The hot springs at Lares
3am rolled around far too quickly and as usual when I know I have to get up early I had a really restless nights sleep. Edgar, our guide turned up early so he had to wait around while I put my bag in storage and paid my bill. The other guys had been picked up en route and so were waiting in the minibus. We tried every route the driver and staff could think of to get into the sacred valley and avoid the blockades but either the police wouldn't let us through or when the guides and porters tried to move the trees and rocks that were in the way the farmers were waiting around the corner ready to pelt the buses with rocks. After two hours of driving around we had to admit defeat and go back to Cusco.
One of our horsemen with the 'emergency horse'
proposed that we leave later that day if they could get in touch with our horsemen and get them to meet us in Lares as we were going to have to change our route and shave about 10km off the hike. I also had the option of doing another hike at a later date as my time was a little more flexible, after yet another trip to the office later that morning that idea was knocked on the head as it would have meant waiting almost a week and therefore leaving and coming back to Cusco. The office telephoned the hostel just before 1pm to say it was game on and that the horsemen would meet us at Lares. Jen and Gareth had had to come back too and they were also waiting to see what would happen with their trek as the Inca trail permits cannot be amended.
At the top of the highest pass on our trek, approx. 4500m above sea level, and yes its cold.
Thankfully they were also leaving that day but were going to have to start trekking from 6am the following day to get the kilometers in. We set off around 5pm for Lares and finally arrived at the hot springs around 10pm, they certainly weren't what I was expecting (in a good way); the locals had built proper pools to channel the water into, there were little huts to get changed in and proper showers and toilets, totally amazing! It was a shame we didn't get to finish the trek there as it would have been a great way to unwind afterwards. I was too tired to venture into the springs after a very late dinner (think we at around 11pm) but next morning after Edgar had woken us up with cups of tea at the doors of our tents I ventured down for a soak and a hot shower as I didn't want to miss the opportunity as you never know when the next hot shower will come your way when trekking.
After an amazing breakfast we started our trek good and proper; the first uphill slog was a bit of a shock to the system and the other guys were feeling the altitude a little more as they'd only had a few days to acclimatise. The funniest part of the morning came when Edgar was looking for a bride to cross the river but had discovered it had been washed away in the floods at the start of the year so we had to find a place shallow enough to cross, this was still deep enough to warrant taking off shoes and socks and rolling up our trousers as far as they'd go. Not being the tallest person, ended up wet to my mid-thigh whereas everyone else was only wet to their knees (Mike has a great picture of this which I'll have to see if I can get hold of and post).
I also had to chance it with my rucksack on as throwing my bag with my camera in was not an option, I just had to pray I wasn't going to slip otherwise it'd be curtains for my camera (and everything else to be honest). Luckily we negotiated the river without any mishaps; the next three hours and approximately 700m up (we'd already covered 300m) were pretty tough going, the scenery was nothing short of spectacular and we got to see a few local people in traditional dress along the way. By the time we reached our spot for lunch we collapsed into a heap on the tarp laid out for us and took a nap or relaxed before yet more incredibly good food arrived in the form of lunch. This day was set to be the most strenuous as we climbed to the highest point in the the trek, Ipsayqocha pass, at approximately 4500m above sea level, this was our task for the afternoon and sometime around 4pm we finally made it, sweating and panting in all our glory.
Llamas, llamas everywhere
It was one of those deceptive points where we though we'd made it only to turn the corner to find there was yet more "up" to go thus bringing out cries of "oh s#@t!". Stephanie's dad Pete was an absolute trooper, at the age of 61 he was incredibly fit and didn't need any help from our emergency horse just did things at his own pace. We took photos for posterity when we got to the blustery saddle of the pass and added the rocks we'd been carrying in our pockets to the neatly arranged piles already there to ensure we followed the tradition. At this point I'd been trekking in my t-shirt but as soon as we reached the top the icy blast hit you like someone had slapped you round the face with a sheet of ice so I layered up as quickly as I physically could before we started our descent to camp.
The downward section felt like an Olympic Sprint in comparison to the previous leg and within an hour we had reached our campsite next to lake Ipsayqocha. The horseman as usual had left after we'd started trekking and still managed to race past us, set up camp and still have time to put the kettle on. We spent the night consuming countless hot drinks to stay warm in the bitter temperature at altitude, a decision that bit us all in the bum later on as we all needed to pee in the freezing cold all night long. When nature called my lucky self there was frost on the outside of my tent and I almost went flying due to the icy ground and trying to negotiate it in flip-flops. It turned out in conversation over breakfast that we'd all been faced with the same dilemma...ah toilet humour, always a regular source of discussion for any traveller.
