Cusco, Peru


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Cusco and the Inca Trail
Sat Nov 30, 2002 3:42 pm

Pardon me if this installment of Dos Gringas lacks the humor and charm you have come to expect from us, but I am totally drained after our days in Cusco and on the Trail.

We arrived here last Wednesday, the 19th, I think. To see the sights here, you have to purchase a tourist ticket for US$10 at the Tourist Information, then bop around town without paying further admission prices. We visited the Contemporary Art Museum (crap- good thing it was free) and the Cathedral our first day. The Cathedral is the home of Earthquake Jesus, a very special Jesus that, apparently, saved Cusco from further earthquake damage in 1650 when they pulled him from the church and paraded him around town. He is easy to recognize since he wears a skirt. We heard he owns lots and lots of skirts. We also visited the ruins of Sacsaywaman (pronounced sexy woman), which sit on a hill above Cusco. The ruins are made in the Incan Imperial style of construction, when they used no mortar, but joined the stones together using locking male-female joints within the walls. From the outside, the stones fit together absolutely perfectly, and are HUGE. Moving and carving them was an amazing feat.

Ma and Pa Hutton arrived bright and early on Saturday, the 23rd. We had a big breakfast, and while my mom slept, my dad, Alison and I knocked off a few more museums on our tickets. Though none were very good, we did get to see a mummy. Always pretty cool. That evening, we had dinner and a show of traditional dancing. I ordered cuy (otherwise known as guinea pig), which arrived whole so I could get a photo with it. My parents were dismayed that I could eat it, after having a pet guinea pig called Jerry, who was very cute and sweet, but I ate that little guy up. They did take it back and hack it up into more managable size chunks, plus removed the head, but it was still very identifiable. A very messy meal, and a little gamey, but tastey.

The next day, we took a tour of the Sacred Valley. Instead of taking a tour bus, we hired our own private guide to show us around. The first stop was a town called Chinchero, with good ruins, a beautifully decorated church, and a market. We got to see how the local people trade goods at the market- they dont use money, but barter- and bought a few odds and ends.

From there, we drove to Ollantaytambo, an impressive little town that is almost all original Incan construction in its foundation, and has Incan water channels in the streets. There, we climbed up another set of ruins and did a little exploring. The quarry for that sight was down quite a ways. Another impressive Incan feat of construction.

Then it was on to the famous Sunday market at Pisaq, where we had lunch and shopped away. Luckily, our guide helped us bargain, and we got incredible deals. That evening, we finally found my parents friends, John and Melissa, and all had dinner together and retired early since Alison and I had an early start.

So, at 4am we were waiting for our tour company to come and pick us up. They got there around 4:30, and after some confusion over where some other peoples hotels were, we finally got out of town around 6am, and drove to the start of the Inca Trail at km 82.

The first day, in retrospect, is pretty easy. We walked together as a group and stopped often to learn about different Andean plants and animals from our guide, Gary. Our first ruin along the trail was Llactapata, which means Upper Town. It was primarily an agricultural center, built to supply Machu Pichu. Then we hiked along for another hour or so to our camp ground in Wayllabamba, a small village at 3000m. The night was clear and beautiful and the stars shone as brightly as I have ever seen. We did get a bit of rain in the night, but our tent stood the test and we started dry and comfy the next morning.

So, the infamous second day.... Our entire trip in South America has been full of people warning us about day 2 of the Inca Trail, so we decided before we even started the hike that we would hire a porter for the day. From Wayllabamba, the trail begins to climb, and keeps climbing up to Dead Womans Pass at 4200m. It was pretty difficult going, but I think the challenge was much more mental than physical. You seemed to keep going around bend after bend that appeared to be the top, only to discover that the trail kept going up and up. The day was a bit dreary, which was probably a plus considering how hard the walk was, but it made for less than spectacular views along the way and at the top. From the pass, we decended into Pacamayo at 3600m, our next camp site. Althought the going is rough, we all made it to camp by 1pm, and had a whole afternoon to kill. Actually, we had one crazy Italian guy that did the whole day in 2hr and 10 mins and was the 5th person in the camp site by 10am!!

