Sunday, June 12, 2011

The magic of the Incas

Peru is my last South American destination (for now) so I engineered my itinerary to maximize my time. I arrived in Cusco a day ahead of schedule and spent the day wandering the city streets, acclimatising to the altitude and planning an action packed week leading up to my Inca trail trek.

First stop was a short hike to Sexy Woman (Saqsaywaman) the closest Inca ruins to the city, followed by the uncovering of Greens Organic which would become my haunt over the coming week, then onto the local market where I picked up everything I needed for dinner for the bargain price of $1.34! 

The next day I took a Collectivo an hour and a half into The Sacred Valley, hiked half way up a mountain and perched myself on some Inca terracing to catch some rays and eat lunch as I marveled at the beautiful valley below and the sharp rocky mountains surrounding me. That afternoon I visited the ruins of Ollantaytambo and was blown away, almost quite literally but more so by the vast terracing and ruins that roost protruding from the side of the mountain. As the day progressed I was ailing and notched it up to an active couple of days and the high altitude. 

My bustling program was set to continue the next day as I was booked to tackle Via Feratta. I awoke feeling crap but wasn't about to let that stop me scaling a mountain! What was actually more painstaking than my advancing cold was the group of 14 American college students that were in my trip group, complete with the token wise ass frat jock. My horror was pleasantly deferred upon arrival where I met my group of no less than 5 climbing guides. My tall, handsome, athletic, Peruvian climbing guides! 

Scaling Via Feratta, a trail of grip and foot holds up the side of a mountain was adrenalizing, zip lining and abseiling back down was titillating, but I have to say my favorite part of the day was having a handsome Peruvian wrapped around me as we tandem zipped a kilometer long line!  Is that wrong? Yeah... not caring!!

Feeling tired from my day of stimulation I was looking forward to a good nights sleep before I headed off to Pisac for another day of hiking and scouring ruins. My alarm echoed and through my sickly haze, a combination of a night of insomnia and my ill state I clambered out of the wrong side of the bed determined to stick to my schedule. Cold smould, I downed a Berocca and a couple of panadol, overhauled my attitude and soon enough I was at the top of another mountain amidst Incan ruins surveying the small village of Pisac below.


Its 4:00am, after an evening of lost laundry stress I wait for the pick up that will take me to KM82 in The Sacred Valley, the beginning of the 43km Inca Trail that leads to Machu Picchu. 

By the time we stopped for lunch on the first day we had covered 10km and that was the easy part of the day. That afternoon as we aimed towards our first camp we embarked up what would the next day become known to all of us as ¨the infinite stairway of HELL¨. A combination of lack of sleep, high altitude, the kilometers already covered and my lungs still choked with cold made the 750 meter uphill climb gruelling, to say the least. We arrived at our 3750m campsite just on dark, just as the chill of the evening began to set in, and all of us exhausted we retired to our tents moments after finishing dinner.

The next morning I woke feeling rested, with a positive attitude and ready to tackle the mountain; the highest peak of the trek, known as Dead Woman's Pass. Within about 15 minutes I knew exactly why. It was up. Straight up. Rock step after rock step. An hour and a half later, gasping for what little oxygen I could swallow I reached the peak and gazed across the Andes while simultaneously stuffing myself with sugary sweet jelly buttons. One peak conquered I welcomed the downhill stint into lunch. 

The pleasantries of downhill were short lived that afternoon as we headed towards our second mountain pass and up a few hundred or so more stone steps. As we ventured further along the trail the landscape changed from stony dry desert to a greener cloud forest, we visited archaeological sites, explored ruins and watched hummingbirds hover as we descended towards our campsite. We arrived mid afternoon, all of the group feeling a sense of achievement and relief in completing the second and most intense day of the trek.

Each morning we were pleasantly woken with tea in our tents, followed by an amazing breakfast before we headed off to tackle the days´ trekking. Day 3 was a breath of fresh air after the previous two as we had a rather relaxed eight hours of hiking up and down two more passes. 

At 3950m I stood and silently surveyed the boundless Andes. The wild white daisies paled under the luminous glow of the glacial clad peak of Salkantay and clouds swept thin and low over the landscape of mossy pinnacles. I breathed in and for the first time ever I really heard the sound of silence. Silence is audible, but more than that it is a feeling, a combination of a subdued resonance and a consciousness of quietude. 

As the day wore on, the kilometers passed and we edged ever closer to Machu Picchu, the warm winter rays beamed brightly but only for as long as the sun dangled high in the sky; the crispness of dusk taking hold before the day was out. Our group enjoyed our last delicious dinner together, strategized on our approach for the following morning and again retired early in preparation for the 3:40am assault towards our ultimate goal.

After 38km, 3 mountains and 3 days we stood at the Access Control Point. It was 4:30am and over the next hour hundreds of trekkers queued awaiting the 5:30am opening and the 5km charge towards The Sun Gate. Despite the early hour energy buzzed electrically in the atmosphere and there was a definite sentiment of competition in the air. Each group, each individual, eager to be the first standing in a moment of solitary triumph, overlooking the divinity and grandeur of the Incan city of Machu Picchu. 

When the control gate opened our group, second in the queue, bounded, adorned in headlamps into the blackness of the narrow trail, over rocks, along ledges and up countless steep steps. Of the five kilometers, for me the last one was undeniably punishing, I managed to stand at The Sun Gate 50 minutes after I had set out, among 20 or so other trekkers.

I caught my breath and gazed over an opaque Machu Picchu feeling victorious and at the same time a little pensive that the journey was now complete. We made out way down into the lost civilisation of the Incan Kings and although my backpack had almost become an extension of my body I was relieved to stow it and spend a weary but enjoyable day exploring the ruins.

Cusco, The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu is a phenomenal region; bursting with culture, history, enigma and an endearing modern antiquity that places it firmly in the world of travel unmissable list.

Day 1...ready and rearing to go!

Dead Woman´s Pass....not this woman!!

A much needed breather before more steps...

One of many beautiful vistas

Inca terracing...vast and incredible

The sound of silence across the tops of the Andes

50 minutes and 5km view but plenty of triumph

A very pleased group of trekkers very early on day 4

Magical Machu Picchu

Take that Inca Trail....

So worth the lung straining, leg busting, heart racing 43km

No comments:

Post a Comment