Matthew Picchu and the badly organised Inca Jungle trek of DOOM !!!

Cusco Travel Blog

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Hi everybody!! ( Hi Dr Mat.....) but enough of that, yep another blog from Cusco written well after the fact and hoping I can remember what we did enough to make it mildly entertaining ( thanks Lisa !!) and so I can remind myself when we gat home what the hell we did..... Well this was the big one, the numero uno reason for coming to peru ( and in most cases south America) the world renouned INCA TRAIL culminating in the fantastic picture postcard views of Macchu Picchu ( I apologise now for spelling, Im shit !!.. so lets call it MP from now on....)
We set off on January 2nd, as we were a day delayed due to a landslide that had closed the roads ( thats rainy season for you) , at the time part of me did nt belive this was the case and I thought that the tour operators just did not want to work on new years day ( a fair thought) but after meeting people who were on the bus when the landslide happened and spent a chilly new years eve on the same bus stuck on a mountain pass, I was happy we delayed :-)
The arranged pick up from the hotel at 7.15 finally materialsed at 8.30, no worries , thats peruvian time planning for you :-) and consisted of a very hassled lady shooing us into a taxi to take us 500 meters down the hill to our waiting minibus.. why we could not just walk I do not know.. then after settling in and introducing ourselves to our fellow trekkers another even more harrangued lady grabbed us off that bus and sat us on another ( ummmmm.. help !!) which we stayed on and just hoped was correct....
The bus then sped off up the winding andean mountains for about 3-4 hours to the high pass where the views were absolutly...... absent !! :-) it was so cloudy up there and thick with mist you could barely see your hand in front of your face ! so we got back on the bus, went down hill a bit till it was just raining and a bit clearer before we disenbarked for our 5 hr mountain bike trek down to the jungle valley ( and about time too as all the windeyness of the roads had made some of the group chunder !!!)
The biking was fantastic, 5 hours all downhill on dirt track avoiding falling rocks, buses , trucks and going through 1 ft deep water rivers running across the road , it was raining at the top and very cold so we had our plastic ponchos and careered down the hill with the other groups looking like stooper heroes !!! we passed some minor archaeological sites on the way ( series of small walls) and had a picnic etc as the further down the mountain we went , the hotter and steamer it became ! the only problem was towards the end ( about an hour s ride on the flat) I got a flat tyre ! our guide tried to pump it up a couple of times but within 5 mins it was flat again and the only spare had already been used, so I struggled bravely onto the end sweating like a pig until the finally at the end I could collapse !! As you can guess by this time we were looking forward to our hostel , a shower and a good nights sleep befer a long days trekking on the morrow !! UNfortunalty, this was not to be the case :-( the Hostel did not honour our booking, and , as there were many groups doing the treks, all hostels in this hick town we stayed in were full.. so we ended up in a room , in an unfinished building ( that will one day be a hostel) with a matress on the floor and the use of the toilets in the bar next door !! NOT Ideal.. I tried to complain and suggest other alternatives but we were 2 hrs drive from ANYWHERE so made the best of it.. at least after about an hour we got the electricity working so we had lights.. that was a plus :-)
The next morning , in the cold light of day, things did not seem so bad and we set off for a full day of Jungle trekking that took us onto the inca trail ( yep the official bit !!.. for those asking.. " isnt it all Inca trail ?" the answer is NO, you can do the official inca trail, you have to book months in advance, only 200 people per day can do it and it costs a FORTUNE!! so we did an alternative :-). THis was great , as we set off our little group (8people) was with about 10 other groups !! eeep, but as we were all relativly fit we stormed off up the hill and pretty much had the whole trek to ourselves !! this was fantastic, sweltering jungle, then majestic peaks with ancient walkways precariously stuck to the side with a 500 ft sheer cliff below you.. just what the doctor ordered and fantastic fun ( H will upload the photos later :-)
