The next destination on the gringo trail was Cusco (or 'Q'osqo' in the native Quechua tongue).
When the Spanish conquistadors landed in Sth America in the 1500's, Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire which stretched from Columbia in the north to Argentina in the south. So it has by far the most archeological ruins, the highlight of which is the sacred ruins of Machu Pichu which lie in the mountains, some 100 odd k's from Cusco. Even Cusco itself is a beautiful city (well at least the historical 'Old town' is). The Spaniards used the stones from many of the Quechua buildings to construct Cathedrals & city walls which still stand today. Even our hostel was in massive stone mansion dating back to that time!
Because the Quechua Indians abandoned Machu Pichu when the Spanish arrived, the jungle took over & it wasn't 'rediscovered' till 1911. This meant that unlike all the other ruins, it didn't get looted by the Spanish, and has remained relatively intact.
Thanks to PC (Pete), we had pre-booked to do the very popular 'Inca Trail', which is a 4 day hike up to Machu Pichu along the path that was built by the Quechuas over 500 years ago! We had a group of 15: 4 Aussies, 6 Canadians, 4 Seppos & a lone Pommie!
The company provides you with all the camping gear, a chef & an army of porters to carry everything. So we were just hiking with small day packs.So on day 1 we got picked up from our hostel at some ungodly hour like 5am then got driven the 3 hours to the start of the trail.
Other than the early start, day 1 wasn't too difficult... the trail was relatively flat & we covered about 15k's. We did pass some cool ruins on the way tho.
Day 2 is notorious for being the killer though. It's only 12km, but involves climbing to 4,200m ASL - the highest point on the trek. PC & managed fine, but we did wait for an hour & a half at that pass for the back of the group to catch up. Anyway, in the end, everyone arrived to camp in one piece to applause from the porters!
Day 3 is usually the most picturesque, but unfortunately as can often happen at this time if year, we walked nearly the whole 12km through clouds, seeing very little of the scenery!
Day 4 though is obviously the highlight... getting up at 3:30am to climb to the Sun Gate to watch the sun rise over Machu Pichu was truly amazing! The hard yakka had been worth it! After a much needed break & some pictures we descended part way down Machu Pichu mountain to the famous Inca ruins that are known by the same name,spending the next 4 or 5 hours exploring the ancient city. I haven't yet visited the Pyramids of Egypt, but the same respect for the architects of the Inca era must be paid: they even knew how to construct buildings to be 'earthquake-proof'! We spent the afternoon in the little town of Aguas Calientes, devouring some beer & pizza then chillaxing in the hot springs until our train back to Cusco.
The party animals from our Group (led by me, Pete and the Pommie lad Dan) celebrated out in Cusco that night then struggled through seeing the sights of the Cusco old town the next day before jumping on another overnight bus.