Hello again! We are really far behind on this blog so I'm going to attempt to bring you all comletely up to date - here goes!
Our second day in Cusco (back on 15th Jan) was spent exploring the town and buying supplies for the Inca Trail. I visited the Cathedral where there is a painting of the last supper with Jesus eating a Guinea pig (a local deliacy) but other than that I found the cathedral really depressing - all the beautiful wood carving had been covered with gold leaf (tacky) and all the paintings showed pain, death and destruction. Anyway, after that I had a wander around the town looking at the amazing Inca stonework. The town was built on the foundations of the original Inca city and is really beautiful. I then met up with Nick, Sandra and Stephan (our German friends from Colca Canyon) and John (American from the Galapagos) for lunch before going to the market for supplies. I bought a very fetching pair of men's brown, knitted thermal leggings (the womens ones only just reached my knees, everyone's so short here!) and we bought some snacks for the trip. Nick also treated himself to a banana milkshake - big mistake!!! Anyway, that afternoon we set off up the hill to visit White Jesus and some Inca ruins before returning to the hostel for a quick meal and bed.
Unfortunately the milkshake didn't like being drunk by Nick and spent most of the night trying to escape from his body! Battling on, we got up at 4.30 ready to be collected for the Inca Trail. Our group was great, there were 16 of us in total all aged between 20 and 34 and all English speakers. 6 from UK (including us), 6 from Aus, 2 from NZ and 2 from the US. We all got on really well and there was no-one holding the group back. We had two guides, Oscar and Julio Ceasar (JC) and 22 porters to carry the tents, food etc. (we carried our own sleeping bags, clothes and toilettries) That morning we drove to Ollantaytamo for breakfast then continued to Kilometre 82 to start the hike.
The first day as very easy walking mainly flat with a small amount of gentle upward hills. We were very impessed by the food! The porters all run past as you're walking / stopping to look at things and set up camp for lunch. There as a tent with a table, stools, tablecloth etc where we were served a 3 course meal!! Amazing - not what we expected half way up a mountain! We arrived at camp that night (3200m altitude) at around 4.30pm for dinner, talking and early bed. Unfortunately this is where the milkshake deided to rear its ugly head again and Nick was up all night while it desperately tried to escape. By the morning Nick as so ill he couldn't go on. All of you who know him know that he's never sick and pretty much invincible so to see him pale, shaking and sick was really scarey. So that morning as the rest of us set off up hill to walk Dead Woman's Pass Nick turned back with JC to Ollantaytambo.
The second day is physically the hardest so there's no way Nick could have made it feeling as he was. We hiked up steep stone steps for about an hour and a half before stopping for a rest and a snack (popcorn!!) we then climed for around another 2 hours before reaching the top at 4200m!! I'm sure the view would have been amazing if it wasn't so misty! It was then a downhill walk for about another hour and a half to the campsite, finally luck was on my side and the rain didn't start until I as safe inside the dining tent drinking lovely, hot coca tea (yes, the coca leaves that cocaine is made from!)
It rained all night and we awoke (at 5am) to thick mist and fine drizzle, but after a delicious (and big) breakfast we resolutely set off hoping that the weather would improve. Unfortunatley it didn't! The rain got heavier and heavier until we were all soaking wet and freezing cold. Because of this we couldn't see the amazing views we were promised and we didn't spend much time looking at the Inca ruins - the rain was torrential! In fact, the only sounds when we stopped for lunch (at 10.30!) was shivering and teeth chattering. People just didn't want to talk and I almost wished I'd gone back with Nick! This was definately the hardest day for me mentally and I could see why the locals call it the Gringo Killer! But ...we carried on and by the afternoon the rain had stopped, the mist had cleared and I was almost dry.
Towards the end of the day we met Oscar (the guide) who gave us the option of the long route to the camp or the short route. Half of the group took the short route but thanks to Grace in our group (who said that the short route would be cheating as it wasn't the original Inca route) and Cara and Kai (sp?) (who we met previously on the Colca Canyon Trip) a group of us went the long way. I'm so glad we did! There were some amazing Inca ruins there and we arrived just as the sun broke through the clouds - it was beautiful. We must have spent about an hour there just exploring and admiring the view!
That night the chef surpassed anyones expectations by baking a birthday cake for Kat (one of the Aussies) over a single flame - amazing!!! We then tipped the chef and porters and said goodbye as they would not be acompanying us to Macchu Picchu the next day.
