Cuzco and the Inca Trail (04.12.12 - 14.12.12)

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December 12th 2012
Published: December 14th 2012
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The bus to Cuzco was no big drama. We had the comfy seats downstairs, (For a whopping £1 each more!) with only 2 French people with us on that floor. The only problem was that yet again there was a Spanish dubbed film playing really loud to when nobody could speak spanish. (Even without knowing what they were saying we are pretty sure Transporter is a terrible film!) On arriving in Cuzco we checked into our hotel for the first night. We are meeting up with our group for the inca trail tour tomorrow, so have to move hotels in the morning. They advise arriving a few days early in Cuzco to acclimatise, but as we have already been at higher altitude than Cuzco for 10 days, we just went for the day before.

After checking in, we went for an explore. Cuzco is much bigger than we imagined. There is a touristic centre square, housing a cathedral and lots of old colonial buildings, with touristy restaurants, agencies and shops. Off this main square are many smaller commercial streets, full of touts offering everything from tours to massages to weed (Another place where people try and set up tourists and tip of the police!). We had a walk around all the small streets and a quick coffee before heading back to the hotel. We had quite a chill out, as James was not feeling too well, before heading out for a quick early tea. We found that many of the restaurants in the tourist areas offer crazy cheap set dinners again. So we were given garlic bread, soup, main course, and glasses of coke and red wine for a massive £3.50 each!
The next day we had to check out at 9am, so it was an early hotel switch, luckily the hotel where we start out trip was only a few blocks away. We spent most of the day walking about, picking up things we needed for the trip, including hiring some day packs for the trek. We are pretty lucky with our tour company, as the porters will carry 6kg of luggage for us, as well as all the camping equipment, so we just needed some small bags for water, snacks, camera etc. in the afternoon we met up with a few members of the trek group and our guide, Marcelino for a walking tour of the city. It was nice to hear some history about the place, but unfortunately it mainly took in the old market and main square, places we had already seen. We met up with the whole group of 16 for a briefing in the evening, and were updated on our plans, it seems like a nice group, mostly Aussies, with a couple of kiwis and Canadians. After some more crazy cheap tea, and packing our bags up to leave in storage, we had a nice early night.
We had to meet the group at 7.30 this morning to start a bus tour of the sacred valley. Our inca trail trip involves an acclimatisation day where we visit some inca ruins and small villages before spending the night in a hotel in Ollantaytambo, then starting the track the next day. We first headed to the area of Saqsaywaman (yes, brilliant name!) an area full of inca ruins, to visit "the white Christ" as our guide kept calling it, a big statue of Jesus overlooking the city of Cuzco. We had a great view of the sprawling city below. Next up it was back in the mini bus and down some decidedly dodgy roads to a small village called Caccaccollo to visit a community where a weaving project had been set up with he help of g adventures (the company we were with on the tour). In this village a lot of the men work as porters and guides for this company, and so they now bring the groups to the village where we got to feed the llamas and alpacas and watch the process of creating the lovely textiles. We saw how they span the wool, which natural dyes they used and got to watch how they weave the textiles with such intricate designs. The things they made were so beautiful we were just sorry we didn't have any extra cash with us!
After this it was on to Pisac, to visit the inca ruins. Here we were driven up the hill and then climbed slowly into the ruins of the old inca town. Or guide explained lots to us about how they lived, and the history of the buildings. They were quite clever people those inca's! it was during this gentle climb that we discovered how few of the members of our group had spent more than 1 day a altitude prior to today. There was a lot of huffing and puffing, and a lot of complaining about climbing! After walking round the ruins, we were taken back into Pisac town to have a look at the market. We were delivered to a lot of places to buy things today, considering we only have 6kg of baggage, including our sleeping bags!
After Pisac we were taken to a big buffet for lunch, and then onto Ollantaytambo to check into the hotel. After a quick check in we walked across the small town to visit another site of inca ruins. This time it was a sun palace, built into the top of a hill. We had to climb up 300 steps across the crop terraces to reach the temple itself. Although only ruins, with the help of the guide we could see the impressive architecture. The rocks used for some parts of the temple we huge and had been carried across from a neighbouring mountain, using man power alone. After climbing back down from here, we were give some free time, to pick up last minute snacks and emergency ponchos, and generally chill out. Everyone was excited to start the trek, although somewhat apprehensive about the altitude and difficulty. The first day of four appearing fairly flat, but the next involving a crazy 1200m climb!
