. Then it was free time to chill in our hostel, although we all decided to climb part of a mountain to see sunset - sadly it turned out to be us getting gradually colder and colder while watching the clouds get slightly darker and the sun nowhere to be seen! So what was left to do, but have a few beers and dinner with some of the group before bed around 9pm! We did try to watch a film as we were so excited to have a dvd player in our room, but the plug kept falling out and with no fast forward, this meant we had to keep rewatching from the beginning - rather tedious, so we gave up on that pretty quick!!!
Tuesday... and we said farewell to the Inca trail walkers and headed off to meet our fellow Lares trekkers, still bit unsure of what we would be doing for the next few days! We had a three hour drive up and down a mountain to reach our start point and meet our horsemen who were waiting with their horses to load up all the tents and gear onto the very reluctant horses (don't blame them!!). So we finally started our trek around 11.30am following a narrow path up a mountain. We started at an altitude of about 3800m and after about 2 hours of zigzagging upwards, we reached a lagoon where a couple of tents were already set up with a table and chairs for lunch and a toilet with a tent, fabulous! By now we were at an altitude of around 4100m, it was grey and cloudy, cold and starting to rain, hmmm not quite what we had envisaged, as Ben had no jumper with him and another girl only had short denim shorts on..
. We were all very impressed with lunch, hot asparagos soup, and fried trout... better than we had eaten in most restaurants! After lunch there was some more rain, as we continued upwards to reach the pass at 4450m... it took about 1 hour more to reach it where we all received a congratulatory hug from Henry (our guide). It was then a couple of hours downhill to the campsite, so all in all not too bad on the old legs - more of a problem was finding the breath to get up the hill... you could just feel your heart beating at the speed of lightening! All chatting amongst the group came to a standstill when going up as we all had to concentrate on heavily breathing! As we got nearer the village where we were camping the rain eased off, and for about the last half hour we could see our red tents set up and waiting for us... On arrival, we were greeted to tubs of hot water to wash our faces, hands or even feet (for Ben)! Once "unpacked" in the tent we could hear a popping sound coming from the kitchen tent, to our delight we were presented with tea and popcorn... beautiful! By now it was about 6pm, so we stayed in the tent waiting for dinner - it was too cold to go outside and most of us were layered up in as many clothes as we could get on (we were still at an altitude of 3900m!). Henry started to teach us a card game, oohh an authentic peruvian game we thought, until we realised it was actually the old travellers classic, 'Shithead'! Glad to see these card games are worldwide! Dinner again was delicious - soup, followed by chicken & rice
. After finishing, we were forced to stay up til around 8pm to digest our dinner and hear our briefing for our trek tomorrow, where we had to climb 900m in the morning session... terror.
Wednesday started with a wake up call by the assitant guide Jose - a nice cup of tea in our tent, and another bowl of hot water waiting outside to wash with, what service! No one had slept that well, mainly as it was so damn cold, but also during the night it became apparent that we were on a slight slope - as we all kept sliding down to the cold wet door of the tent! We got introduced to the team probably - there was a chef, an assistant chef, 2 waiters and 5 horsemen. We were actually staying in the village of the horsemen and what I hadnt realised is that on Monday they had to walk with the horses down to the original meeting point - only to then have to walk back the next day with all our gear! Made harder by wearing sandals and their ponchos (no rain gear), and with one of the horsemen being 54 years old! Puts us to shame! Porridge AND omlettes for breakfast (wow) ready for our big climb for the day which would take 5-6 hours all uphill... it was very misty so we could not actually see the top of the mountain we were climbing which in a way it was quite nice, as I kept saying that the top of the mist was the top of the mountain, even though it never was! We stopped for a snack lunch that the cooks had put together of a sandwich, chocolte and a lollypop to keep us going as there was nowhere they could set up the tents until we had reached the pass and started our descent. We sat on these rocks looking out to a lagoon covered in mist, but as we were eating our lunch the mist cleared to an amazing view of surrounding mountains we didnt even know existed. Beautiful! Here the horses and some llamas carring all our gear overtook us with the horsemen to race to the lunch spot to prepare for us - having left way after us as they had to pack up all our tents and breakfast they must have sped up the mountain
! It only took about another hour for us to reach the pass, at 4800m... we had all brought up a small stone with us from the last resting point on Henrys instructions where he explained to us about making an offering to Pacha Mama (Quechua for Mother Earth) with coca leaves and our stones built into a sort of tower. After about half an hour up there of making wishes and taking photos, we were so cold that we headed back down the other side of the mountain to lunch, yummy! After lunch it was only another couple of hours downhill to the campsite and the weather had cleared to bring out the sun, hey our offering worked! The scenery was beautiful, with valleys of green surrounding the mountains and we arrived at the campsite around 3pm... this time it was a sheltered field with no village surrounding it, a waterfall in the background, and a forest behind us - one girl described it as something from the never ending story... Being so early we had time to explore a bit, rest in our tents and wait patiently for our popcorn and story time from Henry as he kept trying to escape telling us about his history and his mad hat that he wore... As we were surrounded by forest here, the horsemen collected firewood and we ate dinner around a blazing fire. After dinner there were salsa lessons for the more active members of the group before bedtime!
