Published: February 1st 2013February 1st 2013
Day 3 of Team Norway's Machu Picchu trek dawned with a cloudless sky and glorious sunshine leading to an earlier than normal thermal breeze gusting through the Rio Urubamba valley. Normally this would not have been a problem but today was different, today was zip lining day. When the Norwegians asked me if I was interested in zip lining on the Inca Jungle trek “sure” I replied, “I do it all the time in London”. To be honest I had in mind a long, leisurely, controlled descent over jungle trees and vegetation perhaps 30 meters above the ground. I was wrong, as this was set to be a truly terrifying experience. After putting on our harnesses and getting a bus to the top of the mountain it suddenly dawned that whilst trees were involved they were barely visible because we were so far above them. Conducting some post activity research I can now confirm that Santa Teresa is the highest zipline in South America....note to self, do more research in future. To further compound things the exceptionally strong thermals I mentioned earlier meant that on some of the ziplines where headwinds were involved it wasn't possible to make the opposing platform,
meaning you had to pull yourself along the last 30 meters of line or so whilst dangling a few hundred meters above the ground. After 5 zip lines the final part of the course was a tree top via ferata (iron bridge) where upon reaching the end of the course our reward was fresh mangoes from the tree. Overall great fun but next time I think I'll just walk to Waitrose.
The next part of the trek involved a short bus transfer along a typical Peruvian road (mud, sheer drops, rock falls / landslides and crazy drivers). For some reason my goldfish memory kicks in for these journeys and I always grab a window seat and re-subject myself to the same harrowing view (I'll post a video).
Along the next part of the route we were able to see both the benevolent and unfortunately the cruel sides of the Rio Urubamba once again. The Peruvians are harnessing the ferocious power of the river via a hydroelectric plant and dam – for which the excess water outlet is an amazing man made tunnel which fires huge amounts of water out of the side of the
mountain back into the river. After stopping for lunch however the group witnessed a distressing scene. At first we couldn't make out why the Woman that had rushed into the restaurant was distraught and asking to use a phone. It later transpired that during lunch whilst playing on the bridge her child had slipped and fallen in. Even the strongest swimmer would not stand a chance at this time of the year. Thus with the final hike of the day to Machu Picchu Pueblo never more than a few meters from the same river the tone irrevocably changed, the incident dominating people's thoughts.
Machu Picchu Pueblo sits in the valley below Machu Picchu and provides a lively and well equipped resting point for travellers wishing to make the traditional dawn hike to the summit. Over several Pisco Sours we debated the merits of getting up at 4.00am for the hike up vs staying in bed and eventually decided that 4 hours sleep wasn't going to kill us. Physically this was probably the toughest part of the hike with an hour of walking up steps at altitude in order to reach the entrance. Arriving at the entrance typically for that time Machu Picchu was shrouded in mist. However as the day heated up and the mist disappeared the full scale of the settlement becomes apparent. To say the settlement is impressive is an understatement. The buildings and terraces are precisely located, the stonework amazingly detailed, the facilities for the era impressive (irrigation channels carved into the rock, fortifications etc...). Unbelievable given the construction techniques they used at the time.
We spent most of the day in Machu Picchu exploring the various barracks, temples, quarries and other features. Probably the highlight however was the hike up Waynu Picchu (a higher mountain beside which has great views of the settlement below). This was great for taking photos of Machu Picchu below and also for losing the track and getting stuck on a sheer cliff face so that the Norwegians could take photos (presumably for insurance purposes or something). After several hours exploring we returned to the Pueblo to get the Peru Rail train home and learn a new card game called Casino whilst falling asleep.
Now I'm in Arequipa having taken the night bus from Cusco. Whilst this was a fairly luxurious experience with reclining chairs, catering and Wifi I unfortunately wasnt able to make the most of it and started feeling sick for the second half. Unfortunately this has somewhat limited my exploring today of Arequipa to bed, but I'm hoping I'll be able to do some more tomorrow!