Tuesday, April 24, 2007

16th - 22nd April (The Quechua Trail and Cusco)

I had gone from virtually sea level in Lima to 3,310m in Cusco. In the next two days I would reach 4,200m before descending to Macchupicchu. I started taking the altitude sickness pills as a precaution as well as drinking Coca tea (very nice), chewing coca leaves (not nice) and eating coca candy (okish).

My alarm was set for 05.15 but the bus was late despite me being the first pick up. Eighty-two km to the start point with some nice views of rural life along the way including farmers ploughing fields using Oxen (how quaint!) and people making mud bricks to build their houses. I bought a bamboo walking stick from one of the women with a baby strapped to her (there must be a local law that says you are not allowed to sell on the streets unless you have a baby strapped to your back). Todays walk was mostly gentle but it was hot, sometimes cloudy and a quick shower at lunch.
I was the only Brit in the group of 11 Norweigan, Dutch, Swedish, Japanese, Brazilian and Israeli. My camera, only about six months old but having taken six years worth of photos has chosen this perfect moment to play up with some of the buttons not working; luckily I can still take photos but playback and delete are no longer possible.

The Inca trail lasts four days and should really be called the Quechua trail; the people were known as the Quechua, the Inca was their king and had a seperate route to Macchupicchu which is now impassable. I don't want to bore you with the facts (mainly as I don't remember them) but if you are interested see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inca_road_system and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machu_Picchu.

The porters and cooks of the many groups constantly whizz past with 30kg plus strapped to their backs, tents, cooking stoves, tables, chairs and food. The food is always good and plentiful especially on the last day when we collect their tips from the group, we had more food than a Bavarian schnitzelfest that night! They wake us up with a cup of tea in the mornings, pancakes for breakfast, a good lunch, supper and sometimes a snack inbetween. I sampled the local corn beer made by the farmers 'Cheecha', like blonde beer with a dash of fairy lemon. Some of the views, mist and cloud permitting are fantastic and in the rainforest section in particular you can see brightly coloured flowers, butterflies and birds including the oil slick colours of the hummingbird as it darts between the trumpet flowers (very difficult to photograph!). There are several archeological sites of interest along the way which our guide Miguel told us about along the way. As soon as it gets dark (about 19.45) we go to bed as there are no fires allowed and of course it goes completely black. The trail is about 48km I think. The second day is about 4.5 hours uphill until 4,200m followed by 1.5 hours downhill. The third day is mostly downhill which I was dreading with my old knees but they were fine and the final day.....

Up at 04.00 in pitch black. 04.30, a quick breakfast then leave for the checkpoint 10 minutes away where we wait in a queue for it to open at 05.30. One by one our tickets are checked and we race to get to the site before anyone else gets there to ruin it! It is a short but hard walk to the sun gate where at around 06.00 we caught our first glimpse of Macchupicchu from above just as the sun was coming over the peak of the mountain casting the first rays of light onto a small section of it. A few photos from there before continuing down, taking photos along the way. I took so many photos because every different point seemed to offer something new and every few minutes the sun was casting different shadows (and as you know I can't delete!).
We waited around for a while to gather for group photos before Miguel gave us the fascinating guided tour. Then, time was our own, the 18 year old dutch lads and I had to climb Waynapicchu (the mountain next to Macchupicchu in all the postcards) which has really steep steps carved into the side of it and on a perfectly clear day like today provides some amazing views.
Strangely, only at the very top, there are loads of butterflies swarming about. We took pictures of ourselves on the very highest point of the mountain, sat for a while taking in the view then climbed back down.
From there Q took the 30 minute bus down to Agua Calientes town while Jon and I ran down the god knows how many steps for 25 minutes and walked the 15 minute road with calves burning (how do the porters do it?!). A celebratory beer and pizza and then for some reason my train time was different to the rest, a five hour journey along the Urubamba river with an increasingly sore throat.

The photo cd that I had left behind had been hand delivered to my hostel which was a great relief.

I spent the night alternating betrween uncontrollable shivering and sweating and for a few days in Cusco I felt like absolute shit. I rattled when I walked but no amount of paracetomol or nurofen seemed to help. In the mornings I would decide that it would do me good to get out and about but after a few hours would be in desperate need of my bed, feeling like I would soon collapse in the heat and altitude. I remember waking at midnight after an afternoon in bed thinking how am I going to sleep now, but I did, lots and lots of sleep and lazing around but without much getting better. I watched Hitch, Spartan, Goal and the rather gory Hostel. I had a nice room to myself which was costing me a bit extra but it was worth it just to be able to cough and sneeze without bothering anyone else. I've realised that four days of walking and a few days of not eating has left me looking like a thin version of Albert Steptoe! On the third day of being ill, i spent the morning skyping back home and felt almost human and also like I had got my appetite back so I went for an Alpaca steak which was nice but a little too salty. After struggling to force down as much as I could (about half) I started feeling a little dizzy, then the small amount of light in the pokey locals restaurant suddenly seemed blinding and I really thought I was going to pass out. I managed to order a bottle of water, had to grope around to find it as I couldn't see a thing, and drank until my vision returned. After settling the bill I sat in the nearby park until I felt reasonably normal again. In the afternoon I was nearly tempted to buy a fairly large streetscene painting, had a look around the pre-columbian art museum and the Catedral del Cusco which is as impressive inside as it is outside despite my mistrust of all things Christian. I got my shoes shined and was called a marthafocker by a young boy trying to sell me postcards. At 18.00 I took a bus to Nasca which wound around the mountains until I fell asleep. When I awoke at sunrise we were still winding around mountains but now they were made of bright pink rock with a blue, grey and pink sky all around. There was litle vegitation and looked pretty desolate but I watched the changing scenery for the rest of the journey to Nasca.

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