Fond memories at Machu Picchu

Cusco and Machu Picchu Photos Here

We were on the road at 7.30 which proved entirely fruitless as by 9.30 we were back were we started. 🙂 This because the direct route out of town towards Cusco was ultimately unsuitable for Ithaca. A 57 kilometre detour later we were on the main highway, the bit out of town helped by hiring a taxi to get around the impossibly small (for Ithaca) roads in Arequipa.

Stunning scenery en-route and climbing ever higher we lunched at 4,100 metres. At this altitude and despite clear blue skies it’s deceptively cold so digging out our cold weather fleeces from the early part of the trip.

Karen had an extremely near miss, going to find a discrete place for a pee, slipped and fell heavily on her ankle – having just warned one of the other girls “be careful it’s slippery” – there was a distinct crack and Karen was convinced she had broken something. Carried back to the truck and examination by first aiders nothing broken but extremely painful and couldn’t put weight on it. Visit to Machu Picchu – one of the absolute highlights of the trip looking doubtful. 🙁

We bush camped overnight in a quarry, Karen hobbling into tent and out in the night, and we woke to blue skies and frost covered tents followed by a breakfast of slightly burnt porridge, this courtesy of Heather whose only previous porridge making experience was apparently courtesy of a microwave, rather than stove and a stirring spoon.

Away at 7.30 and hopefully to Cusco else will be another bush camp. Karen’s ankle much better in she can put weight on foot we suspect ligament damage. Helped by lots of pain killers, ankle strapping and sympathy from the group.

The other incident that threatened our visit was a problem with my camera, it seemed to be the battery pack was not connecting to the camera so camera dead, attempting to remove it to re-attach it ended up jammed – neither removable or re-connectable – after much fiddling had no option but to thread a hacksaw blade into the gap and saw through the jammed tripod screw to remove battery pack. Deep breath taking a hacksaw to a £2 grand plus camera………..

Still a result as camera now functional and loss of additional battery power is manageable.

We are in Cusco for a few days to allow those trekking  to catch up with those of us taking the sensible train option ;-). Having made sterling time to Cusco we arrived in time for a stroll down to the main square “Plaza de Armas” – seems most towns in Peru have a square so named, literally Place of Weapons but more accurately Parade Square. Anyway this one is truly lovely with an imposing central fountain and surrounded by well preserved buildings most of which have ground floor shops and first floor restaurants.

Sexy Woman

Next day we had a mooch around the town markets and the chocolate museum actually its not much of a museum buts it’s a stunning cafe. Great views from the balcony and everything chocolate to eat, Karen particularly liked the fruit dipped in chocolate accompanied by Argentina Submarine, a chocolate lollypop to dip into hot milk.

In the afternoon we went to the Inca ruins known as Saqsayhuaman pronounced “Sexy Woman” – yes really – with Colin and Jane. Saqsayhuaman was an Inca fortress and the stone work has to be seen to be believed, huge multi-ton rocks carved and fitted together.

The Spaniards removed many stones to build their churches in Cusco and up until the 1930s citizens from Cusco used stones from the site as building material for their own houses. Only around 20% of Saqsayhuaman remains today, but it’s still a very huge and impressive place.

It is estimated that 20,000 -30,000 men was involved in the construction, and the work with cutting the blocks, transporting the blocks to the site, and fitting the blocks together took around 60 years. What an incredible work with the tools they had at the time.

We had a  great relaxed afternoon, Llamas and Alpacas wandering around, great weather and fantastic views. Colin met an English lad who was teaching English / learning Spanish and he said in four months it was the first view he had of the volcano down the valley. We were definitely fortunate with the weather.

The standard Machu Picchu option is a transfer to Aqua Caliente (Hot Water) for an overnight stay, bus transfer to Machu Picchu to visit the site and return to Cusco. However Karen and I had opted to have an extra day at Machu Picchu as 5 days in a city seemed a little long, not particularly cheap at $300 but, as it turned out, well worth it.

As the rest of the train group were not leaving until next day we had a taxi for the two of us to Ollantaytambo where you board the train to Aqua Caliente. The drive and the train journey takes you through stunning volcanic scenery and valleys, we arrived in a nice hotel – Le Pequera Casita – 2 mins from the station. We took a gentle stroll up to the Hot Springs that give Aqua Caliente its name through the myriad of restaurants and souvenir stands vying for your business.

