Finally we were starting our adventure to Machu Pichu. The 5 day trip would take us on a visit to the sacred valley, trekking through the Lares Valley and Machu Pichu. This was the only thing we organised before we left Canada and we were very excited.
We were picked up from the hotel to start our sacred valley tour. It was a wonderful day visting multiple sites across the valley. The valleys really name is the Sacred Valley of the Inca's and it is filled with communities that still use the Inca language Quechuan and many Inca sites. They really love the Inca's! We first visited a small community to see how the women spin and make clothes. G adventures are the only agency that visit this village and we were able to see the money that is given to the community actually making a difference with a new school to educate women and paving of the main market square so it can be used in both wet and dry seasons (everything gets VERY muddy in the wet season). It was really interesting to see the women firstly dye the alpaca and llama fibres, using natural things like eucalyptus and then spin the fibre into yarn. They then weave the yarn into scarves, jumpers, beanies, anything really to then be sold to tourists in Cusco. There was also a bunch of alpacas and llamas that we got to feed which was fun.
The next site was Pisac, an Inca site. Our hilarious guide Henry, who was hilarious for his funny english more than what he actually said, trapsed us back and forth across the ruins of a village and its terraced farms. It was a pretty impressive site, everything built on crazy hills and just a like taste of what Machu Pichu would be like. What I found most interesting was the cemetery. As we've said earlier, the mountains were gods to the Inca's and so for burial they were placed in the fetal position and buried in a tiny cave in the mountain. At Pisac they had found thousands of burial places.
We continued on to an all you can eat lunch and then along the Urubama river at the bottom of the valley to Ollantaytambo. This quaint village with lots of cobblestoned alleys was another old Inca village that had been abandoned when the spanish invaded. It had more huge terraces and the ruins of some temples. We were also staying the night in this village and so after the tour ended we made our way back to our little hotel to relax before heading out for a fun dinner with the group.
We had planned and booked to do the Inca trail with G adventures back in March, but unfortuntely we missed out on one of the permits so we were going to do the Lares trek in a different part of the region. The group we were with during the sacred valley tour did manage to get permits and were going to be doing the Inca trail. They were a really fun bunch with some london cockney retirees, their military son, a hilarious father and teengage son from devon, another young backpacker from england who could drink like a fish and then some kooky american, a lovely norwegian couple, although the guy was literally viking hulk and a brash chinese australian couple. On their Inca trail there was 16 people and 29 porters and 3 guides!!! On our Lares trek we had us, a canadian couple and 5 cook/horsemen, mules to carry all our stuff, some alpacas and our guide!!!! We were going on a very different type of trek.
The next morning we said see you later to the group and were met at our hostel by Edith, our guide for the Lares trek and Machu Pichu. She was a lovely peruvian women who thankfully had much better english than Henry. Our first stop was at the town of Calca where we visited the markets to buy some presents for all the children and families we would meet on our trek. As opposed to the Inca trail, the Lares valley has many traditional communities in it that still live as their ancestors did. We then drove for 2 hours on the most mental and windy road I have ever been on. It would make top gear salivate. With relief we arrived at the town of Lares! The first thing we got to do was... relax. Lares has some natural hot pools so we got changed and rested our not so tired legs in the very hot water while Chino and Ronaldo our chefs prepared our lunch, gourmet camping style. Once we were relaxed and fed we started our 3 day 2 night trek. The trek through the valley would take us from 3500m at Lares, up to 3800m where we would camp the first night, then up to 4650m for the pass and then camping at 4100m the second night before descending to 2800m at the end of our trek. Edith kept saying the first day was just a warm up for the second day! We walked calmly along taking in the pretty setting and stopped many times, firstly to conduct a ceremony with coca leaves so pacha mama would look after us on our trek and in our lives and to give us Inca names and then lots of times to meet the children and give them some crayons, or bread or colourful hair ties. The kids would come running as soon as they saw us. We also gave coca leaves to the adults. Coca leaves are like money to the people here. At one point we picked up this 7 year girl Analee who was walking the whole length alone of the first days trek as she wanted to visit her mother who was working in the village, Wacawasi. She was very chatty with edith and so we learnt lots about her. At one point her 8 year brother came and joined us. He was also going to see his mother. They were very proud tiny kids. The boy alfred had a badly injured foot and we had to strongly insist on him using the walking stick which he gave back 20 minutes later. Meanwhile the girl was carrying many bags of food for her mother, I took these off her but 10 minutes later she took them back to help me! It was getting dark and cold as we came into the village of Wacawasi and when we arrived our tents were set up with chocolate and flowers on our sleeping bags and dinner being prepared! We got warm in as many layers as we could and had dinner inside a stone hut. The food each day was awesome, with soup, some sort of chicken or fish with rice and then desert. All made by chino and ronaldo on a camping stove! We were woken by the crew at 6am with a cup of coca tea and hot water to wash our faces. When we emerged from the tent we saw everything during the night had been covered in frost and it now made sense why Christian had been cold sleeping in nothing but a pair of pajama shorts. For breakfast we had pancakes with our Inca names written on them with caramel sauce - Wayna Pichu or young mountain for Christian and Quesicoyou or princess for me! After giving presents to the local children hanging around our camp we headed off to visit a family living in Wacawasi to learn about their lives. The family of 5 sleep together on one bed, cook, eat and store their drying harvest within one small smoke blackened stone room. The floor is jut compressed dirt and they have chickens and guinea pigs running around. The peruvian government gave all these people new cooking areas with new chimneys but the people do not like to use them as they are resistant to change and like to use the ones they built themselves even though it fills their houses with smoke causing respiratory and eye problems. It was a fascinating but also humbling site. It made us feel extremely fortunate for our own situations. The coolest thing was when the young boy brought out a stuffed Puma that their father had killed. They were very proud of what their father had done as Puma's are rarely sited, dangerous and detremental to their farming.
