After a sweaty night bus we arrived in Cusco – a beautiful old city that was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th to the 16th century. It has been declared a world heritage site and is the historic capital of Peru. After the Spanish invasion, many of the old temples were replaced by Catholic Churches. The city still holds many of the Old Inca walls despite earthquakes over the years. Our guide Edith gave us a brief tour of the city before we had lunch at Jacks cafe (huge portions and great food!). Phil and I then headed to the main square to spend the remainder of the afternoon drinking beers and pisco sours no watching the world go by.
The next morning we got up to go white water rafting for the day. We got split into three boats and off we went. It was a brilliant day! For a beginner the rapids were quite hairy – up to 3+. The personal highlight was being made to sit at the front of the boat while our instructor got the dingy to ride a wave – basically meaning my head was submerged in a rapid for a good few minutes – one way to feel refreshed in the morning! After about three hours of adrenaline rush we had lunch on the riverbank before heading back to Cusco late afternoon.
It was finally time to leave lovely Cusco. Our first stop was the Christ statue viewpoint above the city – again no Christ the Redeemer in Rio, and unfortunately due to an overcast day not the greatest view either. The statue is situated near the Saksaywaman historic site (the name of which childishly provided us all with much amusement). Next, we travelled to the Planeterra project – a village where weaving equipment had been provided to the women in order for them to become empowered and earn money for their village whilst the men worked as porters on the Inca Trail. The tour of their village did seem quite put on for tourists, but all the same it was interesting to see and we got to feed llamas and alpacas! What was most incredible was how the local people make the various colour dyes for the llama wool goods. The first step of the process involves cleaning the wool which they do using the grated root of a plant and boiling water. As if by magic and ten times better than Daz the llama wool was removed straight from the bucket and was sparkling white. The locals use this natural soap as shampoo and claim it is why the indigenous people do not have grey hair as they age. The ability for the numerous woolen colours all comes from nature. Green comes from a special wild plant, purple from a purple corn plant, yellow from a herb and red from the a bug found on cactus plants. Lemon juice is used to liven the colour and salt can be used to alter the colour further. After the demonstrations from the ladies and intense pressurised selling, we came away with a llama wool slouchy jumper for me and a llama wool hat for Phil.
Late morning we arrived at the Sacred Valley – a valley situated in the Andes of Peru close to Cusco and Machu Picchu. We were dropped off at the top of a hill at the entrance to the valley to explore the inca ruins of Pisac. The Inca had constructed agricultural terraces here on a steep hillside which are in use today. The incas brought topsoil from the base of the valley to allow the cultivation of crops that would not normally be able to grow at altitudes of 11000 feet. After wandering around the ruins, we started the long walk down to the bottom of the mountain and to the village of Pisac, where we explored an artisan market before rejoining our bus. Our final stop for the day was the town of Ollantaytambo. We set off to explore the Inca ruins situated in the town and admired the ability of the inca civilisation to build huge dry stone walls without any form of cement type substance. As the day drew to a close, we all went into town for our last slap up dinner, followed by an early night…the next day was the big day – the start of the Inca trail for me and the Lares trek for Phil.
After parting ways with Phil to go on our respective treks (the Inca trail permits had sold out so Phil had to do an alternative), we started our trip – first we had to take a short bus journey to the base of the Inca Trail. Having been told tales of the difficulty of the trek, how touristic it is etc..I was pleasantly surprised both by the difficulty and the beauty of the trek. Part of this may have been due to the fact that we had a super speedy group and were therefore in front of most other groups and could enjoy the views in tranquility, the peace only being disturbed by the cries of “porters”! For our group of fourteen, we had two guides and eighteen porters and two chefs. The porters were absolutely incredible, running up and down the mountains carrying 25kg loads on their backs and setting up an entire camp and having lunch ready for us by the time we got there! And they even applauded us when we arrived! Definitely should have been the other way around.
Day two was definitely the toughest day of the trek – uphill with lots of irregular steps and to top it off rain and a hailstorm when we reached the summit of dead woman’s pass (4215m above sea level)! So not even much of a view from the top! The rain and hail did make us speed up, and a trek that should have taken us seven hours ended up taking us only four – we were physically running back to the camp for lunch! The food on the trail was absolutely incredible. Each day we had a three course lunch and dinner provided along with afternoon tea, hot chocolate, popcorn and biscuits. The chefs even managed to make us an orange cake and pizza!! Glamping to an extreme!! Evenings were spent playing cards by torchlight before heading to bed at eight ready for our early rises.
The third day of trekking was my favourite day. By far it was the most beautiful scenery we had seen and the archeological sites along the way were incredible. And the fact that we knew we only had an hours walk in the morning gave us all a spring in our step! The Inca trail passes through cloud forest and alpine tundra and includes settlements, tunnels in the rock and many Incan ruins along the way. The path on the inca trail is still constructed from the original rocks and runs right along the outside of the mountains creating sweeping views.
On the final day, we awoke at three am for an early breakfast, followed by sitting in a queue in the dark to wait until five am for the entrance to the last part of the inca trail to open. Despite being about five groups back, our group managed to speed walk and over take pretty much all of the other groups to reach the Sun gate – the terminus of the Inca trail and the spectacular entrance to Machu Picchu. Here we waited until sunrise and could view Machu Picchu in all its splendour. The sense of achievement of reaching this viewpoint was incredible and the place really did look magical. Machu Picchu means old mountain and is home to the 15th century Inca site. The site was abandoned at the time of the Spanish Conquest and the Inca trails leading to and from it destroyed to prevent the Spanish from finding it. The site’s location, although known about locally, was not brought to international attention until 1911 by the explorer Hiram Bingham and has now been declared one of the New Seven a Wonders of the World.
After a short walk down the hill we arrived at Machu Picchu – which after the solitude and peace of the last three days was a shock to the system. There were hundreds of people everywhere vying for the best photo opportunities and getting quite aggressive if you happened to be anywhere near their shot. If I am honest, this all made it a bit of a let down actually reaching Machu Picchu. After a tour of the site, I met up with Phil and we swapped stories, had the obligatory Machu Picchu photos and explored the site further. By this point the crowds had dispersed and we could fully enjoy our surroundings and the magic of the place returned.