Me and our guide Edgar
Morning also brought us face to face with precious puppies from the nearby farm as well as Llamas who eyed us curiously as they drank from the lake. Mike and I managed to get pretty close for some good snaps of these cute creatures. Day three's hiking was a breeze in comparison to the previous day as it was all a gentle 3-4 hours downhill to the village of Huilloc where we were due to meet our transport. We then encountered another problem; our original driver couldn't get through to the village from Ollantaytambo
due to the Mayor's half-arsed idea of digging up the main square to replace the antique cobbles with concrete. Edgar at once came to the rescue, as he spoke Quechua he was able to hire a guy from one of the local villages to take us to Ollantaytambo.
How cute are they?
After a nervous half and hour or so of being entertained by the local children our new vehicle arrived and we were back on track. After about a 3 hour journey we made it to be greeted by the chaos of 1000's of people trying to get up to Aguas Callientes (or Macchu Picchu
Pueblo as it's also known) and subsequently up to Macchu Picchu itself. The situation is currently made more chaotic by the fact that since severe flooding occurred in January there are sections of the track that still require work and they've had to create a temporary train station further down the line and bus people there from Ollantaytambo. Edgar though had more tricks up his sleeve; at the bus station he spoke to the ticket inspector at the gate, again in Quechua, to allow us to que jump, what a legend! After a bumpy minibus journey the madness continued at the train station and once more Edgar worked his magic; his friend owns the restaurant on the platform and so he told the guard that we were going there allowing us to yet again bypass another que and garb a quick bite to eat in the process before taking our seats on the train.
It was a good thing we'd eaten at the train station as it was late by the time we arrived finally in Aguas Callientes, our respective hosts were waiting and we all trudged off for hot showers and some good shut eye before meeting bright and early at 4.45am. I felt like I'd been asleep 5 minutes when the alarm went off but the excitement soon got me going, it was a short walk from my hotel to the bus station and I met Edgar who was already waiting in the que, minutes later the rest of the troops arrived and then it was just a matter of waiting until 5.30 rolled around and the buses started leaving for Macchu Picchu. While teh others kept our place I had to find an ATM as my useless hotel didn't except cards, in touristville in the 21st Century?!?!? They need to get with the times.
The gatekeepers house
I wasn't totally comfortable with carrying all of my cash around with me but didn't have time to go back to the hotel and stash it there. Finally the buses started moving in one long continuous stream, there are 22 buses in total all of which can carry around 30 passengers each up and down the Hiram Bingham 'Highway' (more like a dirt track really) continuously until the park closes. We managed to get on the third bus of the day and even then somehow we almost didn't get one of the 400 tickets distributed each day that allows you to climb Wayna Picchu (our tickets were number 380 something each), I was getting as giddy as a school kid at the prospect of seeing this famous site and just hoped it was going to be everything I thought it would be...it was and then some! We arrived to see the sun come up through the Sun gate in the saddle of the mountains and witness the light conditions change as the sun rose and the clouds wrapped around Wayna Picchu like a sleeping dragon, evaporate and roll away.
The ubiquitous shot
There were already a surprising number of people at the site but this would be nothing compared to the peak of the visitor hoards later in the day. Edgar again was in fine form, telling us where to take the best photos from and also muscling photo hoggers out of the way. After an hour or so of letting us soak up the scenery we started the tour, from the gate house we descended towards the terraces towards the main bulk of the complex. Macchu Picchu is divided into areas; agricultural, religious, residential, industrial and the prison group. We walked first through the religious sector which includes the house of the high priest, temple of the three windows (imaginatively named by Hiram Bingham, though there are actually five windows, two of which are now sealed), the main temple, the sacristy and Intihuatana.
As I said historians and archaeologists don't know what the real names of any of the structures within Macchu Picchu were because the Inca's and Quechua didn't have any form of written language and if there were any forms of hieroglyphs these too were almost certainly destroyed by the Spanish. In the Sacred Plaza (I think) there exists a rock carved by the Inca's that identically replicates the outline of the mountain range behind the rock it pretty much obscures the mountains with the sun shining behind creating an almost ethereal glow. Intihuatan loosely translates as 'Hitching Post of the Sun' which is often mistaken for a sundial, however like many things built by the Inca it was actually to predict the different solstices (Edgar showed us a picture of what happens on the winter solstice and the shadow created).
