Blood & Blisters

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South America » Peru » Cusco » Machu Picchu
November 16th 2007
Published: December 16th 2007
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Seven whole weeks had passed since we first arrived in Cusco Peru, at the time we thought we could get straight into conquering the newly crowned 7th wonder of the world The Inca trail Machu Picchu Fat chance! To conquer anything takes time, planning and intense training. We were nobly told that our four day trek would be subject to a very long waiting list as only five hundred people inclusive of all porters were allowed on the site each day and the first available slot would be mid November, we were advised to spend time acclimatising in Cusco’s altitude of 3500 meters, they were not kidding, I experienced many respiratory moments during this time and I am not asthmatic.


Weather-Sunny all day

A miracle happened, I had a very good night’s sleep, believe me, this never happens. At 7am I was ready to go with one light shoulder bag, I choose to take a pair of unsightly Andy Pandy stripped trousers that all the backpackers were wearing, seriously what was I thinking? A long sleeve warm t-shirt for night wear, three pairs of clean pants, I was already wearing my entire day wear, I brought a special hand cleaning kit which was vital yet I totally forgot wet wipes for loo moments. We drove to Piskacuchu and met our group.

It wasn’t long before group photos were taken at the base of the Inca trail where most of us looked keen and egger, but for me this gleaming optimism was to dim minute by minute over the next four days. At the first checkpoint we received official Machu Picchu stamps in our passports that made me feel like I had already done something monumental. We started to walk along the Urubamba River, which was very pleasant. We got to know each other and laughed and I was even walking in the lead at some points, passing Miskay, then the ancient Inca city of Patallacta. Changing directions we swapped rivers, now walking along the Kusichaca River, so far so good.

As I approached our first camp site I admit I struggled, the many rest bites were physically necessary and scenically intoxicating as the landscape matured to beyond magical richness, if my breath had not already been taken away by the thin air and intense cardio vascular workout, I could honestly say the views were breath taking. Of course I was the last to arrive at camp and I received a round of applause from my considerate group.

The porters had already set up camp hours ago, dinner was served by candlelight at 7pm, there were no carrot garnished swans nor were there bowls of hot lemon water to dip our hands in or soapy water to soak our crippled feet, however this service was available for the more flash-packer traveler, costing an average of $1000.00 plus $10 for the porters tip. Nightfall drew in fast, I was hiding in my tent because I was wearing my shocking Andy Pandy pants, cocooned in a sleeping bag, facing south, I slept like a well-fed newborn baby that had just walked 11km.


Weather: Sunny, slightly cloudy at the top bits.

It was still night time and very dark when I nearly suffered heart failure due to being awoken by a full-grown snorting hog. I was saved from being a human butty by a slither of tent. The cock crowed in my other ear; it was time to get up. This was to be the day from hell, no stopping for 9 km and the direction was a clear pass upwards.

We walked through the Abra Warmihuañusca also known as dead woman’s pass, a fitting name. I was the last to get to all the rest points, I fell behind the next group that started walking an hour after us, then I dropped back to the next group after that who started the day after us. I had a ticklish cough that was driving me mad. It took one step at a time, slowly, slowly.

All the porters that passed raced up the mountain with lorry loads of equipment on their backs, chewing on coca leaves to keep them on a buzz. These men were polite as they said hola or not far and slowly, slowly, they said as they passed me doubled over in cramping leg pain, cursing in every language

We passed the cloud forest, which had many wild birds and alleged Andean bears, although at the time I had no clue that wild bears were lurking in the wood. This bit of the trek is where altitude sickness can kick in, I wasn’t sick as such but I couldn’t really catch my breath. Mrs Kentucky was the secret nurse of the group. She went a snowy shade of white as she noticed my lips go a frosty shade of blue when I crawled and puffed my way up to the summit of the second pass. But once at the top of the summit my colour returned back to a perfect pink, my determination never waned, topped up with pure gumption, it was a clear decent down steep steps to the next camp site in Pacaymayo valley, but this caused my thighs to burn.

Because I walked alone most of the time the one thing that had me wowing throughout was the unspoiled beauty and the complete silence, not a breath could be heard in any direction, apart from mine. It was the most amazing essence of bliss I could ever imagine possible, this distinct lack of sound pollution turned this difficult walk into a meditation, even though I was struggling physically the silence and clean air calmed me mentally. Most of the group reached the camp by 14.00 I got there at 15.43 and it was already getting dark. The toilets seemed miles away and I honestly couldn’t walk any more, a difficult position to be in. Luckily behind our tent were terraced grass flats.