Thursday - a lie in until 6.45am (woohoo!), and a much warmer nights sleep I thought - although I was sleeping in gloves, hat, 2 pairs of trousers, scarf and 3 jumpers!
! Today was a nice relaxing and easy 3 hour walk down to the town of Urubamba, admiring more beautful views of the valley with the sun shining for the first time on our trek. We had lunch just outside the town at some ladys restaurant, where the chefs cooked in her garden. There were some very cute ducklings waddling around, and playing in the little pond! We had a couple of hours to kill in which Jose tought us to play frogs; a table with holes in it and a frog with a very small hole in his mouth, which we had to throw these large coins at, getting different number of points for each hole or 1000 points for the frogs mouth... which none of us other than Jose and the driver managed! Trekking part pretty much over, we caught a train up to Aguas Calientes - another very touristy town from which Machu picchu can be reached very easily by bus. We were staying in a hotel that night, pure luxury to be able to shower and then head out to try some alpaca steaks in a restaurant before a beer and then bed ready for another early start to get to Machu Picchu by 6.30am.
We awoke to rain around 5am, not quite the weather to see one of the worlds most picturesque sights, but hey ho! We headed up on the bus with thunder & lightening in full swing, and great views of low clouds circling the mountains. At the checkpoint we got our passports stamped to say we had visited Machu Piccu, before heading up another 260 steps to a viewpoint of the surrounding mountains: Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu
. The only problem was that mist had completely covered the entire view... it was like a white blanket hiding it, teasing us. Henry started his tour but it must have been frustrating for him as we all kept turning around to get a sneak to see if the blanket had been uncovered or not! Luckily, while we were up there and before too many tourists had ventured into the city the mist and clouds broke up to give us our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. Pretty awesome. After countless photos, we headed down into the city to learn how it was built, discovered and what happened in each small compartment. We spent a good few hours touring around, but by 10.30am it was riddled with the colourful clothing of all the tourists, pushing and shoving to get into different alleyways. This is when Ben and I decided to leave before the tourists ruined our ideallic and peacful memories of the mystical site, and we headed back to Aguas Calientes to try out the hot springs for a bit of refreshment before our train and bus back to Cuzco. These 'hot springs' were not as natural as we had assumed with man made pools that looked rather dirty, but it was still nice and warm and relaxing. My only gripe about the day was that after 3 days trekking through beautiful scenery with all the time in the world it all seemed to be so rushed for the most important place: we couldnt walk up to the sungate or up Huayna Picchu as we weren't left enough time to do it comfortably. Then again, I am not sure I fancied the idea of 200 people scrambling up 300m to the top of a mountain in single file so maybe we didnt miss much, we will never really know!
Back in civilisation of Cusco we witnessed a punch up (with numerous headbutts thrown in...) in the street with a bus driver and another car driver - no one too sure why they were fighting (road rage we assume) but soon enough it ended when the car driver realised he didnt stand a chance with the bus driver towering over him! After that excitement we headed for drinks and dinner, before we collapsed back in our hotel exhausted...
So Monday morning, and we set off for the Sacred Valley at 7.30am with the rest of the group doing the Inca Trail. Our first stop out of Cuzco was in a small community that Gap care for, where we learnt how the women make all kinds of hats, ponchos etc - we tried to barter for garments as we were encouraged to (apparently, its how we can build a rapport with them), although not so sure we got a great deal, but there you go! Next we headed to Pisac, an old & historic Inca Settlement where our very informative guide Percy gave us a lot of information about how the settlement was built, as we walked around admiring the views in the distance. Next stop was for a buffet lunch, which brought terror to Ben and I after our last experience of buffet lunch had not gone down so well... fortunately, this buffet was something else in a lovely setting with llamas and vicunas around us (not to mention the scrummy food...). After lunch we headed to Ollantaytambo, a very touristy town where the Inca trail starts from. We walked off our lunch (and more) climibing over 250 steps up another ruin to get great views of the town and learn a bit more about the Inca Civil War, as well as seeing the remains that the Spanish did not destroy..