TAKING THE LLAMA PATH
03.04.2008 20 °C
The first thing we noticed about Cuzco was the lack of air as we huffed and puffed our way up the stairs of the hostel. At 3500m it was not the highest place we have been to but it would still take us another day or two to get properly used to the altitude.
Cuzco is definitely a tourist city. The beautiful plaza is lined with touts restaurants and tourist offices. The streets are full of Peruvian women in wildly colorful traditional clothes with impossible loads tied to their backs with hand woven blankets and small children at their sides or tied against their nurturing bodies.
The hats in Peru are wonderful and many. Bowler hats in many shapes and sizes perched awkwardly atop carefully plaited heads. Others flat as a pancake. Some styles depict which heritage they come from and whether they are single, married or widowed.
After relaxing and soaking up Cuzco it was time to prepare for Machu Picchu and as we were going to carry our own belongings we needed to pack light. It was going to get cold at night so I had invested in a pair of thermals, they were top of the list. A pair of walking trousers, shorts, 2 t-shirts, wooly hat, gloves and a rain jacket including fleese. I also took a first aid kit. In addition we had to carry our sleeping bags and mats, and water. All up I would say I was carrying about 9 kilos, much more than expected!
We had a 4am start but was not too chuffed as the coach was late picking us up and to add to our frustration went straight past our hotel after spending an hour picking everyone up, so we could have had at least another hour in bed!
We had breakfast in Ollyamtambo, a quaint town in the Sacred Valley where we could see some Mayan ruins perched midway up a mountain. Stores for grain and wool apparently but to me required a huge effort to get the goods to and from the store.
We started the Inca trail at km 82. We discovered that only 10% of the trail we were doing was the true Inca Trail as the rest was deemed too treacherous or washed away by landslides.
There were 16 on our trail and 20 porters and 2 guides. The porters were all Peruvian from the local area. Llama Path, the tour company provided these guys with uniforms, wet weather gear and a proper backpack. From our observations they seemed the only company to do that for ther porters which we thought was fantastic.
We started off fresh faced and eager to go. Within the first 10 minutes our chests were heaving as we tried to suck in the thin air to power our bodies. At that moment I had serious doubts about what we had gotten ourselves into. We had 14km to go! The group quickly split into those that were not carrying their gear and those that were. The former group storming ahead. This pissed me off to start with as the guide was also up front and I felt we were missing out on his knowledge of the area but as we were told the main information at the larger sites on the way I soon settled down and enjoyed the view and chatting, when breath permitted, to the group we were walking with.
Lunch was phenomenal. The porters had set up camp with a lunch tent complete with tables and chairs, knives and forks and even folded paper napkins. Don’t forget that these guys carry all of this on their backs and run most of the way! The qualitty of food on the whole trip was really good. The porters pack up lunch, set off after us and then head to the evening camp and arrive several hours before us. The fastest time one of the porters has completed the whole trail is 3 hours 45 minutes - incredible!
The whole day we were walking at a steady incline. We arrived at 6pm, thoroughly exhausted, everything aching. I dumped the bags and immediately booked a porter for the following day, the hardest of all days. At the camp there was woman from a local village that had hiked to our camp with a bucket of cold drinks, I couldn't resist a cold beer.
It was pretty cold that night and although we had mats the floor was pretty hard going too. After dinner, popcorn and milo we all crawled into bed ready for our 6am wake up! What a wake up it was too, hot water and soap and a cup of tea which you can sip while still sitting in your sleepingbag while watching the sun come up and the clouds roll over the mountains. A blissful moment..... That was until we tried to get out of bed! Ache? Just a little!
The next couple of days followed the same format, early breakfast, walk until midday, a splendid lunch to recharge, walk until the evening camp, wash, dinner then bed. The second day however was tougest, 16km, 2 mountains, one called Dead Womans Pass, and trust me, I felt like a dead woman when we got to the top of that one!
Day four, the day that the accumilation of our efforts would come to fruition. Four a.m start, ready to be at the park gates for 5am. Sungate by 6:15. Somehow our exhausted bodies were able to function on pure adrenaline. We were hoping to be at the Sungate for sunrise and I am sure we expected to see a beam of light illuminating Machu Picchu like a scene from Indiana Jones but we were to be disapointed on several counts. It was cloudy so there was no beam and even if it wasn't, we wouldn't have had a light display of that kind. The other misconception we had was that Machu Picchu would be fairly close, but if you held a 5 pence piece at arms length, that is how close it was and we could already see the coaches of people turning up.
By the time we got to the ruins any disapointment had completely disapaited. The spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu had us awe struck and we were still some distance away.
Machu Picchu is speculated to be a sacred Incan university. The ruins surrounding were possibly additional study areas, one being for astrological study, another for acricultural experiments.
Machu Picchu is surrounded by stone built terraces, these terraces are not carved into the mountain but built then backfilled with rock, sand,soil then manure and were used for crops, growing maize and potatoes. There are 300 varieties of maize and over 4000 types of potatoes in Peru!
In the centre of the site is a sun temple, one window lines up with the sun gate and during the equinox the sun rises between the sun gate, the sun shines through the window and unto the temple. At the other equinox the sun lines up with one of the surrounding mountain peaks and through the other window. Impressive stuff. Not only was the temple to worship the sun, the giver of life, but also made the Incans aware on summer and winter, when it was time to harvest or sow.
Although all of the buildings are impressive, the temple walls were ingenious engineering. The have withstood earthquakes for 600 years. Thre was also a water temple encompassing 16 ceremonial baths the ruins included 206 other buildings. We spent four information packed hours there and I could have spent at least 4 more.
We really were physically exhausted and were now looking forward to hot showers, clean clothes and then a soft warm bed.