Seven days of south american adventures to write about, so where to start. Arriving in Cusco on a monday morning is a strange start to anyones week. Cusco, in the south east of Peru, is at an altitude of 2600m/ So most people who normally live at sea level can't get enough oxygen from the this air, so something simply like walking down the street and you're out of breath. The other thing that takes your breath away is that all around you are beautiful mountains. Many with multicoloured housing crawling up the sides. So, in order to prepare for my Machu Picchu hike I plan on doing virtually nothing all day, to let my body try to adjust to prevent altitude sickness in the coming days. Though frustratingly, most of the day is spent on the phone to my banks and credit card companies as I can't withdraw money from banks or ATM's. Like many others I speak to over the coming days, sleeping the first few nights at altitude is difficult, made even harder by worrying about if the western union request I made to my parents will come through as I have no cash and have to pay off the rest of my hike & pay for food, accommodation etc. Spend a couple of hours watching the disappointing Man Utd vs Chelsea (1-2) match on the big screen with people from all over the world.
So early tuesday morning, I'm wide awake really early, have breakfast with a Dutch girl from my hostel room, who tells me about the horse riding trip she went on the day before, which I'm planning on doing. The Western Union money has come through so I get a delicious breakfast of french toast in my hostel and head off at 10am with a young lady and her 7 year old daughter in a taxi, to the top of the hills that surround the city. We get to a muddy area and she explains to me in Spanish how to get back to town, and leaves me with a tiny Peruvian man, dressed a bit like a cowboy. He doesn't speak any english and there's nobody else doing this 3 hour horse riding trip. Despite that, and the occasional rain shower, the lack of knowledge I have of what Inca sites I'm actually looking at, it's a stunningly beautiful way to spend a few hours, on the back of a horse, looking at amazing views & enjoying the tranquility.
That evening I head out to the residential area of Cusco to meet the trek guide & two of the others who'll be trekking with me. Tom is a maths professor from Canada & Rita is a former French school teacher also from Canada. Erick, our Peruvian guide from Enigma Adventure Trek Operators, seems like he know what he's doing and after all the plans are laid out, myself, Rita & Tom head back into town to have dinner & learn a little about each other. The following morning, the alarm goes off at 3:45am for my 4am pickup to drive to Ollantaytambo, to pick up Helen, a London solicitor, on a two month sabbatical, who is the fourth member of our little team. From there, it's not far to km82, the starting point of our trek aong the 500 year old “Inca trail”, built by the people of the Andean mountains (actually not called Incas, but more correctly, the Quechua), originally from their capital to their holy, hidden city, of Machi Picchu. The first day is truly breathtaking and I don't think photos will ever explain the amazing views that you see whilst walking up the mountains. Our team of porters race ahead and at every lunch stop are set up with a tent and lots of delicious food. Camping is pretty easy when you get to your campsite and everything is set up, your super warm sleeping back is already laid out and dinner is just about ready.
|campsite - night 1|
It's strange to go to a life of going to bed as soon as it gets dark and getting up when it gets light, but that's the way it works, so by 8pm, we're all tucked up in our thermals, fast asleep. We're woken around 5:30am with a hot cup of coca tea, nothing like a shot of cocaine with nicotine to get you up and ready for the day. Day two is pretty wet and starts with a pretty steep climb. For the first time, we meet a few other trekking groups but for the vast majority of the 3 days we're pretty much walking on our own. More great food, more amazing views, butterflies, exotic flowers, plants, orchids, loads of hummingbirds buzzing around our heads and the trees. And the altitude effects are starting to wear off and most of us aren't feeling quite as breathless as day one.
|campsite - night 2|
The third day is only a half day of hiking, about 35km in total done, we camp in a really secluded part of the last campsite, which is good as there's a full 500 people on the site. I'm the very first person to get to the site so I'm rewarded with a hot clean shower before the masses arrive. A couple of beers in the rather weird bar, a shared cake with the porters and we're tucked up in bed at the really late hour of 9pm.
|Me, Tom, Rita, Erick, Helen|
The last day is very different. The mountain, just behind Machu Picchu can be climbed, but only by 400 people per day, plus, we all want to be at the site, before the trainloads of day trip tourists arrive. So we're woken an 3:30am and make the hike to the checkpoint, that opens at 5:30am. Our group isn't the most adventure hiking types and despite being at the front of the trekkers, we end up being the very last to the sun gate that overlooks the site. So no extra mountain to climb, and by the time we get to walk around the stunning Machu Picchu itself, it's packed full of visitors from all over the world. It's an amazing contrast between hiking for days in a small group, to the crowds and guides that surround all the temples and terraces of the lost city.
|Machu Picchu, Peru|
By midday, we've seen everything, taken the photos, got a little sun burnt and we head down into the town for a final lunch together. I head off to my hostel (Pirwa), a weird, soulless, little place at the back of the tiny town of Aguas Calientes. A shower and change of clothes and I share a fantastic dinner with Helen who's staying in a hotel just down the road. The next morning, I wake really early and head on my own to see some gardens and waterfalls that are about an hours walk away in the river valley. I rarely use the website Tripadvisor, but I have lunch in their number 1 rated restaurant, El Indio Feliz, and it's stunning food at fantastic prices; spicy river trout, pan fried with sweet potatoes, chips, salsa, amazing bread and brilliant service. My tourist train back to civilization, leaves at 5pm but due to landslides further down the track, we have to change to buses in Ollantaytambo. There's an almighty tropical downpour so it's on with all the wet weather gear for the race to the buses. I spend the next two hours sitting next to, Gina, a Delta Airlines employee, from Georgia, who came to Peru for a 4 day trip. One of the perks of working for an airline, and we have a laugh about the contrast between her and my trips. Eventually back in Cusco at 10pm, I share a taxi back to my hostel with a Mexican guy who wants to visit Ireland one day.
Monday morning again and this time I spend the day browsing the Pre-Columbian museum in Cusco with nobody else in the entire building, a great lunch in Jacks Cafe and waste far too much time looking for wifi spots to catch up on emailing and connecting with some bands. I do need to get back to photographing some rock stars, rather than butterflies and scenery. A 21 hour, Cruz Del Sur, bus ride now awaits me, to Lima, where hopefully I'll get to shoot some music, maybe do a little more surfing, before my first trip to South America is over at the end of the week.