Well, it´s been a long time coming but here´s our entry about Machu Picchu.........
Apologies for the delay by the way, we have been out of civilisation for the last 2 weeks or so as we have been on our voluntary work in a community called Cadmalca. Will tell you all about that in another entry though as there so much to fill you in on!
So.... Machu Picchu, the Inka Trail and The Sacred Valley..... where to begin!
We were staying in Cusco which is a good base to start exploring the Sacred Valley and get all your gear together etc. We had to pack a small duffle bag (no more than 6kgs) with enough clothes etc to last for 5 days. This had to include our mattresses and sleeping bags etc also. It couldn´t be over 6kgs as the porters were going to carry them for us! Luckily, we could also take our own day packs so all the other necessities (such as Garfield) could go in that!
We started this pàrt of our adventure with a day trip through the Sacred Valley. We visited a weaving community first where I got to have a go at spinning the wool.... well, when I say spinning I was really only snapping it! The women, and men, here make it look so easy but trust me it´s not! We were shown how they dye the wool using natural dyes and then how they weave or knit it up into all the lovely different garments and textiles we associate with Peru. Andy and I treated ourselves to a hat and a pair of gloves to help keep us warm on the Inca trail (we really needed them too!)
Onwards to a llama farm! We got to see the different types of Cameloids of Peru and got to feed them. I prefer Alpacas to Llamas and Andy got to pick one up! I have a great picture that I´ll show all those who are interested!
From there we started to visit some of the actual archaeological sites of the Sacred Valley. Firstly we went to a place called Pisac where our guide explained about the terracing that the Incas did for farming and about the different types of rocks etc for religious buildings and for dwellings. The religious buildings had very polished rocks that they cut to slot into each other almost like a jigsaw puzzle. It was fascintating! In the distance you could also see holes in the rock face which were the entrance to graves.
After Pisac we then visited Ollantaytambo which is where we spent the night also. It was a pretty hefty trek up to the top of the site... good training for what was to come! At Ollantaytambo there is a face in the rocks that the people here used to worship. There was also much terracing and the religious buildings with the impressive stonework. The town itself was made up of a few streets and a small square. We went for a little wander once we had checked into our hostel and were befriended by a little girl. After a bit of chatting it became obvious that she just wanted to talk to us for money! She said, in English, money for my college...... I was quite upset as I thought we were starting to bond with the locals but obviously being Gringos meant that they were only after one thing.... we lost her after a hefty silence!!
Early to bed that night as we had to meet our guide early the next morning to start the trail. I went to bed that night with mixed feelings... a little anxiety about what lay ahead and much excitement.
We met our guide and were taken to the starting point where we handed over our bags for them to get weighed, bought some coco leaves to chew on the trail and then made our way through the passport control. They sell a limited amount of pàsses per day so they had to check that we all had the right to be there.
Day One wasnt too strenuous. The path was up and down a bit and there was only one stretch that was hard going. I was already pleased to have hired a stick to help me along! We were allowed to stop as often as we liked and walked at our own pace so it meant that you could take in the breathtaking scenery along the way. It was amazing to be walking amongst the mountains rather than just looking at them from below.
Our porters (we had 16 of them and 2 chefs to look after 10 of us) all ran ahead of us... yes I did say run!!... so that they could set up our lunch camp. We got a round of applause as we arrived (we felt as if we should have been applauding them!) and a big glass of much needed juice! We were fed with soup and then some sort of rice dish to fill us up with energy - pretty impressive for the middle of nowhere!
We trekked for a few more hours before reaching our camp for the night. Again, the porters overtook us and had got our whole camp set up as we arrived..... we felt like royalty! All we had to do was lay out our mattress and sleeping bag!! We were even brought a small basin of hot water and some soap to wash our hands before tea and popcorn! I think they were a bit surprised when I also put my feet in the basin to give them a soak!!
After dinner, it was so dark that we all went to bed, day one over and done with! Day two was to start early and is the hardest of all the days.... I´ll hand you over to Andy to describe day two!
We set off from our spectacular campsite in determined mood knowing that the climb up DEAD WOMANS PASS had claimed literally no lives but we were still petrified. We set off at a steady pace and were swiftly overtaken by our ferrari like porters. After about an hour of trekking our group leader, Marco, stopped us as a group and announced that he wanted us all to take part in a ceremony requesting guidance and protection from Paccha Mama (Mother Earth) This involved taking three coca leaves (one representing the snake, the puma and the condor) and blowing on them in the direction of DEAD WOMANS PASS. We then chewed them and were advised to suck the juice which I can tell you is almost as tasty as llama dung. Before I proceed I think it is important to establish that coca leaves are not a drug and not cocaine. They contain 14 alkeloids and have more calcium than milk and more iron than spinach. They increase the ability to breathe and allow more oxygen to get to the brain, thereby significantly combatting the effects of altitude. DEAD WOMANS PASS (DWP) is at 4200 m. Anyway we chewed our coca leaves and it wasnt long before an enchanted unicorn arrived to guide us to some magic munchkins to carry us up to DWP.
No but seriously it was an intense slog up the hill with numerous norwegian sixty year olds gasping every 100 metres. I boldly led the way with Emma´, a long distance runner extraordinaire. I kindly said to her if you want to stop just say so. Alarmingly she declined this offer and I was forced to increase my intake of coca. Vicki meanwhile was disco dancing her way up the ascent as she had sensibly brought her ipod.
