Cusco – Choquequirao – Cusco
We arrived in Cusco very early in the morning and were provided with a room in our hostel in which to rest until ours became available, very nice! The bus journey had been on an awesome bus but the driver had been a little crazy so we hadn't slept much in the night.
The hostel was lovely though about 15 minutes walk from the centre. Later that day we walked into town with the sole mission of picking our trek to Choquequirao. It was a lovely walk in and you were instantly reminded that the Inca's developed this city. It has beautiful narrow cobbled streets with tiny secret doorways leading off in all directions and beautiful carved stone walls and stairways. They even have designed most of the walls, windows and doorways to take the impact of earthquakes (wide at the bottom and narrow at the top) amazing that they were some planned all those thousands of years ago! That's maybe why Cusco is one of the most beautiful Cities we have visited on our trip!
We arrived in town and were an instant target to touts. Ads and I couldn't resist the massage offer of only 15 soles (about £3.50) per person for an hour traditional Inca massage! It was amazing and they used hot stones which I have never experienced before, and was a little sceptical of but they were so nice!
We then got approached in the main square by a company (Chicon travel) selling the Choquequirao trek. On the internet the prices of the trek were between $295 to $900, and he was quoting $160! He had our attention! Though we had many many questions to ask to check that it would be ok! We decided to walk away and think about it.
That night Choquequirao became the hardest decision ever to make, it came in slightly over budget even at the low price of $160 and we were coming up with ideas of how to squeeze our money. We were also told that the trek was very difficult so were scared we were not fit enough, we haven't really done much trekking! And to add to that it was the rainy season so we thought it may not be that pleasant. It was such a hard decision.
The next day we decided to look around at other agencies for the whole day to see what they had to offer. No-one could beat Chicon travel on price and what they had to offer, so after many hair tearing moments we finally decided to go for it!
The next morning we were picked up from our hostel by Elizabeth our guide and the driver at the lovely hour of 5.30am and whisked away to Cachora our starting point, along for the ride was an American couple called Phil and Dana, Winnie (an avid Bolton supporter from Horwich!!!!) and his mate Abby, Spencer from the USA and Wolfgang and his daughter Lara from Germany. It was a long 5 hour car journey for me around those incredibly windy roads as I felt very travel sick and almost had to get out a few times, unlike me!!!
We arrived in Cachora later that morning and were fed up on Soup and Spaghetti. The horses were then loaded up with our bags, the tents and supplies. It was quite cloudy and humid when we set off but a nice temperature, we were in very high spirits and excited for the journey ahead! The only thing that chicked our armour slightly was the moody faces of the travellers returning to Cachora but we managed to push it out of our minds and plow on with the challenge ahead!
We had been told that the first day would be easy, nice and flat and then down hill. After around 10 minutes we were mostly going up! Though it wasn't steep and the views of the valley were incredible, the hills are so green at this time of year. We instantly noticed the group start to divide up and the fitties turned out to be Dana and Phil whom we all decided as doctors must have prescribed themselves Steroids! We were happy plodding along in the middle of the group.
Later that afternoon we arrived at the top of the first mountain, the views here would probably have been incredible had there not been very heavy cloud covering it! We began descending down the other side into the Apurimac canyon below (one of the largest canyon's in the world) and came out below the cloud to witness a spectacular view of the valley below. The path zig zagged down the side of the mountain in glorious sunshine, it was stunning! Gazing over to the other side of the valley we could see a similar but much larger trail covering the opposing mountain side. We realised with slight horror that that would be our challenge awaiting us tomorrow!
Along the narrow track down we had to negotiate past a few bulls which didn't even bat an eyelid but raised a few pulses! One young bull almost jumped off the edge when he saw us coming, we had to creep slowly past to avoid his certain death from the cliff! The downhill got fairly hard on the knees and we were happy when we reached our 19km first day goal and arrived at our camping spot.
Within 5 minutes the tents were assembled for us by the horse men and later that evening we were fed up again on soup and rice and lots of coca tea! There was even a toilet block which we were very surprised to see! And a cold shower opportunity hung behind a blue tarpaulin!
The next day we were woken early by Elizabeth at 5am and had breakfast to depart at 5.30am. They gave us a pack of energy foods for the trek ahead and we were on our way! We started off with a 2 km steep downhill to the raging Apurimac river below! Earlier in the trek Ads had asked if he would be able to wash in the river we realised now why Elizabeth had rather hurriedly said no! The river was bulging with thousands of gallons of brown water colliding with huge boulders producing spray and froth in all directions, and was flowing incredibly fast it was a sight to behold!
We crossed over the surprisingly sturdy and well built bridge and savored our surroundings for a moment before proceeding up to the arch enemy ahead, the huge mountain in front of us, which appeared to me to have grown 10 fold and appeared now darker and more menacing than ever!
We put our heads down and smiled as we started to ascend, fuelled by pure determination, soup and rice!
Elizabeth had told me it would be a 7 km hike to lunch, no problem! Yeh right! We started off by allowing ourselves a stop and rest every 15 minutes, this rather quickly ended up being stop whenever the hell you like just any movement in an upward direction was reward enough! The hill trek got steeper and steeper and it seemed that every new corner brought new amounts of discouragement and pain!
