In the footsteps of the Incas

Machu Picchu – 24th to 26th of Jan 2013

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On the last Thursday of our trip, at the chilly hour of 5.30am we set off on our merry way with our guide and protector Herlin who would bring us on the last of our big adventures in Peru. Post our yoga experience with the Hare Krishnas we were tender from our yoga classes the day before but also had the fear that this climb was going to be tougher than we thought.

As time was precious we had opted for the shorter trek of 3 days and 2 nights to get to the pinacle of Machu Picchu. We would only have loved to do the full 4 day hike to the summit but as we have always said that this trip was a teaser of South america and we knew we would be coming back and from our brief time in Peru , we already knew this was in the top countries and places we weould come back to. This was the tour we did:

http://www.sastravelperu.com/english/program/345/huchuy-qosqo-hike-3d2n/

Although the guide and team were amazing, the company SAS are intersting bunch of cowboys but its all about luck and personal experience when going on these trips. Let me know if you do plan on going and I will promise to bestow some of my knowledge from our experience.

Having discoverd the previous night that we were going to be alone on this trip, I had mixed feelings as I would have liked to meet more people and knowing we were about to bring three men on our trip, I think Niamh and I felt rather guilty at the thought of a chef, a guide and a horsemen with three horses all for us, alone. How princess-like of us to require 3 men to feed, carry and guide us. So not like us, but we secretly did enjoy the regal treatment.

We started with our first breakfast of bread and bananas, some fuel for the trip ahead. Here was our first breakfast spot it was probably the least beautiful stop of the trip. The first day we would walk 14km aprx and mainly uphill and in altitude which translated as 10hrs hiking with stops for food and wilderness toilet breaks.

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Here is our first picture of us both looking happy and a bit breathless as we climbed the first glorified hill. Fit or not, alitude affects everyone differently, for us both we found our breathing the hardest to control on the first two hours.

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An hour in and Herlin used to ask us if we were ok as we struggled on like two panting dogs. He produced this local solution called ‘Aqua de Florida’, which is a herbal alcohol you inhale, yes not drink but inhale, to help you open your lungs. We were pretty much addicted after a few rounds as it really was the magic cure.

Here were some of our views that morning, pretty diverse and 4 seasons in one day:

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At this point we would have been over 3200 metres above sea level but you really wouldn’t have thought it.

Herlin our guide was your typcial Andean man, a charming chancer who knew his audience from the start. He pulled out all the stops to entertain us, have patience with us when we were tired and was great at folklore telling. Clearly posing for this pic! :

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As a speaker of  Quechan, he shared the Spanish name and Quechan name of all the plants, animals and insects. He shared his Incan techniques in rope making from grass, pretty impressive and carried out a ritual at a stone offering spot at  Pucamarca pass and blessed it with Aqua Florida. He showed us where the Incas would carry stones/boulders to the highest point as a sacarfice and offering to the Gods of the mountains. He encouraged us to do same bringing a rock from the start of our walk up to this highest spot and make the offering. I think we were scared not to at this point as we needed every bit of luck for our full day of trekking that lay ahead.

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From here we continued through the different valleys with contrasting views and weathers. The special treat of the day was bumping into some beautiful children that live in one of the nearby communities. They were delighted when we shared out our sweets with them and showed us how they used their sling shots. They also shared with us their treats which was like large pieces of uncooked popcorn in the form of maize. Tasty but you wouldnt eat too much of it.

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Without saying too much more about our first day here you can enjoy via my pics what the rest of the day held. It was all pretty spectacular and once the altitude eased and we started a downhill descent we could have walked more than the 10 hours no problem. Our eyes were in awe at the paradise that lay in front of us. It was all so diverse and beautiful.

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Getting closer to the camp for night above, Niamh and I got excited at the prospects of food (as the chef was amazing) and taking off our boots.

Here was our little camp and how the evening unfolded. Exhausted after a great dinner, we were in bed for 9pm! Yes 9pm, I haven’t been to bed that early since I was 8 and it was Christmas eve!

