Three days ago Ed, Nick and Phil arrived in the city of Cusco. After nearly five months of misadventure they are over the moon!
The 200km stint from Abancay, due East, to Cusco, had a few final surprises in store for us. It was also to prove a touch more taxing for the riders themselves as we opted to walk when possible to spare the horses. On our approach to Abancay we had dropped from 4,000m to a low of below 2,000m when crossing the Rio Matara. The climb back up to get out of the Abancay valley was similarly taxing. With some adventurous reduras Phil and Ed managed to cover over 60km (as Celeste flies) by cutting straight up through all winds in the road. Far below in Abancay Celeste herself was looking for a new wing mirror (Capricho had thought the old one made rather a good bum scratcher), and a final wodge of SENASA paperwork for the horses.
High up on a pass above Abancay Ed and Phil had luckily found a somewhat out of place barn/stable block/pig stye in which to shelter as a delayed Nick tried to catch up with them in the dark. Each of the horses and Fortress, the tent, enjoyed their own 'cosy' stable... it kept the frost at bay if little else.
Ed and Nick took the (leading) reins the following day and started off with another outstanding follow-your-nose shortcut... one of those 'I think I can see tarmac at the bottom of that valley 10km away so let's see if we can cut straight there' gems which we've become a little bit better at picking out over the last few months. We were finally in the valley of the Apurimac river - hot and dry even hundreds of metres up the valley side above the river gorge.
We did our best to avoid the shoe-piercing thorns, and a fair breeze was mercifully keeping the unpleasant local biting flies away, but the next morning Capricho had an unfamiliar wound to boast. A 2cm cut on his neck had bled all over his shoulder... the culprit? A vampire bat. We had expected to see them at some point but rather farther north. Fortunately this bite and another suspect bite on Pajarito were our only encounters.
The next morning Nick and Phil lead the horses down to the Apurimac river. Crossing over a sturdy iron bridge (thankfully rather more stable than it's rope predecessors) they entered the province of Cusco. We had seen scarcely any gringos since our departure from Cajamarca ten weeks earlier. An occasional mine worker, or the odd tourist in a larger town, but really not many. Within our first few kilometres in the meer province of Cusco we saw more Westerners than we had in the past thousand.
To ensure we could all ride the final couple of days into Cusco, and to make a few preparations for our arrival, Phil took Celeste ahead and left Ed, Nick and the horses to rest for a day in Limatambo. When he returned two days later the team had made good progress and were easily within two days of Cusco. They had also acquired a new member. 'Bruce', the extremely friendly and slightly timid Doberman had followed us from somewhere in Limatambo, all day to our campspot some way short of Anta. He was quite happy to munch a bit of bread and rice and was only a little put out at being made to sleep in the 'porch' of the tent. That evening we were treated to an egg, some maize and potatoes by our kind hosts. Fortunately none of us managed to squash any of the hundred or so Cuy (guinea pigs) that were munching on the maize stalks around our feet.
We continued East at a steady pace the following day. We were following the more direct but rather monotonous main road to Cusco, counting down the km markers as we went. The only downer on the day was Bruce's discovery of his extremely concerned owner in Anta, the main town we passed through. Very sad but probably the best (and most fortunate) end for our latest Inca Rider. We had decided that for our final night nothing, not even a free room in a five star hotel would keep us from staying in the Fortress, our tent. As such we declined generous offers of hospitality from the mayor's office in our local town and enjoyed a final bowl of noodles (and a shandy or two) while the horses munched on maize stalks and barley.
To allow for the founder of our Peruvian charity, Bruce Organisation, to make it to Cusco in time to meet us we had time on our side as we arrived in Cusco the next day. Having walked the horses for much of the last week we rode slowly to the Plaza del Armas - savouring their last kilometres in the saddle. What's more the pretty cobbled and flagstoned streets risked making the horses look like Bambi on ice. The horses were more than happy to find feed and firm footing on the lush lawns on the main square... the police and local groundsmen were less so! We had a brief photoshoot with the founder and his team of volunteers, including Anna, Phil's sister, who had come to welcome us. We then dismounted and took the horses up toward the ruins of Sacsayhuaman. Here Phil had found a quiet Hacienda to rest the horses at. We untacked for what we thought would be the last time (though everything had to go back on for a TV interview a few days later), and found all the alfalfa and barley we possibly could for the horses' celebratory meal. That evening we had hot showers, soft(ish) beds, and one or two beers...
Cusco is very different to anywhere else we have seen in Peru. We are enjoying it to the utmost and we hope the horses are too - though who knows whether they are still waking up expecting to commence the next stage of their seemingly neverending journey? They are certainly still eating like it!