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Cusco and the Inca Trail

sunny 26 °C

So after booking our Inca Trail some time in the summer (to ensure that we got a place) October finally came around and it was time for us to head to Cusco so we could acclimatise for the altitudes that we would be climbing to during the trail.

We arrived in Cusco 3 days before our hike was due to start. Those Incas certainly knew what they were doing when the built this stunning city. Cusco is positioned at 3600 meters above sea level, in a large valley. So when you first arrive the City quite literally takes your breath away.

The hostel that we booked called Casa Hospedaje LLaqtayay, was a very small, family run house, positioned up the hill, slightly out of town. When we arrived the Lady owner, Sonia, greeted us all with a very warm smile and a cup of coca tea; she immediately made us feel at home and advised us of the best way to avoid altitude sickness. Which included eating no red meat, fat or dairy for 24 hours when we first arrived.

The next 3 days flew by as we took in the sights of this wonderful city. The weather was warm and sunny so we spent hours just walking around the town. Craig managed to gather a small fan club of 6 year old children who were delighted when he took their photo and showed them their picture on his digital camera. On the second day we decided that we were out of the danger zone for altitude sickness so when we had lunch we decided to get a jug of Pisco Sour - which was a great idea while we were drinking it. But when it came to walking up the hill to (Sexy woman) some of us began to feel a bit the worse for wear - a pounding headache ensued. So we ended up jumping in a cab up the hill to the Inca ruin and then being a bit naughty and skirting round the outside of the queue for entry and viewing the ruin from a distance (without paying a penny). This resulted in some Chinese tourists being very irritated with us and shouting at us while waving their expensive entry tickets at us - oh well :-).

The other major activity that we took part in during our time in Cusco was shopping for Alpaca wear. There were literally hundreds of stalls where you could purchase brightly decorated knit wear - including leg warmers, jumpers, socks, gloves, scarves and of course traditional style Peruvian hats. We took it in turn trying on various ridiculous looking clothes and laughing at each other (and occasionally buying some of the items).

On the day before the big hike we decided between us that as we would probably be given only very basic food for the next 4 days and also needed to carb load so we treated ourselves to a large lunch at Jack's restaurant. We had delicious hamburgers and chips, followed by chocolate brownies and lattes - yum! Now we were ready for 4 days of walking up mountains.

The pre-hike briefing that we attended at SAS Travel offices allowed us to meet the 15 other people that we would be spending the next few days with - a mixture of American, Scottish and English faces. We also met our guides, two young Peruvian guys, who gave us our kit bags that the Chuskies (Porters) would be carrying for us, with strict instructions not to fill them over 10Kgs. So we hurried back to the hostel so we could work out what we could fit into the bags.

We woke up at the crack of dawn so we could have one last shower (well the girls did, Craig didn't bother) and were picked up by one of the Chuskies (Porters). Who took all 4 of our bags and carried them like they were full of feathers. When we got on the coach we all fell asleep and so soon arrived at the start point of the walk, where the Chuskies loaded up their massive backpacks and we all stood around feeling nervous about what awaited us.

The first mornings walk took us on a gradual up hill climb, where we saw our first glimpse of the Inca's legendary trail and one of the first small Inca village ruins, on a backdrop of snow capped mountains and fast flowing rivers, with warm sunshine on our backs. The pace was pretty comfortable, which meant that we had a chance to chat to the other people on the hike. Amazingly it seemed that everyone in our group was really nice, not one annoying Mr Bean type to irritate us for days - result!

Before we knew it we arrived at the spot where we were going to have lunch. We were greeted with a round of applause from the Chuskies - which was pretty embarrassing as the Chuskies had ran up the mountain, with all our stuff on their backs, so they could arrive before us and set up a tent to eat in. The food then presented for lunch was pretty unbelievable considering it was cooked with what they had carried with them and cooked on a portable gas stove. We were given fresh quinoa soup followed by a chicken curry, rice, a vegetable salad, jungle potatoes and banana with Dolce De Leche for dessert. We were all amazed with the high standard of the cooking - perhaps the visit to Jacks wasn't really necessary after all.

The afternoon walk was a little tougher - with a more steep climb, plus we had a little rain, but we were enjoying ourselves, the scenery was amazing and the company wasn't bad either. At one point we had to jump to the side of the path as 4 llamas stampeded past us, quickly followed by a lone donkey - rush hour in Peru!

We arrived at our camp site for the night to be greeted by another embarrassing round of applause from the Chuskies and another amazing dinner cooked on a portable stove. At dinner Kerry made an impact on the rest of the group when she announced that she hoped that she would be able to "crack walnuts between her butt cheeks by Christmas, with all the walking". For a moment there was nothing but silence, but then lots of laughter quickly followed - the banter had begun and we spent the rest of the evening chatting and laughing with our group.

