12.09.2010 - 16.09.2010 0 °C
After leaving Lake Titicaca we made our way into Peru, and to Cusco. Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire and although the Spanish did their very best to destroy as much of it as possible a lot of the ridiculously impressive Incan stonework still remains around the city. One of the things the Spanish set to doing was build an insane amount of elaborate churches around the city. Although Cusco is definitely one of the nicest cities I've been to in the last 6 weeks we (as most other tourists do) were just using it as a base. Firstly for a trek to Machu Picchu, and secondly a trip into the jungle.
The trek we decided upon was a 5-day hike travelling through mountain passes on the first day and down to jungle by the end. The most popular tek to Machu Picchu is the official Inca trail but as the Peruvian government sets a limit on how many people can walk the trail, places for this book up months in advance. In our group there was 10 of us and two guides: Milton who was an absolute lad and Ingri who spoke no English but instead pointed at things that no one else could see and laughed a lot.
The first day was pretty tough; steep hills and an altitude of 4500m made going pretty hard. When we arrived at the campsite we were all glad to be done with walking for the day and we rested while watching the animal fights that sporadically broke out between the dogs and pigs that roamed about. There was also a donkey that stood on a hill for 3 hours without moving. I'm not sure what it was thinking but it seemed rather annoyed when the farmer decided to move it along. It was while we were waiting for dinner that the idea of an epic shithead competition was formed (for those that don't know, shithead is a card game and nothing to do with what the name implies).
The second day was spent descending. Starting at the foot of a mountain, by the end of the day we were in pretty lush surroundings. The walk was only about 5 hours which gave us time for a swim in the river when we got to the campsite, but as the river was formed from glaciar melt, it was pretty cold. That evening we got a campfire going and got merry on a few bottles of Pilsen.
The third day again was pretty easy going but on the fourth day we had to get up at half 4 to climb a hill before the sun made doing so unbearable. Half an hour in we had lost our guide but as there was only one trail we figured we might as well keep going. At the top of the hill (a steep 800m climb) we chilled by some Incan ruins for a while and Milton rejoined us. He said he'd been feeling ill and had a couple of paracetemol and a lie down but the word was he'd been out drinking 'til three that morning. Lad. We continued on our way and got to the town of Aguas Calientes at about 4. This town was easily the worst place I've been to this summer; existing solely as a stop-off for climbing to Machu Picchu Aguas Calientes sums up the worst in tourism. But we got by by playing a lot of shithead.
The fifth day of the tour was the culmination, climbing to Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is actually the name of the mountain on which the Incan site is built and was coined by Hiram Bingham, the American who (re)discovered the site in 1910. To get a ticket to climb Waynu Picchu (the mountain behind the actual site in all the cliched photos) we had to get up at 4am, walk down to a bridge just outside the town and at ten to 5 we were allowed to climb the hill up to Machu Picchu with the aim of being in the first 400, as that is the limit they put on the number of people allowed to climb Waynu Picchu. After 40 minutes of jostelling up a hill we arrived at the top and all the effort seemed hardly worth it as there was only about 30 people before me.
The site was as spectacular as I'd hoped and Milton gave us a tour for a couple of hours before we went off, ate a sandwich and climbed Waynu Picchu. The view from here was amazing and the experience was only marred by Chris' camera packing up at the top which made him very sad.
Back in the hell-hole of Aguas Calientes we played 8 more games of shithead with Sanjay coming from a seemingly comfortable position to lose and hence buy us all around of Cusqueñas. Happy days.