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Monday, June 26, 2006

Day 41 - The Inca Trail

Day 1

peru After much deliberation, 5 of us booked ourselves on a 4 day hike to Machu Picchu, taking in a day of mountain biking, 2 days if hiking, a day in the Picchu. All accompanied by a guide and 3 porters to carry our tents and make us food. Total cost - US$ 170 (about 340 quids). Pretty steep, but the majority of that is the cost to get into the park, so we were happy to pay.

And so we set off, at 8am, headed for one of the highest peaks in Peru, so that we can cycle downhill for 5 hours. The tour company was pretty rubbish that we booked it with - constantly telling us what we wanted to hear and not actually delivering what they had agreed. So after a hectic public bus ride up the mountain, we got dropped off at the top (except charlotte who can't ride because she hit a park bench whilst cycling down the Death Road in Bolivia) and began our descent down the gravel road the spirals from the cold peaks down to the hot and humid peruvian jungle.

The descent was amazing. Riding through fords where the waterfalls crash onto the road (paved to prevent erosion). There was a proper sense of fear too - the cliff edge next to the road fell for, at places, hundreds of metres. Killer. Andy got a puncture within 10 minutes, which the guide couldn't fix so Andy did it for him. Then again 10 minutes later. So the four of us bombed it down the mountain, leaving the guide behind to hitch a ride with the broken bike. Kinda careless, seeing as any one of us could have injured ourselves on the way down and the first aid kit was still with him up the top of the mountain, but nevertheless, we made it down safely.

Frodo, our guide, joined us a whopping 2 hours later (from the back of a pickup truck) and after telling us we were HOURS behind schedule, we rode in the pitch dark along the dirt road for 2 hours to Santa Teresa. Sarah cried. Frodo had no torch. And when we finally found charlotte, we found out that she had been left on her own for HOURS. Well organised, clearly.

Tried to call tristan (it was officially his birthday in the UK at that point), but without reception, and with the "international" payphone not working for international numbers, I marched behind the others to our campsite across a proper "indiana jones" style broken footbridge over a river. One at a time, in case it collapses. Risk limitation. But over the bridge, things began to look up. Pushing jungle branches aside and creeping along an overgrown path, we were all getting well excited about sleeping in the jungle. But once again, the tour company lets us down. Our tents were pitched on the CONCRETE garden of someone's house, accompanied by a rooster (that started crowing at 2am right through til morning) and a squat toilet with a plastic sheet for a door. No bushes to go and hide in here.

Day 2

This was by far the best day of trekking EVER. Not including the Picchu, of course. So, at 6am we tucked into some omlettes, made by our porter/chefs, then set out in search of some hot springs, several miles further up the river. We started by bombing across the river in a basket, pulling ourselves along as we dangled over this enormous ravine. I went last, partly because I was crapping myself, but it all went to plan.

We started ascending this mountain, where you could see the trail we were taking bending round the sheer sides hundreds of metres above us. Hard work uphill, but we stopped to steal some fruit from a very sweet local orange farmer, and had a weird encounter with a tiny monkey, that like eating baby bananas. Me and him got on like a house on fire. I love bananas.

Next came the scariest part. The path weaves around the actual side of the mountain. We're talking about a path about 3 feet wide, on the very edge of a vertical drop which would clearly result in death, and we're stood there with massive backpacks and rubbish hiking boots. It scared the shit out of me. But was amazing. I handled it well, only really slowing where parts of the path had eroded away and we had to step over 4 foot gaps. I kinda lost it when the rocks underfoot got slippy too. We then descended to the banks of the river, where we went for a freezing swim (I didn't) in a cascade and then tucked into a heafty lunch. I then fell asleep in the sun. a hard life.

3 hours of trekking along the banks of the river later, passing broken railway lines (destroyed by the El NiƱo of 1990, along with hundreds of lives of local people) and massive boulders the size of houses, we found ourselves at the edge of nightfall and in some steaming hot springs drinking beer and eating popcorn and empanadas. We watched the stars come I, I showed the guys how to spot some constellations, and whilst I was swimming underwater, the others all saw a shooting star. Gutted from peru dot com. I love shooting stars. We racked up a camp fire and listened to some music before hitting the sack in our tents, right on the river bank. The whole day was special. Including the relatively good nights sleep I had.

