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the lost city of the incas

PERU | Wednesday, 15 October 2008 | Views [508]

as we didn't attempt to book our inca trail trip until 3 months ago, we weren't able to take the traditional route, as this is peak season and people book 6+ months ahead. We did however find an alternative, Salkantay Trek. Roughly 66km climbing up to 4,700M over 5 days and ending at Machu Picchu. Apparently slightly harder than the traditional trail, but we were up for a challenge which is exactly what we got.

Our trek started at 3.30am, we were picked up from our hotel at 4am and taken by bus to the start point, a small rural town called Mollepata. We met our fellow trekkers, we were a group of 10 which included a dutch couple in their 30s, three young french boys, a spanish guy and his peruvivan girlfriend and an young american guy. A couple of language barriers stood between us, but all great ppl.

After breakfast we took off, Kim and I at the front of the pack for the first km or so, but this was it as far as leading the way went. It was cold but sunny so layers wre gradually shed as we made our way uphill, uphill and more uphill, starting to feel that mayvbe this wasn't such a good idea. As I had been the principal one to want to go on the trek, Kim had made me promise that I would not complain, and I was going to stick to my promise, no matter what.

The more uphill we went, climbing a total of 1000m in the first morning, the more behind I got and the more I was thankful for the walking stick I had purchased that morning. There were a couple of other groups on the trail, and I tried not to let it bother me as the one behind us started to overtake me. As long as I get there!! One foot in front of the other. Kim was sweating plenty and his face was pretty puffed and red, as was mine!

We arrived at the first lunch spot and sat down to a three course meal, soup, rice and stir fry, bananas and coffee and tea. Maybe a bit much when your heart is still beating at a furious pace and you have sweat dripping off your forehead. The walk after lunch was another 4 hours of flat, as we soon came to describe as `inca flat' meaning mostly slight up and down, the entire time. Painful.  Everyone took of, but Kim and I set our own pace and told everyone we would see that at camp in a few hours and we began what was the worst walk of the trek (nearly), a never ending road that went up and down up and down. The view however was spectacular, a snow covered mountain that is a part of the andes in front of us. Stunning. Our first night was freezing and we were glad to have good sleeping bags, cheers jeremy, and I tried out what I learnt in Scouts, the less you wear the easier it is for your sleeping bag to warm you, and although it was painful taking off my clothes, it worked and I was nice and toasty that night.

Kim and I left earlier than everyone else the next day as it was to be the longest and toughest day and I didn´t think a head start would hurt. It took only an hour and they had caught us, at the bottom of the biggest hill I have ever seen, it actually hurt to crane my neck to look up at it and I was going to be walking up it! bloody hell! I got there, thanks to lots of sugar and extreme determination. After hitting the top of that hill, I walked around the corner and although the sight of Mt Salkantay was jaw dropping, I noticed yet another hill in front of me and nearly cried. The guide was very patient with me but when I was barely making any progress he ºsuggestedº - read forced - I get on the horse. I must say I wasn´t keen - cough -, but I was holding the group up so felt in the interest of group harmony it was only fair I jump on. The look on Kim´s face when he saw me was classic, I did feel slighty bad but he was hurting as much as I and would have loved to have been on that horse with me. All credit to him though he climbed the final hill and made it under his own steam to 4,700m. We took in the sight of Salkantay, thought of everyone we loved and placed rocks for you all on the piles built up by fellow travelers over the years, posed for pics and before we froze out behinds off, set off on the downhill stretch, if I thought it was tough going uphill, I was in for a rude awakening because it was tougher going down for about 6 hours straight, and by the time we arrived at the second camp at 3000M my knees were buggered but we were over the toughest day and still alive! The boys, crazy gringos, then had a game of soccer, because walking for 10 hours isn´t enough exercise! Kim made friends with a tame pig and kept giving it treats like apples and oranges and it was soon following him like he was its one and only! A slightly warmer night, but we were again in bed by 8pm and then up again at 6am.

We travel with a guide, two cooks and a horsemen who had a pack of about 6 horses. These guys are incredible as they walk the same trail, set up camp, cook dinner, bring us hot tea in our tents to wake us up in the morning, cook us breakfast, pack our gear, leave after we do, overtake us on foot and cook our lunch - 3 courses - and then overtake us on foot again to have our camp set up by the time we arrive and popcorn and hot chocolate waiting and then dinner. amazing. 

The third day was a slightly easier walk and different as we were down in the jungle and there were lots of beautiful flowers, trees and butterflies. We walked along the river but my knees were causing me agony and at the morning tea break I was put on the horse, this time after a few tears because I didn´t want to seem soft but the guide said it would have taken me another 5 hours and everyone else half that, were I to carry on at my current pace. Mind you, I quickly found out it was far from the easier option. As much as I have always loved the idea of horse riding, I haven´t done much, and when the cook, Jose, who was leading my horse started running full pelt along the trail, full pack on back, and the horse started trotting pretty damm fast, and I was trying to hold on, wishing I had gone to the toilet earlier and praying I would not fall off, I realised I was in for a tough hour. At times I just lost it and started laughing because I realised how damm ridiculous I must have looked bouncing around on this horse! I couldn´t cope with the trotting for much longer I started trying out my faultering spanish with the guy leadng my horse as it meant he had to slow down to hear me. good tactic so I kept it up and we were soon chatting about various things, albeit them limited to beer, children - his - food and Australia. After we arrived at the camp site I watched in awe as he setup his kitchen from scratch and prepared yet another 3 course meal in a matter of minutes,wonder how Chef Kim would go under these circumstances! A quick aside, chefing is considered one of the best professions in Peru so everyone loves Kim when they find out what he does. 

