Cusco, there is some culture there...

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June 9th 2006
Published: July 28th 2006
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Cusco may be known for its inca ruins and culture but it is more commonly used for its crazy nightlife. Shaun and I arrive at 10pm and decide on a couple of drinks before bed as we are shattered. But we find the street of bars/clubs and get sucked in by the free drink deals. Cuba Libre is now my favorite drink even though I hate rum and coke! And I had forgotten my purse so Shaun had to buy me (and all other local ladies drinks) for the rest of the night. We end up partying until 5 and then decide it´s pointless sleeping at England play at 8 so stay up till then. Have breakie while watching the game and finally sleep at 10.30am shattered.
New routine in cusco, sleep all day, party all night so much else to report. Found Paul and Simon after 2 nights and then Andrew and Darren arrived the next night so the partying continued. Paul missed one of his flights as went to bed half an hour before he had to leave and Shaun and Darren went on a 4 day bike/hike to Machu Picchu at 7.30am after getting home at 7... Finally stopped on Wednesday as had the inca trail booked for Thursday 6am!

Andrew also has a train tour booked so we are both up early and go to wake Paul so he didn´t miss another flight, he´s not even home yet! Get my bus successfully but after a while I question where my Aussie mate Adam is (I met him in La Paz and by coincidence he was on the same inca trail as me), turns out we have picked up a stranger wanting the airport and don´t have Adam at all. Back we go!! An hours drive and we stop at a small town for breakfast, I have two as know I will need the energy. Also stock up on coca leaves and ash. Then 45mins more and we are at the beginning... very scary suddenly.
We get given our sleeping mats and morning snack and get geared up. Sun tan lotion, insect repellent, walking sticks, all ready! Then one by one we check in with our passports, the restrictions are very strict thesedays as only 500 people are allowed per day including guides and porters so our ticket has to match our passport number. Now I am very scared, I have no fitness and haven´t exactly been in training the last week... Am told day one is the training day but it is tough!! Small climb up a hill to warm up then gradual ascent. Suddenly see huge hill ahead of us and panic but it goes very smoothly, gradual climb suddenly becomes crazy steep so luckily we stop for a rest at the top. There are people there selling drinks and snacks, the thought of carrying those up there every day makes me feel ill. We continue up another steady incline and stop to discuss some ruins in the valley. Then we push ahead for anothe hour downhill and gradual climb for 2 hours. Finally an hour after passing all other lunch tents we stop for our own by the river. The service is amazing, a tent is pitched with table and chairs for us all and neatly arranged cutlery. Water bowls for washing before lunch then 4 courses!!! Avocado with salsa, neatly splayed across the plate, noodle soup with chicken, fish is barbq sauce with rice and veg and mint tea. We are all amazed and shattered so have a quick power nap on the grass before continuing. There are now 2 more hours before we reach camp so we leave the porters and continue to trek, we stop after 20mins at another crazy shop!! Then again at another passport checkpoint. The group now disperses for everyone to go at their own speed, I expect to be last as we have some serious trekkers with us, but end up being second the whole way!! Very tough end to the day but so relieved to see our tents. Each pair has a 4 man tent and Adam and I have a 2 man tent each as we booked separately. We all collapse after some leg stretching and eagerly spot the woman selling beer, a well deserved beer after all. At 5.30 we have popcorn and tea and then meet the porters. We have 15 porters for our group of 12, one head chef, assistant chef, international waiter, head porter and 11 normal porters, then 2 guides Ali and Herbert, Herbert is assistant as practicing his English. The porters range from 22 to 54 years old and some have wives and families other have alpacas... It is hard to believe the older ones carrying the 25kilos every
Day 1Day 1Day 1

Look at our group with enthusiasm staying as a pack, we were told it was the warm up day.
day the same route as us at twice the speed!! There is also a race every year of the whole inca trail, the fastest time last year was 3 and a half hours and was won by our porter who is 45yrs old!! Crazy that it will take me 3 and a half days!! After the intros we have an hour rest until dinner, another 4 courses, ending in chocolate pudding!!! More excellent food. We chat for about 20mins then off to bed, we are all dead!! 8.30 seems a great bedtime when there are no lights and you have been treking since 10am.