The first day of the trek itself started with a not too bad wake up time of 7 am, a bit of breakfast later and we piled into the minivan at about 8 o clock for a one hour journey to the official start of the inca trail, Kilometre 82.
At the start there were the usual group of touts selling all manner of last minute essentials, from hats to walking socks. After we arrived we had to claim our sleeping bags and walking poles which we'd rented, once claimed we went off to gain entry to the trail and obtain a fancy stamp in our passports.
After telling us the first day of the trek was flat, our guides chose the very beginning to inform us that it was in fact "Inca flat". Which, as it turns out, isn't actually flat. It wasn't too bad though, only a few short steep inclines to get the heart racing. As we mentioned earlier, only a few of the group had spent time at altitude to acclimatise and a few struggled on the steeper inclines. Unfortunately one Canadian bloke in his 40's had particular problems, someone else had to carry his bag for him (By the last day he would be carrying it himself again, due to not thanking anyone for carrying it, or bothering to learn their names). He's really going to struggle tomorrow, the hardest day of the four by far. He's a pack a day smoker who does no exercise, but obviously he can't work out why he has difficulties with breathing, must be his mild asthma!
About halfway through the morning we passed another inca town, again built using terracing into the hillside. Their ruins are really cool and mostly look like they're so well constructed that if left alone will happily still be there in another 500 years.
When we stopped for lunch, the porters had a large tent already set up for us, tables and chairs and fancy napkin folding! The chef had actual, official chef's whites on too! We were given a meal of asparagus soup and trout and veg. It was really pretty good.
After lunch we only walked for around an hour before we had a break outside a small, very local bar where we were given a taste of the local brew made from maize. It had a weird, very sweet beery taste. Not exactly pleasant.
We walked on for less than half an hour before we arrived at our campsite to find our tents all nicely set up for us. We got settled and a bowl of warm water and soap was brought to each tent. It's almost beginning to feel a bit like cheating. Unfortunately for us, despite being told by marcello it hardly ever rains on the first day, it rained solidly all day! So lots of chances to wear our trendy ponchos. At 5pm we were given hot drinks, popcorn and crackers, then we killed some time all playing cards in the tent. At 6.30 was tea time, where we got more soup, chicken pasta and a local dessert. Food wise it seems we are destined to do well again. After dinner it was pretty much bed time. Most people left and we stayed to finish our drinks, when all the porters started filing in, they sat opposite us in silence until we felt we had to leave. There are 21 porters, 2 guides and 1 chef to look after a group of 16, and while we are all snug in our little 2 man tents, with sleeping mats and sleeping bags that are all set up for us by the time we arrive in the camp, they all share the dining tent to sleep in!
The next morning was a 5.30 wake up call, made better by the 'room service' wake up call, where we are brought coca tea in our tents. We were given a nice bowl of hot water to wash and then piled in the tent for breakfast. This was bread, porridge and pancakes with different animal names written on them in caramel sauce in Spanish! Then we were off. The man we mentioned before had an hour head start on the rest of us, so he could try and make it at his own pace. (When walking with us he refused to take a rest, even though he sounded like he was going to keel over, he wanted to be near the front.)
The walk itself was pretty tough. From the campsite it was pretty much a solid uphill trek. As we mentioned before, it was a 1200m climb, from 3000m to 4250m, followed by a 600m descent. It was pretty relentless all day, and we were mostly in the clouds. The group got fairly stretched out during the first 750m of the climb, most of the youngest members of the group charged off ahead. We took it steady, finishing somewhere in the middle, laughing a bit about how they were all going to struggle later. After a rest stop and regroup, surprise surprise, they all started to tail off, the high altitude taking their breath and their legs giving up, so we ended up finishing in the first group. The last stretch was a series of difficult relentless steps. Sadly, the view from the top was non existent, just clouds as far as we could see. We had been advised that if it was cold, to just head straight down rather than waiting, so after about 15 mins chilling, we headed down the hill. It was much like the way up, relentless stone steps, but this time with a stream running down them! Fun times. We were in our second camp by 1pm, waiting for the other half of the group to arrive for a much needed lunch. They arrived about 30mins later and we could finally eat! After another lovely meal, we had a free afternoon in the camp, which for most of us meant sleep! At 5 it was time for tea and snacks again, and lots more card playing, followed by dinner and another early night. Having mostly held off during the day, the rain came during the night, leaving everything a bit damp the next morning.