Day 3

Frodo, our dude, promised to show us some AMAZING inca ruins that had just been discovered. So we hopped into a van and rode to the base of a huge mountain, covered in jungle foliage. Apparently, the ruins were at the top. How annoying are the Incas. Anyway, we started the hike. Uphill for 4 hours. We'd been told that we could buy bottled water EVERYWHERE along the trek. Fact was, we couldn't get it anywhere. so we're there, on the side of a mountain, with no water, drinking mossy brown rank water out of streams. Good work frodo.

And then, just to top it all off, at the top of the mountain, the so-called Inca ruins were BOLLOCKS. *I* could have made better looking inca ruins than those. Were they inca architecture - no? were they even east facing houses? no. Were there even houses? no. They were a few overgrown, rubbish rooms which were so badly NOT inca, that I walked away in disgust and swore at Frodo. 4 hours uphill - I was furious.

but, the one thing that saved the day, was the view. A few miles across the valley from our high-point, was the beautiful southern side of Machu Picchu. I stared for ages. Transfixed. It was huge, and beautiful and fascinating. I was just 24 hours away, but it seemed too much. I was WILDLY excited.

We descended for 2 hours down to the river again, where we were all shattered and thirsty (no streams to drink on the way down). One particular highlight was the scary bridge across (1 person at a time again - killer), and then the most immense waterfall fed by a hydroelectric power station behind the mountain. WE finally stopped for lunch at 2:30pm, at least 2 hours later than we all wanted.

Frodo taught us a little about Inca sacrifices, but we weren't sure if he actually knew anything, or was just making it up. Charlotte, who he had a little thing for, got picked to be scarificed, then we walked up the railway tracks to Aguas Calientes (at the foot of Machu Picchu) for 3 hours.

Once at Aguas Calientes, I finally had enough reception to call the boy, then realised that the hostel we were in had no room, so had to find other places to stay. Killer. But we had our first hot showers and warm beds in 3 days, so it was all ok.

Day 4

4am wakeup call HURT. My bed HURT. My eyes HURT. My feet and my legs and ankles and my shoulders HURT. But today was the big day. Breakfast was horrendous (stale crusty bread ONLY) but was enough to get us on the road by 5:30am. We started the 2 hour walk to the top. Original inca stone steps up, the path was steep and long and hard work. Frodo kept dropping behind, but we battled on. I sweated out of every pore on my body, but HAD to be up for day-break for fear of missing the sunrise. And a hour later, we arrived at the entrace to the park. SOAKED in sweat.

Got my passport stamped with a Machu Picchu stamp (dunno why, but they did it anyway) and we legged it to a vantage point to take some good photos before the crowds arrived. They were already there though. which was a shame.

bumped into sam and suzi, who arrived here on a 2 day trip through the sacred valley, then Frodo began to tour us around the park. It kind felt like he'd never been here before, since he didn't have much to say on any of the important stuff in the park. Obviously, I whinged about that, but luckily Frodo bombed us round quick enough that we could do our own exploration.


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we decided to head up Huayna Picchu, the little mountain to the west of Machu Picchu. Apparently its a 1 hour climb up, and because its pretty dangerous, you have to sign in and out of the mountain so that they know who has died when the park closes and people haven't returned. That said, we bombed it to the top. Loads of amazing ruins. A real sense of achievement in scaling the stone stairs, accompanied again by horrendously steep drops to the bottom of the valley. But the place was magical. Used as an astronomical observatory by the incas, Huayna Picchu just grabs you. Imagine the one place where all the inca teenages would go to smoke a spiff - it was here. I sat on the highest point, dangled my legs towards the ground, smoked a cigarette and had a total moment thinking about lucky I am and how amazing this place is. I literally could have sat there ALL DAY LONG. It was unreal.

But all day was too long. and the other guys wanted to see the moon temple. So we descended for an hour and found this wicked carved cave and sat eating apples and applying more bite spray for 20 minutes. Thinking we could keep walking down to get back to Machu Picchu, we were proved wrong, and had to climb uphill for another hour before descending the other side of the mountain to get back home. One final bomb around the ruins and a good long marvel at some of the architecture, we got the 20 minute bus down the mountain and took the train back to Cusco.

Words cannot express how amazing machu picchu was for me. I always knew I would love it. since I read books on it when I was younger, I've always known. the rocks BREATHE history. the whole place is positioned on top of the world and the surrounding are awesome. But the real highlight was Huayna Picchu. From there, the view down to the main park was beautiful. There was just something unreal about the whole thing. And after 4 days trekking, it was the most beautiful landscape we could have dreamt of hiking through. Stuff like this is what I came travelling for. And how chuffed am I that I'm getting to do it all. Get saving and get out here. Its so worth it.

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