Category Archives: Peru

Posts made in Peru!

Arequipa & Colca Canyon

We spent the last week in the south west of Peru, basing ourselves in the countries second city, Arequipa. We arrived here after taking an overnight bus (10 hours) from Cusco, with Peru’s main bus operator – Cruz del Sur. It was a very luxurious bus with big arm chair seats that reclined 170 degrees, personal airline style TV’s that showed on demand movies in English, and meals served to your seat by a friendly steward. The only bad thing was that we arrived in Arequipa at 6am, which was to early to check into our hotel (we did drop off our bags) and before most cafes were open. Nevertheless we had a little walk around the picturesque main square (Plaza de Armas) until we found a place to have breakfast. Arequipa is known as La Ciudad Blanca (the White City) as a lot of it’s architecture is built from the white sillar stone from the surrounding volcanoes that tower over the city. With lots of colonial architecture it has a nice feel to it.

Later we visited the Museum of Archaeology, which was full of old pottery but had a few Inca era mummies on display, which were much more interesting! We also visited the Convento de Santa Catalina, which is a monastery of nuns built in 1579 by the Spanish and still in use today. It’s a big place that has a Mediterranean feel to it, and it made a nice escape from the busy streets outside.

After lunch at a restaurant on a terrace overlooking the Plaza by the mid-afternoon we quite tired and gladly checked into our comfortable (much nicer and cheaper than the one in Cusco) hotel, Tambo del Solar, on a quite alley near the Plaza. We ended up relaxing there for the rest of the day.

The following day we attended a Peruvian cooking experience in the lovely garden the Casa de Avila. Our teacher was a friendly lady confusing named Lady! From a choice of three menus we chose to prepare the ‘Andean’ option, which included:

  • Soltero de Queso (Salad with beans, corn, sweet potato, tomato, onion, and cheese)

  • Rocoto Relleno (Spicy pepper stuffed with meat and cheese and topped off with meringue)

  • Pastel de Papa (Potato bake)

It was all really fresh and tasty and Lady’s enthusiasm made it a thoroughly enjoyable experience, which we would highly recommend.

After the food we had a go at making the local drink of choice, Pisco Sour, a refreshing cocktail of Pisco mixed with lime juice, ice, and egg white (I preferred it without) perfect for a hot day on the sun loungers in the garden.

Arequipa is the gateway for a visit to Colca Canyon, which a depth of 4160m it is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the USA . To get a good feel for the canyon we opted for a two day one night trekking tour into the canyon. It was an early start as we were picked up at 3:30am from our hotel in Arequipa, which was because it’s a 3 hour drive to the canyon and we had a long day of trekking ahead! No worries though we slept most of the way until we got to our breakfast stop at Chivay and from there it was only a short drive to the canyon, which at first sight was stunning.

Driving along the southern rim of the canyon the first stop at was the Cruz Del Condor (3500m), which as the name suggests is a lookout point for Condors – one of the main reasons we wanted to visit the canyon. Despite the crowds of tourists here we weren’t disappointed as we could see Condors flying along the canyon as the bus pulled up. We spotted at least five Condors, I think two adults and their offspring, majestically soaring along the canyon and also perched on a rocky outcrop right in front of us.

Stunning to see and well worth the early start!

After half an hour watching the Condors we, sadly, had to move on and start trekking a little further along the canyon from Cabanaconde. We met up with our guide, a local named Remi who spoke pigeon English (Lisa was my guide!), and a Dutch couple to make up our group of four. The trek started with a step three hour descent to the bottom of the Canyon, with the sun now blazing it was hot, dusty, and hard on the knees but the views made it worthwhile.

We were tired and happy to reach the bottom and after crossing the Colca river we had a welcome lunch (chicken and rice) cooked for us by a farmer in his pretty garden. The lunch perked us up and the afternoon trek was an easier undulating walk along the canyon. The views were awesome as we passed through several villages and over rickety bridges (Indiana Jones style).

We walked 18km that day (I’m not sure Lisa realised what she was letting herself in for!), so tired and dusty it was nice to reach the refreshing greenery of the Sangalle Oasis, located at a bend in the river, where we stayed the night in a little wooden hut.

It was basic accommodation but there were (cold) showers to wash off the dust and a little bar/restaurant. We drank a beer whilst admiring the night sky above us – if only the sky looked like this back home!

It was early to bed through as we were up at 4am (no such thing as a lie-in in Peru!) to begin the up hill trek out of the canyon, it would be to hot to do this with the sun blazing. It was a 3 hour slog up endless zigzag switchbacks, but we took it slow and steady and made it to the top as the first rays of sunlight hit the uppermost section.