Day 2 awoken at 6am with cup on tea in the tent and bowl of hot water to wash with. Breakfast of granola, fruit salad, yoghurt and pancake with chicken and tomato filling!! Stuffed! Told the morning will be tough as we have 900m ascent and 500m descent before lunch. We trek ahead, me, Adam and the kiwi girl at the front again, stop part way up to derobe and start coca leaves. We take 5 leaves put a small amount of ash in the centre and roll them up. Then place between our teeth and place pressure making sure to drink all the liquid produced. Although these leaves make cocaine they are legal here as they have so many health benefits, they certainly help with the altitude as we are all babbling nonsense in no time and have lost the feeling in our mouths. Then stop after 45mins for a rest, nightmare climb. I tuck into my morning snack already as told another 2 hours to the top. Us three march on first again and start the toughest part of the trail, mainly track but the odd step here and there, they hurt the most. Also having to move into the bank to let the porters run past, very embarassing really! Finally reach the top after an hour and 20mins!!! Feel great. But it gets cold fast so after 30mins rest waiting for others we start the descent. Steps all the way down, but all random heights and a nightmare on the knees. So glad I bought 2 sticks. Adam and I arrive at camp first and have an hour nap before the last group member arrives. Then another hearty lunch of 4 courses but only 20mins rest before we are off again. We can see the trail ahead up a huge hill but told it is a hill with 3 summits, 2 fake ones!! We climb up tons of stairs and look at the ruins, we also see the dead womans hill opposite and a condor up above. Then more steps up to the 2 fake summits with great views of the clouds in the valley, lakes and animals then finally reach the real summit. 15min break then off down the other side 2 hours to camp. On the way down the creepy steps we can only see mist and hear noises, we expect the rolling ball from Indiana Jones at any moment. We finally get to more ruins, 96 steps up and decide we had better go see while we are there!! Quite a good site, shame about the mist. Then only 45 mins more to camp, but just as we arrive it starts to rain so we dump our stuff and clamber in the food tent waiting for the others and secretly rearranging the biscuits so it doesn´t look like we´ve eaten any out of the arrangement. Then nap in the tent for an hour before dinner, another great dinner with mulled wine, but our camp getter must have been slow today as we are furthest from the squatter toilet block. My torch is not built for these conditions and I can´t remember how I got into the camp so a porter has to escort me to the toilet block and back in the rain!! Then we have to tell them to come and sit with us in the food tent as they are standing in the rain!! Finally we go to bed at 9.30 as 9 of the porters have to sleep in there!

Day 3 As we worked so hard yesterday day 3 is a half day!! Luckily the rain has stopped but the sky is very grey so we are nervous. We climb for an hour and a half to the third pass and see no sights due to the mist. After a snack we continue down to what Herbert calls the Gringo Destroyer. Hundreds of Inca Steps for 2 hours... We start off but it is slippery and some steps are tiny so struggle for much of it, also our knees are killing. The porters run by as usual with their 25kilos and wearing sandals! Adam and I trek on, I slip at one point and nearly fall off the edge, quite funny afterwards... Finally we reach an inca ruin and stop for an explanation, all the ruins are from different times and for different purposes so each needs an explanation. It is still amazing that the trail exists at all, as some we can barely walk on so we have no idea how they managed to build it! It was meant to be the quickest way to relay messages though. We are told there are 2 routs to camp, 30mins direct or 1 and a half hours via some agricultural terraces. Once we get to the turning point and the sun has come out we realise the terraces are not further up so trek the long way. Another amazing ruin, huge structures built to improve irrigation and in such a way that the heat rose through the terraces providing heat to the higher crops after the sun had gone. Finally back at camp at 12. So relax before lunch. There are showers here, 5 soles for a hot shower but 20 person queue or free cold shower. Adam and I thought stuff it, one more day and we have hot springs so had neither and opted for the bar instead! After lunch the gang go to see one more agricultural terrace, we are dead as we had set camp as our limit for the day so we sit on the terrace with beer instead. At tea time we take back a beer for every porter and guide, the porters think it´s christmas, their eyes light up and they hug the beers. We don´t think anyone has done that for them before!!! They have carried our tents, food, cooking equipment and all other essentials for 3 days, the least we could do!! Last dinner so it´s even more food that usual, pasta and veg and rice and salad and chicken cordon bleu!!! We then sort out the tips, they have to be individual and hierarchical with the 11 bottom porters each getting the same lowest amount. Then they all come in for the ceremony and sing and dance for us. A few of us go back to the bar but in bed by 9 as we have a 3.45 wake up call for the final day.