At the end of this trail, which was quite strenuous, there was a thermal baths !! yay, where tired feet and limbs could be soaked for a few hours.. this was BLISSSS, except for when we got out and the mossies devoured us whole.. but it was soo worth it ! In the evening our guide made sure we had a great hostel ( phew) and after dinner we followed a light in the sky ( ok not a star but a neon cocktail glass) to the local disco and sunk a few beers.. ahhhh perfect !!
Third day of trekking began with rain.. then more rain... but we were undeterred and presssed on.. it was only after about 10 minibuses had gone passed us that we realised we were the only group ( from the 10 or so going) that was still trekking !! Dóh ! but we prided ourselves with our resolution and got on with it !! the afternoon trail followed the rail tracks to the base of macchu Piucchu (MP) a nice little town called aguea Calientes, where we had a nice dinner and all got to bed VERY early as we would be up in the morning at 4am for the dawn trek to MP summit !!!
WEll tis was it, the big day and i was very excited, we set off with god knows how many others to climb the long ( about an hour and a half in total) stairs up to MP. After lots of huffing and puffing, and realising there was NO WAY to get there by dawn, we finally reached the top feeling pretty pleased with ourselvers as we were amongst the first 50 or so people there...and then the buses started arriving !!!! and HUNDREDS more people poured out... Luckily we had chatted to saome people before we went up and knew the drill.. get in.. get across the site to the far entrance ASAP and queue for your tikets to go up the far mountail Hyana picchu ( or something like that) as only the first 400 people are allowed up per day.. so there we were, jogging with the other 200 or so trekkers across the site, rapidly taking photos while it was still empty to get our tickets ( which we did :-) before actually having the time to enjoy the place !
Well Superlatives cannot describe MP, it really is everything you could want it to be ( except explianable of course, but archaeologists expect that) and to go up HP was also amazing ( we were told 8 people died last year on the climb, and it is a bit precarious, but the views are spectacular ). We had our guided tour ( we had been told it would be no more than 8 people, it was actually 28) but this did not really matter as they cant tell you much anyway and the best thing to do is explore on your own. We spent most of the day with some new Freinds Eduoard and Katja and saw pretty much all of the site in one very exhausting day !! ( H likes the llamas best !! go figure !!)
After climbing back down the trail to the town, we just had time for the worst Pizza in existance ( that we waited an hour for) before jumping the train back to a small town called  Olytambo where a bus would be waiting for take us back ( 2 hrs ) to the hostel.. well the train was there... but the bus was not !! Luckily we were with some columbian friends from the trek , so we had some coca tea and waited for the next train ( with Ed & K on board) , then we all accosted any bus driver we could find as a group and begged our way onto a bus back to cusco, eventually getting in at about 10.30pm totally exhausted !!
The next day we were on the 7am bus to lake Titikaka and a town called Puno ( next blog.. I promise) so  didnt even have time to go into the tour operator an "give em a piece of my mind for the fuck ups" not that it would have made any difference...
But on the whole, and fuck ups aside, that are a part of the lifestyle over here, it was a FANTASTIC few days that we both thorougly enjoyed, we saw some amazing sights, met some fantastic friendly people and can be happy in the knowledge that we have been to MP, the finest inca site ( as far as I know) on the continent.... ahhhhhh !
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OWCH; OWCH; OWCH !!! Drinking at high altitude does nothing for ones health next day. Yep, it was boxing day morning and somehow overnight my head had been used in a inter-tribal game of polo without me knowing it ! Of course the rational , normal thing to do in this situation is to roll over, go back to sleep and MUCH later in the day, get up and keep eating different fatty/sweet foodstuffs until something makes you feel better .. did we do this.. did we sod ! In our infinate wisdom we decided to jump a bus through the hot hot desert to Nasca !