Weather: very hot & mid November

Our tent was pitched on a mud slope, I kept sliding forwards all night, half asleep and half awake I really thought I was still climbing the mountains in the rain, but it had not rained at all during this trip, the sensation of rain was various other blister ridden trekkers from our beloved group having a sneaky pee downwind on our tent! The night became unbearably teeth clatteringly cold due to high altitudes and low pressures, my Andy Pandy's let me down, as they held no warmth at all. Day two was the highest climb, but day three was to be the longest day. We were to walk 13 km, even though it felt more like 100 km when we finished as the first part was up and up and up while enduring complete body stiffness in all joints and muscles that I didn’t even know I had.

We came across many sacred sites but one of them was where locals give prayers and thanks to Apu who is the mountain God in the local Quechua language they also give thanks and prayers to Panchamama who we all know is the sacred Mother Earth. Our mission for today was to find a perfect stone to balance on other stones in offering to the gods, then, hold three perfect coca leaves that represented the condor, the snake and the puma.

The leaves were held between our finger tips then offered to the four directions of Snow capped Mountain of Veronica In the East, Pumasillu in the West, Machupicchu In the North and Salkantay in the South. The local folk come from miles around to do this ritual especially at every change of season and when it is time to harvest the earth. I successfully huffed past the second pass called Abra de Runkurakay, which was 3970 meters, again the ruins and the view was astonishing. I continued to puff through the third pass Abra de Phuyupatamarca , 3700 meters, this newly crowned 7th wonder held many mini wonders within of ruins full of history and beauty that at times had me openly weeping with joy, from Grantham town center to this, I can’t quite believe I live on the same planet.

The simple thought that this was the final hard day of walking was like hearing pure silence in my ears. My whole body ached from the day before, my cough deepened my need to stop walking was a desperate inner plea, my thighs, calves and feet were cramping, sore and blistered. The other thing that kept us all going was the promise of a hot shower, which was waiting at third camp. This was very true there were hot showers, a tuck shop that sold chocolate and soap, a licensed bar and one power point to charge phones and cameras for twenty minutes at a time, but best of all, it was a mere six km of flat walking left the next day to Machu Picchu. I undressed in the shower and could not believe the size of my blisters, I didn’t pop them as I needed them to hover craft me into the next day, but when I returned back to Cusco they had morphed in to whacking great full on haematoma that had to be lanced with a sterile I LOVE CUSCO safety pin.

After a great dinner we happily handed over our twenty Peruvian notes to go towards the porters tips. God, those men were all very hard workers. I had noticed that our ten porters didn’t have a personal bag with them as they were too busy carrying all of our luxury supplies, nor did they have a sleeping bag to sleep in, so last night when it was below freezing they only had each other to keep warm while lying on a hard frozen mud floor, all this for a fiver a day, we had a little ceremony to say thank you from all of us to all of them for running ahead of us and setting up lunch, afternoon teas, dinner, breakfast and tents every day.

Weather-4am atmospherically misty/sunny all day

After my well earn’t hot shower I could not face wearing three day old soiled walking trousers, sadly my only other option was my nocturnal Andy Pandy’s not normally to be seen let alone worn in day light, accompanied by a clean pair of under pants that I had saved on purpose. The race was on to get the perfect photo of sunrise over the ancient city of Machu Picchu that was founded by Hiram Bingham in 1911.
Once upon a time.....Once upon a time.....Once upon a time.....

There was a group of keen trekkers about to embark on a massive journey.
When I arrived at the site (last again) it was incredible, I just starred for several minutes in wonder at the new 7th wonder. The quick fix vacation crowd came in hoards by coach and train that same morning, which included many newlyweds and nearly deads, these people were clean and rested and very demanding at 9am in the Inca trail official café and gift shop. Impatiently waving their $100 bills at sweet Inca people who sold warm chocolate muffins and fresh coffee for just $5! I appreciated this luxury more than ever before in my whole life and felt I had achieved the almighty.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 29


The viewThe view
The view

of serious grey roots.
Day 3Day 3
Day 3

somewhere sacred and old

17th December 2007

Very nice, Claire!! And I really miss MP... See you! Rafael
17th December 2007

awful tourists
After your trek I hope you gave those Amex people what for! I would go one better and linger over the ruins in a helicopter, polluting your peace and the air and seeing the ruins my way, in fact shouldn't we be seeing all this from space and leave the earth entirely. Bit deep that one. Love your blisters....
2nd January 2008

it's all about the image (of the swiss): alps for breakfast
Hi Claire Reading your blog, was like walking the 42keys another time. Of course as Swiss we felt obliged to lead the group, even though we have never been climbing before. Sometimes people forget that Switzerland is, beside being neutral, a sailing (thanks Alinghi) and tennis (thansk Roger) nation. The alps are just a tourist attraction to us ;-) Hope to read soon from your next journeys to the East.

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