The third day was a long days walking, starting again at 5am, with the coca tea wake up call. The walk started with a 350m climb, which although difficult, was a lot easier than the day before. The walking today was actually really fun, and we were all hurting a lot less than expected. Most of the day was 'inca flat' and after the day before we found it nice and steady and got to enjoy the view a bit more, despite it raining on and off most of the day. There were several inca sites to visit along the way, which were really interesting. We stopped for lunch at the top of the second pass, our last big hill of the trek. Here the porters and chef went all out, we were passed round about 6 trays of different foods, topped off with a pizza.....we have no idea how they made this in a tent on top of the mountain! The rest of the days walking was lovely, gentle slopes up and down, lots of forest landscape, but unfortunately still a lot of clouds. When we got about 40mins from camp, the guide gave us the option to walk an extra hour loop round to visit some more inca ruins, so as it was only about 2.30pm, we went for it. As we walked down the last slope, we could see one of the lads from our group just sitting on a step, as we turned the corner we could see why! The most stunning view of the valley and river running between the mountains, literally the best view we have seen on the trek (pretty much the only one to be honest!) we had a walk around the stunning terraces and took some lovely pictures. Then I (rach) managed to drop my camera in a stream....well done! Fingers crossed it will work again in a few days, until then pictures will have to wait! After this we started walking down to camp. There were some llamas chilling on the terraces, and one of the lads asked James to take a picture of him with the llama, saying he was going to try and get as close as possible. We were walking down so e steps separating the two sides of the terraces. In my wisdom I (rach) said, "go for it, as long as the llama doesn't jump over my head"....and guess what happened! The llama crouched and then took a jump across the other side over my head, luckily I sat down quickly, avoiding a llama on my head. ...comedy moment! Our last camp was on the hill side overlooking the valley, we got there about an hour before snack time, so yet more cards was played until dinner. Dinner was the usual great food, topped off by a full sized iced cake, saying 'inca trail, Cuzco 2012, madness! We were having a really nice night, now all knowing each other a bit better, which was unfortunately soured by he next bit of he night! In all the details about the trip, they suggest a 40USD tip per person for the porters etc, we thought that although the porters and guides were fantastic, this was quite steep as the trip itself was also pretty expensive. However our main problem here was the way this was broached, after dinner, the guide marcello told us we needed to tip that night if we wanted to, as we would not have time in the morning, all well and good. He then told us we had 10 minutes to sort out the money, and then we needed to work out how we wanted to divide it up and then tell the Spanish! Everyone put in what they could afford and we decided to divide the money between the porters, guides and chef according to the companies suggested percentages, easy you would think! Not at all, there were 2 people who could speak spanish and while we were discussing the tip situation, john, who we mentioned before, was off at the toilets, he came back having missed our conversation, picked up the money and just went ahead and told the porters we wanted to split the money equally Between the 3 groups.....this went down like a lead balloon, as there are 21 porters! Finally we think it got sorted, but it was pretty stressful and took away from what should really be a nice gesture of giving a tip to say thanks instead of being expected!
The next morning was not such a gentle wake up! We were woken up by porters shaking out tents at 4am. They literally took the tents apart as people were still dressing inside. (Maybe the tip situation had not been resolved after all!) we were told it was too early for proper breakfast, so it was dry bread and tea. Then we were given a pack up of cheese in horrible sweet white bread. We walked 5 minutes down the hill in order to join a queue, already consisting of 12 other groups, at the check point which did not open until 5.30. It was also raining, not a great start to our first day. Once we got through the check point we were walking in quite a lot of traffic for an hour, involving a lot of steps up hill and down. The second guide Odi was leading the way and absolutely flying, we did not stop till the sun gate. This was the moment we had been waiting for, our first glimpse of Machu Picchu, the reason for our trek, we got up the hill, through the sun gate and we saw......clouds.....nothing else, oh well! After a little rest we were off again, descending into Machu Picchu. When we got to a viewing point towards the top of Machu Piccu, we could see a lot more, not so good for pictures but pretty fantastic. The place is huge, and so impressive! It was well worth the effort. We spent about an hour being shown around by marcello and Odi,learning about the incas and the different parts of the city. Then we had some free time to walk back up to the top, after the clouds had cleared to get some great photos. We also got to use some real toilets....a great thing after 4 days of squat toilets!