So .. the final day of the trail! We got up at 4.20am and joined the que waiting to leave the campsite. Due to accidents in the past the gates aren't opened until 5.30 when it's light enough to see where you're walking! We were early enough to be the second group there and in my rush to see if Nick was still alive and get tickets for Wayna Picchu (there are only 400 issued per day) I was the 4th or 5th person to get the Macchu Picchu (at around 7am). Unfortunately a group of people who hadn't walked the trail but had got the train and stayed in Aguas Calientes over night, got there at 6.30 and bought all the tickets - really annoying. Luckily Nick was still alive and well enough to meet us there though he was obviously v. annoyed at having missed the hike and not getting tickets for Wayna Picchu. The rest of the morning was spent on a guided tour of Macchu Picchu then wandering around ourselves until it started raining again. We then got the bus into Aguas Calientes where Nick and I had arranged to spend an extra night.
Aguas Calientes is a small town that has built up around the natural hot springs that are located there and its proximity to Macchu Picchu. There isn't really enough there to keep you busy for a day and a half but as we couldn't change our train tikets we had to make the most of it and I'm glad we did! After over a week of early mornings and constant walking / travelling it was nice to just relax. The day after reaching Macchu Picchu the weather was awful, heavy rain and mist, but we visited the market and the hot springs anyway and then found a restaurant for lunch where we could watch a DVD (until rain in the electrics cause the power to short out!) That evening we got the train and bus back to Cusco.
After another good nights sleep in Cusco we set of for Puno, on the banks of lake Titkaka (the highest navigable lake in the world at 3800m). Again, there was beautiful scenery from the bus. When we arrived we met up with Sandra and Stephan again for dinner and arranged to go on a boat trip to the floating Islands with them the next morning.
Unfortunately Sandra was ill the next morning so the three of us set off to see the Islands without her. The floating islands are amazing. The Aymara people fled into the lake when the Incas attacked them, initially they lived in their boats but after a while they made more permanent structures. The islands are made from layers of reeds piled on top of the reed roots, the people there also build houses and boats from reeds and because reeds swell when wet they're naturally waterproof!! Unfortunately the islands that are open to tourists are very touristy and as soon as you've been given the general history of the place they start trying to sell you things. However, there are around 50 islands not all of which are open for tourists so we did pass by some where people were just carrying on with their normal lives.
After the floating Islands we visited Taquile for lunch, a natural island and very pretty. Before arriving our guide was telling us about how the people here don't use money they exchange goods and the Island isn't materialistic or touristy at all. When we arried, a small boy jumped into a photo with us then demanded biscuits, yoghurt and sweets, then we met up with groups of other toursits including 4 of the Aussies we know from the Inca Trail - so not touristy at all!!!
The following day Nick and I decided to explore Puno before getting a bus across the border to Copacobana, Bolivia. Puno's quite a small town but we had a wander round and climbed Condor hill to look at the view. Very difficult when you're starting at 3800m altitude - we were both having to stop every few steps for breath - there's just not enough oxygen! After that we walked along the coast to see the Yarari steam ship which was built in England and transported over the Andes by mules. It's currently being restored and was very interesting to visit.So to Copacobana. The original one that the famous one was named after. An even smaller town on the banks of Titikaka that has been a pilgrimage site since Inca times. The first night we stayed in a really grotty (but cheap) hostel but after deciding that we weren't going to follow the hoards of tourists to Isla del Sol we moved to a nicer place. We were very lucky to be there at the time of a festival and the general election. This meant that on Saturday there was a big market where people could buy objects to take to the shrine on the hill to be blessed. You could buy toy cars, houses, shops, food, money etc. the idea being that you buy what you hope to have take it up the hill to be blessed and the next year you will have it. We walked up the hill but didn't get anything blessed.
Having been told by our guide on the floating island trip that the lake is a constant 9 degrees C all year round Nick took it as a personal challenge to go for a swim. It took a good deal of time to fully submerge but there is photographic evidence.
Sunday was election day so no buses were running. This meant the place was like a ghost town - no tourists arriving or leaving. We walked to two nearby Inca sites, the astronomy centre (Horca del Inca) and the Inca's bathroom (Banos del Inca) then walked into the hills to eat our packed lunch. We also spent some time lazing on the beach but due to the climate this is very difficult. The altitude means that the air is very cold but the proximity to the equator means that the sun is very hot so in the shade / wind you needed trousers and a fleece but in the sun you could wear shorts and t-shirt. This strangeness has resulted in me having burnt ears and nose and both of us having burnt hands!
Ok, nearly finished!
Monday morning we got the 8am bus to La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia (Sucre's still the official capital). The journey involved crossing part of the lake where we had to get off the bus and onto a small boat while the bus was driven onto a sort of barge and sailed across. Very odd! Anyway, we spent yesterday looking round La Paz and then met with our trusty German friends for dinner. Sandra's flying home tomorrow so it's the last time we'll be seeing her for a while.
Nick is currently fighting with his computer trying, unsuccessfully to upload our photos. We might have another go later but we've been in here for ages so they'll be uploaded when they're uploaded!!
So now we're finally up to date. Hope I haven't waffled too much. Nick will continue next time!
Bye bye for now