We arrived in Cusco at about 7am on 15th September and after checking in to our hostel we went straight to sleep for a couple of hours.
The bus journey was 10 hours from Arequipa and we had big comfortable seats that almost went flat but neither of us slept that well. That said these busses are much more comfortable than any plane I've been on!
We had 4 nights booked in our hostel and planned to visit Machu Picchu after that. Our original plan had been to get the train there as you have to book the Inca Trail at least 6 months in advance and it's very expensive but several people have since told us about a much cheaper jungle trek option that sounded much better so we planned to spend our time researching that.
The first day we took advantage of a discounted breakfast at a restaurant owned by the hostel where we were staying and then wandered the old cobbled streets and checked out the original Inca walls.
We soon figured that the city is very touristy with every shop selling tourist products. On every street corner is a woman trying to sell massages (although weirdly they kept getting more expensive every day) and many others selling jewellery or paintings. It gets a bit boring saying "no gracias" after a while!
That evening Adam found an Irish pub and, typically, fancied a Guiness. We had dinner there as well and the portions are huge. We have still yet to try the national dish of Ceviche (ser-ve-chay) which is raw fish marinated in lime juice which somehow seems to cook the fish but we have heard such good reviews we really must try it whilst in Peru.
In the Irish pub we found a leaflet advertising what looked to be a good company offering the jungle trek option amongst others and decided to check them out the next morning.
The following day, after booking our jungle trek, we bumped into Stuart and Charlene (the couple we met in the Colca Canyon) and arranged to meet them for a drink that evening. We also visited 2 very interesting museums, the Inca Museum and a Pre-Colonial Art Museum. Both had people in the courtyards practising the traditional weaving techniques which was fascinating and clearly very complicated. These people are paid to ensure the techniques are not forgotten.
Everywhere we have been so far there have been festivals and carnivals and Cusco is no exception with big street celebrations day and night. We had no idea what they were about but Adam got talking to a guy from El Salvador who spoke very good English and he explained that the Peruvian church only recognises one lady as important and the casket being carried down the road contains her ashes which are normally on display on the Cathedral. All the men were dancing, singing and chanting backwards facing a statue of her as a sign of respect. I never did find out who she was though.
Charlene and Stuart had arranged to walk the Inca Trail which is supposed to be very hard but had only paid a deposit and when they heard about the Jungle Trek they decided to book it instead and forfeit their deposit.
Unfortunately they could not get tickets for Huana Picchu (a small sacred mountain you can climb that looks down on Machu Picchu - and is also known as Wayna Picchu) the same day as us so ended up on a different tour the following day.
All 4 of us visited a chocolate museum where we learnt about the history of the Cacao (cocoa) bean and making chocolate as a drink throughout South America. Solid chocolate wasn't really discovered and made popular until the 1st and 2nd World Wars. We also had a lovely hot chocolate drink which came literally as a bowl of melted chocolate that you add warm frothy milk to, as well as cloves or cinnamon if you wished.
There was an opportunity to join a 2 hour course making your own chocolate from the beans using traditional tools and methods but it was quite expensive so we didn't bother.
Finally we bought some fake The North Face waterproof jackets for about £20 because we were told they would be needed on the first day of our trek and it was fairly cold in Cusco anyway, unless you were in direct sun at lunchtime (Cusco is fairly high at 3300m although you wouldn't know it as the land around is fairly flat - only the thin air gives it away).
On Monday morning we were picked up at 7am for our jungle to Machu Picchu trek.
After picking a few random people up from different hostels we headed to the Wild Rover hostel which is where we booked our trek and there were a number of people being picked up there. A group of the guys were still drunk from the night before and had to be woken up and pack so we waited over half an hour for them. Several couldn't find trainers so just bought flip flops to walk in(!) but they were a good laugh. Once we finally got going a small boy of about 6 or 7 ran out and got hit by our minibus but he was unhurt, just shaken. It wasn't the drivers fault! People here do not seem to respect vehicles like we do and the drivers are pretty mad but we haven't seen any other accidents.
3 hours later we arrived at the first stop, a mountain top at Abra Malaga (4350m) where we were kitted out in hats and knee pads and given mountain bikes. It was really cold and whilst most of us had hats and coats there were still a few in flip flops!
