Get higher, baby

Trip Start Jan 28, 2011
Trip End Apr 29, 2011

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Where I stayed
Cusco Plaza Hotel

Flag of Peru  , Cusco,
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

We got back from the jungle to Cusco, where after a day of acclimatising to the altitude (3600m) and buying stuff made from alpacas and llamas, we met our guide for the Lares trek, with the traditional indigenous name of John.

He scared us about the trip very thoroughly and professionally.  We were ready!  3.45am the next day, we stumbled out into a minibus for the first leg- a 4 hour drive on what was apparently a road, though seemed to be a series of small rivers with rocks in.  Getting stuck in the river on the edge of a cliff kept us awake- especially Manuel the driver.

After a brief stop for coca tea for us and giant plates of rice and eggs for our guides, and to buy gifts of bread and pencils for local children, we arrived at the start of the trek.  Whereupon it immediately started to rain. Lots.  In the great tradition of British holidays, we sat in the car for a bit to wait for the men with horses to arrive.  

Then we were off- uphill, for the rest of the day.  The first morning was essentially altitude training, plus fording a river with no shoes on. VERY cold.  The going was slow, particularly for Pete.  Being able to adapt to high altitude seems to be something else Helen has in common with mules. The views were minimal, the banter was breathless.  But just in case you're starting to admire our Bear Grylls-ness, we arrived at our lunch spot, a tent that had been put up for us and a 3-course hot meal cooked by our personal chef, Daniel.  And most of our stuff was being carried by horses, driven by our porter Pablo and his little brother.  They were running up the hill in ponchos and sandals.  We were the only tourists in our group and our total entourage was 6 people.  So not that intrepid really, though the toilet was al fresco, surrounded by curious dogs.

Another couple of hours of climbing took us to 4200m and our camp for the night (pre-erected by Pablo and family, obv).  It was FREEZING, and still wet, but (and this is still strange for us) not at all windy.  Quick change into thermals for dinner (of which there was masses- we are struggling with the double carb concept), bed at 7.30pm, shattered. Rock and roll.

Note: zipped-together sleeping bags plus single sleeping mats. Doesn't really work.

A lazy 6am start for Day 2 (coca tea in bed, courtesy of Pablo), preparing us for 6 hours walking before lunch and 2 after.  First thing was more climbing, yay!  Impressed John by managing to get to the top of the pass (4600m) in 90mins. Double carb and coca now doing the business.  Rain and sleet all the way up, then, for a bit of variety, a brief flurry of snow at the top.  John a bit disappointed that we didn't get as excited as some Australians about the snow.

Then the snow cleared, and we finally could see the view down to the lakes.  Absolutely stunning, and all the more impressive for suddenly appearing. After the second pass (4580m), we headed mostly down passing small communities of Quechua families (one of the indigenous peoples of Peru), stopping to say hello and give bread rolls to the local children, who were very sweet and very shy (unsurprisingly, as we sounded funny and looked ridiculous- see pictures). 

By lunchtime, the sun had come out!  More amazing scenery, and a switch from ponchos to sun cream/glasses.  We descended to 3220m to Pallata, and our second night campsite- which doubled as the local football pitch and bull-grazing paddock. Wet. 

Final day was archeology day, starting at 5.30am (love the coca tea and pancakes), we walked down past lots of inca terraces for growing crops and medicinal plants, and the small inca settlement of Puma Maccha (Puma Town.  No sign of Courtney Cox).  From there we started to see more and more people, walking into the town of Ollayantaymbo in time for lunch and a cerveza.  Very pleased with ourselves.

Next stop, the tourist train to Agua Calientes, the base for Machu Picchu. Full of noisy gringos- a bit of a shock to the system having seen only 4 other tourists in the last 3 days.  Met up with the 2 Australian girls from our tour. Hot shower, alpaca for dinner (interrupted briefly by a mudslide evacuation test- for us this just involved the power going off for a bit).

Up at 3.30 again the next day (I'd like to say we're getting good at this, but it would be a lie) to queue in the dark and rain for an hour (yes really- this is the only way to get on the first 5 buses of tourists going to Machu Picchu and hence get the ticket to climb the big hill above it).

First views of Machu Picchu- intermittent. Was quite cool that different bits of it kept emerging through the cloud though.  Had an excellent tour from John before the crowds arrived, and had a chance to look around ourselves before it got overrun later in the morning.  9.30ish, we headed up to climb Wayna Picchu (the big hill you can always see in the background on postcards).  This hill had stone steps most of the way up, wide enough for one person (occasionally 2 small ones) and with a sheer drop off one side. Fun, if you like the fear.  Helen did not like the fear, and stopped short of the summit for everyone's safety.  Pete made it all the way to the top (including a wriggle through a tunnel and a staircase that was essentially in the sky), scaring himself silly in the process but feeling quite triumphant.  The views from the top of the lovely clouds made it all the more worthwhile.

We spent another few hours exploring, and finally getting some clearer views (and photos).

Left Machu Picchu (having got our passport stamps) at about 1.30, back to Agua Calientes for a lunch of Cuy (guinea pig) next to the roaring river, quick dip in the (frankly a bit rubbish) hot pools, then back onto the Venga train/replacement bus to Cusco by 10pm, followed by a day that consisted entirely of sleeping and pancake-eating.

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