We managed to drag ourselves out of bed at 4. It was tough as the beds were really comfortable! The stairs to the mountain open at 5 and we had to leave at 4.30 to make the 30 min walk to the gate. The point of getting up mega early is to see the place before the hoards of tourists arrive but it definitely isn’t compulsory. You can also pay $24 for a return bus trip up the hill rather than walk the 1500 steps as we did. Other than being a bit dicey at the start due to the complete darkness and my lack of torch, the stairs were ok. They definitely weren’t easier but after a while my legs just got used to it and we (along with a queue of other people!) made it up in about 50 minutes.
We were meant to meet our guide at 6 for a 2 hour tour but apparently a landslide had led to a huge rock blocking the road for the bus (he took the lazy way!) so we headed in alone to take pictures before the crowds arrived. At first it was very cloudy but eventually the fog cleared and we could take in the view.
Our guide eventually showed up and talked us through the history of the site but to be honest by the end I wasn’t really listening. I was really tired!
We also climbed Huayna Pichu which is a mountain overlooking the site. It was pretty steep going up but the view of Machu Pichu is worth it.
Going down was tough! The stairs were slippy and there were a lot of people coming up, followed by more step upward stairs at the end. I decided I’d had enough and headed back down the stairs to Aguas Calientes. My legs were shaking by the end!
We got early dinner in Aguas Calientes and headed for the 6.30 train back to Ollantytambo. I definitely recommend paying the extra $8 to catch this train instead of the 9.50 as there’s a fair bit of hanging around waiting for transport so it’s a late night.
The train was awesome. I’ve never been in a train this nice! The bathrooms were actually pleasant to be in and there was free tea and cake. Even the station was beautiful.
When we arrived in Ollantytambo we were met by a hoard of taxi drivers carrying whiteboards with names on them. It wasn’t too hard to find ours and we were taken to a mini van which would take us the last couple of hours back to Cusco. I definitely would rather have been on a train.
Day two started with breakfast at the very civilised hour of 8.30. Afterwards our guide talked us through the crops that are farmed in the area. I don’t think I’ve mentioned coca before. It’s the raw material for cocaine and the leaves grow everywhere in Peru and Bolivia! You can buy bags of them in shops all over the place and most hostel have free coca tea. The locals swear by it for combating altitude sickness and apparently the leaves contain way more calcium than milk. They’re also used as an appetite suppressant so people can work longer and have natural anaesthetic properties. The leaves are legal here but the farmers have to sell them to the government. Apparently a major narcotrafficing centre was recently closed down a couple of hours away from our hostel. It took the army and helicopters months to find it because the jungle is so dense!
Anyway, it was interesting chat. Our guide also painted our faces. Its a natural die made from mashing up the seeds of a plant. It took a long time to get it off my face! I was walking around looking orange for a day.
Afterwards we headed off for 7 hours of trekking. After the first 20 minutes up hill it wasn’t too strenuous. We’d walk for half an hour then stop for 10 minutes and so on.
Lunch sucked. I said I was vegetarian so that I didn’t have to eat any nasty meat and end up with 3 tiny roast potatoes and a load of fried veg. The others didn’t get a lot more but at least had chicken!
After lunch we had an hour to sleep in the hammocks at the restaurant. I felt about a thousand times worse when I woke up but managed to get going.
The next challenge was crossing the giant river in a tiny cable car. It was crazy, it’s just a basket with 6 inch high sides that a man pulls across the river.
I had to travel with another person and hang my legs over the front. I was petrified but the local rode it standing up!
After that we had a couple more hours walking to some hot springs where we swam for an hour or so. They were very warm. So warm in fact that we decided that they couldn’t be natural!
Afterwards it was a short but pretty tough hike to our hotel for the night (we could have taken a collectivo for about £1. I would do this next time, the last 15 minutes is a killer uphill!)
We got to watch some of the Oscars at dinner then went to sleep at about 9.30! The beds in the places we stayed were always super comfortable so I blame them for my complete inability to stay awake!
The decoration in our restaurant was very festive. I loved it! They also have me something like halloumi and plantains for dinner so I loved them even more.
