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
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
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
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
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