Following the steps of the Incas

Trip Start Oct 06, 2010
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Trip End Jul 30, 2011


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Where I stayed
Adventure Brew Hostel
What I did
Inti Raymi, the jungle trek to Machu Picchu, and the Valle Sagrada

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cuzco, the ombligo (bellybutton) of the world, was an incredible stop. We manipulated our schedule, something we rarely do, in order to be there for June 24, or Inti Raymi. This Incan celebration of the sun god used to happen on the 21 (solstice) but as like everything else the Spaniards mucked up when they arrived, they moved the celebration date of Inti Raymi by three days(Josh to coincide with one of the Christian Saints days).

We were told prior to arriving on our very long, out of the way bus to Cuzco (shock of all shocks, the roads were closed so we took the older, gravel road instead) that Inti Raymi is the second largest festival in South America, so we were pretty excited. When we arrived at our hostel we were able to check in early, have a nice hot shower and partake in the free pancake brekkie before setting off right away on a free city tour. Adventure Brew had only been open a few months and is definitely still feeling some growing pains, but is one of the nicest hostels we've stayed at in ages. Great beds, delicious pancakes, amazing staff, and a decently priced bar. We were hooked! The city tour was a bit unconventional but awesome, and the group of us shared a special mixto (juice of any kind of fruit and veggie imaginable, mixed with beer and an egg) and then went for a lovely local almuerzo. The streets were already full, and we picked our way around parades, dancing in the streets, fireworks, and generally rowdiness that had been going on in the city for the 3 weeks leading up to Inti Raymi.

Inti Raymi itself was PACKED! People from all over Peru descended on Cuzco to watch the ceremonies, amongst the crowd hoards of other tourists. The first stop was Coricachi, the sun temple, where for over an hour dancing troupes representing groups from each of Peru's 4 corners filled the giant courtyard, before introducing the Inca (king) who then spoke in Quechua welcoming the sun and giving up offerings. He also chose a wife from a VERY long line of women... It was hard for us short people to see, but Josh had a great view being about a head taller than the rest of the crowd, and after the dancing and speech, we all headed up to the Plaza des Armas to await the second portion of the festivities.

We had better spots for round two, and had a great view of the different groups dancing into the square. The costumes were incredibly elaborate and colorful, and each group carried a symbol: a snake, a condor, a puma, and a mummied Inca. Finally the Inca came in with his new wife and climbed to the top of a platform for two shamans to conduct a ritual, after which came another speech and a parade around the square. At this point Josh and I had had just about enough sun, so we ducked into a nearby store for some reprieve from the hot sun at altitude. The afternoon included a third part of the annual celebration up at Saxaywaman, ruins at the top of the city (aka the head of the puma), but as we didn't want to pay upwards of $100 for the pleasure of watching, we called it a day and spent the afternoon wandering from cafe to cafe sampling pisco sours.

After Inti Raymi Josh and I booked our Jungle Tour trek to Machu Picchu. We had two recommendations for companies, but after talking to one company (we weren't impressed) and our hostel, decided to meet the hostel's guide. Leo came to the hostel to meet us and seemed like a genuinely nice guy, with 4 years of experience guiding... how wrong first impressions can be!

Day one we left nice and early, and drove about 2 hours before hoping out of the vans and onto some bikes. Down the winding paved road we went (I enjoyed this ride MUCH more than the gravel Death Road in La Paz.) A few small problems with my bikes, as the first one didn't had pieces missing and the gears slipped constantly and the second had brakes that stuck every time they were pressed, but all issues aside it was a stunning ride in beautiful surroundings. At the end (2:30pm) we stripped off our gear and piled back into the vans for the half hour drive that would take us to our final stop of the day, Santa Maria. We checked into our gas station-hostel, where Josh and I roomed with a lovely couple from Halifax, Terri-Ann and Alex. A chill afternoon, a cold shower to clean off the muck, and a surprisingly delicious dinner of lomo saltado later and we all passed out nice and early in preparation for the next day's big hike.

Day two was incredible. We started out all piled into the back of a cattle transport, going down the bumpy dirt road that followed the river. When we stopped it was up up up - day two is the tough day in the jungle trek. We were treated to beautiful scenery as we trudged through tropical farmland, Leo pointing out different fruit trees and coffee plants. About halfway up we stopped at a little farm where we had amazing maracuya juice (my favorite) for s/ 1, were taught about local potato and fruit harvests, and had our faces painted traditionally using a weird furry fruit whose name we both forget. Once we reached the high point we travelled along the Inca Trail for about 1 km (14 000km of Inca Trail exists in South America, though much of it was destroyed to stop the Spaniards from finding their cities) then started to head down. At the bottom we walked along the river until we got to the recently re-opened hot springs, a short cable car across the river. Such a nice way of ending a hard day of hiking!

