the half way mark, with so much more to come!

Thanks for reading

Kane, Ben and Alex 😊s and volley lines were also painted to give the children some new games to play. Kane and Ben finally finished the slide after 2 days of painting, and needing to climb on each others shoulders to reach the more difficult parts. The ecological teaching table and benches were also given a new lease of life today with a British stamp of red, white, and blue.

Whilst the painting was finished, a group was working hard on the guinea pig house. A convection heating system was constructed using rocks and tarpaulin, to ensure when the guinea pigs move in they will be kept nice and warm.

The final task, and possibly the largest, was cementing the path of rocks made in the children's coliseum. The cement was carefully mixed using only shovels on the playground, and poured across the rocks. A few of the children tried to help, but to little avail. After a whole day of hard graft the cement was laid and smoothed, making the coliseum look like a completely different place from the tall grassy area that was there before we began.

Due to heavy traffic on the return journey, the driver took a detour which turned out to be shorter! That, topped with some interesting driving from both our driver and the oncoming cars - risqué overtaking - made for an...alternative trip back!

After a hard final days grafting, the majority of the renovation crew piled into Paddy's pub for some well earned grub (should we move in?!), with the chocolate brownie tasting even more delightful than the first taste!!

Day Seven - Guinea Pig Hotel

We awoke to the sun shining on yet another glorious day in Peru with most of us still in awe from dinner the previous night at the newly discovered Irish bar, Paddy's Pub. Serving up delights such as steak sandwiches, shepherds pie and even chocolate brownies for decent prices, there is no doubt that this popular tavern will be visited multiple times in the coming days before we head off on the Inca Trail.



With the coach leaving at 9am we had an early start of hydration testing, breakfast eating and making our sandwiches for lunch. Breakfast saw the welcome return of scrambled eggs along with the jam rolls, basic yet still delicious and enough to last us until lunch time.

Upon arriving at the school, the group seemed motivated, refreshed from a good nights sleep and you sensed the enthusiasm within the team. Once there, the same steps followed before beginning the work; carrying tools and equipment from the coach, applying sun cream and organising ourselves into groups to focus on a particular job.

Once split into small groups, work could begin!


 The jobs included removing small rocks from a huge pile of various sizes; this was carried out by Ben P, Harry and Neil before wheelbarrowing them over to the coliseum for Luke H and Kane to start constructing the path.

A larger group helped clear the grass by the tyres in the playground and then advanced into painting them, giving the playground a pristine new look yet still keeping its original character. Painting the apparatus was carried out by Sophie P and Lottie, among others, using bright colours to revive the dull appearance of the play area. The strimmers were once again used to full effect by Luke N, Alan and Dom. Alan also assisted Mark in attaching doors to the greenhouse.

One area that needed particular attention was the guinea pig enclosure. Security was enforced through the addition of wire netting by Lee and Oli, with Ben D and James working from the inside. Hopefully the rodents will appreciate their new and improved home!


Approaching the final hour of the day a game invented by the group to use the remains of 3 or 4 tyres was created (allowing the children to bounce on them like a bouncy castle of some kind). This involved digging and then placing the tyres into the right positions so it was a safe and friendly game to the Peruvian children.



A few laughs were shared at the end of the day when a comedic duo of Kane and Ben P encountered some issues when attempting to paint the top of a slide. Alex and his photography work was used throughout the day to capture photos of the group working 'in the moment'. I'm sure all of you reading this will get to see them in the near future!


As the day ended Paddy's Pub was on the agenda again...

A terrific trip and experience so far to help others around us and have the satisfaction of making a difference to the children's and the school's future.

The time of our lives yet we've only reached the half way mark, with so much more to come!

Thanks for reading

Kane, Ben and Alex 😊