18. Inca's

Travel report 18; Incas, at high altitude.
Before I tell you more about my experiences in Peru and Cusco, I first want to say something personal:
Some travellers tell me that they admire me for putting so much time and energy in writing my travel stories. I always tell them that that´s not necessary, because I like to tell (talk ;-) and write about my travel experiences and I enjoy it even more if other travellers like to read my stories.
I´ve a lot more admiration for all those travellers I met, who started their travelling with volunteer work. Unselfish using your free time to help others. Most of the time I use to write are "lost hours" and I´ve to admit that mostly I only like to help others if that gives me a good/better feeling. I think I´m to selfish to use to much of my "free time" to help others. Unfortunately, but that´s how I am....
As promised before I will tell you now more about Cusco and surroundings:
Cusco, became important after the 12e century, when the Incas made it their capital. Today it´s no longer a capital, but for most travellers it´s still the most important and best city to visit in Peru. Because I told you last time already how Cusco looks like, I will tell you now only more about the surrounding and the nightlife of Cusco.
Cusco can be used as a base to visit the many ruins and historical places in its area and because you need to wait at least 3/4 days, for an official permit, between the booking and the walking of the Inca-trail, those places can be interesting to visit. However, because of a lucky time-ing I only had to wait for 2 and a halve day. These days I went rafting and to the Sunday-market and ruins of Pisac. The market was not very big, but they sold a lot of nice and different things. I also liked the ruins of Pisac and especially the surrounding and the view over the valley (Valle Sagrado).
Only I didn´t got that Idea when the bus I was sitting in, past the ruins/remaining of Tambo Machay, Puca Pucara, Qenkona and Sacsayhuaman. My idea was to get on the way back, at the first ruin, out of the bus and to walk the 8km back to Cusco, while visiting the other ruins. But after the view from the bus, I felt no need to do that.
Going out in Cusco can be different for everyone. There´s a wide selection of restaurants, bars, bar-dancing’s/cinemas, salsa bars, discotheques etc.. The only 2 things you´ve to be careful with are:
1 Being adorned by a Peruvian(a), because of your money (or perhaps you don´t mind about that) and 2 diarrhoea and stomach trouble. These diseases seem to happen to a lot of visitors of Cusco and/or the Inca-trail...
One other advice, to make the nightlife in Cusco a little cheaper, is that you´ve to walk a few times around the square before you visit a bar or club. This way you can collect some free-drink tickets from the many proppers ;-)
Monday 29-3-2004.
Today will start for me the 33 km walk of the official Inca-trail, the only tour that´s really cheaper if you book for 5 days, instead of 4!? This is because in that way, you will take on you´re way back the early train in the morning, instead of the expensive one in the afternoon.
I woke up with stomach trouble.... In spite of my usual strong stomach, it seemed the "Cusco Disease" got me to.
Today turned out to be a boring day with a lot of waiting and almost no walking. The first 6km we didn´t even walked on the real Inca-trail, because we started, for what ever reason, at km 82 (82 km on the rails from Cusco) instead of km 88? The weather was precarious, but luckily there was not much rain.
Between leaving my hostel at 7:30am and arriving at our first base-camp, Hatuncha, at 5pm, we walked not much more than 6 km in total.
Also when we arrived my stomach was totally empty, at least I hope...
Day 2.
We get up at 6am to get enough time to do the most difficult part of the trail. Today we would walk for a few hours only uphill, with a lot of steps, to climb a elevation of 1200m to an altitude of 4200m at the highest point. From there we would take a same sort of trail to go 700m down again.
I felt not sick anymore, but unfortunately two of my group members couldn`t say that. One good advice; do not party or drink to much during the trail, save that for the last day.
Today we walked on the real old Inca-trail and in spite of the still precarious weather, it still didn´t rained enough to get real wet. Luckily we also still had most of the time a nice view on the green rocky valley and the pointed rocky mountains around us. Of course the view could´ve been better, but I also believe that the clouds and a little mist, makes the trail look a little more ancient.
Today we camp in a very big campsite, divided in 15 big parts for the different tour companies. Luckily the campsite is located in a beautiful green valley with lots of trees and even some small waterfalls.