Llamas Grazing

Another of our issues was I had the mother and father of nose bleeds – I think due to the altitude as not normally susceptible, it lasted a couple hours and I was on the point of thinking I will need to go to A&E when it finally stopped.

A minor panic next morning whilst queuing for the bus with a small re-occurrence and needing to buy tissues with a 100 soles note – not popular! Karen’s ankle holding up, plus her putting an extremely brave face on things, we caught the 5.30 am bus to be at Machu Picchu for 6am opening of the park. We took the walk up to the Sun Gate where those trekking the traditional Inca Trail get their first site of Machu Picchu. It’s a strenuous walk but worth it, the sun is aligned with the sun gate only at the Summer Solstice – December 21, our winter solstice – the rest of the time you get a stunning view of the sun slowly illuminating Machu Picchu below.

You couldn’t script it but as we sat on the grass, admiring the view, thinking about life in general when a party of about 40 McMillan Nurse Organisation walkers on a sponsored trek appeared from the Inca Trail, a number of them were quite emotional as they all have a story to tell and let’s just say it got a bit damp around us. Ei, all our love and eternal thanks for the opportunity to undertake this amazing adventure.

 

Power to their arm the group had raised £170,000 pounds for the extremely deserving McMillan nurses. I had a brief chat to the tour leader and it was his 17th Inca Trail trek, each better than the last in his view.

View from the Sun Gate

Our trekking group was not following the traditional Inca trail but the much less frequented Lares route, any trek has to booked well in advance as there strict limits on the daily numbers allowed to Machu Picchu.

Lares trail starts in the heart of the Urubamba Valley following an ancient Inca trail, passing snow capped mountains and glacial peaks, it is a well kept secret and off the main tourist track, offering a chance to interact with the small village communities and giving a real insight into traditional Peruvian life. The highpoint is the 4,800m Ancascocha Pass – a seriously tough walk at this altitude the trekkers all said it was a fantastic experience and judging by their photo’s you could only agree.

We met up with them at Aqua Caliante with the rest of the train party and we repeated our early morning start on the bus but this time with a guide so a different view of the ruins than our self guided meandering from the day before. We also had tickets for the optional Huayna Picchu the seriously steep mountain behind Machu Picchu. Only 400 people a day are allowed on the trail and it has to be booked well in advance, we saw a number of people turned away.

With Karen’s ankle and our general fitness it seemed doubtful we would make it but decided to go as far as we could as seemed a shame to waste the limited opportunity, anyway we made it ! Even undeterred when halfway up meeting Anthony coming down…………… We had surprised ourselves and I think a number of the group as we received many congratulations, Karen a real trooper but subsequently paying the price of hammering her sore ankle for a few days.

All set for the journey back to Cusco our single carriage commuter style train broke down, after half an hour we were transferred to another train, problem was this had 6 fewer seats. A few (not our group) people got quite agitated but eventually all resolved when they repaired the original train and transferred us back; We departed to loud cheers and applause albeit one and a half hours late.

Back in Cusco we had a quick shower and out by 9.30 to a highly recommended Curry Restaurant – Korma Sutra – it was our last opportunity as it closed on Sundays- only to find it closed at 10pm on Saturday. It was one of the very few disappointments of the week. Luckily Paddy’s Pub was still serving food at 11pm so we didn’t starve.

Paddy’s Pub – the highest Irish owned bar in the world – had become a sort of unofficial base for the group and we had several excellent meals there- and a few beers.

On our first visit we met a group of American students who were volunteers for a charity ‘Engineers without Borders’ and they were in Peru building a water plant in a village north of Cusco plus having a weeks holiday. They were all from the University of Alabama and as I had visited the area whilst working for Intergraph many years ago we had plenty to talk about. Photos were taken and a few beers shared.

Sunday we had a lazy day, primarily to give Karen some rest, initially watching Liverpool’s excellent 1-3 victory over Fulham and then a quiet mooch around including a last visit to the chocolate museum cafe and more lazing in the afternoon watching a quite forgettable film.

Dinner at Paddy’s slightly curtailed as whilst talking to Kirsten I had another nose bleed and walked back to the hotel early looking like an accident victim. Stopped by a couple of police officers but once satisfied I wasn’t a drunk/troublemaker gave us some advice on altitude and sent us on our way.

So in conclusion despite our personal issues a truly magnificent week that I suspect will prove to be THE highlight of the trip – not lightly said amongst the many other high points.

Photos here (lots of them.)

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