Day two was incredible, but unfortunately it didn't stay that way. Around 4:30am I heard a big crash, and opened my eyes to see a man standing in our room. It took me a minute, but I eventually realized that it was the Spanish guide (our group had one English guide and one Spanish) and that he was so incredibly intoxicated he wasn't responding. I told him to get out of our room in both Spanish and English, and when I still had no response I woke Josh up and he got out of bed and carefully shuffled the guy out of our room. Needless to say I was terrified that someone had just broken through our locked door, and didn't get back to sleep. This enabled me to hear the fighting that then took place in the hostel, and when Josh and I got up and left the next morning the lobby area smelled like stale booze, and there was a spot of cleaned-up vomit on the floor.

Neither of our guides showed up to breakfast, and about an hour after we were meant to leave one of the ladies from the restaurant finally took us for our morning activity: zip-lining. It was incredible, as after hiking up we then zig zagged our way back down across the canyon. A few points we got to go super fast, and I still think there's no better way of seeing a canyon. By the end of our zip lining adventure our guides had reappeared, Leo with a fat lip and cuts under his eyes, Naiser (the Spanish guide) looking even worse.

That afternoon we had a lovely walk along the train tracks to get to Agua Calientes, where we would spend the night before heading up to Machu Picchu the last day. Beautiful scenery once again, and this was definitely my scenery highlight of the trip. We followed along the river, catching glances of Machu Picchu perched high in the clouds as we walked. Incredible. In Agua Calientes we had time to shower (yay hot showers!) and grab some sandwiches for the next day before meeting up with Alex and Terri-Ann for some drinks and heading to dinner. Another early night, as we had a VERY early start the next day.

Machu Picchu
For anyone who's ever been, you know that there is no way of describing Machu Picchu in words that would ever possibly do it justice. Despite our 3am wake-up to be on one of the first buses up the mountain, it was impossible to be tired in that incredible setting. Josh and I were amongst the lucky 400 who managed to get stamps for Wayna Picchu, which made our early morning totally worth it. We had a 2 hour tour of the important areas of the site with Leo, then all went our separate ways for the rest of the day. Josh and I set off at 10am to climb Wayna Picchu, an incredible natural stairmaster heading straight up the side of the mountain. Josh quickly left me behind and had been waiting about 10 minutes by the time I dragged my sorry ass up all those stairs, sweating bullets but also completely overwhelmed by the view. A bird's eye view of Machu Picchu that almost made it look small, as well as an incredible view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Less well kept ruins and piles of rocks were scattered around the top of the mountain, and after a relaxing lunch and some sun lounging, we headed back down to explore Machu Picchu on our own.

The rock work is formidable, and in the incredible construction that only the Incas seem to have been capable of, the walls and buildings were all built to survive earthquakes. You can tell the temples from the common structures by the stones: polished, perfectly cut to fit without mortar stones were reserved for temples or homes belonging to important people, while the coarser mortar bound stonework was for other buildings and homes. The monoliths were incredible; the temples even more so. The Incas didn't manipulate mountains to suit their building needs; they worked with the mountain's natural form to create their homes and temples. This makes every wall unique, working carefully around natural stones and building with the pre-existing landscape. Our last climb of the day took us up to the guard house for the postcard perfect view of Machu Picchu, and it did not disappoint. I have been known to be camera happy, but I can honestly say that I probably took more versions of the exact same picture at Machu Picchu than I ever have before. In one word, our visit to the city that was only re-discovered in 1911 was incredible.

Back in Cuzco Josh and I had a chill day, complete with lunch at Jack's Cafe (mmm bacon) and a hot stone massage. We also had a chat with the hostel's travel agency and the owner of the hostel, who was incredulous as the stories we told him (not all are mentioned above... it was bad.) He was very apologetic, made the tour company issue us a partial refund ($10) and offered us a free night's stay. He also had a long (and it looked angry) talk with Leo, as well as the owner of the travel agency, and assures us that they will be taking steps to make sure the same thing doesn't happen again.

The next day we took a day trip to the sacred valley, visiting Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chincheros. Gorgeous sites, although after Machu Picchu we had VERY high standards, we clambered over rock walls and up many stairs in rain and mist to see each Incan ruin. Our last night in Cuzco, we treated ourselves to a delicious meal at IncaFe Cafe.

Next up: Nazca!
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Comments

Mom on

Stunning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How were the knees??

Jdad on

wow ! Glad you two are so fit so you can enjoy all the sites. Amazing pictures.

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