Day 3.
Today we get up at 5am, to start, after breakfast, as one of the first groups walking on the trail. The weather looks ok and it seems to become a good day which we start again with a steep climb. Halfway we visit our first small Inca-Ruin, Runkuraqay. For more and better info about the ruins on the Inca-trail, you can better read a book about the Incas, because otherwise my story will become much too big. And I also discovered that some guides have different stories about the ruins...
After we pass the highest point of today (3998m), the trail goes steep down-hill, with lots of steps, into the tropic jungle. A real change of vegetation.
We get one of our first and last little showers when we´re standing on Sayacmara, a temple to honour the water and the sun. After this shower we get some nice bright skies. Various with the mist, we see the ruins, jungle and mountains, sometimes covered by clouds and sometimes in the full sun, beautiful! Because we also started to walk early and had a good speed today, we walked a big part of the trail almost alone with only the sound of the birds and frogs in the jungle around us :-)
The only persons we often met were the porters, who almost runned past us with their heavy loads. Officially they´re now not aloud to carry more than 25kg, but some of them were still carrying 30 or perhaps even more... We heard that they even hold every year a porter-race on the official Inca-trail and that the fastest porter of last year runned (without load) the trail in less than 3 hours and 45min. A dangerous fast time with all those steep steps up and down...
When we arrived at our last base-camp, the weather had became very nice and sunny and that made me decide to try to walk also the last 6 km to Intipunku, the Sun gate and viewpoint over Machu Picchu. Officially I was already 15min. to late to just pass the gate to the last part of the trail (it closes at 14:30h) and I even had to go back through the same gate. It took me a lot of persuasiveness, but eventually I convinced the guard in my "best Spanish" that it could be cloudy and raining tomorrow. In the end he let me pass, but I had to promise to be back before 5pm.
Wow! The view from Intipunku, with the light of the late sun on Machu Picchu is very beautiful and good to take picktures :-)
This night , after dinner and the leaving ceremony for the porters, we would´ve a great dancing party, at least they told us. But there was no dance-party, perhaps to much boring people and the restaurant (dancing place) closed even already before 10pm!? So we had to make our own small party, with our own small group...
Day 4, Machu Picchu.
After less than 3 hours of sleep, they woke us up at 3:55am, yawn..............
For today, to visit Machu Picchu, we got an other, luckily better, guide.
At Intipunku, the view was less beautiful that yesterday, but as soon as we arrived at the city of Machu Picchu, the sun came all the way through and the whole tour we had great weather to take beautiful pictures of Machu Picchu and its houses and temples!
There´s a lot to tell about Machu Picchu, but again, my story will get to long if I do. The only 2 things I do want to tell you are:
First, that the real purpose of Machu Picchu is even now still a mystery. An explanation a lot of people like to believe is that it was perhaps a holiday destination for the rich Incas of Cusco. This because the weather and temp. in M.P. are better than in Cusco. I think that it should´ve been at least a positive location, because it´s build in the shape of a Condor and the Condor represented their god of heaven and future. You should be able to see this Condor shape if you climb up the steep trail and many steps of Huayana Picchu (Young Mountain), but I didn´t really recognized it.
The other important thing I want to tell you is that M.P. actually got the wrong name. Machu Picchu means only: "Old Mountain" and it should´ve been: "City on the mountain".
And at last, before I forget; Machu Picchu is build on tunnels and because of that and the many tourists who visited it during the past, Machu Picchu slowly sinks down. Therefore they rice the prices for Machu Picchu and the Inca-trail and put a limit on the amount of tourist they will aloud each day, 500. I think that another solution perhaps can be to find an other job for the porters and let everyone carry their own camping gear during the hike. I think this will bring also les tourists on the trail.
My total impression about the Inca-trail and Machu Picchu, is that I really liked it :-)
However I do want to give some comments:
A lot of people will perhaps disagree with me about this, but to me I have to say that if I compare only the site of Machu Picchu and the site of Tikal in Guatemala, I think none of them is better to visit than the other. They both have their own special charm and qualities which make them really worth to visit.
It´s the Inca-trail that makes M.P. a little more special and this trail can be booked for a lot of different prices. Starting from cheap and basic and going up to expensive and luxury. I even saw a porter carrying a toilet on his back, for the members of one of the tour companies?!
