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Entries about cusco

How to desicrate a sacred site in one easy lesson

overcast 18 °C

Arequipa served only as a base for an excursion to the Colca Canyon. Although it is Peru´s second largest city, I didn´t find anything particularly remarkable here, other than the usual collection of Churches, Plazas and tourist tat for sale. It didn´t help that the rain caught us up here and the presence of a Starbucks seemed to annoy me disproportionately.

Colca Canyon, on the other hand, has turned out to be something of a highlight of my trip. My first brush with the effects of altitude also manifested themselves here too. We had been advised to get some "coco" products. I opted for some rather pallatable coco sweets to suck on, while the more adventurous members of the group went the whole hog and chewed on a wad of coco leaves. The chemical that is released is supposed to help reduce the effects of altitude. My theory is that they taste so disgusting that you just simply forget about them. For me the effects were like having a hangover; mild headache, slighty nauseous and an unsettled stomach, or was that actually just a hangover? Anyway, it was worth it for the staggering landscapes that I got to see. The sheer scale of the canyon was overwhelming. It is so deep it makes the Grand Canyon look like a paddling pool. I don´t know enough superlatives to describe everything I saw but hopefully some of the pictures will give you an idea of how beautiful it was.

Llama-rama - It´s the New Forest, Peruvian style

Meet Steve, my new room mate.

My brain was on form that day and I was able to embrace the glory of my surroundings without any trivial internal dialogue interrupting me. At one view point we managed to see a couple of Condors soaring at high altitude on the morning thermals. It wasn´t until a few days later I got to see how big these birds are (3ft+). The evening was spent at the local thermal springs soaking up the atmosphere as well the 37 degree water temperature. Unfortunately for me, I think I stayed in a bit too long and part boiled myself. Still it´s progress, at least I didn´t get sunburned, just cooked internally instead!

"Look Jack, I´m Flying"

Where´s Wally? Well he´s not here......

Ooh, how mysterious and brooding is that!

No long bus rides to Cusco. This time we got to fly from Arequipa to Cusco. As you can imagine, the airport was fairly provincial, so the sight of an Airbus A319 at such a small airport took on greater significance. To the detriment of my fellow travellers, I adorned my aviation anorak and transformed into "AeroGeek", reciting useless facts and figures of our beast of burden to Cusco. Strangely they all fell asleep immediately we boarded the plane.

Cusco then, the former capital of the Incan realm. Now host to dozens of outdoor shops selling fake North Face goods to gringos, like me, that were about to attempt the Inca Trail Trek to Macchu Picchu. Armed with a can of oxygen, a hat, some waterproof trousers and the all important rain poncho I felt ready to take on the challenge.

Day One - Started drizzly and overcast, which gave me a chance to don some of my new purchases. There were a few hills but nothing too strenuous. I can handle this I thought, what´s all the fuss about. The porters that carry all the equipment are carved from the same block of ´tough´ as the Himalayan sherpas. They carry up to 30 kilos, which make our day packs look ridiculously light. I had expected dining to be a fairly ad-hoc affair, possibly a sandwich and a drink for lunch and a cookup round a gas stove in the evening. Not so, we had the luxury of a dining tent complete with table and stools. The cook was able to perform small cullinary miracles and we never had less than two courses. This Inca Trail is for pussies, I thought, where´s the hardcore trekkers version.

Lunch at the Incan Ritz

Day Two - Given my comments yesterday, it seems fate decided to burden me with a few extras to worry about today. My stomach had finally succombed to the inevitable change of water/altitude/food and that led to a dose of the Cuzco Cacas, as they are known locally. The campsite "facilities" consisted of squat hole toliets and a bit of running water, hygienic is not a word you would ever associate with them.The trek was virtually all up hill in the morning to the point known as "Dead Womans Pass" at an altitude of 4200m (about 12200ft!). I started off OK, but as the moring wore on and the climb got steeper, I struggled more and more. My breathing was becoming laboured and I couldn´t take more than about 10 steps before having to rest again, added to that was the risk that at any moment my bowels would join in the party too. With just a 100 metres to go to the top I managed to make out a couple of people from my group shouting words of encouragement for me to carry on. Somehow I managed to grit my teeth (and clench other parts of my anatomy) and finally made it to the top. The initial euphoria of reaching the highest point was short lived. My body had no interest in the amazing view down the valley that I had just ascended. No, it´s priority was far baser than that and I dashed off to find a clump of grass to provide another kind of relief. Hence the title of this blog............
Fortunately the rest of that afternoons trek was downhill and I easily accomplished that. Later that afternoon though I had a bout of vomiting and developed a fever, not quite the experience I had been hoping for on the trek, a memorable day for all the wrong reasons. I went to bed at 4pm and hoped that my body coúld sort itself out overnight.

Day Three - Well, my fever had gone and I felt almost human this morning so I was looking forward to todays jaunt. The bad news was that due to a recent landslide, we would not be able to trek into Machhu Picchu itself and would have to trek down the valley for an extra hour today. It was pretty much down hill all the way, but after 10 hours my knees and legs were starting to get tired and I was glad when the campsite finally honed into view. Today at least, I was able to take in my surroundings a bit more. I have never seen Humming Birds in the wild, so it was amazing to see so many different varieties of them keeping me company along the way.

Day Four - A nice 4am start was followed by a short 1 hour hike along the train track that goes into Macchu Picchu town, which is actually called Aguas Calientes (Hot Springs). It was here that we had to hop on a bus (with other tourists) and take the 30 minute ride up to the entrance to the site itself. It seemed an ignominious way to end the trek and to see Macchu Picchu, but then thats what happens when you have romantic notions of how these things will play out when I dreamed of them back at home. Reality is never quite the same.

I worried that the experience of the last few days and the rather prescribed way of entering the site would leave me feeling disappointed when I finally got to see it. My fears were not founded though. The sun was shining, the air was fresh and my bottom was behaving itself. As we climbed the first set of steps to view the site I turned and got my first glimpse of that iconic image of Macchu Picchu. Except here I was, in person staring at several hundred years of Incan history set amongst a range of verdant mountains with wisps of cloud gliding by and giving the whole place an atmosphere of mystique and serenity.

It´s a strange sensation when you finally realise one of your ambitions, and I must have stood there motionless for 10 minutes just drinking it all in. The horror of day two paled into insignificance and a sense of accomplishment and pride washed over me. I could waste a thousand words describing Macchu Picchu and what features it has, but it really is one of those places that has to be experienced and, at last, I have had that experience.

This picture is sponsored by Immodium

Our trip back to Cusco started on the local train which winds its way around the side of the mountains at a breathtaking speed of around 20 mph. Thank goodness it has red flags attached to it at the front to warn people of its velocitous motion. It was a pleasant ride nonetheless, after a busy day walking around Machhu Picchu it was good to have a bit of time to reflect on everything that had happened. I spent the next few days in Cusco relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere.

Choo choo! All aboard the knackered trekkers express.

We also had a day trip to see some other Incan ruins in an area known as the Sacred Valley. I hoped my bout of stomach trouble was over, otherwise it might not be sacred for much longer.....

Has anyone seen my youth........?

I´ve now made it to La Paz, in Bolivia, but haven´t had time to type up the intervening days, so you´ll just have to wait for the next instalment, you lucky things!

Posted by esotericmind 12:52 Archived in Peru Tagged arequipa picchu cusco cuzco macchu Comments (4)

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