Machu Picchu and Other Things

It’s been a while but I’ve been pretty busy. Conquering heights, being the social butterfly that I am or just indulging in a (surprisingly good) coffee and book. Since Chile I’ve been wandering around Peru. Nice straight forward border crossing and then a long bus ride towards Arequipa. The bus ride was pretty fun at points as you are teetering on the edge of pretty steep hills after driving for quite a while through desolate desert.

 

Arequipa is a pretty hustly bustly place, in-spite of that it’s still very pretty. I spent the first day relaxing completely before meeting up with Julia (who I met in San Pedro) and doing a little market browsing. Met up with some of her new companions (one being very popular with a local meat merchant…) and also made some new friends in my hostel with whom I later celebrated a birthday. As this was just meant to be a stopover I didn’t actually do that much before heading to Puno (which again was just a stopover between Arequipa and Cusco) through a new bus company. The buses were more like airplanes. TVs in the chairs, food, blankets, safety videos, the whole shabang.

All I did in Puno was walk around and check out a few spots of high ground to get a decent view of the city. Other than that I just ate and chilled again. There are things to do there but I wasn’t that fussed about them.

 

Another space-aged bus ride later and I was in Cusco. Super pretty city and managed to balance uber tourism whilst maintaining a nice quaint feel. Obviously it is a gateway to all sorts of places that tourists want to go and therefore is full of travel agencies, hostels and hawkers. Even with all these things it somehow manages to maintain a sense of history and culture. Now my time in Cusco was split up by my trip to Machu Picchu but I’m gonna do them one at a time and just say what happened in Cusco and then Machu Picchu.

For the beginning I was all alone just waiting for my trek. Wandering around, taking pictures, trying to find good coffee, checking out a few museums and browsing what was available on the streets. My hostel was really nice, it was more like a massive family home that had been converted to accommodate guests. I actually got bumped up to a private room for some reason so that was a pleasant surprise.

Following the trek I now had some new friends (all from Britain funnily enough) and was also planning to meet a couple of old friends from various parts of my trip. One being Remy (we previously met in South Korea) and then Julia again. The aftermath of the trek was a very tired group of people indulging in craft beers from Peru (apparently a big scene). We played darts, snooker, tried out various places for food and then for some reason went on another trek, scaling even higher than we previously had to rainbow mountain. Sadly the British party had to leave for work or New York, fortunately a few stayed behind so I still had people to hang out with. Remy, Julia, Jake (Julia’s friend) and I all went up to Sacsayhuaman – one of many archaeological sites around Cusco – to get a really nice panorama of the city, which was surprisingly big!

Following this Julia set off to Nazca with her friend, Remy and I stayed for dinner, met up with Sally (from the trek you shall soon learn about) gorged ourselves on some massive vegetarian burgers and then proceeded to discuss movies, music and musicals into the night.

 

As I mentioned I took part in a very enjoyable trek to Machu Picchu via Salkantay, one of the important apus (Andean deities) within the range. The trek was a 5 day 4 night deal, some tents, a hotel and a glass dome under the skies. We covered just over 100km in distance and at the highest point were at around 4,600m. It was fun, trying, knee-obliterating goodness. When you’re going through something tough (not that it was a terrible ordeal) you tend to bond faster with people which is one of the very nice things about having these explosively short and intense relationships with people you meet on the road. Close quarters, supporting one another, making each other laugh when you have barely enough oxygen left to breathe, all these things help you bond.

There are multiple options for getting to Machu Picchu, one of the most popular being the Inca Trail and from what I can figure this is followed by the Salkantay option (which I went for). I chose the latter due to the fact that you cover a more diverse array of landscapes and natural settings which I personally appreciate more than old buildings. Not to say that the architecture isn’t impressive, it most certainly is, but I had read a little about the sites and their interconnectivity and had already decided I would rather satisfy that part of my curiosity with a future trip consisting of a month of hiking around all the old sites. From the very first day we were treated to some beautiful scenery as we scaled up to Humantay Lake. Lovely colours and due to the time of day the sun shimmered across the lake elegantly like a dancer. We spent the night in these glass domes that look like mini-Epcots and were woken early with breakfast and coca tea (a morning ritual meant to abate the effects of altitude sickness) ready for the longest day were we ascend to our highest point before heading down to our campsites.

For many day 2 was very hard, personally it wasn’t the worst for me but obviously we all react differently. Once we got to our highest point it was very chilly and we were awarded our t-shirts by our hiking guides.

 

Day 3 wasn’t too stressful and ended with a trip to some hot springs to alleviate some of the stress and pain on our weary joints and muscles. It was a very welcome chill out moment and was followed by a feast to get us ready for the next day which we would need.

 

It appears that our guide might have taken us the wrong way on day 4 and this was the day my lungs felt like acid. We steadily climbed upwards for about 3 hours, sweating profusely, burning up and slowly dying. However when we got to the top of our ascent we got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu across the valley. It was pretty far away but you could make out the peaks of Huana Picchu and Machu Picchu mountain as well as some of the terracing that would have been used for farming. Finally it felt like we were closing in on our goal. But as you know, what goes up, must come down so we began our descent destroying some knees in the process. Pacha Mama (terra, gaia or any other embodiment of the Earth) felt kind enough to bless me with a stick that was the perfect height to act as a walking pole. It definitely helped but my knees were still shredded by the end.

Following a quick lunch at Hidroelectrica (a train station) we walked parallel to the train tracks and made our way to Aguas Calientes and our hotels with warm showers, towels, and one final dinner together before we would head up to Machu Picchu the following day. That night was eventful and we drank far too much Pisco and other beverages that come with a percentage. We took over a local dive and introduced them to the likes of Oasis, brit pop, drum and bass and all sorts of music. I’m not sure whether they appreciated it at the time but I’m sure they do now we’re not there anymore.

 

The night’s drinking led to a painful climb up to the ticket office of Machu Picchu. Fortunately one of my trekking companions, Sara, hung back with me giving me boost in morale. In my defence I had busted out some pretty spectacular moves the previous night and I’m sure that was the cause of my struggling, definitely not the alcohol…ok maybe a little bit of the alcohol.

Once we arrived we tucked into our packed breakfasts and waited for our guides to show us around the site and share some information about particular structures within the complex. I won’t go into detail as I think you should find out for yourself but I will say that, as with most ancient civilisations, they were very accomplished in the study of geometry, astronomy and innovative ways to solve problems.

Post-guide we went our separate ways. I had a ticket for Machu Picchu mountain and the other lads went up Huana Picchu. I slowly (or so I thought) made my way up Machu Picchu mountain and upon reaching the summit saw a sea of clouds. Whilst I couldn’t get the view of the main site I honestly liked the clouds. They created a mysticism that I felt very befitting of Machu Picchu and it’s associated pagan, spiritual beliefs. I say pagan just because it is one of those cultures that worshipped the land, elements etc and was very much about appreciating the environment and what it can provide you with.

 

It was a great trip and I’m very grateful of the company I had. The people you’re with can make or break an experience like this and the people I was with definitely made it even more enjoyable. We had some odd interactions, discussed questionable topics, but it was always interesting and entertaining. As with all my transient travel companions I hope to meet them again as it really does make the world seem a smaller and friendlier place.

 

Now it’s off to Bolivia and I have no idea what I’m doing there…

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