Lima to Cuzco/Machu Picchu

Trip Start Feb 22, 2005
Trip End Jun 22, 2005

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

15th April
No trip to Peru would be complete without visiting the last city of the Incas, Machu Picchu. There is a perfectly good train that runs direct from Cuzco to Machu Picchu but we were taking the Inca Trail, a 4 day hike over 33km, camping 3 nights along the way. The advantage being you arrive at dawn before the crowds and see plenty more ruins along the original route the Incas would have used to reach the city. The disadvantages...hiking and camping. (Ax)
We travelled buy bus to the start point, collecting the other 10 group members, 3 guides, 10 porters and our cook along the way. Although it was only supposed to be a 4 hour hike today (braking us in gently), an extra 1 hour was added when the bus couldn't't reach the end of the road as it had been dug up. We had lunch around our dinning table that doubled as a stretcher and met the rest of our group, which consisted of 1 English guy, and American guy, 6 Frogs, 2 Israeli guys, and 3 ladies from Argentina. The first nights camping was a nice introduction to the Inca trail. We arrived to our pitched tents and hot coca tea. We later realised this was to be very civilised camping with a dining tent and three course meals cooked for us by the amazing porters.
The next day the porters woke us at 5.30am with more coca tea. The coca tea turned out to be the Inca equivalent to a good British brew except with an extra kick. Coca leaves are chewed by all the porters and guides as the ancient Incas discovered that by doing so they could work harder for long and didn't need to eat or drink as much. Quechua People (the native people) have grown coca leaves for thousands of years for a multitude of purposes. Our Guide encouraged us all to buy a big bag to help us with the walk and probably to make his life easier. That evening after completing the Dead Woman's Pass, a 4215 meter col into the next valley, we had to explain to the other Brit in the party that the active ingredient in coca leaves is not in fact caffeine.
Third day we got up at 5am for what was to be the longest day, a climb through the beautiful cloud forest. The views were stunning with wild orchids growing all the side of the impressively engineered Inca footpath. We passed threw a stone tunnel carved into to mountain side and hummingbirds buzzed around the flowers. Alex even stopped moaning at one point. A very very long knee breaking decent to our final nights camping was rewarded by hot showers, cold beers and a feast cooked up by our unbelievable porters. These guys would leave after us having packed up our camp then run past us on the trail with 20-30kg on their backs to arrive in time to set up our tents and have a brew ready for our arrival. Apparently one porter still working on the Inca trail is 72!
On the final day we awoke bleary eyed at 3.50am to race to the Sun Gate above Machu Picchu for sunrise. On arrival Machu Picchu was shrouded in cloud and on our guides advice we sat patiently waiting for it to lift. After an hour or so we had our first glimpse of the city below, a few quick snaps and we were on our way again to spend time at the ruins before the crowds arrived on the early train from Cuzco.
As you can imagine Machu Picchu is amazing. The place was only rediscovered in 1941 by a American guy wandering around the jungle looking for the last hiding place of the Incas. When he got there two local families were living there farming on the terraces. The guy spent three years digging it out of the jungle with the help of some Yale University students and some locals. Unfortunately some locals had already nicked all the gold etc. The theory goes that Machu Picchu isnīt the last hiding place of the Incas after all. Our guide pointed out the next valley explaining that itīs probably up there, and that the tribe that live up there like white people... for breakfast. Itīs quite amazing that a lot of the locals donīt speak Spanish at all, they speak Quechua. Itīs really hard for them to get decent jobs as the language of their country is Spanish, and there arenīt many decent jobs to being with.
After a couple hours wandering around with our mouths open we headed down to Aguas Calientes, a hot spring, which is handily at the bottom of the mountain. On arrival I sprinted for the pools hoping that nobody would notice that I was wearing the same underpants that Iīd been wearing on the Trail for the past 4 days. The pools looked like each visitor since 1941 had done the same filthy trick. However we were cream crackered and this was probably the only hot soak we would get for the next three months.So in we jumped! A couple of hours later we were on the train back to Cuzco. This took 4 hours which made me feel a little better about spending 4 days walking 33 km.
Back in Cuzco we organised to go rafting. I managed to convince Alex that we were both expert enough rafters that we neednīt bother with the beginners trip and should go straight for the macho stuff, (even though we actually had a total of 0 hours experience between us). The rafting trip turned out to be brilliant (for those who know a 4-4+ grade). The next day we could hardly move, what with our aching knees and sore arms from paddling for our lives. Alex was starting to get a little concerned that this trip was turning into a exercise fest, so had a days shopping and headed for Lake Titicaca for some R&R.
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