The trekking in the canyon was arguably tougher than the Inka trail. We were tired and hungry so wolfed down breakfast back in Cabanaconde before taking the bus back to Arequipa. We stopped on the way at several viewpoints the highlight of which was Patapampa at 4900m, which offered views of many of the areas volcanoes such as El Misti (5825m) and Chachani (6075m) that overlook Arequipa city.

It was a fantastic couple of days, and well worth the effort if you visit Peru. Back in the city we treated ourselves to a posh meal at the restaurant (ChiCha) of Peru’s answer to Jamie Oliver, Gastón Acurio, expensive by Peruvian standards but the food was very good – I had Chupe de Camarron (a typical dish of the city, prawn soup).

After the trek we took the next couple of days easy and concentrating on the gastronomical aspects of Peru. We visited the San Camilo Market, which is set in a building that was designed by the guy who also designed the Eiffel tower (Gustave Eiffel). It is a colourful and bustling maze of stalls thatsell just about anything – they will put a live frog in a blender for you so you can drink it for supposed health benefits :S

Local restaurants in Arequipa are called Picanterias where traditional food is served, typically from 9am until 5pm. We were recommended one called La Nueva Palomino in the Yanahura district (not Miraflores as there is a street there with the same name that we went to first!). It’s a really characterful place that caters for both locals and tourists with traditionally dressed waiters, a live band, and good food, we opted for the local favourite dish of chicharron (fried pork with corn).

We felt really full after that, but it was very tasty! Afterwards we had a walk up to the lookout point in Yanahura, which has some good views over the city and of El Misti volcano.

We swapped hotels for our last day to the Casa de Avila (where we did the cooking class) as we wanted to take advantage of their lovely garden, which as the weather has been hot and sunny is a great place to relax – the first ‘holiday’ feeling we’ve had in Peru!

We couldn’t leave Peru without trying Ceviche, raw seafood cured with lemon juice and salt. There was a great little restaurant, Las Conchitas, near our hotel, which served up some lovely local prawn and fish Ceviche – I was a little sceptical about eating raw fish but this was really good.

We really enjoyed our time in Arequipa, it gave us a different vibe to Cusco. We flex back to Lima late last night, and stayed in the handy hostel by the airport again. Today we are flying to Buenos Aires in Argentina, where we will spend the last week of our trip – I’m looking forward to some steak and wine!

There’s a few more photos from the last week in Arequipa and Colca Canyon here.

Return to Peru – Cusco and the Inca trail

I’m back in Peru, this time with Lisa who has not been here before. We’ve been here since May 3rd when we arrived in Lima, Leeds to Lima! (via Amsterdam with KLM). We spent our first night in a handy hostel near Lima’s airport as we flew down to Cusco early the next day. I really enjoyed Cusco on my last visit with Russ in 2007, and this time was no different. I love the mix of Inca and Colonial history, the small alleys, and the laidback and friendly people.

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It has changed since my last visit with noticeably more tourists and McDonalds, KFC, and Starbucks now installed on the Plaza de Armas. Nevertheless, it’s a quaint place that is well worth a visit. Cusco is set in a valley and we stayed at a basic guesthouse on the northern slope, which meant a steep 15 mins uphill walk from the Plaza de Armas but meant we had fantastic views over the city.

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We visited many of the same places I visited last time such as the Cathedral (very impressive), the White Christ (worth the climb for good views), San Blas (artists area), and the 12-sided Inca Rock (still not sure how they created this?). There was also some new stuff too, such as the vibrant San Pedro Market where you can buy practically anything – vegetables to handicrafts. Lisa’s Spanish skills are very handy, not only allowing us to get to know the locals but also secure a good deal!

We also visited the picturesque town of Pisac about 35km out of Cusco, which made for a nice break from the hustle of the city. In the towns square there’s a market packed with stalls selling souvenirs to the tourists, but more interestingly some Inca ruins high on the mountain overlooking the town.

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Of course the main purpose of our visit to Cusco was to trek, over 4 days/3 nights, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We used the same company as Russ and I used back in 2007, and they didn’t disappoint – it was another magical experience. This time I was fully focused on ensuring Lisa had a great experience as this is something she has wanted to do for a long time. Given the altitude (3500m+) and physical challenge she was understandably a little nervous before we set off. We left Cusco early, joining up with our group of 16 trekkers from the 8 Brits, 4 Americans, 2 Aussies, 1 South African, and 1 little German! Plus 2 enthusiastic Peruvian guides (David & Ernesto), and 19 hardy Chaski’s (porters) – big respect to these guys for looking after us (setting up camp, cooking excellent and plentiful food, and carry all the equipment) during the trek.

