Dos Dias en Cuzco y Machu Picchu!

Trip Start Sep 17, 2012
Trip End Dec 06, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hostal Magico
What I did
Incan Ruins

Flag of Peru  , Cusco,
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The team arrived in the city of Cuzco/Cusco/Q´osqo after a week of workin´ hard and sweatin´ hard on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  Travel to the city included a lengthy bus ride through southern Peru´s rolling hills and high-altitude agricultural zones.  The majority of us have come, unexpectedly, to enjoy the long rides -- needed excuses to nap and to catch up on reading.  The best part about travelling, it seems, is moving.  We´re all struck beyond words with Peru´s beauty.  

Cuzco´s beauty, once you look past the throngs of tourists, is in its rich history.  Stepping out of the bus terminal, any visitor is approached by the enormous statue of the Inca king Pachacutec, who was responsible for the empire´s massive expansion and the construction of Machu Picchu.  Driving through the center of the city is a dream come true for those of us who are architecturally inclined; Incan foundations, relics of a society of perfect engineers, give way to huge Spanish cathedrals

The Plaza de Armas, the city´s central and most astonishing plaza, was the place where Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of the Incan empire, proclaimed his conquest of Cuzco in 1533.  It was also the location of the 1781 death of Tupac Amaru II, the leader of the indigenous uprising against the Spanish in 1780.  Today it houses Paddy´s Pub, the world´s highest Irish pub and the place of satisfaction for Youth International´s cheeseburger cravings (Bolivian/Peruvian burgers make us miss American food).

Though we all strive to avoid touristic areas and the chaos of photo shutters they bring, some of us had especially interesting and, in a way, refreshing meetings with English-speaking travelers.  We´ve now got Bostonian friends whom we´ll be meeting in Quito, Argentinian students with whom we quickly became connected on the internet´s circuit, and Irish travelers who shared a meal with some of us.  We´re finding that the connections we make with people from around the world are especially exciting ones to have.

We only had two days to explore the city and its surroundings, yet the team certainly covered ground.  Several of us took off on foot, visiting in one day four Incan ruins.  Sacsahuaman, an Incan fortress of extraordinary construct, displays archetypal engineering.  Carved blocks of granite, the largest weighing 170 tons, form indestructible walls that are unmatched in strength and impenatrability.  In the words of Shawn: “Loco loco loco…SUPER loco”.  Q´enqo, which houses the remains of a mummification platform and sacrificial caverns, was especially attractive for the naturally formed statue which, when hit with the first rays of the Winter Solstice (June 21st in the south), casts a shadow of a pouncing puma.  The final ruins of the day were Pukapukara, a military stronghold constructed entirely of red granite, and Tambomachay, known as “The Baths of The Inca,” which houses aqueducts and especially interesting fountains.  Others took off on hoof, doing the same trek on the backs of caballos.  Still others chose to relax at the hostel or explore the underside of the city, the markets and the fruit stands.

The second day, a pair of us ventured 90 km out of Cuzco to the village of Ollantaytambo, a lively pueblo named for the ruins above it.  The town was in the midst of a parade (as Peruvians seemingly always are…Robert thinks he´s seen more parades in South America than in his whole life in the States), which halted transport through the town for several hours.  The ruins are immense, perched on a cliffside and guarded by terraces nearly two meters high.  Ollantaytambo served as both another location of refuge for priests and nobles, and was a military base.  In the heart of the Incan´s Sacred Valley, sidling the Urubamba River, Ollantaytambo was strategically one of the strongest forts to protect those Incans further up the river. 

Two days in Cuzco flew by!  We then embarked on our trek through the Andes Mountains, with the climax of Machu Picchu!


On the morning of Oct. 30th we had a bright and early start to our day, getting up at 4 in the morning to begin our trek on the Salkantay trail through the Andes to Machu Picchu.
After a bus ride of sleepers and a wake-up breakfast we formally met our guides Nayruth, Jean Paul, and Washington who was our cook. Soon after we were ready to head out on the road. The first day of trekking was relatively easy, about six hours of walking up, down, and flat as well as a few off-the-road short-cuts. A simple road, but surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery. Along the way the group stopped for some snacks and a delicious lunch made by our cook, Washington. Once we made it to our base camp everyone was cold, but relived that they had made it. 

We took a group picture in front of the beautiful mountain scenery surrounding us, and a delicious dinner was made by Washington. Nayruth warned us to prepare for tomorrow because it would be one of the hardest days of our trek. Approximately 10 hours of trekking, four hours uphill, but six hours downhill. We were not looking forward to our early morning uphill climb, but after a cup of muña tea we all decided to retire early for the night.