Our first nights sleep in the tent was not a good one, Jo realised that only time she had slept in a tents was when she had spent the day drinking cider at a music festival. Trying to sleep stone cold sober on a hard floor of a tent is actually fairly difficult. So when we were woken at 6am with the sound of "good morning, time to wake up, here's a coca tea", none of us jumped out of our tents. But the view that greeted us when we did eventually poke our heads out, was amazing; we were surrounded by mountains and a early morning, lilac sky. We were then given a hot breakfast of pancakes and porr idge, again prepared by our amazing Chuskies. As we got ourselves ready for the days hike the Chuskies hurried around and packed up the tents and sleeping bags and started up the mountain so they would get to the lunch spot before us - these guys seemed super human!

In our briefing we were told that day 2 would be the most physically demanding part of the walk and they weren't wrong. We walked up several hundred meters, literally up through the clouds, where the temperature dropped considerably and we became more than a little breathless due the thin air. The highest point was through Dead Woman's Pass - whose name had made Jo a little nervous as she imagined having to walk right on the edge of a mountain, which had resulted in a few woman falling and dying. Thankfully the name actually comes from the shape of the mountain, which looks like a woman lying down. On the downward decent from Dead Woman's Pass the few hundred steps that the Incas had left as a path began to take its toll on our knees and so we were glad of our walking poles, which eased the pressure on them a little. By lunch time we were all feeling pretty weary, so the large amount of (delicious) food that we then consumed meant that most of felt like an afternoon nap. But that was not part of the plan so before we knew it we were being told by Eddy (the Group Leader) that we had to get going - which meant climbing up another mountain.

By day 2 we had all worked out that Eddy (our group leader) was Peru's version of The Fonze. He had the big hair, the tight T-shirts and the cheesy lines. Unfortunately unlike the Fonze he took himself very seriously and very much liked the sound of his own voice. When we arrived at an Inca ruin he would launch into a half hour lecture about the "amaaaaaazing Incas" and the "evil Spanners (Spanish)" - he also had a very strong accent. We soon learned that once he started talking we should get ourselves comfortable as we would be there for a while. The assistant hike leader, Caesar, was a completely different character, very cool and calm and a little shy. He obviously found Eddy quite irritating and would role his eyes when Eddy came out with one of his tall tales.

By early evening the weather had closed in and it started to rain just as we arrived at an Inca ruin, which meant that Eddy had to cut short his evening lecture. That night, after our dinner the Chuskies made us a delicious hot fruit cocktail, which was made even better by the large bottle of dark rum that Eddy produced. After a long day of walking up a and down Inca steps a hot rum cocktail was the perfect tonic. To spice the evening up a little more we started playing a drinking game, which made us all very giggly, it was a great night with fantastic company. Having spent the last couple of days together we had developed some really good friendships, everybody felt at ease with each other and there was non stop chatting. We all got on particularly well with one couple called Rosa and Mike. Craig and Mike were having lots of man chats as they strode up the mountains together, it was a real bro-mance and the girls all really liked Rosa as soon as they met her and also enjoyed taking the piss out of the boys together.

When we woke up on the third morning the rain had cleared and so we could see the beautiful mountain range that we were camped in front of. This day was described as "Unforgettable" when we booked the trip, so our expectations were high. But we were not disappointed, the views that we saw for the next few hours were indeed unforgettable, absolutely stunning. Pacha Muma (Peruvian Mother Nature) was smiling on us and the day was perfectly clear so we could see mountains and valleys for miles and miles. We also learned what an "ecological toilet" was as there were no proper toilets on this part of the trail - which resulted in us becoming "tinkle buddies" this meant one group would wait at the top of the path and stop anyone coming down, while the others did a pee. Only 2 days before we didn't know the other people on our hike and now we were tinkle buddies!

The time flew by, despite our legs being tired from the previous two days of walking and before we knew it we were near our final camping spot. We arrived at an Inca Ruin just before midday, which over looked a beautiful, lush green valley with our campsite a couple of hundred meters below. Although we should mention that Craig and his new best buddy Mike arrived about half before everyone else as the pair of them seemed to climb and descend the mountains twice as fast as anyone else - so much so that Craig got the nick name "mountain goat" for his ability to use his spindly legs to get around mountains with such ease. When we all arrived we sat in the sunshine, on the Inca Ruin taking in the scenery and reflecting on what we had just seen and experienced. It was a pretty wonderful feeling.

