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Published: July 10th 2013
Blog 5th - 15th June
'Misty Machu Picchu'
There has only ever been one fixed date in our whole travel itinerary - to make it to Cusco for the 7th June and the start of our Inca Trail with G Adventures. Not wanting to take any chances, we gave ourselves a couple of days breathing space to make the journey up into Peru from Bolivia. Just as well. Sure enough Bolivia waved farewell to us with more road blocks and missed bus connections as parting gifts. Nevertheless we still loved the country.
Arriving at 5am into Cusco we made enough noise in hotel reception to wake up our "new long lost" friends who kindly showed us into their room for the night (they had an extra bed). A lot has happened in the last five months since we briefly met Matt and Jen Page in the Indian desert, where they had boldly (if not foolishly) signed up to join us on the same Inca Trail. We all had so many stories to share from our various adventures - they had even managed to squeeze in a wedding along the way. Needless to say we had a cracking catch
up and were delighted to have some close buddies for the trek.
Cusco is a stunning city and probably our favourite in South America. Once the capital of the Inca Empire, many of the original temples and palaces were all but destroyed by the Spanish in their search for gold, only to be then used as foundations for beautiful colonial cathedrals and buildings. Today the local people hold dear to both Andean and Catholic traditions. We were very lucky that our arrival in June coincided with a month of religious festivals. Every day the streets and main plaza would come alive with colourful marching bands and dancing processions. It was amazing to see and experience, and very handy not to have to go out in search of local culture. That said, we did visit an old colonial convent, however its subsequently been converted into a five star hotel and our cultural exploration took us only as far as the posh loo!
The Inca Trail follows the original path taken by kings to reach the great city of Machu Picchu, aka the "Lost City of the Incas". It is perhaps one of the most familiar icons of Inca civilisation.
The Trail involves four full days of hiking up to altitudes over 4200 metres. With extreme weather systems, the challenge is demanding both mentally and physically. On that note, we saw to it that our "studious" preparation over the last few days should mirror that of the last few months. We cut out all the red wine and steak at once, only to substitute in Alpaca and Chicha Corn drink delicacies, a trip to the chocolate factory for fondue (as you do) and a rather crazy afternoon at the Pisco Museum! Following a stroll to the local market to buy a knock off "North Face" jacket for Jo we were all set.
Our G Adventures group was fantastic and we were lucky to have such a fun and diverse bunch of folk to share tents with. But as the four of us were the only travellers in the pack, our nine co-Trekkers were a little taken aback by our animal instincts at meal times, with a few turned heads at the food frenzy for day one's 'all you can eat' buffet (Jo and I hadn't seen vegetables since New Zealand!).
Led by our guide and guru, the cracking
Pedro Paz, we were eased into day one with a bus trip out into the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo. We visited a G Adventures supported village, where local women make an array of alpaca and vicuña (wild Llama) socks and scarves. After our earlier binge in La Paz, Bolivia, thankfully I was able to pull Jo away empty handed. We explored a stunning Incan site on our first evening. As with our journey to Lake Titicaca, we learnt about the importance of the sun and three sided significance of the Andean cross. Moreover, we were simply blown away by these massive stone settlements which have been perfectly erected so high up on remote hillsides.
Our next day marked the beginning of our hike up to Machu Picchu. Arriving at Kilometre 82 and the start of the Inca Trail, we met up with our army of porters and cooks. As we tourists compared walking poles and hiking boots, we were all immediately put to shame at the site of these super fit men with colossal rucksacks, skipping off with all our provisions for the week in sandals and flip flops. Picking up a passport stamp at the entrance (our coolest
yet) we waived goodbye to showers for the next four days and began our hike.