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Setting off on day 1 it was very sunny and hot, which made for a nice day, but the main challenge was not getting sunburnt. It’s a relatively flat 12km trek along the scenic Urubamba river, passing several Inca ruins on the way, to the first campsite at Wayllabamba.

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Day 2 (12km trek) was all about the challenge of reaching the top of ‘Dead Womans Pass’, at 4200m it’s the highest point on the trail. Thankfully it was a cooler day, which made for nice walking conditions and we took it slow and steady on the steep path to the top.

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From there it’s a steep stepped descent all the way to the campsite at Pacamayo at 3600m. Not our favourite campsite as the ground was hard and cold and we had altitude induced headaches.

In 2007 on day 3 it rained, but this time it was bright and sunny (we were lucky with the weather throughout the four days, it only rained overnight), which was good as this is arguably the most scenic day of the trek – albeit the longest, and undulating 15km to Winay Wayna. The day starts off with a 1 hour climb up to the ruins of Runkuracay before dropping down into the next valley through some Inca tunnels.

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The aptly named ruins of Phuyupatamarca (translated as Town of the Clouds) where we had lunch nearby. The afternoon was my favourite part of the trek as it’s a relatively flat and scenic walk through the cloud forest. Just before we reached the campsite we passed the impressive Winay Wayna terraces, which offered some amazing views down into the valley below – we stayed a while to take it in.

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The final day is a straight forward – except for the 3:30am start! – 5km trek to Machu Picchu. It’s an adrenaline fuelled walk as everyone is itching to get a first glimpse of Machu Picchu, which you get when you reach the Sun Gate (Intipunku) – I really enjoyed seeing Lisa’s face light up when we got here, it is a fabulous sight.

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From the Sun Gate it’s 30 minute walk down into Machu Picchu, where we became another 2 of the 3000 tourists that visit the site everyday. I really enjoyed doing the Inca trail again but I did find the incredible amount of tourists at Machu Picchu a bit of an ambiance killer this time. We queued to take the necessary postcard photos, which of course was worthwhile.

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We spent a few hours walking around the ruins, including a tour from our guides before heading back to the luxuries of civilisation in the town of Aguas Caliente, which serves as the gateway to Machu Picchu. Russ and I stayed overnight here in 2007 and it was a quaint little place, now it has become something of tourist trap with posh hotels aplenty. However, as in 2007, the hot springs that give the town it’s name are a great way to relax the aching muscles!

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In the early evening we took a combination train and bus back to Cusco. The next day we took it easy and relaxed – a visit to the San Christobal cathedral, some souvenir shopping, and a traditional meal of roasted Cuy (Guinea Pig) – tasty crispy skin but not much meat!

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Yesterday we took a tour into the beautiful countryside that surrounds Cusco, firstly we visited the community at Chinchero where the traditionally dressed ladies showed us something of their culture. Then we went to the Maras salt mines, which are an impressive array of pools that capture salty water that runs out of the mountains – the sun evaporates the water and the remaining salt is harvested.

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The final stop was the Inca ruins of Moray, an interesting circle of terraces that was used for farming.

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Later in Cusco we visited the Chocolate museum where we took a 2 hour chocolate making class, using locally sourced ingredients. A very interesting, tasty, and highly recommended experience!

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Last night we took an overnight (10 hours) bus south to the city of Arequipa, which will be our base for the next few days. We’ve got another week in Peru and I’ll write about that in the next post.

Puno, Lake Titicaca, and into Bolivia!

We been busy since the Inca trail!  Monday evening we caught a night bus to the town of Puno, in the south west of Peru, arriving there around 5am!  When we got off the bus it was cold, dark, and wet!  We’d slept for most of the journey and were a bit sleepy, but we sat in the bus station for half an hour till it got light.  We found a hostel and went straight to bed for a few hours – we waited till it got light because we didn’t want to be charged for that night!

We then got up around 10 to a welcome surprise, a warm shower!!!  We hadn’t had one since we left Ecuador – SUPERB – I stayed in it for ages!  We then went out to explore the town, firstly visiting the towns port on the Lake.  A bit stinky with lots of algae, the lake looked good though.  There wasn’t much to do down there except go out on a pedlow!  Feeling a bit silly we took out a pedlow in the form of a dragon!