Spencer was the only thing that kept Ads and and I going, with his words of encouragement! Just when we thought all hope was fading we saw a rickety old wooden fence and a local proceeding through it! Ads asked how far it was to our lunch stop and the guy said 5 minutes! We quickly adapted that to 15 minutes as he was a local and they can travel at the speed of light, but any news was good news! We were surprised to arrive five minutes later to find Dana and Phil had been sat there waiting for over an hour, they tried to tell us they found it hard but we didn't believe them bloody superman and superwoman! We thought we were fit before we did this!
Lunch arrived and we were starting to notice a distinct pattern, soup and rice with some sort of meat, luckily I had a back up chocolate bar for an extra source of energy and comfort! We were incredibly pleased that the worst of the trek was over and that the next 4 km would be mostly flat! We were exhausted!
After lunch we started on the final ascent to Choquequirao, every one was sooooo excited and moral was much better. Rightly so as after the first 10 minutes we turned a corner and there it was in the distance in all its glory, Choquequirao! We would be going to the top section, the plateau but below it there were several other terraced areas imprinted in the hill. It looked amazing to see building like that on such steep terrain and at such an altitude!
The landscape alone was enough satisfaction from the trek but to see this ancient Incan city was an overwhelming achievement! We just had to make it over there, we passed a gorgeous waterfall and them climbed up another heart wrenching couple of Kilometers (to which countless expletives were muttered, purely for motivational purposes!) and came out of the trees to arrive on the green grass of Choquequirao!
Never discovered by the conquistadors, Choquequirao “the cradle of gold”, was the very last refuge of the “Sons of the Sun”, a spectacular citadel tiptoeing along a skinny ridge 5,000ft above the Apurimac gorge.
The tough trek is exactly why fewer than 10,000 visitors clap eyes on Choquequirao each year — about 1% of those who swarm all over its celebrated sister. And what a reward: a rambling complex of mansions, temples and terraces, still only 30% excavated, and spiking straight up out of the jungle.
The ruins at Choquequirao are composed of buildings and terraces at different levels from the lower level Sunch'u Pata to the truncated hill top. The hill top has been leveled and ringed with stones to form a platform of 30x50 meters wide.
The site was most likely built during the reign of the Inca king Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui and is considered to be the last bastion of resistance and refuge of the Sons of the Sun who fled from the city of Cusco when it was under siege in 1535. Led by Manco Inca Yupanqui they took refuge in Choquequirao.
According to the Peruvian Tourism Office, "Choquequirao was probably one of the entrance check point to the Vilcabamba region, and also an administrative hub serving political, social and economic functions. Its urban design has followed the symbolic patterns of the imperial capital, with ritual places dedicated to the Sun (Inti) and the ancestors, to the earth, water and other divinities, with mansions for administrators and houses for artisans, warehouses, large dormitories or kallankas and farming terraces belonging to the Inca or the local people. Spreading over 700 meters, the ceremonial area drops as much as 65 meters from the elevated areas to the main square."
Presumably it was used as a check point for access to the Vilcabamba Area and as a cultural and religious center for the region. The city also played an important role as a link between the Amazon Jungle and the city of Cusco.
The typical Inca terraces form the largest constructions on site. A temple, some administrative buildings and the living quarters of the aristocrats are situated around the central square. On the outskirts of the site lie the living quarters of the common people grouped together in a small village. There are numerous water channels, aqueducts and water springs. Most of the buildings are well-preserved and well-restored. Restoration is still continuing.
Elizabeth suggested we go and see the Llamas which were down the other side of the peak. It was a trek down but it was amazing we sat on a small platform and marvelled at the Llamas in the terraces made out of rock, 24 in total, this site was only discovered 4 years ago.
Then we clambered back up the ancient steps which I had to to on all fours, partly through being scared of falling from the mountain and partly because I was absolutely exhausted! When we got back up to the top I sat there and didn't move I just took in the ruins and watched the sun start to fall.
We headed back the 4km to camp and flopped into bed taking in the stars which were more stunning than I had ever seen!
Next morning we were woken around 6am had breakfast of pancakes and started our descent! Our legs were so sore we started off walking but then Ads made up a game to get us down quickly. We were all sick of walking so he decided we should run as walking you have to keep stopping your momentum. We took turns at being the run master and sprinted down the hill. At one point my body was travelling too fast for my legs and the inevitable happened, I went sliding down on my front by tripping over the smallest rock imaginable! At least gymnastics had taught me to fall well!!! I could have gone over the edge!
We were down in no time, and it was amazing! We chilled by the raging river and then set off the 2km up steep hill to lunch. It was a blazing hot afternoon so we rested shortly after lunch before heading up another 3km to camp.
This camp was the nicest yet and had unbelievable views of the valley! We started a camp fire and all sat round and chatted about our trek. The stars were even more incredible!
The next day we almost crawled up the windy path to the top of the mountain which seemed to take forever especially since it was throwing it down. We finally reached the top and I felt so elated I did a celebratory dance! We then descended down the other side back to Cachora and arrived back were we started with a wide grin on our faces and Coca Cola tasted better than ever!
We boarded the car back to civilization and all agreed we were so happy we had done it! A great sense of achievement!
Back in Cusco
We loaded up on food we had missed like we had been away for years! Later that evening we met up with everyone from the trek and had drinks and lots of laughs.
The next day we woke late and felt rubbish, we didn't do much except pack for an early rise the next day to catch our 3 planes to Buenos Aires!
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