After a half hour we headed down to the campsite for our lunch, which left the afternoon free for us to do whatever we felt like. One of the options was to take a 30 minute walk to a waterfall. Although we were all very tired we also hadn't showered in 3 days so most of us felt that this was a good option so stuck our bathing suits on and were led to the waterfall by the head Chuskie Riccardo. When we arrived we were a little underwhelmed by the waterfall as it was very small, but Riccardo was determined to make it better for us so stripped down to his pants and proceeded to try and redirect the water flow by placing a bolder in the water - he wasn't very successful but the girls found it very entertaining watching him in his white pants in the water. After quite a bit of giggling we decided to take the plunge and get into the water, which was freezing; straight from the top of the snow capped mountains. The benefit was that the cold water did help sooth our tired muscles a little, plus make us smell a bit better, so definitely worth it.

On the last evening we had one last amazing meal prepared by our Chuskies - they even made us a cake. The slight downer of the evening is that we had to decide what tip to give the Chuskies for all the work that they had done - which was definitely deserved but was a very difficult topic to discuss between a group of 15 people. It took us quite some time to decide on what was an appropriate amount to give each, but we got there in the end.

The final morning we were woken up at 3.30am, which was horrid early. But as we had Machu Picchu to look forward to nobody complained. We had breakfast and then made our way to the queue for the checkpoint, which we appeared to be at the back of. We therefore didn't make it to the Sun Gate (the point where you can first see the city) until gone 7.30. But when we got there the view was totally unbelievable, we had seen several Inca ruins over the past 3 days, but Machu Picchu was huge! To think that this city had lain undiscovered, covered in forest until only a hundred years ago was mind boggling.

We walked the final 500 hundred meters into the Machu Picchu and were greeted by literally hundreds of tourists. After 3 days of only being with our hiking group of 15 and the Chuskies it was quite a shock to be surrounded by so many people. They were pushing and shoving and shouting, it was quite irritating, especially as we had just walked the Inca trail to be there and they had just caught the train up the mountain. But nevertheless walking around the ancient city was a fantastic experience, it's just a shame they let so many tourists in each day.

Eddy had advised us to go see the Inca Bridge, which was a 30 minute walk away from the centre of the city. So we made our way through the hoards of people to the bridge. The path to the bridge took us to a much quieter area of the city, where we could view it from a peaceful distance. The Inca Bridge wasn't anything particularly special but the walk there and back gave us a great view of the city without being pushed and shoved by the other tourists. Plus it had the added benefit of allowing the girls to get very close to some llamas that were grazing on the ruins. Kerry and Jo liked the llamas so much they decided to at first touch the llamas and then straddle a sitting llama- the llama didn't look very impressed but the girls certainly enjoyed themselves.

We had to get the 1 O'Clock bus back down the mountain as we had a final group lunch in Aguas Calientes (the nearest major town to Machu Picchu). After lunch the four of us, plus Rosa and Mike had arranged to stay in Aguas Calientes for the night as there were hot springs in the town (hence the name). So we stuck our swim suits on and made our way to the hot springs. The water in the hot springs was more than a little yellow, but we were all so tired and desperate just to laze in some hot water we got straight in. A very nice man then came over and took our drinks orders from inside the pool, so we drank ice cold beers in a hot mineral water pool, with big smiles on our faces. We could see the mountains in the distance and then it started to rain so steam started to rise up out of the water - bliss.

The 6 of us headed back to the hostel just as it started to get dark, bought a bottle of rum on route and then arranged to meet in Leia's room for a little party. Leia put on a lovely spread of cheese crackers, Oreo cookies and various other snackets and Craig played some tunes on his I-pod - us Essex people know how to throw a party! Aguas Calientes had quite a few bars so after drinking the last of our rum we hit the town- we managed to find a bar that was willing to give us 5 Pisco Sours free (yes 5 drinks free!) if we bought just 1. So we all got quite merry on far too many Pisco's and then proceeded to dance like crazy people in a near deserted night club that we found. The DJ in the nightclub was so impressed with our dancing skills he let us pick the tracks, so we ended up busting some moves to classic tracks like YMCA, Wham, Salt & Pepper, Vanilla Ice and various other 90's hits. We were soooo cool!

We eventually got back to the hostel at gone 3.30am, which meant we had been awake for 24 hours, as we had been woken at 3.30am the previous morning to hike to Machu Picchu. It had been absolutely fantastic 4 days and our night in Aguas Calientes was the icing on the cake. We'd seen some stunning scenery, visited one of the wonders of the world, made some fantastic friends and faced some challenging walking.... And loved each and every second of it!

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Posted by BakeJoBond 05.12.2011 12:40 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains hiking peru cusco inca_trail incas

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