After our time in Machu Picchu we got the bus into Aguas Callientes, where we were regrouping in a restaurant for lunch. The bus down was pretty interesting, winding backwards and forwards down the hill, and eventually taking us to the lowest point we have been at for ages! Lunch was the typical overpriced affair, we have been taken plenty of places g adventures clearly get commission from! Later in the afternoon we got the train out of Aguas Callientes back to Ollantaytambo. This was a very slow train, taking 1 hour 30 mins to cover 47km. It was not the smoothest ride in the world, but after the early morning and all the trekking, I think. Everyone did a little bit of sleeping. It was however a pretty stunning ride, along the side of the river and right through the valley. Then we were piled on a bus to drive back to Cuzco, another 2 hours. By the time we got back it was 7pm. We checked back into the hotel and finally got that much needed shower! We popped out some tea and then had arranged to meet most of the group in a bar at 9. After a few drinks, a lot of people went home, leaving about 7 of us. About 11pm, marcello turned up, both the guides having said they would meet us for a drink but as it was so late we assumed they were not coming. We think he had already had a few drinks, and suddenly instead of going home, we were in a club! We had a brilliant night however, lots of crazy dancing and at about 1am, Odi turned up! It was a much later night than planned, but so much fun!
The next day we had to check out and move hotels at 9.30! So we did breakfast, a quick move and then back to bed, and slept until the afternoon. We spent the afternoon walking round the handicrafts market, sorting out presents and souvenirs. In the evening we had planned to meet up with the 11 others from the group who were still in Cuzco, so we all went out for some tea and then home for an early night. It was pretty sad to say bye to everyone having spent so much time together the last few days. The trek has been brilliant and we are so glad we did it! And miraculously we are in very little pain! Unfortunately though there are not so many pictures of the trek itself, as we spent so long in the clouds!
We had two ore days in Cuzco following this, the first we had planned to use for a shopping day, to sort out all our Xmas presses, and to sort out all our bits and pieces before flying to Brazil. The second day we had booked to go white water rafting. After a bit of research we had found a family company we were really happy with and we were really excited. The night before we bought a cheap bottle of Peruvian Malbec and had a glass before going out for tea. It was horrible, so only James finished his. By the time we had sat down for tea, he was feeling bad. Unfortunately James spent the night and the next day ill, so we had to cancel the white water rafting! We were both gutted. James spent the whole day in bed whilst I went on another 'free' walking tour. This tour was pretty good fun, and quite different from the others. We visited lots of local businesses and learnt about Peruvian and inca culture through food and drinks, local art work and random museums. Visiting the pisco, chocolate and medicinal herb museums as well as local businesses and land marks. This tour however was 4 hours long, about 2 hours more than I thought! So by the time I returned to the hotel, James was awake and feeling better. We had to got to town to visit activities peru, who we booked the rafting with, who very kindly gave us a half refund on the tour we cancelled when they tried to pick us up this morning, which was much more than we expected! We went out for some tea, but James was quickly feeling ill again, so we were home by 8.30 so he could try and sleep it off for the flight tomorrow. On the plus side, put the battery back in my camera and it worked! So no lasting water damage, but unfortunately, James is having issues with uploading his camera pics, and he took most of the Machu Picchu pics, so you will have to wait 10 days till we return for those!
Next stop brazil and we can't believe it is time already! This is our last country in our trip and in 10 days we will be home. Peru itself has given us some great experiences, but we were so disappointed not to be able to do our rafting today, it has meant a few wasted days in Cuzco. But fingers crossed James is feeling better for our 8am flight to São Paulo tomorrow!


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