The Perilous Road to Choquequirao

Trip Start Sep 16, 2002
Trip End May 31, 2004

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Thursday, March 11, 2004

An Inca ruin set high on a mountain ridge, falling rocks, vampire bats and a suicidal mule ..... this was what we had to contend with as we made our way to this impressive site. Visited by Hiram Bingham on his first visit to Peru, Choquequirau was what inspired him to look for other ruins and eventually Machu Picchu. It lies some 30km south of Machu Picchu and unlike its more famous brother is somewhat more difficult to get to. However the rewards are more than ample. The only way to get there was to walk a round trip of 4 days (56km). Starting at 2800metres we would descend 1000 metres into a valley and then climb out on the other side .... back up to 2800 metres to this castle in the clouds.

We arrived in Cachora, the closest village to the ruins. From here we would walk the 28km through spectacular mountains and clouds. We decided not to do it with a tour operator as they were so expensive, charging us $150 each. We managed to do it for $30 each. Once in the village we organised a guide and mule (to carry our supplies). As with most things in Latin America this took longer than usual. Eventually we set off with our guide David through maize fields towards the snow capped peaks. Due to our late start we only managed 2 hours of hiking before we had to set up camp. As we sat around the fire David cautioned us about rock fall on the path and how we must open our ears and be ready. Only a few months ago two tourists were killed in such a tragedy. And while he recounted his story a light storm lit up the night sky in dramatic style as if to highlight the danger.

The next morning we awoke into a world of white wispy cloud rising like steam off the bulging greeness of the surrounding mountains. And what better way to start the day than to discover the mule had decided to sneak back to the village during breakfast! Was there something it knew that we didnīt? Not a good sign. And so David raced off after it and within 20 minutes the dejected animal was back with us .... and we were on our merry way. To keep our spirits high we sang uplifting songs such as "Help" and "Weīre on a road to nowhere". Descending through the chilly mountain air on a path which at times would suddenly fall away on one side, offering stunning views of plummeting drops you might want to fall down should you decide to take a few steps off the trail. And to confirm Davidīs camp fire story, a pile of rocks and boulders would occassionally partly block the path. The further down we went into the valley the hotter and more humid the air became. And to think we had to climb back out of the valley in the mid-day sun.

As we crossed the bridge you could not help but admire the mighty crashing waves of the Apurimac river ..."The Great Speaker". The ascent started slowly moving over the hot winding path. And as we began rising above the river so did the temperature. Six hours walking up a hill is a long time, and with an over zealous sun it was not far from unbearable. Just before we left the river other hikers were commenting on how this was the "toughest hike i have done". Poor Anjil - this was his first! Anyway why was he complaining, it was character building. It was difficult to appreciate any vistas during this period of duress. All you could think of was making it to the next tree before you were frazzled. And every time we made it to what we thought was the summit ...... another summit appeared. Eventually we made it to the top and in the distance we caught our first glimpse of Choquequirao. We would have to wait until the following day to see it in all its glimpse.

It was a relief to wake up alive the next day. Sleeping in a silver tent on a mountain while thunder and lightening raged across the sky probably wasnīt a good idea. After breakfast we started the last leg of the journey. After 2 hours walking and crossing a waterfall which was partial to the occassional landslide we arrived at the ruins. Located on a ridge with steep slopes and precipices on either side. Only 30% of the site had been cleared which means it could be bigger than Machu Picchu. Although not has striking as Machu Picchu it certainly had its own appeal. We wandered around these silent ruins and admired the immense precipices before making our way back to our tent where we prepared for the return journey.

The next morning we noticed the mule had blood on its neck. Vampire bats had been out during the night. Probably why he was so determined to sneak home on the first day. And then the rain started. In the distance rumblings could be heard ... the rock falls had begun ... it was time to leave. Luckily the return journey was pretty uneventful. Any dangers seemed to be a comfortable distance away. Although the mule which was now carrying Anjil would occasionally walk on the edge to give him stunning but dangerous views of the river below. And so we made it back to Cachora without a scratch. An arduous but fantastic journey to a seldom visited Inca site
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