Monday, 20 September 2010

Machu Picchu and the Inca Jungle Trail

Seeing as though i'm hungover, it seems right that I should write a blog now.  I don't know why it always happens that way....Anyway, we recently completed the Inca Jungle trail to Machu Picchu.  This is not to be confused with the Inca trail, which you have to book like 6 months in advance and costs a bomb.  It was a 4 day/3 night trek and we did it with a company called Reserv Cusco Ltda, who were actually really good.  It's always touch and go as to whether you choose a good company, and whether the guide is any good.  Luckily this time we had an amazing guide and can't really fault the service and tour!

Day 1 - The Mountain Biking

The first day consisted of a mini van ride to about 2 hours away to just past Ollantaytambo and to an altitude of around 4300 metres (just over 14,000 feet), where we got kitted up with mountain bikes to start a decent to Santa Maria.  It was a bit like the death road, although not as beautiful and it was pretty much all tarmac roads.  Luckily the weather held up, as apparently a couple of days before it had been chucking it down.  I'm not sure I would have enjoyed the bike ride so much if that were the case...

A mountain which we can't remember the name of...
Abra Malaga Mountain (4700m)

Us with the group and our guide, Herver
Our group before the bike ride, with our guide (known as "Herby") on the right. Check out the size difference!
The Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley
We cycled downhill for about 3 hours, stopping of for packed lunch on the way and seeing loads of cool butterflies.  All in all it was a pretty easy first day, I had no idea at the amount of walking we would have to do the following days...

Day 2 - The walk to Santa Teresa

We got up at about 6am to start our trek to Santa Teresa.  The walk was through various types of vegetation such as coffee plants, coca, bananas etc.  It was pretty hard, mostly because we had to carry our backpacks and it was boiling hot!  I hadn't really thought about the fact that we would be walking with our backpacks on, I think I would have packed a bit less!  We stopped along the way for Herby to paint all of our faces with this red fruit, and then carried on to this place called the "Monkey House" to have something to drink and get dressed up in traditional Cusco clothing.  We had a yummy drink called Chicha Morada, which is made from fermented purple maize - it sounds gross but it was actually amazing, and refreshing!

Us with our faces painted
Us with our faces painted
Us in traditional Cusquenian dress
Us in traditional Cusco clothes.  With a doll...don't ask
For some reason there was a weird doll in the pile of clothes as well, so they thought it would be funny to stick it in the photo with us... Tony's dressed as an Ukuku, that represents the role of tricksters.  They speak in a high-pitched voice, play pranks and keep order among pilgrimsIn Quechua mythology, ukukus are the offspring of a woman and a bear, feared by everyone
because of their supernatural strength. 

The dodgey cable car across the river
Going over the rapids in a dodgy cable car
We also had to cross a river in a cable car, which was quite funny.  When Herby said we would be going on a cable car earlier that day, I had envisioned this amazing modern cable car like the ones they have in Rio going up to Pao de Aç wrong I was!  We walked a bit further (I think we walked about 16km that day in almost unbearable humidity) and were rewarded at the end with about an hour in some thermal baths, before heading to Santa Teresa and to our next lodge. 

Day 3 - The "Adventure" Walk

The night before, Herby had asked whether we wanted to do the adventure walk or the easy walk.  The thing with the adventure walk was that you had to get up at 5am and then go for 2 and a half hours up hill, where the reward is a view of Machu Picchu from a distance.  It was also about 18km instead of 13km.  Obviously we all chose the adventure walk.  I found it pretty hard, the hill was relentless and it was already getting hot, even though it was only about 8am.  When we got to the top we reached a recently investigated Inca site called Llactapata (2700m) perched high up on the side of the Vilcanota River Valley.  From there we saw Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the distance.  It was really beautiful, even in the morning haze.

Me at the Inca ruins
Llactapata Inca ruins
Machu Picchu (and Huayna Picchu, the triagular mountain) seen from the other side of the vally on day three
Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the distance
We continued to walk back down into the valley to join the train tracks and river that wind around Huayna Picchu (a very long way!) on to our next stop, a crappy town called Aguas Calientes.

Day 4 - Machu Picchu!

Aguas Calientes is probably the most touristy town i've ever seen.  Everything is overpriced and there doesn't seem to be one shop that isn't dedicated to trying to sell you crap tourist stuff.  In any case, we weren't there for that long.  We had to get up at half 3 (ouch!) so that we could get to the bridge that goes over the river below Machu Picchu.  Basically there are only 400 people a day allowed onto the Huayna Picchu hill (the hill you see in all the photos of Machu Picchu) so people get up super early to climb the stairs that go up to Machu Picchu in order to be part of the 400.  It's pretty crazy, and looking back I can't believe I didn't burst a lung or something (Tony obviously wasn't even out of breath - dick).  We had to go for almost an hour and a half up stairs to get to the top.  And we didn't stop once!  Luckily Herby had told us to bring a spare top as we would be sweaty at the top, and he was so right! Both of us were soaked though, and when we got up there it was still only half 5.   

What is amazing about getting up so early though is the fact that you are in Machu Picchu with hardly any other tourists.  When it gets to mid morning, all the other people start arriving in buses - when we were there we got to take photos of it with almost no people there.  

Tony and the llama (fixed)
A llama trying to eat Tony's breakfast
Inca architecture
Inca architecture in Machu Picchu
The ruins were really spectacular, not just for the setting but also the way the houses and walls were built.  There are 14 different types of architecture in Machu Picchu, the most of any Inca city/ruins ever found.  I think they reckon this is because of Machu Picchu's importance as a sacred Inca retreat.  Machu Picchu is divided into three great districts: the Sacred District, the Popular District to the south, and the District of the Priests and the Nobility.
Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu
The view of Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu
We climbed the steps to Huayna Picchu just before lunch - another hour of walking up hill!  At this point my legs were really hurting but after having to get up at half 3 for it I wasn't going to miss it.  The Inca's seemed to like their steps!!  The Incas worshipped the Condor, as it was seen as the symbol of the upper world, and the messenger between the upper and middle worlds. (The middle world was represented by a puma, and the lower by a snake).  Machu Picchu is also the most important Inca site because it is said to be in the shape of a Condor when seen from Huayna Picchu (it's hard to tell in our photo, and you need a bit of imagination to really see it!)

Machu Picchu from the upper terraces
Machu Picchu at about 6am. 
What is easier to see is the face of Pachamama in the mountains behind the ruins.  What they say is that the 2 small hills to the left of Huayna Picchu are in the shape of a condor, the face of the puma is in Huayna Picchu and the snake is symbolised by the Urubamba river running in the valley below.  All these combine to create the face of Pachamama, which you can see if you turn your head to the right and look at the photo above.  (Huayna Picchu makes the nose - quite a large nose - and the 2 hills next to it on the left are the lips and chin.  To the right is the forehead.)

Machu Picchu really didn't disappoint - I was worried that after having seen so many photos, heard so much about it and things that it would be a bit of an anti climax.  But both Tone and I were stunned.  The 3 day hike before with quick glimpses of it in the distance also made it all the more satisfying to get there.  

The day after we got back from Machu Picchu we were picked up at 4.30am to go to the jungle, which Tone is going to blog about next.  We are off to Arequipa on Monday night (for more bloody hiking! arrghh!) and then onwards to Chile! 


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