Dragon Pedlow!Â

Pretty cool eh, to clarify Russ wanted the dragon one!  Worst thing was the rudder was knackered so we couldn’t steer the thing – we had to row it back!

Feeling pretty stupid, although plenty of laughs, we headed back to town to have a look around the main plaza and high street.  Puno isn’t as nice as Cusco, apart from the main street through town its a bit of a shanty town – plenty of poverty there.  After a bit of hassling I managed to get Russ to walk up 648 steps up the mountain overlooking the town where there is  a statue of a condor (Peru’s icon) overlooking the city.  Good views across the city and gargantuan lake!

View overlooking Puno to Lake Titicaca

That evening I met up with Dad who had flown in that afternoon.  In the photo above you can see an island sticking out on the left with a big white building on it – that was Dads hotel.  We met him over there, how the other half live!  Dad treated us to a nice posh meal (posh for us anyway), and it was great to catch up with him – having not seen him for over 5 months!

The next day we all did a tour out on Lake Titicaca together, to see the floating villages and Isla Tranquilla.  The floating villages were pretty cool, made from compressed reeds they are anchored to the lake bed a couple of KM from Puno.  There’s quiet a few islands, home to different families, interesting to see.  Absolutely everything is made from reeds, they even eat them!

After the floating islands we cruised across the lake for about two hours to the Island Tranquilla.  A pleasant island with great views, home to a community of about 1800 Peruvians.  We had to walk up about 200m to the village, something I think Dad found hard as he wasn’t quite acclimatised – his thinking he could  of done  the Inca trail changed at this point!  There is a small town on the island and we turned up right in the middle of a festival, which involved pretty much the whole town dancing in brightly coloured outfits – very loud music!

After a lunch of trout from the lake we head down the other side of the island to our boat and then cruised back to Puno.  Here’s Dad and I enjoying the views on top of the boat, aren’t you supposed to be bigger than your Dad?

Dad and I on lake Titicaca

I say cruise, when we got within sight of port a thunder storm set in, the boat was a bit rickety and had been chugging (engine revving like mad) along pretty slowly all day, but when the waves started it got pretty rocky!  At one point it rolled pretty far, Russ and Dad got pretty scared by this!  The engine went down a note and lots of black smoke came out the chimney – fortunately it kept going and got us out of the choppy bit, but then 100m from the dock the engine cut out!  After much confusion and discussion the Peruvians finally got the engine going again and we arrived, slightly relieved, on terraferma!

Last night Russ and I met Dad for a meal in the town for a traditional Peruvian meal.  Russ and I summed up the courage and ordered some Guinea Pig (we also got a lasagne just in case!).

Guinea Pig anyone?Â

To be fair Russ ate most of it, he was keener than me!  It was a strange meat a bit like undercooked chicken!  It had crackling too!  Hardly any meat though, and a bit weird having the whole thing (head and all) on the plate!  Glad I tried it, but wouldn’t rush to have it again!  I think Dad didn’t think much of it!

After the meal we had to say goodbye to Dad, as you can see the days are ticking down and we have a lot to do before we fly home!  Dad’s off to Machu Picchu (on the posh train!), which I know he’ll enjoy.

We were up early (yet again) this morning to catch the bus   to the town of Copacobana just on the other side of the lake just over the Bolivian border.    It was a straight forward land border crossing, we got off the bus got our passports stamped and then walked about 100m in no mans land before getting stamped into Bolivia.  I like land border crossings, makes you feel like your properly travelling!

Copacabana is a small nice town, also right on the lake.  The weathers been nice and we’ve been looking round the town in glorious sunshine!  Highlight was going up to the highest point (our favourite activity!)  and getting the views of the town and lake – better from here than Puno!  Its a bit of a hippy tourist town, Russ is fitting right in – I’m trying to convince him to get dreads!

First impressions of Bolivia are friendly people and most importantly its really CHEAP!  We’re off to La Paz (Bolivia’s main city) in the morning from where we’ll sort some tours around the country – think its going be a bit of an adventure, from here on in we have no plans – just need to make it to Rio for early May!
I’ve uploaded a load of photos in the Peru and Bolivia galleries.

The Inca Trail

Wow, what an experience!

The trek started on Wednesday when we were picked up from our Cusco hotel at 5:20am!  It was freezing cold (Cusco is at 3500m) so we were wrapped up warm in the llama wool hats, scarf’s and gloves we had bought!  After picking up the other people in our group from various hotels around town  the bus took us to the town of Ollantaytambo where we had breakfast and bought supplies for the trip ahead.  After another 45 minutes we arrived at the start of the Inca Trail at about 9am – or rather about a km short as the road was blocked for repairs so we had an extra bit to walk!  Here’s Russ and I, raring to go, at the very start of the trail.