So head in hands I set off to cental lima with D&L to buy tickets leaving H to do the packing. A coke and several up chucks later, we had our tickets for Nasca ( about 8 hrs) and headed back to check out of the hostel. H had not been too sucessful with packing and was ( to my recollection) still in Bed, but the hostel were accomodating and gave us enough time to drag our sorry asses together and out of there.

One major problem with drinking at altitude is the dehydration, you are dehydrated anyway, so throw in a quizillion beers and see how that effects the mix. This was the situation I found myself in when boarding the bus, only to find out the air con was busted and the internal temp was 38 deg ! owch owch owch !! But after many hours driving, the sun set, it got cooler and we eventaully landed in the flyspeck in the desert known as Nasca at about midnight!

Nasca only really exists  because of the lines and the only reason to go to this hot desert towen is to see the lines, which I was especially excited about as I have read about them for years in the FT ! So we asked about and found a tour operator ( our Hostel) who took us out to the airport and organised our flights... well .. organised is a strong word ( this will become a recurring theme here). As we arrived with about 7 others at the airport and ended up waiting about 2 hrs for our 20 minute flight ! ( and anyone that knows me well knows just how much I enjoy sitting in airport terminals !!) But eventually our plane arrived and we set off in this little 6 seater death trap. Actualy the plane and pilot were great, but my and H´s stomachs, still recovering from crimbo were not up the the banking , sweeping, turbulence filled ride we were embarking on. H was actually sick ( but very ladylike, I did not even know till we landed) and by the time we got to the monkey, I could no longer function the camera and was 100% concentrating on breathing and not spewing wildly into the back of D´s head ! After 20 mins we landed and anbout an hour later when our driver finally came to pick us up, we felt realtivly normal again..

The lines themselves have to be seen to be believed, and aside from the sickness, it was well woth the visit, although we did theorise that the Animal figures that the area is so famous for could just have easliy been manufactured by the ecccentric german lady that "discovered" them.. but that would be cruel speculation... :-)

With the lines done there was no point hanging around so we all jumped a night bus to Cusco, party capital of couthern Peru and kick off point for the inca trails. we got a "cheap" - well not that cheap actually, bus with a company called Palomino, and the whole trip was meant to take about 12 hrs or so overnight. Well, here again we discovered a little more about peruvian customer service. The bus intially was about 2 hrs late and after picking us up ( this was a virtual chicken bus and stank of piss) hightailed it 10 minutes round the corner for a 1 hr stop so the driver could have his dinner ! eventually we set off, getting used to the stench and carrerring round the 90 deg bends that make up peruvian roads. About 3 am we broke down, for about 2 hrs of hammering, at 7 am we properly broke down as we learned the chassis was coming apart and some emergency spot welding was required at the roadside ! In fact since we set off, an employee of the bus company had been in the hold ready to signal the driver if the chassis were to come apart.. and we thought we had an uncomfortable ride !

But eventually we got to Cusco and off the hellish bus , 20 hrs after departure ! we all found hostels, though not the same one, and crashed out for the rest of the day. Cusco is a beautiful town, colonial building built o inca stonework foundations with steep cobbeled streets and a glut of touristified restaurants bars and tour companies. We were here a for a few days as New year was looming and we wanted to do an inca trail. WE eventually found a hostel that had rooms for the whole new year period ( with cable TV.. yay !!) and settled in. We decided to do an alternative inca trail ( as the official one costs loads and has to be booked months in advance) and set off to see what was available. We decided on the inca Jungle trek, a 4 day, 3 night extravaganza of mountain biking, jungle trekking, some original inca trail and of course Macchu Picchu. After asking at a few agencies it was clear there was no regulations here, for the same trip we were quoted from 180 dollars right up to 350 dollars per person !! For exactly the same trip ( as all are orchestrated by the same company, just different boking agents), so we went with one close to the hostel that seemed nice! The plan was to go on new years day, as I was not feeling too great from altitude sickness and montezumas revenge, and we did not plan a big new years celebration. we booked this, but then on the 31st in the evening we were informed that a landslide has blocked the trail and we would not be able to goi until the 2nd... ok no big deal, so we agreed ( better safe than sorry) and settled in for new year.

NEw year in Peru reminded me a lot of new yaer in Cologne, lots of very drunken , irresonsible people having far too much fun with fireworks !! so after having a look around town ( everyone was buying yellow underwear for luck) we retired back to our hostel ( in the pouring rain) and stood on the roof terrace at midnight watching all the firework displays over the rooftops of Cusco. It was Great, but quite quiet and probably the dryest new year I have had since I was 12 ! I managed one bottle of beer... damn you altitude !!

So no hangover for new years day ( a first !) and not a lot to do as everythig was pretty much closed, so we bought some supplies for the trek, packed a 4 day bag ready, had alpaca for dinner ( V nice actually) ad waited for what the morning , and the trek would bring......

photo by: Vlindeke