With a good review from a South American Explorer binder, we chose the Eco Wayky guide service to arrange our trek. Eco Wayky offers private and group excursions, including the Inca trail as well as the alternative, less crowded routes. We opted for a trek that after climbing a single pass, would place us in the Huchuyqosqo Ruins for an overnight stay before descending into the Sacred Valley where we would make our way north to Aquas Calientes and Machu Picchu.
Our guides met us at our hotel where we drove out to Chinchero, a small village tucked away in the Andes. We picked up our cook and horsemen and began the long trek up the valley. The valley rose upward as we ascended into hills lined with walled terraces still used by the locals for their crops. The colors of the mountains grew more intense as we approached the summit of the 14,500 foot pass we needed to cross to descend into our valley. 14,500 feet is the equivalent to the highest peak in the continental U.S., but here, itīs just a "pass." You donīt even come close to the top of the surrounding peaks!
We thought we were making phenomenal time. We completed the entire hike in four hours and we were told it would take over six. However, as we made our way up, we heard locals coming up the trail behind us. Off in the distance, we could make out their shapes and the colors of their clothes as they followed a mile behind. We expected to see them after clearing the pass in about an hour. Embarrassingly, they overtook us in less than 15 minutes! 20 school children passed us by and disappeared over the top of the pass having completed the two hour climb portion of our hike in about 45 minutes. Our guide tried to make us feel better explaining that evolution had dealt the locals a better hand by giving them much larger lungs to make them little high altitude supermen.
We cleared the summit of the pass and began our descent into the Sacred Valley. As we dropped elevation, the topography gave way from high desert grass to ravines lined with century flower plants (look like pineapple plants.) We encountered a local tending her heard of 1,000 sheep (the sheep were scared of the giant gringos!). We descended further until the outline of the ancient city of Huchuyqosqo (little Cusco), began to take shape below. Our trek wound itīs way through the canyons passing by new discovered ruins being cleared off, following a mountain stream until finally arriving at the ancient city. To our surprise, we would be the only residents in the ruin for the evening.
We spent the afternoon exploring the ruins in complete isolation. This was exactly what weīd hoped to have! The traditional Inca Trail is famed for itīs beauty and the ruins encountered on the way to Machu Picchu; it is however, very crowded! Huchuyqosqo has not become a big destination even though it still retains itīs terraces and much of the foundations of the residential buildings. Our guide said that until recently, the ruin had been abandoned for all practical purposes. Only recently have some guides offered it as a trekking destination. The remnants of the Incaīs work is amazing and it doesnīt take much imagination to see what was once a small city. Even the irrigation pond built on the terraces still remains intact and is used today by the local farmers.
As night fell in the mountains we ate dinner with our guide and headed to our tents for a night on the side of the mountain. At approximately 12:30 a.m., I noticed problems breathing. Iīve never had altitude sickness, but apparently camping over 12,500 feet does not agree with me. Itīs sort of like having someone put 50 pounds on your chest and telling you to breathe. Every time I would start to fall asleep, Iīd wake up gasping for air. This is no way to start your birthday! If that werenīt enough, our guide told us she slept here with a knife under her pillow because of the spirits that still live in the ruin (she was serious, although I donīt know what a knife is going to do to a spirit). Our horsemen woke up in the middle of the night screaming so maybe there is some credence to these unhappy spirits. Personally, Iīm sold, I think one of them decided to sit on my chest all night. So, eight hours later, with a cumulative 30 minutes of sleep, I gave up and left the tent to watch the sunrise. As I stared across the valley grumbling to myself, our cook banged pots and pans and the smell of pancakes filled the ruin as morning approached. They brought coffee to our tents and after we all slowly came to life we went to the kitchen tent for breakfast. It was here that our cook presented me with a birthday cake, the food Iīd smelled him cooking before sunrise.
We finished cake and breakfast and after a short guided tour of the ruin (I cut it short..."get me off of this mountain!") we descended the steep trail to the base of the Sacred Valley. I canīt say enough good things about our experience with Eco Waykys.
Not having planned far enough in advance for the traditional Inca Trail, we opted for a private excursion through a different section of the Inca Trail (there are many Inca Trails,) before our ultimate destination of Machu Picchu.