We worked our way down the central plaza past examples of flora and fauna and Edgar told us how there used to be a 2m high rock in the central plaza that was knocked over when the Peruvian government let some visiting dignitary land their helicopter there - madness! We then went to visit another sacred rock near the entrance to Wayna Picchu, again exhibiting amazing craftsmanship in it's replication of the mountains behind. We next worked our way through the residential sector where the quality of the stonework was not as precise as that in the religious sector. After this came the industrial sector containing two circular flat rocks filled with water which some believe were mortars for grinding grain etc but Edgar told us these again had an astronomical purpose, star gazing.
We then worked our way through the prison group of buildings, a series of cells and niches
above and below ground. Edgar pointed out the holes and protrusions near to the doorways that formed part of the Incan door locking mechanism. Another carved highlight, which occurs in this group of buildings, is the Temple of the Condor, comprising of a carved condor head which when read with the natural rock behind it resembles a
condor with it's wings outstretched. This symbyosis of carved and natural rock occurs throughout Macchu Picchu and serves as a testament to the Incas respect for their natural environment. We then looped back to the religious sector to see the Royal Palace with it's two small rooms outside that of the Incan king for it's bodyguards, the Royal Tomb containing an altar and niches for offerings and also another view of the temple of the sun (the only circular building on the site).
At the top of Wayna Picchu.
The temple again exhibits the fine stonework of other buildings in this group and the postioning of the trapezoidal window is tied into the winter solstice, the sun aligning perfectly with this
on June 21st. Edgar lead us back to the main entrance after he'd finished and told us which restaurant in Aguas Calientes
to meet him later. We left Pete in the restaurant at the entrance as he'd decided he'd had enough and would leave the three of us to climb Wayna Picchu.
Arriving at the entrance we faced yet another que but some of the people waiting didn't have tickets so had to wait until the end to see if everyone who had been allocated a ticket was going to use it. After about an hour of steep, narrow steps and sweating we made it to the top of Wayna Picchu for a privledged view of the mountains and Macchu Picchu. It was pretty precarious up there as there was no real place to stand, more just a jumble of rocks with ladders and routes up to the top. You had to wait for people to decide they were going down to get a place to sit or get a photo. We didn't stay too long, mostly because it was unfair to other people and also because we didn't want Pete to worry. The descent actually took longer as there seemed more risk of slipping and falling but eventually we made it, not a climb I recommend in flipflops that's for sure! We'd talked about taking some more pictures of the typical Macchu Picchu shots but we'd run out of energy and time, also it was getting significantly more crowded and my patience couldn't have taken waiting around for people to get out of the picture. We met Pete then took the bus back down and enjoyed lunch with Edgar whilst watching game two of the World Cup. Mike, Stephanie and Pete were on an earlier train so then had to go back to their hotel to pick up the rest of their stuff. I watched the rest of the match with Edgar then arranged to meet him at the train station later in the hope I could take s shower back at my hotel, no such luck as the cheapskates wouldn't let me, I won't be recommending them to anyone that's for sure. We would usually have travelled back on the Backpacker class of train but due to the flooding earlier in the year there weren't enough of these trains to go around and so we actually got the next class up without paying extra. Edgar and I spent the journey talking about our families and jobs but after a sprint (yes literally, Edgar made me run, 4 days trekking with a sprint finish, marvellous) to try and get away on the first bus we both fell asleep on the tortuous ride back to Cusco. I'd also seen Jen & Gareth at the train station but they were in a different carriage on the train so I'd lost them again by the time it came to getting on the bus. A minibus ride later in Cusco (the driver also brought my water bottle but minus my new caribeaner however, grrr!) and I was back at Pirwa
and then flopped into bed exhausted, thankfully in an all girls dorm this time away from the main entrance. Despite wanting a lie in I was awake early and so went to drop off my rucksack I'd rented and buy my bus ticket to Puno
. I then met Jen & Gareth to go watch the England match in an English Pub called the Cross Keys, a win to add to the cider (from Leeds no less) and a fry-up would have been perfect but it wasn't to be after Rob Greene's gaff. The rest of the afternoon was a bit of a half cut daze until we went to meet Jen & Gareths fellow trekkers again for dinner, they however weren't feeling great so left the three of us to it. The rest of the night was fairly low key as we were all pretty tired still and I needed to get up early for my bus to Puno so after a few drinks at the bar I said farewell to Jen & Gareth and hit the hay promising to catch up again in Arequipa