A quick word about the porters... They are the most amazingly strong, well-balanced, and hard-working guys you will ever see. They each carry 25kg, and, literally, RUN by with huge packs on. And they dont even use proper backpacks, but just sacks with straps the make themselves. It is a bit humbling to be passed by a guy in sandals carrying a huge gas tank for the camp stoves while you are struggling along with a day pack.

Day 3- The trail ascended steeply out of camp to another set of ruins and a pass at 4000m, both called Runkuracay. At this point, we were finally on the proper Inca Trail, with most of it being original Incan stone work. From there, we descended to Sayacmarca, which means Inaccessable Town. An apt name, considering it is perched on a cliff and, to get there, we had to climb a staircase that would have been a serious legal liablity in the States. Then, we hiked along through cloudforest full of orchids, hanging mosses, tree ferns and flowers, through an impressive Inca tunnel, carved into the rock, and on to the 3rd pass at 3700m.

From the pass, we walked out to see an outcrop to see the views of Aguas Calientes, another Incan ruin, Machu Pichu Mountain (the back side from the ruins), the Urubamba River, and our campsite for the night far below. In just a few mintues, the view went from lovely to impenitrable clouds. Phuyupatamarca, the Incan ruin, means Town in the Clouds, a perfect name. It was probably a religious site, used on the pilgrimage to Machu Pichu, because it has six 'Inca Baths' probably used for the ritual worship of water and for cleansing the souls of pilgrims. Just as we finished looking around, the sky opened up, and before we could even get our rain gear on, we were totally soaked.

It was probably about the worst time it could have started to rain, considering we were beginning our descent down the Inca staircase, which is about 2000 or so steps. Very rough on the knees, and scarey in the rain. Didnt bother the porters any- they kept right on running down the trail, slippery rocks and all.

An hour or so later, we arrived at Wiñay Wayna, our last camp sight. It is named for a set of ruins nearby, which we got to visit as dusk fell. The name in Quechua means Forever Young. The city was named after a variety of orchid which is always in bloom. The camp site was crowded, and, with a hostel and restaurant there as well, the noise and partying went well into the night.

The next morning (Thanksgiving!) we got up at 3:45am and got on the Trail by 4:45 in order to race to the Sun Gate in time to see first rays of the sun fall over Machu Pichu. The worst bit about this hike is the crowds of people all racing along, and the 50 nearly verticle steps up to the Sun Gate. But we made it in time, and saw the sun slowly spread across the ruins. For me, it was a dream come true.

Then, we walked down to the ruins themselves and had a two hour tour. It was funny to be mixed up with tourists that had come on buses, or people that actaully spent US$400 a night to stay in the hotel at Machu Pichu. Only 10% of visitors walk there, and that includes the two-day trekkers as well, so I must say I felt a bit superior to most of the people there.

Once our tour finished, I decided to climb up Wayna Picchu, the mountain that is in the background of every Machu Pichu photo, while most of our group relaxed and had a bite to eat. It is a steep climb, but the views from the top are absolutely breath-taking.

We all were tired and hungry, so we headed to Aguas Calientes to eat and wait for our train. We arrived back in Cusco at 8:30pm or so, then had a quick Thanksgiving dinner with my parents and John and Melissa. Weird place with loud music and loads of French people doing conga, but good food.

Yesterday, the 29th, my parents headed back home in the afternoon, so we had a last meal together and did a little shopping. At about 9pm, Alison and I met up with 9 people from our Inca Trail tour and had drinks at an Irish pub, then danced the night away in a club with all our friends. It was a fabulous last night with all of them, and a great way to end our stay in Cusco.

Tonight, we take out LAST over night bus to Arequipa, where we plan to stay a few days and visit the Colca Canyon. Just a couple weeks left to go...

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! PATTY and ALISON
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