The Inka Trail

Trip Start Aug 20, 2005
Trip End May 26, 2006

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Inka trail is a 42km hike over 4,200m mountain passes with dubious sanitary facilities, which is the main reason why myself and Alma did not do it :-) Instead we opted to take the train, first class, to Aguas Calientes. After spending the night in a modest little hotel in Aguas Calientes we took a bus up to Machu Picchu.However the train was great, they had skylights in the roof so that you could admire the tops of mountains.They served airline style meals. Unfortunately one of them spilled coffee on me. Peruvians are not known for cat-like reflexes or, in fact, doing anything fast. I had retrieved my first aid kit before it even dawned on any of them to even get a towel to wipe down my hot trousers...trousers folks not hot pants :-). One of the unexpected treats we had on our return train journey was a fashion show by the train crew. This was all in aid of flogging us some jumpers and other various llama woollen products.Yes folks, the same people who had checked our tickets and served our meals were now sashaying down the aisle to Robbie Williams and Kyile Minogue.It was bizzare to say the least. Naturally I thought of Irish Rail and prayed that they did not have woollen underwear for sale :-)
Staying on a railway theme, you will be delighted to know that they have a more liberal attitude to safety. The first being is that none of the track is fenced off from the public and houses seem to be within three or four meters of the track. The second is that level crossings are unmanned,there are no barriers or indeed flashing lights to warn of oncoming trains. However, on the roadside they do have signs advising motorists not to cross the tracks if a train is coming! To be fair to the train drivers, they do sound their horns most of the times :-) when they approach a level crossing.
Aguas Calientes is a lovely little village catering to tourists. They have little cafes, bars,art and craft shops etc. The town prior to re-finding Machu Picchu was famous for its hot springs.The springs are sulphur based, not too smelly and reach a nice temperature of 40c. Hopping in and out off hot springs is a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon.
Machu Picchu is indeed a special place. We caught a bus about 06:30 to go up there.The road was incredibly steep and windy. Thankfully, the South Americian attitude to safety stops them from wasting money on crash barriers and other safety features like tarmac :-) We zipped up the mountain mainly due to the fact that the driver was being paid by the number of journeys instead of by the hour.We reached the top at about 07:00, just after dawn. The city was practically deserted and the sun was just over the mountains. You could see shafts of sunlight penetrating the mists that clung to the mountains - a beautiful sight.The city before abandoned, had approximately 1,000 people living in it. In the city there was a house for the Inca king (a summer house for his use), it also had nobility, priests and ordinary folks living there. The King used to arrive there carried on his throne by his staff. Other means of transport used by the Quechan (the name of the people, Inca just referred to the king)was llamas and by foot.The social order was reflected in two ways.Firstly, by access to water. The Inca King was on top of the hill, thus getting at the water before it reached anyone else.Then the water flowed down to the noble houses, who got to drink from it next. Then after that, it flowed down to the houses of everyone else.Also, the quality of stone work reflected the status of the person/building. The finest quality was reserved for temples where the stones fitted seamlessly together like a jigsaw. This was achieved by, not only cutting and measuring the rocks/boulders exactly but by, polishing them with a softer rock to ensure an accurate fit.The Inca house was built to 75% of this quality with slightly less skilled stone work. The nobility and priestīs house was built of slightly less skilled stone work entirely. As you have might have guessed, the ordinary folkīs houses were knocked up with rough stone work.The Quechens were also skilled at maths and astronomy.This is shown by the fact that summer/winter equinoxes in certain temples receive exact shafts of light, marking alters etc on the right day. Under the Sun temple there is an alter whose entrances has a series of small steps. At the winter solstice these steps cast the shape of a snake, which was the god of the underworld. One last fact about the Quechans, they used to entomb their dead in the foetal position in a basket as they believed the Condor would carry them to the cosmos ready for re-birth.
If you are thinking of seeing Machu Picchu, I would recommend the two-day trip by train as opposes to the four-day hike.The two-day trip can be organised in Cusco at 24 hours notice, unlike pre-booking the 4-day hike.I would not recommend SAS travel for the trip as they have to be watched.
Cusco was the capital of the Inka empire, then the Spanish arrived in 1530s overthrew the empire and looted the place. Funnily enough, the Spanish built churches on top of all the Inca temples in Cusco. The main cathedral is wonderfully ornate and is dripping with art and wealth. The main altar is made out of silver, 1,250kgs of silver to be exact.The Spanish also brought over artists from Europe who trained the locals in their style. This produced unusual results. One example being a painting of Jesus and The Apostles sitting down to "The Last Supper" which featured Guinnea Pig (tastes like pork by the way) as the main meal. Another example is a painting where Jesus is being led away to be crucified.Funnily enough, the soldiers leading him away do not look like Romans but Spanish Conquisadors, funny coincidence :-)
Unfortunately, the Peruvians that deal with the tourists are sharks and you need your wits about you. Itīs quite common for them to try short-change tourists, needless to say a pretty futile exercise with me :-). Taxi drivers will try and charge you a higher price then agreed once the journey is complete. Tour operators will promise you everything until the trip is paid.When they fail to deliver on their service, you normally have to threaten blue murder to ensure that you get what you paid for. So my advice is buyer beware and try not to depend on them for too much.Also, this country - like Ecuador and Boliva - seems to never have change. The worst example was a 3 sols (0.75c) bottle of water, where I handed in a 5 sol coin and the woman had to struggle to find the change!However, one shinning example of customer service is pharmacies. Here, all prescribed medication can be bought over the counter, at very good prices! Should your medication need to be injected, do not waste time with a doctor. Buy our sterile (vacuum packed) syringes and we will inject you in the back of the shop for free.Now folks thats what I call medicine :-) In case you were wondering if it was me being injected in the back of pharmacy,I am afraid not it was a customer in front of me availing of this service
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