Everything was "Inti" for a week !
The last few days were spent purchasing/borrowing the essentials - sub zero sleeping bags, flash lights etc. The Peru visa consulate reminded me of government offices with each one taking their own sweet time. LAN Peru had their own way of rubbing it in - "You don't have a reservation, but you have tickets. So we will honor that and give you seats" - whatever that meant. LAN was very comfortable and their world traveler game made sure I learnt some Spanish.
It was the B&B at Cuzco - the Peruvians don't like using the 'z' but thats the official name in English - where we were served hot cocoa tea to get used to the altitude. Cocoa is the leaf used to make cocaine. The folks from New York joined us soon and after brief introductions we were off exploring. We went to the famous fortress of Saqsahuaman (pronounced as Sexy Woman), the amphitheatre of Qenqo, the fortress of Pukapukara and the spring shrine of Tambomachay (Temple of water). Each of these pieces of Inca architecture was amazing in itself and we learnt a lot of the Inca way of life. The "Temple of Water" was the location where the original Inca trail started - its closed now - and it takes nearly 10 days to cover. We were told that that Incas used to cover it in 24 hrs straight. Photos of all these places coming up soon and people know where to get more information about these places.
Cuzco is at 3400+ m above sea level and that made every hike strenous and breathing difficult. Headaches and difficulty in breathing were common symptoms and couple of people in the group fell sick soon. Cocoa tea helps get you acclmatised to these conditions soon.
The next day, it was a tour of the Sacred Valley and the town of Pisaq. Got a chance to see the Alpaca, llama and other animals found in Peru. Got to check out more of the Inca civilization and the sites were just breathtaking. Spent some hours at the markets and it would have been a paradise for shoppers. The Incas believed in the "Sun God" - Inti refers to the Sun and most of the sites had the word "Inti". They also liked to construct temples and other buildings on top of hills to be closer to the "Sun" and that meant you had to hike up ! Met some Quecha tribes and saw them at work making clothes out of Alpaca wool. The finish is something today's machines can never get close to.
The High Inca Trail Hike:
We started the hike next day at a place called Molepata, an hour on a open truck and we were on our way. A beautiful scenic journey through Limatambo, stopping for panoramic views of the Apurimac Valley we walked throuh traditional Andean communities like Cruzpata, Challacancha, and finally Soraypampa (3750 meters). The last part of the hike was difficult and uphill and it was 6:30 pm that the tents were set up. Two people Gary and Manuella who were ahead got lost and went much more ahead than the tent sites. They finally made it back to the tent site but it was an adventure in itself. The winds and the sub zero temperatues made camping fun that night.
On the second day, we started the hike to the highest point of our trek, Salkantay Pass (4600 meters). From this point we saw spectacular views of Salkantay Mountain, a stunning snow-capped peak (6271 meters). My knee ligaments started giving way and I was limping for some time. With the thought of giving up due to the excruciating pain I almost had tears in my eyes. A friend lent me a knee brace and with sheer will power I motored along and it was pleasing to be the third in the group to reach the peak. We all carried stones from the base and at the pass, placed them on top of one another after making a wish - a Peruvian tradition. The thin air coupled with the winds, meant another round of Tylenol for the headaches. Spectacular views of the mountains Humantay and Huayanay, small lakes and moraines led us Huayraqmachay (3700 meters) our lunch site. We then started the downhill climb and camped at Colpabamba. On both days the night sky was just brilliant. Milky way was seen in all its glory and with my binoculars I spotted a few constellations - but yup I was lost :)
The third day started with a bath in a natural hot spring - it was refreshing and wonderful. We started hiking in the Peruvian jungles and bugs had a field day leaving scars on everyone's bodies. We saw the change in vegetation, the coffee plantations. Seven, who knew Spanish was the official translator for me. We were leading the pack that day and the tour guide was discussing the vegetation and the animals.
The first part of the fourth day was an optional hike or a bus ride. Gary at the dinner table mentioned that he would do it if anyone joined him. After some hesitation Rama and myself were up for it. And next day as we got down from the bus, 4 others jumped it and it was a rewarding experience. We went past the hydro electric plant, some great views of the river, forests, towns destroyed by land slides. After having lunch, we set out on the last part - a walk along the railway tracks to the base of Machu Pichu. This part of the hike was the most frustrating and painful, but after spending 3 nights in the wild, the bed and a hot shower beckoned.
Machu Pichu: Up early next day at 4:30 am, we caught the first bus to catch a glimpse of sunrise at the "new wonder of the world". Clouds didn't seem to like the idea. We then explored Machu Pichu. It was an exhilarating and a rewarding experience. Some folks decided to climb Wanapichu and others the Sun Gate. We spent nearly 7-8 hrs at the top. The houses, the temples, the astronomy observatories, the watch towers, the farming terraces were marvels of Inca architecture and kuddos to UNESCO for maintaining it. Back to Aguas Calientes, where we camped the previous night and we were on the train to Cuzco.
Next day at Cuzco was spent relaxing, exploring the city, going to the Inca museum, some souvenior shopping and a group dinner at a Peruvian restaurant. I fell in love with Peruvian music with different kinds of flutes on display. We then decided to check out the night life and went to a club and my-oh-my did the girls from New York rock the floor or what !
After more than a week at Peru, it was time to say good bye. The guides were awesome and I need to say a special thanks to the cooks and porters without whom the the hike wouldn't have been possible. It was a great to make some new friends, alas most of them are on the east coast. LAN Peru wanted to have their second round of fun with us and they did, and we were seeing the lighter side of it.
This has been a great year, personally, with 3 international trips so far. I hope the trend continues.
PS: Photos coming soon, but neither the photos nor the blog do any justice to the trip. If you are physically fit, this is one trip you will not regret !