Our destination was 3 hours away by bike but thankfully it was all downhill. To start with we were in the clouds and couldn't see off the edge of the road but as we got lower the clouds lifted and we could see the vegetation was quite tropical. Unfortunately at this point it started raining and we also had to ride through numerous rivers. It turns out the Peruvians don't have mudflaps on their bikes and we were soon soaked to the bone. I don't think I've ever been so wet and my shoes (the only ones I have with me) were drenched. After a while the road ended and became a dirt track. We were offered the opportunity to get in the bus if we didn't want to carry on but I figured I was already wet so may as well make the most of it. As it turns out that was probably a mistake as all the mud and grit from the road flicked up in our faces and got in our eyes so we couldn't see where we were going. By the time we had reached the bottom we had all turned yellow and had to be hosed off!!! It was great fun though and the time flew by. I swear it felt like we were cycling for no more than an hour!
After lunch and a change of clothes we all piled back into the minibus and went to our hostel for the night. Those who wanted to went white water rafting in the afternoon but we were so cold, wet and tired we opted to sleep instead.
There were no double or single rooms so Adam and I were paired up with another English girl Camilla. We had been talking to her on the bus and found out she was travelling on her own after her friend got salmonella poisoning and she was really lovely so we didn't mind. The showers were supposed to be hot (ish) but we were the furthest from the tank so ended up washing with hand wipes instead. Once others had had showers the water soon ran out and neither the sink or toilet worked. Interesting for the guys in dorms!
Dinner was, once again, soup starter with chicken, rice and chips. That's all we ever seem to eat on these tours and I think I'll be sick of the sight of rice by the time we leave here! For those who know I don't like soup though, I'm getting used to it and it's better than the tinned stuff you get back home. The soup normally contains either pasta or potato as well as veg and the liquid is just like a bowl of flavoured water! Very filling!
Next morning we were all piled into the back of what looked like an open top cattle truck and taken to the start of our 7 hour trek. This involved driving what would have been an hour walk up to the edge of the jungle. The road was just a bumpy dirt track with a sheer drop down to the river on one side. We were all standing and packed in like sardines and just before we were due to stop it went right off the edge. The driver stopped quickly and we all pressed to the other side and even though we hadn't gone far enough to go right over it was scary enough when the truck started tipping.
We all jumped out, the driver hit reverse and we started up the steep mountainside on foot. There was no sign of yesterdays rain and once again it was really hot...
After about 20 minutes we reached a small house where we could sit in the shade and buy drinks. The guide explained that Coca leaves grow well in the area but the Government pay very little for them. These leaves can be used to make a type of tea or sweets (which is very good at helping you adapt to altitude) but they can also be used to make Cocaine. Obviously the latter is much more profitable to the locals and the leaves are grown, picked and dried in the sun before bring sold for Cocaine production. To make the drug huge holes are dug and children walk on the leaves to crush them and mix them with gasoline. This means the children are inhaling the fumes every day and do not go to school. Once the Government decided to try and stop the production and set fire to the pits killing the children! The guides were keen for us to buy merchandise hand made by the local farmers to top up their income so that they do not grow the leaves for cocaine production. This is why we were allowed to take shelter in their home and play with their dogs, kittens, guinea pigs and turkeys and buy refreshments.
We stopped at several places like this along the way and in between trekked up and down mountains in jungle like terrain crossing basic bridges made of a few logs. It was very beautiful!
We also followed an old Inca trail for a while along a mountain which was pretty treacherous. We were told there are lots of there old trails about. All leading up into the Andes and towards Machu Picchu. Poor Camilla and a couple of others were afraid of heights which, considering we were following a path built out of the side of a mountain that was only a foot wide in places with a sheer drop on the left and nothing to stop you falling, wasn't ideal!
At lunch time the guide took us off the track and into the jungle where we found a small restaurant. After yet another meal of soup, chicken, rice and chips we all had a nice siesta in the numerous hammocks outside for an hour.
Then we were back on foot for a couple of hours heading for what we were told was a cable car that would bring us to the hot springs.
When we got there we found out it was no more than a wire crossing the river with a tray type thing hanging below it to sit on. You were then hauled across by a local boy who took 1 Sole (23p) per person for the privilege.
It was then a short walk to the hot springs where we were told we could either spend 20 minutes and then walk a further 40 to the village or we could be there for up to 2 hours and catch a bus for 3 Soles...there was no question which option we were going to take and the whole group spent the next hour lazing and messing about in the volcano warmed water!