Final day, get up in zombie land and put all layers on. Great breakfast of fat pancakes with dulce de leche to give us the energy we need. Then down to the entrance gate at 4.30. It doesn´t open until 5.30am so we sit and chat nonsense in the dark. Luckily though we are the first group there though so are guaranteed in first. 3 groups form a queue behind us so at 5.30, we get checked in then almost jog the whole way, even the girl with the bad knee. We are so scared another group will beat us we only stop we necessary for 1minute derobing! My torch helps in no way so I fall all over the place, luckily not off the edge as we are very high up. We reach some nightmare steep stairs that need poles to climb and after another hours run we reach the sun gate. Amazing, we are the only ones there so have a perfect view of Machu Picchu!! The other groups slowy pile in behind us so we continue on down to the infamous machu picchu rock where everyone has their photo. The public who didn´t trek are there before us but not many. Some have the cheek to complain the climb to the sun gate is too tough!!! They should try the 3 and a half days of it!! We check in our bags, get our passports stamped and then have a couple of hours guided around the ruins. There are still many ruins being uncovered and restored from the undergrowth. We see the original houses, sun temple, the room which matches the soltices etc etc. Finally at 10.30 we have free time to explore, suddenly the adrenalin wears off and we realise we have been up and not eaten for hours. After another hour looking about, the dream of climbing the mountain fades and we get a bus down the hill to Agua Calientes. We go to the Ali meet up point and have lunch and ask for a TV, they say don´t worry we will have one off the train in 15mins, I assume my Spanish is terrible as that sounds outrageous. But no, it is true they send one of our porters out with a blanket and he comes back with a 30" TV on his back!! (Most of the porters leave us after breakfast and get the train back to where we started and then start the inca trail again, so they manage 2 inca trails every 7 days!!) So we get it on just in time for the Aussie/Brazil match. Bad news for Adam as they lost but good game anyway. After this we decide the hot springs are calling so the boy from the restaurant takes us there. Odd springs as the floor of each pool is gravel. Great hot, healing water though. And the bar man brings us daiquiri´s as we laze about. We rush back down just in time for the train, backpacker standard... Basically the smelliest people ever, most have not washed for 4 days. I struggle to sleep as the bloke next to me smells like a tramp. And the journey is 4 hours!! It´s quicker by bus as Cusco is mush higher than Agua Calientes to the train has to zig zag backwards and forwards up the hill. The jolting and backwards movement scares most of the train as they didn´t expect this, I luckily had heard about it. Finally back in town at 9pm, straight in the shower and met the boys in the English pub. Ate tons then straight back to party mode so out till 7am.

Same same for the whole week, except one night off when me and Shaun go with a Shamen into the mountain to try the San Pedro Cactus. We get picked up at 7pm after a supposed day of no food, but I had 2 breakfasts and Shaun ate lunch! And we meet another Brit, Howie who is joining us. Then off to the mountain where we start a fire around loads of volcanic rocks. We sit freezing for a while then have the san pedro gunk, green powder mixed with water, like drinking sand, yuk!! Sit for a bit more, then I got inside for a few hours as freezing. When I come back out feeling a bit odd but nothing too strange, the fire is blazing though so much warmer. After another hour or so and a san pedro top up the rocks are hot enough, burning red. So we strip down to shorts and vest and enter the sweat lodge, a small hut with covered roof. The helper passes burning rocks into the hut and they go into the pit with herbs and chanting from the shamen. After about 15 rocks we close the door and the Shamen throws water on and chants. Suddenly I am off my face and can´t feel my skin or body. I even start biting myself to prove I still exist. We heat wears off so we get another 15 rocks, every time the light comes in, me and Shaun are in fits of laugher and can´t explain why. Then my right legs starts twitching uncontrollably and lasts for 15 hours!! We repeat the rock ceremony 4 times until it is boiling inside, we are still mental. So finally leave and dry off by the fire. After an hour of talking nonsense, jiggling leg and trying not to fall in the fire, we get dressed and go to bed. There is a ceremony room with matresses and blankets, not much sleep though as our brains are going crazy and my leg is still going. Stopped biting myself though... At 6am we get up as it is the winter solstice so we ride in the truck to one of the town ruins to see the puma in the sunrise light. It looked more like itchy or scratchy to me (whichever is the cat) so not too impressed. Finally back in town at 8am so after a huge breakfast we try and sleep. By 5pm it has sort of worn off, but after one drink we are away again! Hilarious night.
Finally all the boys left cusco so started travelling with 5 new ones, Steve who I had already met in Montevideo. Saturday was the Inti Raymi festival, the inca sun festival. Nothing to do with the catholic parades that had been every day for 2 weeks. Got up early to meet mates at the english pub, had breakie watching the incas prance about. Then trudged up the hill to sacsywaman to watch the same again from the ruins. Absolutely packed so not the most comfortable perch. The only difference was the fake llama slaughter and the pretended killing of the man dressed as a deer. Finally back down at 5pm for a nap before dinner and last night out in Cusco. Finally leave for Arequipa. Touch and go though as I forgot to pick my ticket up from the office (they go get a real ticket after you book it) and it was shut as sunday. Got to station not even knowing which company I was travelling with, then the woman
View from the pathView from the pathView from the path

Agricultural Terraces with Machu Picchu Mountain behind
was there waiting with my ticket. She checked me in showed me the way to the platform then left. Great service!!!

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