Thursday, April 24, 2008

Peru Day 8

The terrific Peru adventure continued for the past 5 days as Mikko and I hiked 4 days on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. There´s more to share than I can easily blog about here, but I´ll try to hit the highlights.

Last Sunday we hit the road at 5am with our group of 12 trekkers and 2 guides, later to meet up with 23(!) porters. The porters make this sort of trek possible for hacks like us, carrying tents and food for the entire group. Through a small administrative oversight on my part, Mikko and I were the only two in our group to not have a personal porter. This meant that we carried our own sleeping bag and sleeping pad, in addition to all our personal clothes and gear. Everyone else carried only a small day pack, at most, with an extra layer and some water. But if anyone were to shoulder this extra burden, we proved that we were the two to do it. We started to get to know our group which was made up a group of 6 acquaintances from Toronto, a couple from Vancouver (he originally from Japan), and a young 19-year old couple from Ireland. As always, you get some interesting personalities in a group like this, but everyone had a great attitude.

Sunday we started at kilometer marker 82 and hiked for 14km, most of which was fairly flat. However the final couple kilometers were straight up hill and would prove to be one of the biggest challenges of the trek. I was feeling pretty good, but it was a hot day and we had trouble carrying enough fluids to replenish what we perspired. Many of the group struggled at the end of the day, but it helped us all prepare for the second day which included crossing two passes at about 14,000 feet.

Monday we learned, probably more intimately than any of us really wanted to, of the great stone work of the Incas. They laid miles and miles of stone trail, many of which were stairs going up and down steep mountain passes. It was actually a good thing that it rained all day Monday, because if it were hot the strain would have been much worse. Before lunch we hiked up 3000 feet for 4 hours and then 2000 feet down the other side. That was the first of the two passes and Mikko and I were tired, but at the front of the group. The slower members of our group were almost 2 hours behind us and our guides began to worry about them making it to camp before nightfall. Though we had headlamps, traveling on those stone stairs after dark would have been quite dangerous. While Mikko and I were making our way up and down the second pass through the hail, rain, and gushing river-like torrent that followed us down the steps, two of our group mates were getting oxygen (carried by a guide) and one had to be carried down the mountain by porters. I wish I would have witnessed their feat, but at least they only had to carry a petite Asian woman and not Mikko or me. She was very thankful for their assistance and felt better that night.

All along the way we saw a collection of different Inca remains. Machu Picchu was the final destination, but we saw several other smaller sites and were told by our archaeologist guide that there are many still uncovered in the surrounding jungle.

Each morning we were awoken by our porters with a cup of coca tea in our tents. In high quantities, coca is used to make cocaine, but around here the locals chew on the leaves to help cure altitude sickness. We had some along and chewed them just to try it, but neither Mikko nor I suffered any ill from the heights.

At lunch time (usually around 2pm) we were treated to a multi-course meal by our chef Raul who did amazing things given the conditions. All the food was fantastic and far exceeded our expectations. Dinner was also a large affair and all meals included an assortment of local soups, meats and vegetables. They also catered to the one vegetarian and two lactose intolerant members of our group.

Tuesday was the easiest day of the trek, mostly down hill, with the destination being a common camp where all 500 people on the trail that day would camp in order to set out early for Machu Picchu the next morning. This was a nice, leisurely day where the faster hikers amongst us would hike for 20 minutes and then sit and wait for 25 minutes for the slowest people. The views were spectacular and we enjoyed the easy day. However, it was a bit frustrating to be in a group with such a large disparity of hiking talent. The slowest in the group was this woman from Vancouver who was also an extreme extrovert. She was 32 and overweight, but loved hiking. She also loved to complain about being cold and about being tired, and that got old in a hurry. One morning she mentioned how key it was that she wore her toque to bed at night to stay warm, while simultaneously complaining how cold she was at breakfast and not wearing the same hat. Mikko and I were dumbfounded as we intelligently sat there in our warm hats and layers. I guess some people go on trips like this without doing the slightest bit of research about what to expect.

That night we stayed at this larger camp that actually had facilities including toilets, showers and a bar. We had to get up at 3:45 so we didn´t revel too much in the presence of cervezas, but one of the highlights of the trip happened just after we got to camp. Our guide told us of a site of Inca remains not far from camp. But he said it was a bit of a hike and would be really cold and windy, so be prepared. Mikko went to take a shower and I decided to check the site out, and was I ever in for a surprise! It was a gorgeous site of farming terraces (you´ve seen pictures), a collection of stone buildings in great shape, and the Inca irrigation/fountain water system which we would see again at M.P. And I was the only person there! Now that´s the kind of tourism that I really like - beautiful site all to myself. I drank it all in for about 10 minutes, realizing it was one of those great moments, and then went back to get Mikko and quatro cervezas. We walked back there and proceeded to sit in peace and cerveza for 30 minutes before anybody else showed up. It was awesome.

The next day was day 4 of the trekking and Machu Picchu. The key to M.P. is getting there early to (1) sit at the Sun Gate to watch the sun rise over the city and (2) beat the vast tourist crowd that takes the train in from Cusco and shows up around 10am. We accomplished both these things and it was a perfect bluebird day. Our guide said we were quite lucky to have such a beautiful morning to see the entire city clearly. I can´t explain it well here, but let´s just say that the hike was totally worth it and it was everything we imagined it would be. In fact, the hike really just makes it all that much sweeter, knowing that in a way we earned it. I have lots of pictures which I´ll throw up here when I´m back in town.

That was yesterday. After roughing it for 4 days we decided to spring for the expensive hotel in the town of Agues Calientes at the foot of M.P. and this was a great choice. It was quite expensive, but I got a massage, Mikko took a sauna, 3 terrific meals were included, there was an orchid garden to stroll through as well as a bunch of hummingbirds on premises in their acres of private pathed jungle. Very nice. When in Agues Calientes I highly recommend Hotel Inkaterra.

Ok. That´s it for now. I´m tired of typing. Were now back in Cusco before heading to Lima on Saturday afternoon for a couple days.


Matthew said...

Sounds like a fantastic trip thus far! Glad it is going well, and I look forward to the photos and more stories.

Duly noted about the hotel. The next time I find myself in Hot Water I will forego the Braidwood Inn (not as luxurious) and say "Welcome to thee Hotel Inkaterra!"

Anonymous said...

Encounter Bulgaria's unspoilt natural beauty with our trekking walksand guided car trips in the Mountains of Bulgaria.
Operating from the historic and tourism town of Veliko Turnovo, our experienced and licensed guides will lead you through breathtaking mountains, charmingly historic villages practically untouched for centuries and every point of interest along the way. Bulgaria’s heritage is a rich tapestry of historical interest from the different epochs of her development. We will show you fascinating ancient monasteries and churches, isolated communities still living a traditional peasant lifestyle and even the monolithic monuments of the communist period.