After leaving La Paz, we headed for Copacabana, a little town on the edge of Lake Titicaca - the largest high altitude lake in the world, at 3800m. The view of La Paz as the bus headed out was stunning, crazy Bolivians building their Capitol in a steep valley. Copacabana is the prettiest little town. We found a great hostel with a roof terrace with amazing views of the lake. On our second day there, we decided to climb up the hill overlooking the town. Apparently it's a very religious place and people from all over Bolivia come to climb it. Half way up, puffing and panting because of the steepness and the altitude, we realised it was sunday - which explained why it was really busy! At the top the view was amazing, you could even see the isla del sol. There were all sorts of statues up there, and people were burning incense and leaving offerings and praying.
The next day we caught a boat out to the isla del sol, an island out in the lake that was very important in inca times. Once out there, we climbed up a hill to check out some ruins and then started the 3 hour hike across the island. The views were amazing, but walking at 4000m was a challenge - every slight uphill left us puffing - all good practice for the Inca Trail! At the other side of the island we reached a little town with very steep steps down the side of the hill to where all the boats stopped - these were also built by the incas. It was pretty crazy walking around the town and seeing these really old men and women carrying huge bundles and building materials up the steep steep steps on their backs.
After Copacabana, we passed into Peru and spent a night in a town called Puno, on the other side of the lake. We had a really nice night wandering around all the little bars in the town, mostly drinking mulled wine and hot chocolate with baileys - it was soo cold!! The next morning we caught a bus to Arequipa, the second biggest city in Peru. It was a very impressive city, with huge white washed buildings throughout the town, and millions of impressive churches. From here, we booked a 3 day trek into the Colca Canyon - the second largest canyon in the world (the largest is just up the road, but is only 150m bigger). The trek was great, although our guide was really annoying! The first day was spent hiking down into the canyon - a depth of 1200m. It was pretty cool, we walked down a massively steep and narrow path which wound down the side of the mountain. We saw a couple of condors, but were mostly concentrating on not slipping and falling over the edge to our deaths!! We spent the first night in a little village where we were very well fed with tasty soup and alpaca stew. The next morning we hiking along the canyon, checking out another little village along the way. The villages were particularly impressive as all the building materials had to be carried down into the canyon along the mega steep path we had climbed down the previous day. The area only got electricity 2 years ago, and the giant pylons also had to be carried down there - each one by only 4 men. Around lunchtime we reached "the oasis", where we were spending our second night. It's an awesome spot, completely different to the rest of the canyon as it has it's own little microclimate. So we stayed in a basic little resort type thing, surrounded by palm trees and lush green grass. The area is supposed to have hot springs, so the place we were staying had a pool. We jumped in, but it was freezing cold, so didn't last long!! We spent the afternoon chilling - reading, chatting and playing cards. The next morning we got up ridiculously early to start the hike back out the canyon - along a track just as steep as the one we came down on. We were given the option of paying extra to go up on either a horse or a donkey, but this was our inca trail training, so we hiked it. We started in the dark, but it started getting light after around half an hour. We were told it would take around 4 hours to get to the top and everyone should just walk at their own pace. It was a tough climb, very steep, and breathing got harder the closer we got to the top, as we climbed back up in altitude and the air got thinner. Jas was the first to the top, in 2 1/2 hours and I was 1/2 an hour behind him at 3 hours. The views as we climbed up were absolutely stunning, we saw the sun rising and slowly lighting the mountains in the distance. At the top, we were pretty knackered and sat down to wait for the rest of the group - the last one took about 4 1/2 hours, so we were waiting a while!! There were heaps of people at the top though, so we had lots to chat with and got some inca trail goss from a couple of swedish girls who had just finished it. They said it was tough and made us a bit scared! While we were waiting, all the people that had hired horses and donkeys arrived in a big long chain. They were pretty annoying - mostly fat Americans complaining that their legs hurt from sitting on the things - quite rude to those of us who had used our own legs to climb up!!! We spoke to one Australian girl who's donkey had ran off on the way up - with her still on it's back! She had to throw herself off while the owner chased it in to the distance! Pretty glad we walked! Once all of our group had arrived, we headed off for some breakie and then jumped on a bus for a couple of hours to another town. There we spent an hour or so sitting in some hot springs. These were massively hot, but definately helped sooth our aching muscles. After the hot spring we got some lunch, more alpaca stew, yum, then got back in the bus for the long journey back to Arequipa. Our bus driver was a suicidal maniac, but the views were amazing. We climbed high up in to the mountains, through snow, and then back down the other side. We spent the next day chilling around the town and in the hostel, and then jumped on a night bus to cusco.
