Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Incredible Inca Trail

We arrived to Cuzco at 4 am in the morning and took a taxi to a bed & breakfast booked through Airbnb. To our surprise and disgust, it was a horrible, run down place. The room stung but we had no other option to sleep there till the morning. 

After a couple of hours of sleep, we started to walk around to find a better place to stay. Just down the road, we encountered a small hostel called EcoInca. Upon cancelling our booking through Airbnb, we ran out of that dingy establishment and moved to our new room. It felt so good! 

Cuzco is a very touristy town, and there are a lot of accommodation options. Do a good research before you book a place to avoid nightmares!

Cuzco, Unesco World Heritage listed city, was the capital of the Inca Empire until the Spanish invasion in the 16th century. Rather than destroying the Inca structures, Spaniards preserved the basic foundations but built Baroque churches and other structures over the Inca ruins which makes an incredible architecture today. 

Streets of Cuzco
On our first day, we visited the San Pedro Markets, perfect place for a cheap lunch. We walked around San Blas area which is famous for its artisanal sellers. We met a lovely girl, Lucila from Argentina, who was selling her handmade notebooks and she shared useful tips on things to see in her country.

Later in the day, we had a meeting with the tour operator Xtreme Turbulencia where we booked the Inca Trail tour to Machu Picchu. We met our guide and he provided all the necessary information for the tour which was starting in 3 days. If you would like to experience the incredible Inca Trail, you need to reserve your spot minimum 3 to 4 months in advance due to government restrictions and high demand. According to Peruvian law, only guided tours are allowed do this hike. It is more expensive than other options but it was a fantastic experience.

Santo Domingo Church

During our three days in Cuzco we got prepared for the 3 night 4 day trek. We bought the needed items, such as rain ponchos, extra batteries, some snacks and toiletries. We also did a free walking tour which was entertaining. We discovered a small restaurant run by Alfonso Garcia. He is a chef trained in Lima and prepares amazing Peruvian and international dishes for a reasonable price. His restaurant is not listed online but I hope you can find him in San Blas area.

The Incredible Inca Trail

Our amazing group
We started the infamous Inca Trail in the early morning of October 24th 2013. We got picked up from our hotel and drove to Ollantaytambo for a quick breakfast. In our group, there were 2 Argentineans, 2 Americans, three Danish, an Irish, a New Zealander and us. There were also 2 tour guides and 11 porters. About an hour later, we reached the kilometre 82 where the “Camino de Inka” starts. After passing through a check point, we started our 44 kilometre adventure over the next 4 days.

Inca Ruins 
The first day, we walked for 6 hours, mostly under the rain. There were lots of hills and it was a challenging hike. In the afternoon, Alex got very tired, so I had to carry both of our backpacks for a while. It was hard. Along the way, we witnessed amazing wildlife and impressive Inca ruins. We were in high spirits when we reached our camp-site for the night.

I have to admit that I have never camped in my life. The good thing about being part of an organised tour is that everything was set up when we reached the camp site. The porters who carry around 20 kilos on their shoulders, run pass us all the time to organise the camp site and prepare the meals. The food was amazing and plenty. Everything had to be carried from Cuzco, as there are no shops along the way. We developed a lot of respect for these strong guys, as it was hard enough for us just to walk the path even without the 20 kilos on our shoulders . It was a 5 star camping experience, where we just had to turn up at the camp site. After a fantastic dinner and a bonding chat with the group, we were ready to get some rest for the following day.

The second day of the trek was the hardest. We walked 15 kilometres and crossed the Dead Women’s Pass which is the highest point of the trail with 4,200 metres. The view from this pass was breath taking. Everybody in the group was feeling joyful when we reached the highest point. You could feel that the group was getting more and more connected with each step along the path. There was a lot of support and respect in the group. Everybody was delighted to have survived the most challenging day!

Day three was relatively easy apart from the rain. We saw amazing flora along the way, crossed the Inka Tunnel and visited the infamous Winayhuayna, another magnificent Inca ruin. Our guides provided historical information for each site we visited. One of the nicest moments of this place was seeing and touching the beautiful llamas. I spent almost an hour petting these incredible animals.

The dinner on day three was an emotional one. It was our last night together as a group. The porters would be leaving early in the morning to catch their train back to the town. We said goodbye to them and collected some tips to show our appreciation for these amazing men. After spending three full days together, our group became like a family.

We woke up very early on our last day and started to walk towards Machu Picchu with lots of excitement. When we arrived at the Sun Gate where we suppose to see Machu Picchu from a distance, we had a shock. We could not see anything due to the clouds and mist. What a disappointment after walking for 4 days. Our guides tried to cheer us up, stating that weather can change any moment. Indeed it did. We had a massive rain for three hours while we were visiting Machu Picchu as part of the guided tour. After the visit, we were given the option to stay longer if we wanted. We decided to stay more time in this sacred land of Inca. Thankfully, half an hour later, the sun came up and we were able to witness the magnificence of this hidden city. It was stunning!

Machu Picchu (Picture by Martin Larrivée)

After taking thousands of pictures, we took a bus to Aguas Calientes where our group met up for one last time. It was hard to say goodbye and emotions were running high. We exchanged email addresses and became Facebook friends and said goodbye for one last time.

Leaving Aguas Calientes was great. It is very touristy and inauthentic village. I don’t suggest to spend time there. We took the train back to Ollantaytambo in the afternoon, which is a typical indigenous village in the Sacred Valley. Our friend Marian was volunteering in a lodge there, so we got the chance to see her one more time. She gave us good tips on things to do and we decided to do a hike together in the following days. 

The next day, we visited Moray ruins and Maras salt mines. On our way to the ruins we met another traveller, Catherine from Sydney. We hired a taxi together as it is really hard to get a local bus to both places. Meeting her was great and brought back memories from our time in Sydney.

Maras Salt Mines(Picture by Martin  Larrivée)
Moray agricultural terraces were incredible. It was an Incan agricultural laboratory that was likely used to cultivate resistant varieties of plants. This site resembles a Greek amphitheatre and is visually stunning.

Our next stop was the Salt Mines of Maras which consist of a huge number of salt evaporation ponds which have been used since pre-Inca times. You can walk around the ponds and watch workers extract salt. Such a unique experience!

Our taxi driver dropped us back at Ollantaytambo village where Catherine decided to stay as well. There was a three day festival happening at that time. We were lucky to experience some of the traditional dances and folkloric music from Peru.

The next day, we went on a long hike with Marian and Catherine in the Sacred Valley. It was great to witness the energy of this beautiful land. 

After 4 beautiful days in Ollantaytambo, we caught a bus back to Cuzco with a quick stopover in Pisaq which is famous for its market. We were happy to get back to our little hostel where we could take a hot shower. Oh what a bliss!

Moray Agricultural Terraces (Picture by Martin  Larrivée)
We got back to Cuzco on Halloween and were surprised to see that all the Peruvians were dressed up and ready to party. We had a fantastic dinner at Alfonso’s restaurant. He offered to be our guide for the next day to visit Zona X and the Temple of the Moon. We rented some horses with Alfonso and made our way to visit this important energy centre.  You can see some amazing rock formations and visit these incredible caves. After the tour, we had our last lunch at Alfonso’s place. He prepared the traditional Peruvian ceviche which is a fish dish served with onions and lemon. It was divine. 

Leaving behind wonderful experiences and friends in Cuzco, we took a 20 hour bus ride back to Lima to catch a plane to the northern Peruvian town, Iquitos where we would attend a shamanic retreat to connect with the divine energy.

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