Cusco and the Inca Trail
Cusco, capital of the Incas, shaped liked a puma and absolutely crawling with tourists.
We were excited and very scared about the Inca trail just 4 days after we arrived in Cusco, so we decided to get in some training. After a day of rest, much needed considering the scarcity of oxygen at 3,200 metres, we went for a hike up to Sacsayhuaman, which has some pretty substantial Inca remains. It was well worth the hike, but did not ease our minds at all about our ability to complete the Inca Trail.
No time to idle though, the next day we met up with our group and were soon on a day tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which runs between Cusco and the start of the Inca Trail. It was a magnificent tour, we got to see a guinea pig farm, drink beer made from corn (NOT recommended) and to top it off the Inca ruins in Ollantaytambo and Pisac.
These ruins were pretty comprehensive and you could make out in the mountain opposite (to which the temple was dedicated) the carvings of faces to represent the Inca Gods. In fact, on the Summer solstice the sun rises at exactly the point of the carved face. These Incas were pretty clever people. We were both so impressed by these ruins that we couldn´t comprehend just what Macchu Picchu would offer.
The next day though, we started bright and early and began with the rest of our group on the infamous and gruelling Inca Trail.
It was a beautiful and glorious morning and we were both in good spirits, enjoying the smaller Inca ruins on the way and the mountainous scenery. We were almost in a state of mind that we could do this trail. After lunch however things turned nasty, very nasty. We started the day just shy of 3000, but had gone down to nearly 2500 and were now expected to reach our camp at 3500 metres via non stop vertical climb up steep steps.
We will not lie, it was hell pure and simple. The altitude and exhaustion got the best of us and especially Gem (who was bedridden the week before) who vomited through the effort and had to be helped by two porters to our camp. We arrived in the dark, 2 hours behind the rest of our group, who were really good and helped buoy our spirits.
We were assured that the worst was over though and after much sleep and a wakeup call by the porters accompanied by tea, we struggled on to the aptly named Dead Woman´s Pass. This was a gruelling morning up steep steps again, but with rests and chats with the other trekkers we made it up there, as you can see from our jubilent faces. Once at the top, we had a 15 minute break to have some life giving gatorade (we have a new addiction) and make our own offering to the Gods. I think it is pretty clear what we were praying for.
Then we actually started to sort of enjoy ourselves in the afternoon, we were going downhill, and were only a little way behind our group. There was another Inca ruin on the way and brilliant scenery, including lagoons, kestrels and humming birds. The second day seemed a whole world away from the first 24 hours, and we finally felt convinced that we were goign to make it - not the least because the only way back was walking the same route!
Then the "easy" third day came and we all took it in our stride, it was a more even path and only 12 km trek to the campsite, which we were told offered hot showers and had a bar and everything! This was music to all our ears after 3 days of trekking and in need of alcoholic refreshment. Our campsite was literally next to the most impressive set of Inca Ruins on the trail so far and we were definitely in the mood to get to the sun gate early the next morning and receive our prize, a first glimpse of the hallowed Macchu Picchu at sunrise.
Soo, off we got up at 4am and started an unanticipated gruelling race to the sun gate to beat the rush of other trekkers at 5.30am. It was a flashback ot the first afternoon, and it just got worse when we arrived at the sungate.
For the first time that week, everything was obscured by cloud and you could barely see your hand in front of your face, let alone Macchu Picchu. We cannot express our utter despair after the huge effort we had gone through. The cloud showed no sign of dissappearing. So we just headed down ot Macchu Picchu, hoping that any moment a miracle would happen. Two hours later at 9am, it did and the clouds gave up their secret and revealed the wonderous ruins of Macchu Picchu.
Macchu Picchu is vast. It consists of temples, agricultural terraces and houses, and even a quarry. Our guide was great and we learnt all about the Incan sundial, the temples and the general marvel of the Incan culture, which is well represented here in this isolated and high place.
Though what amused us most was the number of llamas that were just lazing around the ruins. At one point Lisa was trying to take a picture of Gem in front of a llama when she was charged at from behind by another - they are terrifying creatures that close up!
We survived though and got the most of our time before the hoards, who lazily and very sensibly skipped the hikes and arrived from Cusco on the train. Finally after 4 days of hell, we felt some sense of joy and elation.
Yay. we had survived the Inca Trail.
Now some serious relaxing was to be done in Cusco before heading on with our tour group to Lake Titicaca.