After about 2 more hours of determined climbing Emma and I reached the top and were absolutely exhausted. The pass was spectacular as it was the route that any clouds had to travel through to get from one side of the pass to the other, so one minute you would be in thick cloud with limited visibility and the next you would be back in sunshine and the temperature would have risen 10 degrees. Anyway over the next hour the rest of the group arrived and we all celebrated having made it up the most daunting part of the trek.
After much jubilation and photograhy we set off back down the other side, myself in a cocky mood following my impressive ascent. About six metres down the other side disaster struck. In my overconfidence I thought that looking at where you´re going was for the less experienced trekker and behold I paid the consequences, falling head long over a twisted ankle. Fortunately we were well prepared and after some first aid involving numerous drugs and some chewed coca leaves placed on the injured joint we were off again, although for my own part at a far slower pace.
I found the descent trickier than the ascent as it required some concentration and fleetness of foot. Vicki stayed by my side and encouraged me all the way to the campsite, where a rainstorm had started. Anyway, we got settled and I moaned to everyone about my ankle. The chefs made us another culinary delight of soup and some pasta and we had pudding too. We went to bed tired but happy, apart from me because I was still moaning about my ankle.
Here is vicki for day 3
Day three was supposed to have been easier than day two but I actually think it was more of a slog as we were trekking for 12 hours!
We had an early start and had left the campsite by 7am.... I hadn´t had a great nights sleep as the temperature had dropped so much that despite wearing every item of clothing that I owned I could not get warm. I tried to get into Andys sleeping bag but he was having none of it... apparently he was nice and warm!!
The path wasnt quite so uphill today, more downhill which you would think would be good but its actually pretty hard work too as its rocky and you dont want to slip!! There were several stops along the way today as we saw several archaelogical sites and Marco stopped us and told us more about the Incas and the sites etc. It was a nice breather to get to stop and made the trek more maneageable. At the final site he decided that the normal way down, which apparently is many steep steps, would be too difficult for the, now 2, injured members of our party and that we´d take a more overland route that he thought would be better! Well, it turned out that it wasn´t any better and we ended up trekking through a woodland type area in the dark! Luckily we all had our torches on us! We should have got back to the camp by 4pm but we were still out at 7pm! We could suddenly see lights in the distance thinking it was our camp but then realised that they were moving towards us!! Our porters had got worried and came looking for us! It was much easier going after that but we still had a further half hour or so to go. The campsite was a far bigger site than the others and had a shop and we were all praying that it would still be open... desperate for a hit of Coke (of the Cola kind) or a beer! Thankfully it was and I can´t tell you how good that beer tasted that night! I think Andy was putting a brave face on most of the walking but we both made it and were ready for a good night´s sleep. We had a 4am start to contend with so that we could see Machu Picchu in early sunlight.... couldn´t wait!
Before we were allowed to hit the hay we had a small ceremony to give the porters and the chefs their tips. First of all they sang a song to us which pretty much went like this..... Sexy Woman, Sexy Woman, Sexy Woman....... We then sang a song back. As the majority of our group was Irish we chose an Irish song... I hummed! Our guide then spoke to the porters in Quechua (one of the indigineous languages in Peru) to tell them how happy we were that they carried our bags and set up our camps etc for us. The head porter then spoke back, also in Quechua. We think he said they were happy to do it but really he could have said anything! We then gave them their money before going round and shaking each one of them by the hand and each girl also got a kiss off them too.... not always the nicest experience when the kisser in question hasnt really washed for 4 days!!
Day four finally arrived and we all managed to get up at 4am. It was pretty exciting to know that we would soon see Machu Picchu. Personally, its something I have wanted to do for a long time so I was very excited.
It was too early for breakfast so we were given a little package of breakfast to take with us instead. With this, we set off to the Sun Gate in time to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu. The sun rose but it was just before we got there but that didn´t make it any less spectacular for us. I think you feel such a mix of emotions as you are so relieved to be there, to see this wonderful site and the whole eeriness of the early morning... I didn´t cry but I did feel pretty emotional and very happy to be there.
From there on in it was a case of getting closer to Machu Picchu and taking another photo at a slightly different angle. We still had two hours to trek before we got to the actual site but these were probably the easiest two hours of the whole trek. We did have to avoid a spurting pipe at one point which was a bit like russian roulette as you didn´t know when it was going to spurt and you could easily get wet going through it! I nearly got wet but just made it!
So, there you have it! Our trek along the Inca Trail and our arrival at Machu Picchu.... I hope it was worth waiting for! We had a fantastic time and I for one would do it again if I could! It´s probably the hardest thing I have done physically but I enjoyed it so much and felt such a buzz once I got to the end. The scenery along the way is fantastic as is the wildlife. I loved seeing the hummingbirds buzz about collecting nectar from the beautiful flowers. Machu Picchu itself fully deserves its title of being one of the 7 manmade wonders of the world as its so majestic and really quite ethereal as it sits there shrouded in cloud. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to have seen it and to have trekked the way rather than just turn up in a bus!
Next Entry will be our adventures in Arequipa & Pisco & the Nazca Lines.... (where Vicki throws up in a Peruvian Plane!!)
Sending this with much love to everyone, we miss you all.
V & A Xx