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The following morning we were up at 5.30 am for sunrise, with the silence of the valley and no other tourists around it was truely special. That was the best part of our hike actually that we were alone, well us and our three man servants 😉 . Not many tourists take this trail and that was one of the main reasons we took it, with the added benefit that it is not as long.

Here the sunrise speaks for itself.

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1057Post breakfast we had a tour around the amazing site of Huchu Qosqu, which means little Cusco. You can’t beat a bit of Wikipedia to explain all about it for those intersted. Let’s just say those Incans were clever little feikers and would blow modern day engineers/scientists out of the water. Here is a little about the site and shows where we camped right beside it. Breathtaking and awe-inspiring that back in the 12th century 100s of families farmed and lived on this unique site we were more than impressed with their water purification processes, their stabilising of their buildings during earthquakes ..the list goes on. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huchuy_Qosqo

Here are more pics of the Inca site of Huchu Qosqu and the stuborn Llama who sulked when we tried to play with him:

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We started our descent into the valley that morning, with the sun coming out to greet us it was around 30 degrees+ plus we were delighted to be back in the warmth of sunnier climbs. We also spotted around 3 Condors (for those who dont know what that is..here you go http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0cEK7kxkC0 ) Amazing birds but too far away to get pics.

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Back down in the valley and town of Lamay we had our final lunch with the full team as they were leaving us as we made our way to Agus Calientes by local bus and train that afternoon. We were very sad to end the full hiking experience at this point as we definitely could have done a good 20Km or more as we were well into the spirit of things at this stage.

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Onwards from Lamay we headed by local bus to Ollantaytambo and from their the Peru Train to Agus Calientes ( the closest town to Machu Picchu and home of the hot spring baths).

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After a hot dip to ease the muscles , we headed for drinks with our guide and his friend Jose, away from the tourist town the took us for drinks overlooking a local soccer pitch. Several marriage proposals later we retired home to prepare for the following morning and our visit to Machu Picchu.

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With a big lie in, we started our tour at 7.30 that morning heading up on the bus to the main Inca site of Machu Picchu. Although a little disappointed we hadn’t actually hiked up to the site we quickly got over it when we saw THE most spectacular views that lay in front of us.

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After Herlin’s tour around the ruins which you really could do with around 5 hours (we only had 2) we set off to hike up to Huayna Picchu which is the large mountain looking over the site ( the one you see in the pics above). Here we got the hike we had wanted that morning. Its around 2 hour round trip where our third but most important mantra came into play. ‘Live in the moment’

For every heavy breath-ed step we took up the steepest steps in the world you had to be in the moment. My moments however were tainted with a bit of vertigo and the fear that I would fall backward to my fate. I have always had a bit of fear of heights but for some reason on that day all my horrors came out. It didn’t help that someone told me a few weeks ago a girl had fallen off and tumbled to her fate so I was very concious that one small slip and that would be that. You really dont want to be that Irish Times story so I steadied myself and got myself to the top with lots of determination and a few pit stops to calm myself down. After a bungy jump and a skydive it was a late developing phobia to have a fear of heights but that day I thankfully conquered them and I smilled merrily all the way down once I achieved getting up to the highest point. Niamh had no bother on her and was happy out climbing the mountain. We discovered our fears are the totally opposite of each other so when one is scared the other remains calm which is the reason we made such great travel buddies on this trip!

1279 1286 1270 1294Back down at the entrance, we got our 6th country stamp the stamp from Machu Picchu city, my proudest stamp of the trip!

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After a great day we took our token picture and heading back down to Agus Caliente to get our train and bus back to Cusco.

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To celebrate a fantastic hike and trip to Machu Picchu, we celebrated that night in Cusco but  yawns kicked in around 11pm and we had to retire and pack for the following day where we would take our last 20 hour bus to our final destination of Lima. We could hardly believe we only had 3 more nights to go! 1300

Thanks for reading, only a few more posts to go so bear with me as I finish off the next few momentous adventures we had on our trip!