We had 4 days to kill in cusco before starting the inca trail, which was a bit too long, but we passed the days wandering around the town exploring and eating and drinking in some brilliant bars and restaurants. I had wanted to try guinea pig, which the locals eat here....but then I saw a picture of it in a menu and changed my mind. The serve the guinea pig whole, still with it's little head looking up at you and it's legs sprawled out over the rice. Don't think I can do it. Apparently it tastes like chicken skin.
We realised on the canyon trek that our little day packs were not remotely suitable for trekking, so before we started the Inca Trail we went to the markets and bought new small backpacks with lots of straps for attaching the sleeping bags and mats that the company would be providing. We also grabbed a trekking pole each, as we'd been told they made a huge difference on the trail.
Finally, our inca trail day came around, and we got up mega early and waited for our pick up. The bus took us to a little town where we had breakfast and met our guide and our group. We went with Peru Treks and had a group of 16. Everyone was really nice and friendly and there was lots of chatting straight away. Our guide was called Carlos and he was amazing, and completely made our trip. After breakfast we got back in the bus and drove another hour or so along a very dodgy dirt track, to the start of the inca trail. Once there we were given our sleeping bags and mats, at which point we regretted not hiring an extra porter as they were really heavy!! The trek on the first day was pretty easy, and we passed our first lot of inca ruins. After a couple of hours, we arrived at the lunch camp and immediately fell in love with porters. They are amazing. They carry giant 25 kilo backpacks crammed full and run along the trail ahead of the Trekkers to set up camps and cook food. As we all arrived at the lunch camp, they all stood up and applauded us, a nice touch! The food was amazing and it came constantly, and in huge portions! After lunch we headed off again, while the porters packed up and then ran past us on their way to the first camp. The camp site had amazing views and all of our tents were set up and waiting for us when we arrived in the late afternoon. We had a tasty dinner, and then passed out early, nice and snug in our tent. The next morning was an early start and we were woken up to steaming mugs of tea by the assistant guide, Martin, and one of the porters. We were a bit nervous about the 2nd day as we'd been warned it was the hardest - with 5 hours of uphill, to the top of the highest point of Inca Trail, Dead Womans Pass. After breakfast we started walking and it was quite steep straight away. We walked for around an hour until we came to a clearing with toilets and women selling drinking and snacks from little stalls. After a short break here, Carlos told us to take our own pace to the next break, where the porters would meet us with hot drinks and snacks, and it would take around 2 hours. So we headed off and it was STEEP! The fastest of our group made it in 40 minutes and we took an hour. So we drank some coca tea, ate some popcorn, and waited for the rest of the group. After about an hour, we headed off again and Carlos told us it would take another 2 hours to reach the top of dead womans pass, then another 2 hours to reach the camp site at the bottom. It took us an hour to reach the top, but it was pretty tough. We had to stop regularly to try and catch our breath as we got higher and higher in altitude. At the top we took some photos, but it was drizzling and cold, so we didn't hang about, and headed down the otherside. The down part was actually harder than the up, with massive inca steps and a scary sheer drop the otherside. Again, it took us about an hour to get to camp. At the camp, the porters gave us hot drinks and we sat down and waited for the rest of our group to arrive. They were about an hour and a half behind, so we were starving and desperate for lunch by the time they got there. In the afternoon, we took naps and then got up to play cards before dinner. The third day was the longest day, we got up really early and went straight up to the top of the first pass. After that it was downhill to some ruins that we wandered around. Then we had a really long, gently sloping walk to the lunch site at the top of the second pass. It was a cool walk, along cobble stones, through little caves. After lunch it was a couple of hours of very steep downhill, mostly steps, to the third and final camp site. We arrived at the camp site in the late afternoon and all sat around drinking very expensive beer, enjoying the stunning view. There was lots of cheering and everyone was feeling proud of themselves, as we were now only 2 hours from Machu Picchu. That night we had another amazing dinner and got all the porters together to tip them and say thanks. The next morning we got up at 3.45 as we wanted to be among the first to go through the check point when it opened at 5.30. So we spent an hour queuing in the dark, then sped off at hiking speed to try and reach the sun gate as soon as possible. The first view of Machu Picchu from the sun gate was awesome, and we took heaps of photos, before heading down to Machu Picchu itself. By the time we got there, we were all exhausted and didn't really have the energy to walk around it!! But we grabbed some food and headed in. Carlos spent a couple of hours showing us around and telling us all about the incas. It was incredible. After that we caught the bus down to Aquas Calientes and sat in the street enjoying some beers. Then we all had lunch together and Carlos and Marin gave us little certificates to say we completed the inca trail, very cute. After lunch we went to the hot springs (which were kind of dirty and gross!) before catching the train and then a bus back to Cusco. We arrived, exhausted and in desparate need of a shower, at our hostel around 11pm.
So after one day of chilling, and a night of drinking, we are off to Huacachina on the night bus tonight. Bring on the sun and sand boarding!