The next morning, on Halloween, we awoke to the guides tapping our tents, and a cup of coca tea so we wouldn´t fall back to sleep. It was the morning of our uphill climb and everyone couldn´t wait to get it over with so we could walk downhill. Soon though, we were all walking away from the base camp and up the trail. The trail was long, hard, and up, but we powered through stopping occasionally to catch our breath and take some photos. Even though our guides had predicted that we would get to the top in four hours we made it in three and a half hours!

We celebrated at the top of the trail and then our guides took us all to the side to teach us a blessing. We were going to say thank you to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and in return we would have good luck on the rest of our journey.

Afterwards we were ready to head down to the next base camp. Nayruth warned us that it would get hotter because we were descending into the high jungle and we soon stopped to shed our layers. Once we got to the base camp we put down our stuff, selected tent buddies and tents, then settled down either exploring, napping, or playing cards. Some of us even bought candy at the little store there to get into the Halloween spirit! During dinner Nayroot told us that the next day was much like the first day, up, down, and flat some by road, some by trail.

We were excited to be getting closer to Machu Picchu and appaerently at our next base camp there were hot springs! The hot springs would be the closest thing to a bath during our entire trip until we reached the hostel in Aguas Calientes.

Again we were awoken with coca tea by the guides, and after breakfast we started on our way to the next base camp. The entire day was hot as we trekked through the high jungle.  On the way Nayruth pointed out some interesting vegetation such as; wild strawberries (delicious), orchids, horse tail (can be used for medicine and flute playing), and other interesting plants. At lunch everyone was relieved to see the busses that we would take on the final leg of our trek to the base camp.

When we arrived Nayruth took a head count of who wanted to go to the hot springs.  When ready we took the bus down to the hot springs and it was amazing! There were three pools; two hot pools for relaxing and one warm pool for swimming. You had to shower before going in and everyone rushed to the warm showers on the other side of the complex. Relaxing, swimming, and looking for rocks that resembled states and provinces from back home, was a great way to spend time before dinner and the bonfire with the other travelers along the trail as well. 

The 4th day of our trek, our last long trek before Machu Picchu. We separated into two groups, those who wanted to walk for three hours to the train tracks and those who wanted to zipline or sleep-in and then take the bus to the train tracks. That morning though we had to say goodbye to Washington as it was his last day with us. We miss him and his delicious meals. The zip line was fun and exciting and at twelve or so we all met back at the train tracks for the last three hours of our journey to Aguas Calientes.  It was amazing, but everyone was excited when we reached Aguas Calientes. Only one more day until Machu Picchu! We were so close! We had a great dinner with Jean Paul and Nayruth as they told us about the one hour trek uphill to the main gate of Machu Picchu. We would start our hike at four in the morning to get there a little before six or so because not only is that when Machu Picchu opens, it also gets really packed with tourists! Nobody was looking forward to the early start, but all were excited for Machu Picchu, so it was going to be worth it.

That morning we headed out to the trail leading up to Machu Picchu. Everyone made it up the trail at their own pace and thanks to our head start we were first in line to get in Machu Picchu! When our guides and other members of the group met us up top they were surprised to hear that some of us had made it to the main gate in twenty five minutes. The guides didn´t believe them, but said Pachamama must´ve blessed them graciously if they made it up so fast.

In just a few minutes the gates opened and everyone headed up to see the ruins of Machu Picchu. Everyone was awestruck when they saw the city with their own eyes, and could not stop taking pictures. Soon though, we were all gathered in front of Nayruth and Jean Paul who lead us on a tour through the old Incan city. We learned many things such as how there were around five hundred people living there at the time and only important people could live there such as kings and priests.

The Incans most important deity was the sun, and since the Incans didn´t have a currency, they paid their taxes through work. The virtues of the Incans were: don´t lie, don´t rob, and don´t be lazy. The day had started cloudy, but soon it began to rain. It was actually off and on all day and we got to experience Machu Picchu in rain and sun.
At the end of our tour we said goodbye to Nayruth and Jean Paul as they were now leaving us and afterward we split off and decided to explore. We took a look at the Incan bridge which was really a plank or two of wood over a huge gorge! It wasn´t safe to cross. We climbed up to the Sun Gate which although was now ruins, had a great view of the Incan city

We also explored the city even more, poking around and taking pictures of the llamas that were grazing in the area! It was an amazing experience! Since Machu Picchu closed at 5pm some of us had left before then and the last of us left at 4. Good thing too, becasue by the time we had gotten down the trail from the Incan city on Machu Picchu a rain storm had moved in.

When we got down we prepared for our train which was to leave at 6:30pm.  We got ready, ate some dinner, and talked about all we had seen at Machu Picchu. The excitement carried onto the train, but died down during the bus back to Cusco where everyone fell asleep (or in a lull) the energy of the day having finally faded.

It was a hard 5 days of trekking, but with lots of fun times, good memories, and the amazing opportunity to see Machu Picchu with our own eyes!  

Keep up with our group adventures next time!

- Allison and Oliver
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