The firework alarm went off at 6am and I snapped awake trying to justify the feeling of apprehension in my stomach; then I remembered, today was it! Inca trail here we come.
Jorge was waiting for us at 08.30 and this time it was us being waved off and wished luck by other hotel guests as we boarded the mini bus. The 2 hour drive to our first stop has to be the quietest we’d ever been as everyone contemplated what lay ahead. Not to say that we weren’t looking forward to it, but still!
Cuzco city is different in that it’s the slums which are located up on the hills and the rich who live in the middle. As we drove up and away from the centre we began to see far more mud brick houses and it seemed like there wasn’t anywhere which wasn’t under construction. The land on those hill starts from as little as $5 per square meter.
Once we were out of the city it was an hour and a half of stunning scenery before we reached Ollantaytambo, a little town at the foot of some Inca ruins which were used as a fortress when Manco Inca rebelled against the Spanish who described it as ‘a thing of horror’. There are 16 terraces set high into the hillside made from just HUGE rocks from the quarry across the valley. We were told they used saws of a kind of precious stone glass to create the flat surfaces which allowed the rocks to fit together so snugly. Some of these rocks were more than double my height – there’s some serious engineering going on!!
We could also see storage houses high on the hill next to a huge face carved in the rock. This face represented a white god; with a crown and long beard. Many South American cultures have similar gods and it was this that led them to worship white people when they first arrived thinking it was the return of the great kings and times of prosperity.
As we explored the terraces and houses set high in to the cliff side you had to wonder why on earth they always built their structures on a vertical cliff! I suppose it’s a protection thing like with our castles. There were several school groups with us on the tour and it was reassuring to see them huffing and puffing up the stairs as much as us. You can blame a lot on this altitude lark 😉
There was a market at the base of the inca town where Iain and I picked up our sticks for the hike, opting for traditional wooden poles at 5soles each. Then it was back to the bus for another 45 minute drive to the end of the road and lunch. Our porters were already waiting for us and lunch was ready. They soon had our bags packed into the huge sacks they’d be carrying – each weighing 25kgs; some of the bags look bigger than the guys themselves – and they’re climbing these mountains quicker than us! Oh boy!
Tickets checked, passport stamped, official group photo taken and we were off, across the bridge following a band of donkeys. According to the map today is ‘easy downhill’, just a chance to get into our stride. Lindsey, Iain and I soon found our pace and set off, creating some distance between us and the others. We’d been told to wait by the rock slide (comforting) and on the way I met some friends – two little boys on their way home from school who skipped alongside me jabbering on in Spanish. We had loads of fun till we reached their home and they asked me for money!! Cheeky buggers!
10 minutes later we reached the rock slide and were flicked the v’s by an old lady who did NOT want her photo taken. Bad Iain! The rest of the group weren’t that far away and Jorge told us we were almost at the half way point where we could stop for our snacks (honestly this holiday is all about eating!!!) then it was a quick jaunt along a ‘Peruvian flat’ (read ‘HILL’!) dodging horses, donkeys and small children till we had the first view of Llactapata and our camp site. The porters had already arrived and set up our tents and Jorge gave us 10 minutes before taking us to explore the ruins.
Most people starting the trek start at 9am and walk above these ruins to the first camp site 8 hours in and higher up. We’d dropped down 100m (going to regret that tomorrow) to have this site to ourselves. It means we’ll be a few hours behind other walkers every day and have quieter camp sites. The place we’re staying tonight used to be the agricultural town supplying Machu Picchu and other places with fresh fruit and vegetables. Jorge left us to explore on our own after showing us the temple and sacrificial stone. Beautiful men and women were sent to Cuzco to be sacrificed…lucky them! I suppose drinking till you can’t stand up then taking poison before behind knocked on the head isn’t an awful way to go though – right? Anyway we soon lost the others as everyone went rambling. There are huge mountains either side of us and through one valley we can see the snow capped peaks. There’s a gushing river rushing by and the sand coloured stones reflect the sun beautifully. It’s really hard to not look around in wonder at where we are, just wow!
I wasn’t feeling great over dinner so decided to have an early night, everyone else wasn’t far behind though. The moon was so bright that several times people thought it was morning when they woke up!! But 6am came soon enough.
We’ve just had a yummy breakfast of kinoa porridge and omelette and everyone is busy around packing day bags and putting away the tents. Apparently after this we won’t have phone signal and will really leave civilisation behind. No more Peruvian flat – today we go UP, scaling the height of Ben Nevis from sea level. Thank you Christine!