The "Alternative" Inca Trail

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July 9th 2007
Published: July 9th 2007
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Choquequiroa to Machu Picchu

8 days trekking, taking in the lost city of Choquequiroa, meaning : Cradle of Gold in the local language of Quecha, through to the fabled, New 7th Wonder of the World, Machu Picchu.

Due to the unbelievable popularity of the 4 day Inca trail route leading into Machu Picchu, I decided to look for an alternative trek which would still give us plenty of information about this amazing Inca civilisation.
After a quick spate of researching on the beloved Google, I came across “All Trek Cusco” who was offering an 8 day trip, up and down canyons, passing through this relatively unheard of area consisting of the lost City of Choquequiroa.
Long ago abandoned and completely taken over by the lush vegetation of the surrounding cloud forest, this amazing site has only recently been cleared and restored to part of its former glory. I read an article from a travel writer who described visiting Choquequiroa now as like visiting Machu Picchu in 1915.
The real draw with visiting this lost city is the fact that the only access available to it is an arduous 2 day trek, over high passes and down to the bottom of a valley before an agonising 1500m zig zag climb back up to the City itself. Due to this, you can nearly guarantee yourself, on a good day, with sharing the wonders of this place with about another 10 lucky people or so. None of the thousands of people who flock to Machu Picchu each day on the bus, just you, a few others and the huge Condors circling above your head.

The Team

Supplied in with the trek we had, Percy, our guide, Wilfredo our chef, Marcus the general assistant (general mikeytaker and for some reason always just laughing in my face when ever he saw me) and Delfin, who supplied and led the horses carrying all the equipment and food for the trek.
We left the town of Cachora and began following an old miner’s road, up to the Kapuloq Pass (2800m) before heading down into the valley towards the river and our first Camp site, Chikiska. It was very obvious from the first day that we were in very good hands here and the equipment and food supplied was quite amazing. Each meal break a picnic table and chairs would be whopped out, with a 3 course meal then prepared generally consisting of a soup starter, then some local main meal i.e. rice, potatoes, alpaca meat etc followed with some type of hot desert.
The next day consisted of a quick walk to the Valley River, the Apurimac which thundered below the wire bridge and then we had an arduous day of complete zig zag tracks snaking their way up the side of the valley in blistering heat. We stopped for lunch at an amazing small village overlooking the whole canyon, had a bite to eat and a quick siesta before the final walk into the Choquequiroa campsite.
The city itself is actually believed to be much bigger than Machu Picchu and so the campsite which you sleep in was once part of huge terraces which supplied the city with its food, balanced precariously on a ledge at 3033m.

The Lost City of Choquequiroa

The next day we took the short hike into the city itself, watching as the sun rose above the surrounding snow peaks and lit the site up with its rays instantly warming everyone waiting. The site was amazing, with only a handful of people here with us we had the run of the place, hearing about the history from Percy and then exploring for ourselves.
After a few hours which included having a go at throwing stones out of a slingshot into the valley below us from the religious temple, we collected our gear and headed off for what was to be a big days walking.
We climbed first to a viewpoint overlooking the city before heading over the shoulder of the mountain and began heading down towards the White River where we were to have lunch. We were climbing down over 1300m to the valley floor where our cook had set up lunch, and it seemed as if every step we took the temperature increased by a degree. It was like walking into an oven and as soon as we reached the river I took the opportunity to strip down to my pants and jump head first into the glacial run off.
Quite a refreshing little number yet as soon as I came out the water I was absolutely smothered in those pesky bloody sandflys which meant I actually managed to get dressed in about 5 seconds flat in every piece of clothing available including hat and bandanna to keep the fly’s away. It was around about this point which I started to feel ill and having a bad headache I was not looking forward to the next climb up to our 3rd campsite, Maizal at 2867m.
This was another afternoons climb in the baking sun of over 1000m so it was great when we reached camp which was a natural ledge jutting out from the side of the mountain, once again offering amazing views of the way in which we have been walking.
The next morning I again woke feeling quite ill with my guts doing summersaults yet it was on with the boots and carry on up the mountain. Today we were following old Inca roads and paths up to Victoria Quarry pass at 4145m, passing disused silver mines and ancient caves where the Incas were believed to dig for all the precious metals which they made their statues and jewellery from. After the pass it was a lovely downhill plod into the village of Yanama at 3500m and our camp for night 4.
I was still feeling rough and the general outcome of this was that I couldn’t actually eat anything at all. All this amazing food was being placed in front of me and all I could do was try a mouthful, nearly gag then pass it over to Kev or Dave who would gobble it all up waiting for more!!
Before we left on the morning of day 5 we visited the local school in the village. It was amazing to watch all these kids bounding down towards school, with each one carrying 1 stick in their hands. Now this stick wasn’t for help with walking but every day they have to bring a twig in so the teacher can start a fire and cook them all a lunch of rice and potatoes. The kids were great though, all saying hello and wanting their piccies taken so they can see their faces on the digital readouts afterwards.
For day 5 it was a 3 hour walk from the village to the high pass on the trek where we stopped for lunch, which I still couldn’t eat, before heading up and over Yanama Pass at 4630m. It was another long slog to our next camp, Totora village at 3375m where Percy our guide had a surprise organised for us.