We were lucky to get breakfast at 8.30 so got a great lie in. The bed was really comfy and I had an excellent sleep. Breakfast harked back to my Argentina/Chile days with stale white bread and jam. We did get an omelette which improved things slightly.
The mountains this morning were amazing. What a view to wake up to.
After breakfast our guide put inca face paint on us which was fun. I think I look pretty cool….
Afterwards he taught us about the traditional inca farming in the area, in particular coca leaves. I don’t think I’ve written about coca leaves here before. They’re the raw material for cocaine and they grow all over the place in Bolivia and Peru. You can buy them by the bag and most hostels offer free coca tea as it’s believed to help with altutude sickness. Our guide told us that local people chew the leaves for all kinds of things including the very high level of calcium in the leaves (apparently 3 times that of milk) and that it’s legal to grow then as long as you sell only to the government. He also told us about a narcotrafficing operation a couple of hours drive from our location that was eventually found by helicopters and shut down by the army! To get the cocaine from the leave apparently needs a lot of dangerous chemicals and processing so just chewing the leaves doesn’t get you high, but they are a natural anaesthetic so your mouth goes numb if you have too many!
After that we started walking. I was worried about our 7-8 hour trek today but for he first part I needn’t have been. After about 20 minutes of touch up hill the rest was down hill or flat and I reckon we only walked for about 2 hours to lunch as our guide stopped all the time to let us take pictures or tell us stories about the incas. Its probably some of the easiest hiking I’ve ever done and the views were nice too.
Lunch was very random. First we got a plate of very good guacamole followed by a very small plate of french fries, vegetables and what I’m fairly sure was mayonnaise dressing. So many french fries!!! Anyway, I could have sworn our guide said “this is the main course” so being hungry I held my breath and forced it down only to be presented 5 minutes later with quinoa soup, and then spaghetti bolognaise! I definitely got enough food today.
We met another very friendly cat…..
Post lunch we got an hour long nap in some hammocks by restaurant. I felt very sleepy when I woke up which probably wasn’t the intention! Next we had a couple of hours easy hike to a cable car across the river. Cable cars in this part of the world are a little different from at home!
Basically you sit in a tiny basic and someone pulls a rope to get you across! I was sent across with another guy in my group and had to hang my legs over the front which was pretty terrifying. The side bars are only about 6 inches high and the river below is so violent that its name means the God’s are speaking (its very loud!).
Afterwards it was on to some hot springs to swim. They were hot and spring like. Afterwards we opted to hike the 40 mins to our hostel. The last 15 minutes are very uphill so I’m not sure I’d recommend this! Anyway the hotel was nice and dinner want good. I asked for vegetarian so I got fried cheese that was something like halloumi with plantains and rice. We watched some of the Oscars in the restaurant which was interestingly decorated in very christmassy tinsel them crashed out at about 10pm.
A good second day!
Pretty much every agency in cusco offers a version of this route to Machu Pichu which includes downhill mountain biking, optional zip lining and rafting and some walking (but a lot less than the inka trail itself!). I booked with Conde tours as I’d had a recommendation for them and they gave me the best price of the agencies I asked.
Our guide picked us up at our hostels and for some reason I’m not sure of we ended up being only 3 as 3 people had mysteriously dropped out. We drove the first hour and a half to a cafe where we could buy breakfast. I was pretty hungry so went for the 20 sol buffet and wasn’t disappointed with the masses of food that kept coming! After another hour and a half back in the car we were at the start of the downhill mountain biking route. The drive was horrible for me! The windows of the van had been covered with the company’s branding and it was a very bumpy zig zag all the way up to 4000 something metres. I still felt sick most of the way down! The cycling was fun, a lot less terrifying than the death road in Bolivia as it was on paved road. The negatives were having to cycle through 15 rivers that crossed the road (yes, 15 and all of them deep enough to soak my legs and feet through the splash back), cycling through thick cloud for an hour with absolutely nothing to illuminate us to oncoming traffic and the traffic itself which often straddles both sides of the road on corners. Not fun when it’s a bus or a large van!
