We have finally left the hot, sweaty lowlands, only to replace them with the dizzying (quite literally) heights of the Peruvian Andes. From our camp spot not far from Quince Mil we wind our way upwards to the amazing height of 4925m, passing rushing streams and little villages clinging to the steep hillside. Everywhere there are old Inca terraces and crops. Fortunately for us it is Sunday - market day here. At the town of Mareapata we see our first market, with the ladies out and about in their brightly coloured garb. There is also a gorgeous thatched, mudbrick church. I keep trying to sneak photos, but by the end of the day I am snapping away. A good lens is great, and they really didn't seem at all fazed.
At the peak it is snowing, and as we descend the landscape is spread out before us with golden wheat, llamas grazing, more villages and yes more markets. It was a visual overload. I could hardly look at what they were selling because their outfits were so amazing.
We had been seeing lots of signs up "Trucka Fritas", so we had to stop and try. It was quite literally fast food, as the fish was sizzling away on a gas cooktop, and the baked potatoes were in the back being kept warm. The one we stopped at was all managed in a tiny tent of plastic that also served as their home. John loved the fish, so I ate the potatoes.
Once we reach the main road we suddenly meet all the tourist buses and vans. We are not far from Cusco. We have planned our route into the city - of course the camp ground is right across the far side. We come to numerous roads that have "no trucks" signs ( and we can see why - they are either extremely narrow, or end in steps.) Eventually we pop out into the Plaza de Armas and from here it is pretty easy to follow our instructions up the hill to our camp site at Quinta Lala at 3600m.
A slow start the next day as I find the altitude is really affecting me. Then a very slow wander around town, and a taxi back up the hill. At $2 it is worth it.
The camp is right beside the Saqsaywaman ruins, and apparently there is a hole in the fence we can duck through early in the morning. It was a massive Inca fort, but we rush around pretty fast at 6.30am. I am sure "guilty" is written on our foreheads. We return without mishap, but the other guys who went before us were sprung and told to leave.
We have been trying unsuccessfully to book a hotel at Aguas Calientas online, so decide to wing it, and head off towards Machu Picchu. There are numerous Inca ruins to look at on the way. By the time we reach the first one it is snowing, so we pass on that. Then we turn off at signs to Moray and see signs to the Salinas (not at all like my map), so head there. By now it is sunny (fortunately) as they are an amzing sight. The hot salty water has been channeled into 100's of areas for salt collection.
The next site is Moray, but first we have to squeeze through the narrow streets of Maras (a bypass would be useful), finally popping out of town and continuing on to the huge circular terraces set in an ampitheatre. The theory is that the Incas used this to grow experimental crops.
We decide to leave via the back road. An obviously little used track that winds its way down some amazing hillsides to the river. The main road is on the other side of the river - we hope there will be a bridge. Fortunately there is - a small suspension bridge only just inches wide enough and it shakes alarmingly as we cross.
Back on the tourist trail again with lots of buses, we arrive at Ollantaytambo. We all squeeze through the centre of town and the police direct us to a large bus carpark right below the huge Inca ruins. We stay there for the night.
Our next job is to purchase train tickets to Aguas Calientas for tomorrow. We get a price from Inca Rail, then from Peru Rail, and head back to Inca Rail to book the better deal. Alas in that time the 10 remaining seats have gone. Oh well, them's the brakes.
We head to Hearts Cafe for dinner. Our lovely waitress speaks great English, so we ask her to ring to book our hotel. Sadly again the cheaper one is now full, so we pay a bit more for Gringo Bills. At least it is all sorted. After exploring town the next day (we can't visit the ruins yet - they have a complicated system here of buying an expensive 10 day pass for heaps of ruins, or a cheaper one for just a few, but it is only valid for 2 days. Consequently we have to go after Machu Picchu so we can use it elsewhere!) We return to Hearts Cafe. This time Sonia (the owner) is there, so we are very priviledged to get a chance to chat with her . She left England in 2002 and set up the cafe to raise money to help the local Andean people, especially the children. They provide 2 hot school meals to 370 malnourished children everyday. She told us about other projects they were working on. It wasn't just about giving, it was teaching as well. Truly inspirational stuff. Please look up their website on:
We are planning to help as we can see that the money will go directly to them and is not siphoned off for advertising or directors fees. Their expenses are paid for by the cafe.
Anyway time to leave GR2 safe in a secure carpark for the princely sum of $3 and catch our train. It's a very scenic trip following a river gorge, reaching Aguas Calientas an hour and a half later. It is a tiny tourism driven town with no vehicles. Our hotel is a mere 200m from the station. Once settled we head off to buy our entry tickets for Machu Picchu and our return bus tickets. We explore, and then have an early dinner at a fabulous French resturant. We are planning an early start tomorrow to hopefully beat the masses of tourists, but it rains all night. Still raining as we leave at 6am. There is no one in the plaza, but we find them all queued up at the bus stop. There is another queue to enter at the top, but it is all very efficent and fast. The rain has finally stopped, but it is still misty. Fortunately it rolls away to give us the postcard views we had hoped for. We manage a few walks - to the Inca bridge, we try to walk the Cerro Montana (only to discover we had to buy tickets in town), and we also walk up to Sungate and Intipanku - where the Inca Trail comes down into Machu Picchu. At least we can say we have done part of the walk. A final explore of the ruins, now packed with tourists, tour groups & guides, and it is time to catch our bus and train back to Ollantaytambo. The weather has held out well....it starts to rain again back at Aguas Calientas. A great day.
Chow for now.