The differences in the tour can be about a lot of things, food, guide, etc. and the challenge is to find a good tour for a basic price and not the other way around...
Breaking News: I just heard that Saturday 10-4-2004, there had been big mudslides, because of a lot of rain, from the hills of Machu Picchu. This mudslides destroyed a big part of Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes) and the railroad to Machu Picchu. 11 People are missing, 6 dead and about 1500 tourists are trapped and can go nowhere out of the village!
Sorry, at this moment I don´t now more, but I hope it´s not worse and that they will find those missing people soon.
From the Inca-trail to one of the highest navigable lakes in the world, Lake Titicaca at an altitude of 3820m. Actually I had to go to Puno first, but I know nothing interesting to tell about Puno. I only went there to book a boat tour to: Islas Flotantas, Amantani and Taquile.
Isla Flotantas, or the floting Islands of the Uros people. These Islands are totally made of Totora, a special reed that grows in the shallows of Lake Titicaca and are special and famous all over the world. Because of that the inhabitants, unfortunately, have lost most of their traditional way of living. Most of them now only try to sell their handmade souvenirs to tourists. But the Islands are still unique.
Amantani, is a grey and rocky farmer-island with a nice and quiet atmosphere. It looks again a little like the Scottish and English highlands and the view from the top of the hill, on the island and Lake Titicaca is really beautiful!
We would spend the night on this island, without electricity, as a guest of one of the local families. In the evening our host took us to a party where we could learn the local dance, if we were wearing the local clothes. The party felt a little un-natural, but was still a good experience.
Next morning we said goodbye to our host family and took off to Taquile. This island looks a little similar to Amantani, but has a less tranquilo atmosphere. This island is mostly known for selling good quality of handy-crafts.
Back in Puno we heard that there´s still a roadblock on the road to the border with Bolivia. Because of this, most busses don´t go there. But there´s an alternative way to go; One of the bus companies offers a bus ride to the blockade and a continuation after the blockade. So this is what I did, walking, for a little more than an hour, with about 18 other tourists, through the blockade and the village, that almost looked like a ghost-village. Luckily the protestants were not hostile against us, but you could never be sure. They´d kicked their government and police out of their village, because they were angry with them...
We reached safely the end of the blockade, where we got another bus again to the border crossing. This went very easy.
From the border to Copacabana, known as a special place to visit in Bolivia. The place can be nice, but I didn`t really found it that special. I thought that Copacabana on Lake Titicaca, looks a little like San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Attitlan. Both are close to a nice lake, both have a few paved roads and a lot of unpaved and both atrack a lot of travellers.
Isla del Sol, according to the Inca-legend their Sun and the first Incas were born here. So I expected to see some special ruins and remaining of that. But they were not very special and you even had to be careful that you didn´t pass them without seeing! Luckily the island and the walk from the North to the South part are very nice. This island has even a few small beaches, is more dry, has less vegetation, but a lot of colourful rocks. Situated on the clear water of Lake Titicaca and with the intense sun on my head, walking on this island almost felt a little like walking on a tropic island without palm trees.
La Paz, the highest capital in the world (3632m) and I think also one of the poorest city´s I´ve seen. A description I heard a few times about La Paz, is that it´s almost one big and crowded market. I still spend to less time here to have a good opinion.
My last travel report I ended with a nice ride on a wild river. This time I want to end with my experiences on the most famous and dangerous bicycle-ride of Bolivia. They sometimes call it: "Death Road", last year there even died 2 people who went down with a bicycle...
This track is the big brother from the one I did in Ecuador. We started at 4640m on an asphalted road, but after about 20km we entered a steep and rocky dirt-road, with lots of sharp turns and often on your left side drops of 500 till 900m deep! The road is fun, the view is great, from mountains, were you can even see some condors, through some small waterfalls, down to tropical vegetation along the road :-)
And if you survive the ride down (you still have to go up by bus...), your reward is (with tour company Andes Amazon Adventure) a welcome with a swimming pool, hot showers, a great lunch and even 2 monkeys as company. How can I think of a better end :-)

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