The trek itself was amazing. For the first three days we were blessed in the most part with good weather and amazing views. After our initiation (or blooding) from Pedro with cactus bug dyes, we began our ascent up from the Sacred Valley into the cloud forest. The terrain was steep in places but we took it slow and steady. We were lucky to have spent most of our time in Bolivia at altitude which made up for our lack of peek fitness. The porters worked tirelessly and each night we would arrive to applause at our immaculately prepared campsites. The cooks did a fine job preparing breakfasts at 5am, two course lunches, afternoon teas and suppers - needless to say we didn't go hungry.
Our second day of trekking was undoubtably the toughest and involved the highest climb over 4200 metres and 'Dead Woman's Pass'. At the summit we participated in a thanksgiving ceremony to Pachamama (mother earth) and each received a large lashing of rum in the process - Jo's face was a picture. In addition to the amazing views and
countless Incan ruins along the way, the hours of walking were made easy with group riddles and games of twenty questions. Jo and Jen also competed for teachers pet status with endless question after question for Pedro.
The weather then turned sour towards the end of our third trek day. As the rain poured down we all donned our multi coloured ponchos, aka elephant condoms. Thankfully this initial storm was short lived and the early evening mist cleared at our final campsite to reveal double rainbows over our penultimate Incan site. With a couple of llamas thrown in and waterfalls in the distance this wasn't too shabby at all. We all went to bed that night praying for good weather for our final day and Machu Picchu climax. Sadly our worst nightmares were about to come true. The heavens unleashed throughout the night and we got up in the dark at 3.45am to rain, yippee! Although things did dry up the rain had filled the whole mountain valley with mist.
At 6am we arrived at the 'Sun Gate' in the hope of watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu. Our efforts to blow away the fog were futile
and we were left imagining what might have been. This time our photos won't compete with the postcards. Nevertheless we continued on down into this huge ancient city, perched on top of a mountain with cliff valleys surrounding. Whilst we gave the sun a chance to battle the mist, we took advantage of our first western loo stop in four days and caught up with the hordes of sweet smelling day tourists arriving from Cusco. Trying our luck with the clouds we then ventured out to explore the city. The name Machu Picchu in Quechua means "Old Mountain". Its pronounced "Pik-chu", not to be mistaken for Pi-chu which literally means Willy (and you don't need to trek for four days to find an old willy, Clapham Common is perfect for that!).
Built in the mid 15th century, this ancient wonder was then abandoned 100 years later when the Spanish invaded. It was left unknown to the world until it was rediscovered in 1911 by American historian Hiram Bingham. The architecture is amazing with the main temples looking like perfect jigsaw pieces of huge carved boulders. Although perhaps not as intricate in design to somewhere like Angkor Wat in Cambodia,
Jo and I were perhaps more in awe of the this city due to its remote mountain location. The rain and mist did eventually clear for a few minutes before we left, and we all made a last dash to the top for a photo. Amazing to see it all at last and finish on a high. Photo taken and box ticked!
The train and bus journeys back to Cusco city were sleepy ones, but after a glorious shower at the hotel we all perked up and we were ready for a celebratory night out. As well as everyone finishing the trek in one piece we were also celebrating a member of the team's 40th birthday. This called for guinea pig (tastier than dog but not by much) and pisco! We ended up having a brilliant night out on the tiles, with everyone on the dance floor.
Sadly, towards the end of that same evening we had our first theft in five months. Jo's pocket was picked in the club and our camera was stolen. Thankfully we didn't lose too many photos but it was a huge shock nevertheless and a real frustration. To top it off the
Cusco police didn't believe us and we spent much of our final two days in town arguing for a police statement. We got there in the end but literally had to pay for it!
So after another amazing adventure it was time once again to move on to the next. We said our farewells to Pedro and the G-team and enjoyed a final supper together with Matt and Jen. To quote my mum, "We can see why you get on so well with your new friends – clearly just as crackers as you two – or was it the altitude?!"
We're now off to the Galapagos Islands to live in a documentary. Watch this space!
* Oooh, and check out our "Following the Incas" video to be posted up soon.
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