A Traditional


We had been talking about the national dish of Peru for some time on the trek and Percy had arranged for us to at last try it. Now, for those that don’t know, the traditional dish is actually Guinea Pig and not only did we try it, but we got to choose 2 of the fattest little tykes running around the kitchen floor. Then we watched as the host picked each one up, wrung its neck to kill it, dip it in boiling water then peel off the fur. Then gut them, clean out the head by giving them mini Chelsea smiles and clean out the bum by just cutting out the poor fellas bum hole and scraping back the muck!!
Luckily I was feeling a little better at this point and must admit that I really enjoyed the meat which was roasted over an open fire for us. The skin was rather fatty but the meat, which I must admit there isn’t a lot, was really tasty. Percy then had another nice surprise for us, as he proceeded to smash the brains in of the heads which were on the plate so we could complete a local custom.
Inside of the ear canal, if you look hard enough and smash the skull to pieces, you can find 2 small little bones which look something like mini foxes (apparently according to the locals.) Well you dig these out and place them in a glass filled with 96 percent proof sugar cane drinking alcohol, then knock it all back in one and make a wish!

All Hell Breaks Loose!

I awoke the next morn, not blaming the Guinea Pig at all but my general illness which I had suffered from over the past couple of days, with a severe case of the raging trots!!! All the bad stuff which had been holding my eating back came out in a flood of what can only be described as a spilt bottle of mustard (cheers to kev for the description) and luckily a whole weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I could eat again!! Woohoo!
We had a nice walk throughout the day along the valley floor, finally meeting up with other groups from different treks all heading towards the village of Playa which was to be our Camp 6. It was strange finally meeting other groups after being in the mountains all on our own with just the locals and horses for company and it never took long to wish we were back with them!!
Day 7 we set off early to ensure we were ahead of all the screaming idiots we had left behind and we set off for El Mirador which has an amazing yet unusual view of Machu Picchu from across the Valley. After stopping for lunch we joined the railroad tracks for our final descent into the town of Agua Calientes and the base for all those visiting the ancient site. After dumping our bags at the hostel it was time to rest our aching bones after 7 days solid strutting and we headed straight up into the hot springs resort for 2 hours of making ourselves look like prunes and washing off the ingrained dirt from our bodies.

Day 8 Machu Picchu

We cheated a bit and took the bus up to the entrance and headed into the grounds. It seemed as if thousands were already here waiting yet we found ourselves a good vantage point and sat and waited for the famous sunrise over the city. We were exceedingly lucky with the weather because first thing in the morn the site is usually covered in cloud yet it was an exceptionally clear morning and you could watch as the first rays bounced off the surrounding mountains. We took the tour around the city with Percy explaining all the areas and then decided to run up the mountain opposite, Wayna Picchu for the views looking over the city.
I can’t really explain the feeling you have after seeing so many pictures everywhere of the city yet no matter how many times you see it in books, it is just amazing to witness it up close. The craftsmanship and expertise of the Inca workers is unparralled in the world today and rightly so, the day after we visited Machu Picchu, UNESCO declared it one of the new 7 wonders of the world. That certainly led to some good partying when back in Cusco yet that’s all for another story some other time.

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