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Day one was relatively easy the going was mainly flat and we walked about 12km to our first campsite at Wayllabamba.  It was a nice day and visibility was good, which meant we could take in the excellent views en route.  Highlights included the Inca ruins of Patallacta, which we viewed from high above.  My guidebook describes day one as a warm up for the rest of the trek and I would say that’s about right, it was more of a stroll than a trek but a good chance to get used to the altitude and meet our fellow trekkers.  The campsite was nice, great views down into the valley below.

Day two (noted by most guides as the toughest day) started at 5.30am, after a big breakfast (we ate well over the four days!) we started with a steep uphill climb.  This was to be the trend for most of the day as we had to go from 3300m to the trails highest point at 4200m over about 7km.  The trek up to the highest point is known as ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ and it was certainly pretty tough with some very steep sections and lots of steps!  To give you an idea this is me at about two thirds of the way up, we had to climb up to the directly up from by backpack.
Still a bit to do on day two

It was interesting to see the change in vegetation and climate as we climbed, changing from cloud forest to highland scrub.  I was getting hot and cold depending on if I was walking or standing still – hence the woolly hat!

There were 12 in our group of mixed fitness levels – somehow I made it up to the top first!  I much prefer walking uphill to downhill, its like mountain biking just get into a rhythm and keep going!  The last 100m was probably the worst as you could see the top but the trail went really steep – so close but so far!  I made it though and got stuck into some Inca Kola (a fizzy yellow drink that tastes like Iron Bru) and chocolate as a reward whilst waiting  (about 20 mins) for the rest of the group and admiring the views.  Russ did really well, he was feeling the altitude again and was struggling towards the end, he made it up third in the group though!  Here we are celebrating making it to the top.

At the top!

Having got boiling hot walking up we soon got pretty nippy (hence we are wrapped up in the photo) as cold winds were blowing up from the valley on the other side.  What goes up must go down and we had to descend sharply into the cold valley.  From 4200m we descended down lots and lots of steps to  our second  campsite at 3500m, a place called  Paqaymayu.

At this point I should mention the porters, or should I say superhumans!  There are no vehicles or mules on the Inca Trail to carry the supplies and equipment required to support a group of 12 trekkers.  Therefore there were 18 porters to carry everything for us, including if you wanted your personal gear (you had to pay extra).  We hired a third of a porter between us (to carry 6kg) to hump our sleeping bags and mattresses.  Not only did they carry everything they also setup camp, everyday they would leave after us, overtake us on the trail and then have camp setup and food ready when we arrived.  They carried a lot of stuff too, mainly they were little guys and they carried packs nearly as big as them, walking very fast too usually in shorts and sandals.  There was also a cook, we ate extremely well and healthy over the trek – the food was really good given the conditions.  Lunch and dinner were three course meals, usually a nice soup followed by a decent main meal with a dessert to top it off!  Although we were working hard I think we put weight on!  All of this was brought to us, the only thing we had to do was walk the trail.  Respect to the porters!

So we arrived at Paqaymayu feeling a little weary (walking downhill is harder for me than uphill – it hurts my knees!) to be greeted at camp (Russ, he relishes the downhill,  and I were first to arrive) with a cup of coco tea and our tent setup ready to crash out!  After a hearty dinner we went to sleep at 7pm!

The reason we were in bed so early was because we were up at 5am to start day three.  Surprisingly throughout the trek I dealt with the early mornings well, in fact Russ complained more than me, perhaps I’m a changed man – I don’t do mornings usually!  We had been lucky with the weather for the first two days, they were sunny with good visibility, unfortunately the third day was the opposite – foggy, wet and cold 🙁  The third day is described as having unforgettable views – all we saw was the inside of a cloud!

After an initial climb most of the days trek was downhill, down some very steep and slippy steps.  Not my favourite day, not too keen on downhill as it hurts my knees and the weather wasn’t agreeable!  However we passed some interesting places including a lot of Inca ruins, although the fog and wet limited their appeal.  I’ve been carrying my thermal top for months and had never worn it – I was glad of it that day!

We also passed through the famous Inka tunnel, which are paved tunnels through the rock of the mountain, pretty cool and a nice place to shelter from the rain!

