We flew from Rio to Lima to spend a couple of days there before heading to Cusco, and embarking on the most adventurous part of our trip thus far. As our flight yo Cusco was early in the morning, we decided not to book that night in the hostel. So, we spent hours lying on the airport floor, waiting for our flight to come up...except that it didn´t. Turns out that we´d gotten the time wrong and our actual flight was leaving in, oh...half an hour. I don´t think I´ve ever run so fast at 4.30am. But, of course, this being South America, nobody else seemd to think it was a big deal, and it all worked out with even a bit of time to spare.
We arrived in Cusco a couple of hours later, the city that is the former capital of the Inca empire...and is 3500m above sea level. The altitude hit me straight away, and I almost passed out twice - once in the hotel room, and again at the briefing meeting for our trip (branding myself as the sick kid of the group before even leaving - shame). But after that eventful day, I seemed to acclimatise, and thankfully wasn´t affected by the altitude for the rest of the week.
On the first day of the trip, we drove to Ollantaytambo, whilst stopping off at a few Inca sites, the Sacred Valley, and a small village that has a women´s textiles project that Gap Adventures (our tour group) supports. So we stocked up on hats, gloves (the higher you go, the colder it gets) and photos of llamas before hitting the road once more.
That night, our tour guide Fernando collected our passports for photocopying - as we were told was essential for getting onto the Inca trail. Of course, Adam forgot his, claiming he hadn´t heard him saying it in the meeting, so it was back at the hotel in Cusco. I was semi-conscious and I heard him say it. But, as is always the case in South America, there was a way around it, and the assistant guide Jose was able to bring it the next day. So we were officially the most retarded couple on the trip. Great start.
The second day was the real start of the trek. We headed to the beginning of the trail early in the morning, all fresh-faced, eager, and full of energy. The first day of walking was easy, and we did it in ´record timing´(although I bet Fernando says that to all his groups...). We met the porters at the campsite, and sat down to our first dinner as a group.
The porters on the trek were fantastic. They each carried 22kgs on their backs and ran up and down the mountains in order to set up camp - putting us to shame with our small day packs and huffing and puffing as we slowly made our ascent. The chefs were equally as good, and the food completely exceeded my expectations, although I was beginning to get sick of the sight of quinoa soup by the end of it! We had everything from pancakes to stir fry, and the chef even made a birthday cake for one of the girls in the group (how he did that in a tent on top of a mountain, I have no idea).
The second day of the hike was definitely the toughest. After waking up at 5am, we started the 5-hour walk to Dead Woman´s Pass (the name alone was enough to put me off), the highest point on the trail at 4200m above sea level. It was gruelling. It was a steep up-hill walk the whole way, made up completely of uneven steps (good for my thighs, not for my mental state). Mix that with the high altitude and ever-changing weather, and you´ve got a challenge on your hands. Reaching the top we felt triumphant, only to then start an almost-as-difficult 3-hour descent to camp, down steps (again!) that were slippy from rain and mist (causing me to have a couple of tumbles).
Day 3 was the longest we walked (16km), but it was also the nicest walk. It wasn´t too difficult, and the views of the surrounding cloudforest were exceptional. That, and I think that we were all just glad to have put the worst behind us.
On the fourth and final day we awoke at 3.30am in order to get to the Sun Gate and see the sun rising over Machu Picchu. Little did I know I would be going to bed 24 hours later (more on that to come). The hike only lasted about 2 hours and wasn´t too difficult (discounting going over fresh landslides and clambering up dangerously steep stairs...ok, maybe it was quite difficult). As we finally reached the Sun Gate and saw Machu Picchu slowly lit up by the sun, the past few days of hard work, early starts and quinoa soup were all completely worth it.
The Inca site of Machu Picchu was incredible - the fact that it was still almost intact after all these years shows the quality of work and the intelligence that these people had. The sun was shining and it was blissfully hot (even at 7am), and the only thing to ruin the site was the hoardes of cheating tourists who´d gotten the train up.
After exploring the site, we boarded the bus to the local town, Aguas Calientes, with a fellow couple from our group who´s just gotten engaged on that sacred site. We made our way back to Cusco after lunch and a celebratory drink - delirious, and proud that we´d actually made it. I think I had one of the best showers my life that night. With no showers on the trail, I don´t even want to know what we smelt like!
That night we had dinner with the group, and headed out to a local club that seemed to have just been carved out of a rock. It was full of backpackers - some who seemd to have just stepped off the mountain, due to their walking boots, backpacks and...interesting aroma. We seemed to get our second wind and spent the night doing the ´shrimp dance´(don´t ask...crazy Norwegians) and dancing atop the bar to eurotrash and samba. Hence the reason why our heads only hit the pillow after 24 hours of being up.
Needless to say, the next day was a complete write-off. Apparently drinking at altitude after a 4-day hike and hardly any sleep isn´t the best idea.
The following day we headed back to Lima (without managing to almost miss our flight) for a few days or R and R. We stayed in Miraflores, a great little neighbourhood full of restaurants and Inca markets. A few days is probably enough to spend in Lima as there isn´t masses to do, but it is a lovely place nevertheless - and the food is reason enough to visit Peru´s capital. The day we arrived we treated ourselves to a great little wine bar near our hostel (which we soon realised was a gay hostel - the fact that it was full of single, camp men and that I was the only woman there kind of gave the game away), where the food was fantastic and - huzzah! - that had good white wine.
Unfortunately all our pictures of our time in Peru are lost, so I don´t have any to share!