After this we started off on our trek. The walk was a gradual uphill and took us through dramatic lord of the rings looking landscapes. The first half took quite a while as we were stopping to say hi to children but also as a large discrepany was appearing between us and the canadian couple. We had been in altitude for weeks and done lots of activities whereas the canadian couple had come straight from the flats of Ontario Canada. We would walk 10 minutes then have to wait 10 minutes for them to catch up. We got pretty cold waiting around especially as Christian was only in shorts and eventually Edith said for us to continue on and we'll all meet again at the lunch site on the other side of the pass. We continued on the gradual uphill but soon after this changed into steep and deceptive uphill. You would walk up to where it bends around the corner and you think it will be flat and your almost at the top but then there is just another steep hill. As we climbed with our awesome walking sticks, past llamas and alpacas the weather was getting progressively worse and was snowing as we were approaching the top. With elation and a victory yell we reach the rocky pass at 4650m but then moved on down the steep descent to get out of the freezing weather.
We arrived at lunch 1hr and 15 minutes after we left Edith. She said it would take us 3 hours just to get to the top so we felt pretty pleased! We then waited inside the lunch tent getting warm for another hour and a half for the couple to turn up. It was a stunningly picturesque scene where we sat and had lunch, overlooking a lake with the mules and mountains all around. Thankfully after lunch the walk was a stroll down through the valley to Mantaray, the next camping site, passing snow-capped mountains and stunning lakes. It was very special.
We arrived at camp and once again our tents were all set up for us. We had time to have a rest before dinner so Christian decided to have a bath in the river running next to our campsites. I must point out that it is freezing cold at 4100m in the late afternoon and the water is running off the glacier but he still stripped down to his boardies and jumped into the river. Even the crew thought he was absolutely mental!
We had dinner that night inside another stone house but Andrew the Canadian guy was feeling incredibly rough from the hike and the altitude so it was a pretty calm affair.
The last morning after breakfast we had a little ceremony with some sparkling wine to say thanks to pacha mama and then we were off again. It was a downhill walk over rough rocky terrain. As we walked our horsemen came running past with all our stuff to get to the lunch spot. The landscape changed as we walked down, starting in the barren landscape at the top and ending in the warmth of the jungle.
We had lunch together and then had a ceremony where flowers were put on our heads to say thankyou to the staff. We also got to dress up in their clothes for some photos! We then bordered a bus and were driven to Ollantaytambo were we would catch the worlds slowest train through the sacred valley to Machu Pichu town or Aguas Calientes. The train travelled 40km passed snow-capped mountains and ended in the jungle at Aguas Calientes an hour and a half later. Aguas Calientes is a horrific town along the river at the base of Machu Pichu that is solely there for tourists going to see the ruins. It would not look out of place in South East Asia with a proliferation of dodgy hotels and souviner stalls selling Machu Pichu everything. We were happy to stay though as it meant we got to shower and sleep in a real bed!
We had an early start the next morning, getting a 5:30am bus (along with many other people) up to Machu Pichu in the hope of seeing the sunrise. Because of the queues we missed the sunrise but still got to see the ruins before all the tourists were flooded through it (it was cloudy so there wasn't really a sunrise anyway, it just got gradually lighter!). Edith took us on a 2 hour tour telling us all about the site but so much of it is conjecture. They really don't know what things were for or what exactly happened. This does not take away from the awe of the site. It really was phenomenal, even in the rain! After the tour, we walked up to the Sun Gate, a lookout point along the Inca trail, where the trail first gets a glimpse of Machu Pichu. It was so impressive. This day was my 1 year away from home and to be here was pretty special.
After Machu Pichu we headed back down to Aguas Calientes and had lunch with the Inca trail group before all getting the train and then bus back to Cusco. It was hilarious fun to swap stories about our treks. Sadly for them there had been a landslide the day before they were meant to hike up through the sun gate to Machu Pichu and the trail was closed, so they didn't get to see it at sunrise, instead having to walk down to town, catch the bus up and join the long queue with everyone else. We all had dinner that night in town, where some people ate the local delicacy of Guinea Pig but we couldn't understand why. It was expensive and you got no meat on it, just bones really!!! Mmmm delicious! And with that the tour was over and we would move on again for our next adventure.
Women spinning thread
Feeding the llamas
the inca group at pisac
The trek (the green line)
The road to Lares
Lares hot pools
Walking on day 1
Rest stop day 1
placing coca leaves under a rock for good luck during our coca ceremony
Tents in morning of day 2
Family with the stuffed puma
5 people sleep on this bed!
Lord of the rings landscape day 2
We're going up there
Mules carrying our gear
At the pass - 4650m above sea level
Going down from the pass
The lake for lunch
lunch tent, the lake and the descent from the pass
the landscape after lunch day 2
campsite day 2
Christians ice river bath
hiking day 3
the valley day 3
the group and crew (minus Edith)
Walking around the stone walls
Christian and the view
1 year later... at the sun gate
At the sun gate