Inka Tunnel

Eventually we got descended under the clouds and got finally got some visibility of the scenery around us.  In fact the sun came out quickly and we soon got pretty hot and our clothes dried out – made things much more enjoyable!  We also got our first view of the Machu Picchu Mountain (not the site) and the town of Aguas Calientes in the valley below.

Somehow at this point, think I lost concentration and got too close to the edge and slipped on a rock, I  fell off the trail!  One minute I was on the trail, the next I was in the bushes holding on for my life!  Luckily it wasn’t on a steep section as they were some scary bits!  I ended up a few meters down caught up in the bush, much to Russ’s amusement – he took photos before helping me out!  The worst I came out with was a grass cut on my thumb – pretty lucky!

We also passed the ruins of Inipata, a very big Inca site just outside our third and final campsite at Winya Wayna.  We arrived into camp around 2pm, by then the weather had totally changed the sun was blazing – good to dry the clothes!  The view from our tent was probably the best yet:

third campsite view

We spent the afternoon playing cards, relaxing, and eating a lot!  Again we hit the sack early, although it was hard to sleep as the campsite was busy due to it being 6km from Machu Picchu, and we were camped right  by a load of loud japs – much to Russ’s annoyance!

The forth and final day began at 4am!  Bobby (our guide) recommended we start early to avoid the rush to Machu Picchu, and be able to enjoy time there with not many people.  So we were the first group at the check point for the final trek to Machu Picchu when the gates opened at 5.30am.  Bobby advised us to walk the 6km as fast as possible to get as much time on our own as possible.  He told the fastest walkers in the group to go first as the trail was narrow – guess who that was!

It was like the start of the grand national when the gates opened!  Russ and I shot off!  It was dark for the first 15 minutes so we were walking by torch light, the path was up and down with plenty of slippy rocks, but I don’t think I have ever walked so fast in my life!  The hardest part was the section known as the ’60 steps’ leading into the final km to the ‘sun gate’ that overlooks Machu Picchu.  I scrambled up them double quick, which was pretty knackering, Russ started flagging at this point and got overtaken by an American in our group.  I was sweating and breathing hard but was determined to make it to the sungate first (it was a male testosterone moment!) so I pushed on.  I made it into the sungate at 6am (half an hour to cover 6km – although I’m not convinced it was that far!), and it was great being first up and having the amazing view of the Machu Picchu ruins to myself – albeit only for a minute or so!  Russ made it up third and the three of us had about 10 minutes to admire the view before anyone else showed up.

Overlooking Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

Of course the peace was soon shattered with the arrival of the 200 or so people heading to MP that day – it was good whilst it lasted though and a good way to end the Inca trail.  When all the group arrived  we headed down to the MP site, which enabled us to view the postcard  view of MP.

Postcard view of Machu PicchuÂ

Pretty spectacular and worth the aches and pains from the four days of trekking!  After taking lots of photos we headed down into the site itself where Bobby gave us a two hour tour.  Bobby has been working the Inca trail for 20 years so it was great to hear his experience and knowledge about the history, construction techniques and layout of Machu Picchu.

It really is an amazing place, the fact it is still there for us to see after thousands of years, and more than a few earthquakes,  is remarkable in itself – although for me the location of the site is the best thing.  Surrounded by gargantuan mountains, rivers, and valleys its spectacular!  Good effort by the Incas building the thing up there, must of been tough!

By 11am we were knackered so we  caught one of the many buses  down to the town of Agua Calientes (translates as Hot Waters, unofficially Machu Picchu town), which is the closest settlement to the ruins.  It was our first taste of civilisation for four days!  It’s a quaint town with a very boisterous river and a train line running down the main street!

Aguas CalientesÂ

After a nice pizza lunch we headed straight to the thermal pools that give the town its name – a fantastic way to relax and rest our fatigued legs!  We didn’t shower before we got in too, oops!  The rest of the day we chilled out, a few well deserved beers in the evening.

The next morning the train, which was directly out of our window, woke us up at 5.30am!  After an hours snooze I was wide awake at 6.30am (told you I was a changed man!) and I thought I’d make the most of an early start (Russ stayed in bed!)  and head back up to MP to climb the Wayna Picchu mountain that overlooks MP from the other side of the postcard photo.  It’s a 400m climb up really steep steps, pretty tricky and tiring, to the top.  I started the climb at about 8.15am and made it to the top by 9am, at which point MP was covered by cloud.  However I could see the cloud rising as the sun came up to full power and by 9.15am MP came into view.  I sat up at the top for an hour just taking in the view and reflecting on the past four days – one of the best bits of the trek for me.