Next came some respite in that we were packed into a mini van and driven to the next destination, a campsite with actual electricty and therefore cold beer! but first we must freshen up and we did so in style, heading to the local hot springs which is a full complex boasting several hot baths, a 50m pool, naturally heated and then a waterfall of freezing cold mountain water that we would run under for as long as we could bare it and then shoot back into the safety of the hot water. It was just what our bodies needed after all that walking and it was heaven to be clean again, even if we did have to put on smelly clothes at the end of it! Kim and I eventually emerged all wrinkly and went to get a cold beer before heading back to the campsite for many more beers, good conversation, a fabulous banquet dinner and then the french boys taught kim some new drinking games, girls not invited by the french sexist frogs! Luckily I had a little baby monkey to keep me amused and it was plenty of fun putting my new found wildlife handling experience into practise until it did a big poo and wee on me and then refused to get off, I guess it figured it had marked its territory now! Eventually we hit the tents again and woke to a beautiful day. After breakfast I decided to brave the 2 hour walk along a flat road (yes, again inca flat) to the hydro station where we would be having lunch. It was a pretty horrid walk in the end as my knee was def at breaking point and Kim insisted in teasing my about my ºfirst ever sporting injuryº. For the record, a metal netball pole did fall on my in primary school and badly bruised my upper thigh, although I was not playing netball at the time, the injury was caused by a piece of sporting equipment and thus qualifies as a sporting injury, thank you Kim.

After we eventually arrived at the hydro scheme, quite impressive as they have carved a hole through an mountain in case of future land slides etc, we had lunch and the rest of the group set off along the railway track to walk to Aguas Calient, the town at the bottom of Machu Picchu. We opted to wait for the train, as the walk was suppose to be pretty tough as it was on uneven ground and my knee was pretty much fully seized up by this time. It was a 6 hour wait so we amused ourselves playing cards and watching the market stalls opposite us open up for business, each and every one selling the same thng, bananas and avocados. The concept of variation as the spice of life dosen´t not yet seem to have hit South America as every where we go people sell the same things, aka crap. It has been quite the mission to hunt down quality items by which we will remember our trip. The ladies operating their market stands, each selling bananas and avocads, looked to be in their 80s, but I imagine only in their 50s and 60s. Extreme weather is a killer to the aging process. Kim and I went to buy some bananas and had old ladies telling us, no buy her, bad bad bananas, mine good. It was funny so we tried to share the love as much as we could but there are only so many bananas we needed and when we quickly discovered that bananas attract mozzies, we regretted buying any as Kim was eaten alive by the little bugs. Eventually the train arrived and we chugged our way along to the town, it took about an hour, and we were met by one of the guides who checked us into the hotel, very basic but it wasn´t a tent and therefore seemed to be heaven. I was halfway through a cold shower when our main guide came to the door and said there had been a mix up and we had to move hotels. Not happy. So we repacked our bags and headed off, up the hill, my knee killing me, and were told there was no room at that hotel, we moved again and found ourselvers in a very plush place! Kim, who had not yet had his shower was lucky to get a hot one, very jealous, and we then headed of for our last group dinner at the hotel we were originally suppose to stay at.

Then D day arrived - the reason I had so long dreamt of coming to South America - visiting Machu Picchu and I was not going to let the fact my knee was so swollen I could hardly put any weight on it deter me from enjoying myself. We woke at 3.30am, had breakfast with the group at 4am who then headed off on the completely uphill climb to the site while Kim and I headed to the bus line. It was painfully early and cold but some humour was injected into the bleak morning when the girl standing behind us took Kim´s hand and gave him a little cuddle. She thought he was her boyfriend who was standing behind her! a rather funny one! We eventually arrived at the site, with about 200 people already in front of us but it was still only 6am, people are pretty keen here! It was majestic, impressive, left us awed and at times completely speechless. How man built such a kingdom, complete with irrigation and farm terraces in such a time, and so much of the place comes down to perfection, every corner is perfect, all the windows represent the special sun worshipping rights for certain times of the year and the sun gate, built in perfect symmetry with a window some 3 or 4 km away, it was just spectacular. We took a tour so we did learn as we went which was fabulous, but my knee gave up in the end so I found a place to sit and just soak up being there while kim climbed to some of the higher points to get some photos. A film crew was there that day filming something, so that was amusing to watch, a bunch of girls wearing feathers and trying to do a dance in sync, it took them all day and I still don´t think they got it! About 2pm Kim and I headed back to town to do some shopping and have some lunch before heading to the train station to catch the train back to Cusco that night. We were battered and bruised, but we had survived. and I never complained once!      

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