Lima food, Cusco altitude - Camino Inka Trek

Trip Start Dec 10, 2011
Trip End Sep 29, 2012

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Friday, April 27, 2012

My next part of my world travels brings me to Peru. I had booked the Inka Trail and persuaded my Dad to join me back in the UK. So on leaving Colombia, I skipped Ecuador and went directly to Lima. My Dad's flight was on the same day and we met literally at the custom control inside the airport and met our taxi to take us to the hostel I booked for 3 nights before our organised tour started.

Dad and I visit a lot of great food places and the city of Lima, I was told it would be grey and cold but we have lucked out with sunshine and chillier evenings. We both catch up a lot of gossip and chat like we had not been apart. I also get to indulge in a surprise Dad brought out for me, which was.... a big block of English cheddar cheese. It was gone in two days, thanks Dad!

Our tour starts in Lima and we meet our group for departure to the airport to transfer to Cusco and we're surprised we are allowed to take liquids i.e. water on board without being checked, nothing is the same I think to myself in any of these countries as you would expect in yours. Our trip begins with a short tour of Cusco and a briefing about our trip. Cusco is a cute little town, with a main plaza and well preserved churches and Inka remains. The city is at 3380 metres above sea level and Dad and I start on the coca tea early.

The next day we visit the Sacred Valley and our first stop takes us to visit the Ccaccaccollo Community a Women's Weaving Project sponsored by the GAP foundation we are traveling with and some of our money is going towards. You can read more here We watch the women weaving and sewing Alpaca and Llama wool products. Dad and I make sure we buy some of the items, and a little from different stalls.

The group we're with are all quite young from all different countries; USA, Britain, Norway and Australia. Our tour guide is called Max. Yes not a very Peruvian name, his father was a a tour guide and chose different names including Allan for his brother, that's the same name as my Dad. We've been drinking plenty of coca tea, tastes a bit like camomile.The last night Dad and I did not sleep great, getting up to go the toilet and feeling like we had headaches. Apparently sickness, headaches etc are all normal our guide tells us. We drink plenty of water and take it slowly. We visit Pisac ruins, Pisac market and Ollantaytambo ruins during this day. Learning of the history of sacrifices of women, ancient treasures buried and burials in the hillsides. Being so high at 3600 metres above sea level, we can feel our chests tightening and our breath quickening. It's all part of it. It is also chilly and the choice to wear shorts and sandals was not great. I improvise by putting on my lovely purple wool ankle socks under my sandals, it is a good traveler look, not! When we visited Pisac market it was very big, we only had 30 minutes here and it was overwhelming the choice, we headed for the local bakery and ate a quick snack of 'croisant de queso', Dad liked it. We had alpaca meat for lunch and I am super excited at eating rice pudding, another reminder of England. We then head to Ollytaytambo and set in for the night for the big Inka Trail!

I am with Dad in the phase of waiting before we start the Inka Trail 'proper'. I imagined that it is what the landing place is for heaven or hell dependent on how you've behaved in your life. We are now in 'Inka's Garden', Ollytaytambo, listening to dance music whilst drinking some tea. I'm now drinking Twinings Lady Grey tea thanks to Dad bringing me my fresh supply of 200 Twinings tea bags with five different varieties of Darjeeling, English Breakfast, Assam, Ceylon and the aforementioned. I worked out that if I only have one a day (unlikely), it could last me the next seven months.

I still cannot believe it is April and I am sat here about to see one of the new seven wonders of the world. The thing is my mind is somewhere else right now, in Colombia. I see images in my mind of the children from the volunteer project and keep thinking of the mountains every time I see something similar and almost wishing I was still there. I could just keep going, round the world, see all the places I'd planned to see but already I feel that little bit of loneliness again, missing the great people I made friends with. I'll have to think about what to do, either decision will be good for me.

The big day arrived, we were setting off to the start of the 'Inka Trail - Camino'. We are greeted by our porters who will be with us for the rest of the trip. They weigh our duffle bags and stuff a few of them into one large rucksack. Fortunately for them, now they are only allowed 30kg, and this is checked at the control point. We also show our passports at a checkpoint and tickets, thanks to the ticket I am aged one more year at it has to show the age at the end of the year! I now have a very special stamp in my passport, INKA TRAIL PERU!

We start our first day of the 42 km walk. It is a gentle start with regular stops, a 'break' goodie bag to indulge in and toilets along the way. In the distance is a snow capped peak, another trail leading up to it. We also walk along the railpath for those people who cheat. The hills all around are covered in dense greenery, it's the Peruvian highlands and we see remains of the first Inka settlement on the way. By 2pm we stop for lunch and to our complete surprise and delight, the porters had erected two tents, tables, chairs complete with tablecloths, salt, pepper and sugar pot. We enjoy a delicious 3 course lunch of corn soup, garlic bread, river trout caught fresh from the local village and a typical Peruvian desert called ' Mazamorra Morada', made of corn, apple and cinammon and it is a bright purple colour and absolutely delicious. As soon as we're having a quick siesta, the porters had whipped down the tents and then eat their own lunch. We're next to a strong flowing river, the sun is strong overhead and all the group are enjoying their well-earned siestas to the hum of the river. We're at 2700 metres above sea level here, nestled in the hillside, the sky is beautiful bright blue with whispy clouds, a few wild chickens clucking around. I imagine how the Inka people lived here, in a protected and isolated area. People who were high up in the Inka society would say want fish for lunch from the ports of Lima. It would be ordered and arrive three days later by messengers. The Inka people interestingly did not write anything down, so a lot of the way of life is only interpreted from the artefacts found here and the remains of dwellings.