At the top of Wayna Picchu

Coming down was arguably harder as you could see how far it was to fall!  After a quick look round MP (by 11am its full of tourists – not my bag) I headed back to town to meet Russ for lunch.  We then caught the mid afternoon train back to Quillabamba where we caught a bus back to Cusco.  After a much needed shower (which was cold, – really annoying) – we met up with some other folks from our group last night and had more than a few beers in the highest Irish bar in the world (there’s a claim to fame!).  Today we had a massive fry up (sausage, bacon, beans, tomatoes, eggs – Russ ate mine, toast, coffee, and juice – superb!) and for the rest of the day I have been sat here on the internet (sorry I know I’ve gone on for ages, there’s a lot to tell!), which is nice as it gives my legs a rest!

Tonight we are going to catch a night bus to the town of Puno, which is located on Lake Titicaca.  Surprisingly I’m meeting my Dad tomorrow, he’s flying out for a holiday in Peru at short notice – will be good to see him!

I took over 300 photos over the five days, but I’ve whittled it down to 100 here.  Read the next post for Russ’s view of the trek!

The Inca Trail – Russ’s Story

Day one

We were instructed to be ready at our hostel for 5:20am, (yes AM!!!) this sucked as it was very cold in the erm, hobbit hole we were sleeping in. Never the less we arose and were ready for the pick up which to be fair Peru Trek were on time.

We got on a coach and picked up the rest of the trekkers. We travelled about an hour to a village called Ollantaytambo (I think!!) where we had breakfast in a cafe and got ourselves out of slumber land. We then boarded the coach where we travelled to the first point, this however changed as we drove down the road. Construction work was being carried out and they had closed the road about 3km short of the entrance.

They handed out the sleeping bags and ground sheet to which the guide told me that I was to carry all of the items as the porter was for shep! Fortunately we managed to explain that we were to share the 6kg. The sleeping mats and bags were weighed and we were fine. Whilst all this was going on the Coach was trying to 3 point turn in a single lane dirt track, with a large dumper truck inching closer to it by the second, we were consistently asked if we wanted to buy water, rain coats, hats etc. Where these ladies came from was anyone’s guess as we were not meant to be stopping here nor were there any houses apart from a tiny farm opposite.

About 9am we started our short walk along the track to which we arrived at the first check point where our passports were stamped!

At the startÂ

We trekked off into the park, passing many farmers and their mules. Bobby (our guide) was stopping us every half hour to show us plants, this to begin with was a tad strange but as the trek went on we grew to realize that Bobby’s interest was the native Orchid all 350 species of them!

We slowly climbed up through the valley and turned away from the river and train track (how the lazy tourists get to Picchu!).

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We had lunch by a smaller river; this was a taste of things to come! LAN Airways complementary Sheraton stay was nothing compared to this. The porters greeted us with a cold drink and a plastic sheet to dump our luggage (shep and I packed very little as our bags are only 10ltr). We were then ushered to the orange bowls to wash our hands and into the tent where all 12 of us and the 2 guides were able to sit along the table and were served an Avocado with a tomato and onion chutney starter, yep a starter!! Then came an equally good main course followed by a pudding!!!! This was crazy, before this day shep and I only had on average one meal a day!

When finishing the gourmet meal we sat and drank coco tea (quality stuff!!) outside over looking the views, they claimed it acclimatize you the altitude, I say when in Rome and helped myself to a good few cups!!

After the hippy brew we trekked up (this was again another consistence in our 4 day adventure!) to a cliff face over looking the first of our Inca sites, named Patallacta.

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This was an amazing site, not only a wonderful view but very peaceful. Bobby explained that the terraces were not for agriculture but was a natural form of defence against land slides and erosion. Also Inca never used fortification around their settlements as they had no one to fear (unluckily their crystal ball didn’t advise of the Spanish!).

We climbed again to our first camp site Wayallabamba (3100m), where we were greeted again with another 3 course meal!!!

Here’s Shep outside our tent over looking the view.

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This is quite amazing but the card game Shit Head is internationally known! We played after tea with Dave, Rob (two other trekkers!) and one of the porters.

We went to bed around 8pm (dark at 6pm) as we were going to be awoken at 5.30am this was a shock but we were again greeted with a drink (coco tea!!) and a knock on the tent from Gladys (our second guide). At first this felt a bit odd, but you soon get used to it. Without electricity you find life is a little dark and difficult to entertain! No TV (not missed), radio, MP3 player etc. I managed to bring my book (Inca Kola) by ditching a pair of boxers but found this, along with the noises of the parakeets getting to bed, the rushing waterfalls and cooler temperature soon sent you off to sleep.

