Monday, September 28, 2009

Inca Trail and Cuzco.

2-10 September

We arrived into Cuzco at 9am after an early morning flight. We dropped our luggage at the hotel and made a b-line for Jacks cafe. After eating foreign food for over a month it was asolute heaven to have a full English breakfast and hot chocolate with marshmellows! Anyone walking past the cafe would have thought it was a brothel instead of a restaurant with the noises coming from our table and at the time we would have agreed it was actually beter than sex!
Once my belly was full all I wanted to do was watch TV and relax for a day so I returned to the hotel and was horrified to discover that to get to my room I had to climb 100 steps! I know you think I´m being a fat lazy bitch but at an altitude of 3600, 10 steps sends the heart racing! I was feeling so shit by the time I got to the top I collapsed on the bed. I know it sounds stupid, but you know when you have an idea in your head and it´s all you want in the world, well that day I wanted to bludge and when I discovered that there was no TV in our room, all I could was cry. I eventually got over my tantrum, went back to reception and demanded a television. I almost kissed the porter when he delivered it to our room!
The afternoon turned out to be better and the day was topped off with Indian food for dinner!

In preparation for the Inca Trail we decided to top up our cultural knowledge by visiting the Inca museum on our free day in Cusco. Unfortunately everything was written in Spanish so we didn´t actually learn much but it was great to see so many artifacts. I spent the rest of the day wandering the town and shopping for souvenirs.

The following afternoon, we took a bus to Ollantaytambo which is our overnight stop before the Inca Trail. Shirley took us for a tour through the town and showed us the amazing architecture still left from the Inca times. We visited a very creepy house which had dried fish, llama fetuses and human skulls decorating the interior as well as guinea pigs scurrying aroung the floor fattening up to be eaten for dinner. The hike up to the top of a near-by mountain to see an Incan store house was awesome and the view amazing. I had to take a few minutes for myself just to appreciate the beauty and energy of the place. That night we treated ourselves to a delicious dinner which was topped off by the best Banoffee Pie ever! Early night before our big day tomorrow.

I was very nervous on the first day of the Inca Trail, however I felt quietly confident I could do it, especially after all the climbing practice I had getting to my bloody room in Cuzco! half hour bus ride took us to Km 82 (Piscakucho) where we had to give our small duffel bags to the porters and then do through the formalities of ticket and passport inspections before we crossed a suspension bridge over the Rio Urubamba to officially commence the Trek.
Day 1 is the easiest day of the Trail but for someone as unfit as me, it was still a small challenge. We made a few stops at different Archaeological sites and our guide Fernando told us some Incan history

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Colca Canyon, the deepest in the world!

30 August - 1 September

Note to self... Drinking the night before a bus ride, especially one that takes you on a dirt road and up over 4900m altitude, is not a good idea!

I felt very seedy this morning and the bus ride was a killer, although very scenically beautiful. Along the way to we stopped at a little tea house to sample some Coca Tea and it is amazing how much better I felt afterwards. On the journey to the highest point, our guide, tought us how to chew coca leaves. According to the Peruvians, coca leaves are not a drug (It takes 100kg of leaves to extract 1kg of cocaine) but instead they use it like medicine to stop altitude sickness, supress hunger, and just about everything else. The people who live and work in the mountains chew it all day and they even worship these leaves. So as they say, when in Rome... I tried chewing some, hoping it would make me feel better, but instead I wanted to vomit and I couldn´t get the taste out of my mouth all day!
We arrived to the Colca Valley to a little town called Chivay for a late lunch. The restaurant provided a traditional style buffet and we tasted some Llama and Alpaca meat. While we ate we were entertained by a band playing Andean music, I loved it although some of the other members of our group weren´t so impressed.
Once we finally made it to our luxurious hotel, we had some free time before heading back into town to the thermal pools. What a great way to end the day, floating in a pool heated to 38 degrees by water flowing from a nearby volcano. But the day didn´t end there. For dinner we headed to another traditional restaurant where we were again entertained by Andean music and this time there were also a couple of traditional dancers. Not sure whether it was fatigue, the culture or the energy, but I got quite overwhelmed and got tears in my eyes, just like I do at the start of any live stage show. However to anyone that asked, I blamed it on my scratching contact lenses. After dinner some of our group (the ones who weren´t too cool) got up and joined the dancers on the floor. We got some very weird looks from other diners, but I´m sure they were just jealous that we were having so much fun.

We had to rise early the next morning to make our way to see the condors. The drive to get there was a bit nerve racking as the road was right on a cliff edge but the views were spectacular and at the end we got to see the majestic flight of these incredible birds. We saw about 10 all up and they came so close that when they soared above us we could hear the wind ruffle through their feathers, similar to when you fly a kite. Unfortunately when the condors stop flying, they are terribly ugly and awkward looking, but their 3m wingspan is amazing.
Shirley insisted that we go for a short 1 hour walk before lunch so that we could start getting used to hiking at altitude, so we wandered along a narrow track overlooking farming terraces and into the amazingly deep Colca Canyon.
We then returned to the hotel for lunch and after siesta (love this tradition) we set off on another hike. This walk took us up a nearby mountain and I thought I was going to die. Altitude was not a problem for me on flat ground, but give me the slightest incline and my heart starts to race and I heave for air. I was buggered! I had to stop every 10 steps for a break, and at every rest I asked myself how I was going to do the Inca Trail? Along the way we found a tomb where many bodies had been buried (we could tell by the skulls) and then we just made it to the top of the mountain as the sun went down and turned the sky orange. It was magic.
We were very excited to go to a pizza place and play some pool that night.

On our way back to Arequipa we stopped at the highest point on the road (4910m) to make a wish. This is a popular tradition in the Andes which requires burying a coca leaf (because you must give an offering to Mother Earth if you want something back) and then covering it with a cairn of rocks. This was a nice gesture but there were so many cairns that I was a little worried I would steal someone elses wishes!
When we finally returned to town I did some shopping for Alpaca products to give as presents and instead spent a lot of money on myself!