As we continue on our trek, we pass horses, donkeys and a few steep climbs. Dad and I chew on our coca leave stash. They do not taste great but do get rid of my ears popping. We need all the help we can get, we have had a few headaches so far but not any major altitude sickness symptoms. That's good I think to myself, as I would like to make sure I get Dad back home in one piece!

That first day we walked a total of 8 km and finished at Salkantay, the porters had already put all our sleeping tents up for us. We had an afternoon tea of warm popcorn, tea and crackers and Max taught us some local Quecha language. 'Allillanchu' Hello, how are you?, 'Allillanmi' I am ok thanks, 'Sullpayqui' thanks so much and 'Racray' Salud or buen apetito. So now I've learnt another language!

The second day we completed 12 km, it was very sunny and much hotter and with a beautiful blue sky again. We started with getting our passports stamped at the next checkpoint. We get our snack bag and we were off. It was a very steep hill and the views were of the green dense covered hillsides and again the snow capped mountain in the distance. We walked through forest which was humid, we saw caterpillars 'chillcas', sparrows, a grey deer and what I at first glance and picked it up was a small green slug, actually turned out to be poo from the caterpillars. The fauna was full of wild flowers and cacti. We reached the 4200 metres point called Dead Woman's Pass, as the shape resembles a woman lying down. We both made wishes at the top which is tradition. It was good to get here, the ascent was difficult but more for Dad and we took it slow and at our own pace. Then there was a long and deep ascent to get to our next base camp. Our guide and group had waited for us to have lunch and we both felt a massive sense of achievement completing this day.

The third day and the last day in April, we wake up early at 4am and was greeted by a coca tea in our tents. After washing and changing and breakfast of a pancake with the shape of Machu Pichu mountain in chocolate on it, washed down by hot chocolate, I went to use the toilet. I washed my hands and looked out at the wonderful view of mystical clouds over the green hills.

Our first point was an Inka lookout point, where runners would take and send messages using mirrors, strings tied with knots for how many potatoes etc. All up the hill till the next point of 3900 metres, then followed by all downhill from now with a 1300 metre descent.  The path on the way down on each side was framed by small wild flowers, yellow, daisies, bluebells, red honeysuckle, green sprouting orchids. Surrounding were the mystical clouds. The porters literally jogged passed us on the same steps. The walking sticks and a mix of British, Latino and world music got me down that mountain and the many steps. It was without doubt, the toughest part of the entire Inka Trek for me, my knees were feeling it.

We then started to walk through a completely different landscape and climate and the most beautiful part of the Inka Trail. It was a cloud forest, of bamboo trees, red and green moss covered paths, water drops on the end of the sprouting bamboo leaves. We could hear a lot more birds now and we passed two more Inka remains. One being a model of the Machu Pichu site.

We walked along the original Inka trail stoned path and a sheer drop to one side, passing a couple of bridges, passed through a cave and heard a lot of frogs croacking, later I found out it was good we did not spot one as they were poisonous. The views from this part of the trek were truly breath-taking, again we were met by our porters and chefs by another wonderful 3 course lunch of asparagus soup, buffet of salda, fried chicken breats, potato, quinoa, cheese and ham rolls like pastry finished off by a large gateaux sponge cake served to us by the chefs themselves. On the cake was a wish saying well done to us for doing the trek. 

After the lunch we needed some time to digest, I sat on a very large rock overlooking the mountains and valley beneath to think a little. The porters in the distance are busy arranging everything ready for their next part of the journey. Apparently it's another 3 hours all downhill from here. I can hear in the background noise the plates and pots being washed, chriping of sparrows as they fly from bush to bush. The weather is sunny and hot, with a blue sky above me and I can see the clouds perfectly formed all around shaping the sky. I think of people far away from me and I send them a virtual kiss from almost to Machu Pichu, Peru!

During this day we walked for a total of nine and a half hours and boy did I feel it in my knees! We continued the walk downhill and saw another Inka remains site, the Machu Pichu mountain and a farming terraces. This providing it's own micro climate on each one for different crops which used to provide the food to Machu Pichu. We heard some history about how the site is named the lost city, with the actual last Inca site being found nearby Vilcabamba, by Hiram Bingham. This was harder on my knees, headphones back on and off we went down the hill. We visited the farming terrace we saw from afar earlier and got to our camp about 4pm. Dad had quite a treat, he got to help me wash my hair with the aid of a bowl of warm water and a bottle of water to rinse, I did the washing bit and Dad rinsed for me. Hair clean, job done! We had another nice dinner that evening and a goodbye ceremony with the porters and chefs, we gave them a group tip and as per the Quecha custom said goodybe to each and every one of them by them closing both their hands clasped over ours. It was very sincere and they had done a fantastic job, I would recommend G Adventures without a doubt again.

One more sleep and we would be going to Machu Pichu finally, very excited!

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