As this was the first time I required the toilet facilities I thought I’d best brave it. Not the best, but as the adventure went on I soon realized it was excellent! (V festival is a pleasure compared to some of the sites I’ve seen!) Also something amusing we noticed, was the few sitting toilets (rather than crouching ones – not for me as am no dog!) didn’t have a lid/seat, it was straight on the cold porcelain!

Day two

This was the most intense day for me, we were to trek a very steep part of the trail from our camp site at 3100m to 4215m (13,776ft in old money) in a distance of about 9km. This was to the first pass called dead woman’s pass (for day’s Dead Russ pass was in my mind!!). We started the climb around 6.30am from the check point a few meters above our camp site,

Here’s Shep and I at the start (am looking a tad nervous!):

Day two start

We stopped half way at an area called Llulluchapampa, to eat our snacks (provided by Peru Treks), regain some energy and look at the mother of all up hill walks which stood between us and the dead woman’s pass!

When we finally got to the top, (shep as usual shot up like the Duracell bunny on speed!!) we were able to stand and look down at our achievement. The views were stunning.

Once we all made it to the top we recouped our energy and started the decent down the other side, all being steps! Here’s the 2 amigos at the 4215m point (no altitude sickness this time!).

at 4200m

The hat may look silly but was made from Lama Wool, so to were the mittens. They were so good at keeping you warm. Brucey bonus was I found one in sky blue so can wear it for the winter matches at the fortress Ricoh!

We started the decent to our camp site knowing the hardest was done; this was a relief as I was concerned about the altitude sickness suffered up Chimborazo (5000m -16,404ft). We camped at a place called Paqaymyu which over looked the next trail up (seemed to be a fashion!) to the second pass.

Day Three

We woke to find it had and was raining, the waterfalls were far larger and the cloud had set in. This was greeted in quite opposite ways for me. One was the thought of a cooler trek but the other was the loss of the views. Below is a photo looking back at our campsite from the ruins called Runkurakay. This was a look out post for the Inca’s. On a good day you could see all the way to dead woman’s pass.

The clouds were setting in. It was getting very wet and windy too. When we arrived at the second pass Bobby asked if it was okay for the group to continue to the campsite after the third pass rather than stop for lunch on the third pass (due to the weather). We all were happy with this as it was getting cold. As we walked to the third pass we arrived at a very steep set of steps which Bobby informed us that there was an Inca town at the top, we all stumbled our way up not looking down as it was an extremely large fall. We arrived up there to see Sayaqmarka.

Sayaqmarka

Again it was positioned to be able to see all possible movement within the surrounding valleys, unfortunately to the clouds we couldn’t see.  We continued to trek down the trail through two Inca tunnels and on towards the final campsite.

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We took an optional trek through a less cleaned out trail which brought us to Intipata which was a very nice secluded agricultural ruined town. The views were stunning especially when the clouds slowly lifted from the valley.

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On route to this particular site shep decided that the trek was a little dull and felt it necessary to throw himself off the track down the side verge. Luckily for him it was when we in a wooded area so the fall was only about 4 foot rather than 300 foot!!

Fallen Soldier

Bobby was happy though as only a few minutes before, he claims he may have found a new type of orchid, and made shep take a photo too. If this is the case Bobby will be able to name it….he is unsure what as yet!

We finally got to the last camp site where we stayed the rest of the day, played cards and ate quite a bit before Bobby told us we would be woken up at 4am. At this point I wasn’t best pleased but the next day he was certainly right.

Day Four

Bobby’s plan was correct he had us all at the check point to enter the final bit of the trail to the sun gate (Inti Punku) right at the front of the queue! Basically 200 trekkers are aloud down the path a day, most wanting to get to the sun gate at sunrise. Being at the front Shep myself and Wolly (fellow trekker from the states) managed to get there a good 10 minutes before anyone else (shep first as usual!).

It was spectacular to see Machu Picchu in all its glory without any foreign noises, just the birds and the very aggressive sounding river within the bottom of the valley.

Once the rest of our group turned up we had a few photo’s taken and ventured down to Machu Picchu, where we managed to take the classic photo one with us goobers and one without!

at the sun gate

Machu Picchu was exactly what I thought, an amazing place rich in history, architecture, views and above a mysterious aura.

At Macchu Piccu

This is just a snip-it of many experiences, adventures and story’s within this, the best adventure yet in the life and times of Russell Dury!

The group:

The group

The magic:

The magic

Adios Amigos!