That night we stayed in the small town of Santa Teresa and after dinner went to a local nightclub...and the story ends there! But it was a good night and I have lots of bruises!!!
Day 3 and we had a fairly early start to have a go at zip lining! Those of us taking part got a minibus to the site and, after being kitted out and told what to expect, had a 25min hike up the side of a mountain to get to the first wire. Once again it was very hot!
There were 6 wires in all, each one crossing a river from one mountain to another. The first wire was probably the longest but the forth was the fastest reaching speeds of 65km per hour! Having said that it wasn't half as scary as I expected!
Next we piled back in the minibus and went to a hydroelectric plant on the railway track leading to Aguas Calientes. Those who didn't have a go at zip lining either had to walk or pay for a local bus so I think we got the better deal.
Once there we had lunch on the tracks before following them for 3 hours to Aguas Calientes which is the closest town to Machu Picchu. Agua means water in Spanish and caliente means hot so the town is literally called Hot Waters after the hot springs that can be found there. The scenery was beautiful cloud forest and we only saw 1 train. It was a bit strange using the tracks to cross small rivers though. One slip and you're gone!
Aguas Calientes is just like a ski resort! I half expected to see snow!!! It was fine for a night but not much to do for any longer. Once we had dumped our bags in the hostel Adam and I set off to explore and buy lunch for the following day. We found a big locals food market which was much cheaper than the shops on the main street and another huge market selling tourist products.
After dinner everyone headed to bed for an early night as we were due to start our trek up the mountain at 4.20am!!!
Obviously when we started it was still dark and only a couple of people had torches. However those of us who didn't wished the rest would just turn them off so that our eyes could adjust.
We walked for about 30 mins down a dirt track to the bridge at the bottom of the valley crossing the river and then began the steep ascent up the steps to Machu Picchu. That part took 2 hours of constant steps!
Thankfully by 5.30am it was light enough to see clearly but unfortunately it rained the whole way. We had a choice between getting wet but staying cool or wearing raincoats and sweating profusely!!!
Once at the top we had a quick breakfast break outside the gates and some people changed into dry clothes and then our guides Amorosso and Jimmy began our tour.
You cant see the site until you have walked through the gates and round the corner but when you get your first glimpse it's immense!! The whole place is absolutely HUGE!
By this time it had stopped raining but the clouds were still clinging to the mountains. Amorosso explained that the site is only clear at sunrise for a couple of mornings each year. So the iconic photo take from the gatehouse before the other tourists get in the way is virtually impossible! However, after a couple of hours the clouds clear and the sun comes out so you can admire the stunning views...he was right!
We had a brief tour of the main areas with some explanation of the history and then we were left to explore. Adam, Ryan and myself had tickets to climb Huana Picchu overlooking the city at 10am but the rest of the group decided to try and climb the much larger Machu Picchu mountain.
The 3 of us climbed Huana Picchu which took a further hour up treacherous steps that were no more than 3 inches wide in places and the views from the top were phenomenal. You can't eat at Machu Picchu but you can where we were so we stopped for lunch in the baking heat.
The descent was even harder and in places we were practically sitting down where the steps were so narrow. A climbing harness would have actually been quite handy and it's not something you want to do if you suffer with vertigo!!!
When we got back to the gates we found Camilla and a few others and leaned that their climb had been stumped by the fact that they didn't have tickets and the guys in flip flops had been evicted after attempting a naked photo!
The rest of them had walked up to the Sun Gate which is where you arrive if you walk the Inca Trail and get your first view of the city. It took them 40 minutes each way!
We spent the afternoon wandering the markets and eating Mexican and then caught the train at 6.45pm.
We arrived back in Cusco at 10.30pm and Adam and I changed hostel, had a shower and met the rest of the group in The Point Hostel at 12.30am. Our guides Amorosso and Jimmy were supposed to be there but never turned up! However another guide Willy who we had met several times was there.
We played drinking games until about 3.30am and then went to a club with Willy and the bar manager.
Unfortunately at this point Camilla had her drink spiked with Valium which is apparently quite common here (although no more so than Bournemouth or anywhere else) and Adam and I spent the rest of the night and most of the following day in hospital with her. It was lucky for her that we were there seeing as she was on her own and the rest of the group were way to drunk to help her.
We got back to our new hostel at 3 the following afternoon, 37 hours after we last slept, and spent the rest of the day comatose..