The scenery though was very beautiful.
After we finally made it past stream 15 it was time for lunch. The buffet was pretty average and the chicken looked ropey so I ended up with rice, pasta, sweet potato and some kind of daal. Carb-licious!
Afterwards we were subjected to another hour or so in the van. This made me feel even worse than the first journey and had we not stopped when we did I think I would have had to request a pullover!
Next it was a 40 minute hike up hill through the jungle to our room for the night. I found this unbelievably tough. I can’t really blame the altitude given that we’re now only at 1,800m after weeks of being mostly about 3,000m so I’m going to blame my 35l back pack. I was given the opportunity to have some things driven to tomorrow nights accommodation in Santa Teresa but all I could find to give up were 2 very light jumpers!
We reached our accommodation, a kind of homestay, at 3pm and were told by our guide “have fun, dinner is at 8”. There is pretty much nothing to do here. I’m too tired to walk anymore so I’m currently lying around in a hammock writing this and eating peanuts. Its quite the nice view though.
On a slightly sadder note I’ve seen lots of animals today and most seem happy but at one point we were shown a monkey that we could take pictures of which was chained up by a short rope around its waist and the place I’m staying in has a parrot as a pet, apparently tamed by clipping it’s flying feathers when it was a baby after the owners captured it in the jungle. So sad 😦
Dinner was weird. We had ok soup followed by stir fry of cauliflower and French fries with rice. French fries pop up in all kinds of random places in South America so I asked oour guide if they’re popular here and he said only with tourists. I think people must think we’re so obsessed that we want them on everything! Anyway it was edible and we went to bed at 9.30 as there wasn’t much else to do.
I’m loving Cusco. First job this morning was to fund hiking boots that fit. I headed to San Pedro market and found a pair for £11! I’m terrified of the blisters they’ll probably cause if I have to walk in them but it will be good to have an alternative to my running shoes if it rains I guess!
The market is great. I’m planning to spend my last day there stocking up on cheap alpaca clothes (poor Ben is going to have a lot to carry back from Panama!!!) You need a bit of a strong stomach as the clothes stores are right next to the raw meat stores. I didn’t take a picture as I was too scared of getting raw meat thrown at me.
Afterwards I was stopped in the street by a girl offering massages. It was 20 soles (£4) for 1 hour full body and I was feeling stiff after the bus yesterday so I went for it. It wasn’t bad at all.
For lunch I went to Bambu which is a Japanese place. The lunch menu costs about £5 for drink, soup, salad, deep fried wantans and dip and 12 rolls with your choice of one fish and two veg ingredients. I went for salmon, avocado and carrot. It was really good, amazing value!
I’ve noticed here that all the people are really happy. Even though the city is full of tourists they always smile and seem happy to see you. It’s great!
There seemed to be some kind of parade in town today. At first I was terrified that carnaval had followed me from Bolivia bit thankfully I have escaped more water. On closer insurrection it seemed to be something to do with school and a lot of people were holding signs with alphabet letters and things they spell. The traditional outfits are so vibrant
Post lunch I found a backpack to rent and I’m pretty sure got conned into paying £2 for a third of a roll of duct tape. I couldn’t find it anywhere and I wanted it to strap up the hotel door wound on my ankle from Copacabana. Stupid hotel door!!! Otherwise my £11 boots are doing ok. I tested them out by wearing them to walk up the hill to Christo Blanco which is a giant statue of Christ that overlooks the city. Unfortunately once I’d walked to about a 100 giant steps I couldn’t see it anymore! I mean it’s a gigantic white statue of Jesus, how did I manage to lose it?!? Anyhow, after a while hunting I gave up and decided to leave it until after I’ve done Machi Pichu. The epic amount if stairs did however give some nice views of the city.
Its raining today so it looks a little grey.
Instead I retreated to Jack’s cafe and tried the brownie and ice cream as recommended by friends Bob and Claire. It as indeed epic and I’m currently sitting reading magazines and drinking tea to calm the slight nausea brought in by eating it all. They have Vogue here. I like it a lot.