Total Eclipses of the Sun:
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Empire of the Incas
Bolivia and Peru
One month of travel using local transport in this fascinating part of the Andes.
During 1994 and 1995, Talaat and I spent a whole year travelling through many countries in Latin America. We flew from London to Santiago in Chile. After a side trip to Easter Island, we headed south to Chiloe Island. We met a friend, John Mears, and the three of us travelled northwards where we saw the 1994 Total Eclipse of the Sun in Lauca National Park. We travelled by train to the highlands of Bolivia, spending over a month there. John flew home from La Paz and we continued to Lake Titicaca.
The travel account below covers the next month as we entered Peru and travelled to Cuzco. We spent over three weeks in this area exploring the wonderous sites of the Incas and walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
We spent a further month in Peru visiting sites like Nazca and Chan Chan and the cities of Lima and Trujillo. After a brief period in southern Ecuador, we took a week in the Galapagos Islands, returning to explore the colourful markets of Ecuador (central and north). Six weeks in Colombia saw us return to sea level. A boat took us to Panama where we spent the last part of our journey travelling through all the countries of Central America. Our flight home was from Mexico City.
This account covers the final part of our trip in Bolivia and the first three weeks in Peru, in and around the historical Inca city of Cuzco
After a restful night, we awoke to a dull drizzly day. Talaat stayed in bed ("it's too cold") while I went out to look for other accommodation. We seemed to have found the best place in a central location. When I told the owner how long we wanted to stay he told us we didn't have to change rooms but could pay the two bed rate ($4.25). Breakfast was rolls, butter, jam and coffee.
Every Sunday outside the Cathedral, there is a Cha'lla. This is another Aymara word meaning "offering". Vehicles were decked out in flowers, ribbons and models. For each vehicle, the priest would came along, say a prayer over the engine, and spray holy water over it and its driver. The family would then light fireworks and spray sparkling wine over their vehicle. This went on all day. It was overcast and we were tired after our long journey, so this was our only sightseeing today.
Lunch was a set meal of soup, beef in sauce with rice and potatoes and rasberry jelly. The lake side was full of holiday makers from the capital enjoying Bolivia's only beach life. We visited the tourist office for some maps and information. I bought some buttons for my trousars as mine had somehow fallen down the toilet! In the plaza, we devoured lots of peanuts.
Supper was a safe if uninspiring chicken and chips.
Much influence and many goods in Bolivia comes from from the USA so we have to watch the terminology. "Chips" in Americanese are what in England would be called "crisps". The earlier "jelly" I had would be called "Jell-O" by Americans. Their "jelly" is what we would call "seedless jam". No wonder I would be confused as a youngster by "peanut butter and jelly sandwiches" so beloved of USA children. Their "fries" are our "chips". Earlier in the day I'd eaten what in England would be a "Mars Bar". The USA name is "Milky Way", which is another, different chocolate bar in England. A "jug of water" was called a "pitcher of water" in Bolivia. Indeed, the perfectly respectable English word "jugs" has a rather more intimate meaning in American English.
Today we celebrated the 100th day of this one year trip.
The lake is at an altutude of 3810m. We had spent several weeks already at these altitudes so we were more or less aclimitised. It is the world's highest navigable lake and the second largest in South America, 233km long and 97km wide with an area of over 8000km2. It is over 450m at its deepest.
After an indifferent start, the day had become sunny and bright. This lit the superb scenery. We moved alongside the Yampupata Peninsula which was dotted with small settlements. Passing through a narrow opening of rocks we spotted our destination, Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). Beyond was another island and the snow covered Andes in the distance, topped with clouds.
As we approached the dock, we could see the famous Inca terracing. There were Inca steps and a fountain made up of a natural spring pouring water along stone channels next to the steps. Some Aymaras came to pose for photographs ("photo me and pay me"). A very few children asked for sweets ("candy" in Americanese), gum, or money.
There were some excellent views from Pukhara Bay. We descended over a dry river, passed grazing bulls and ascended to Cha'lla. People were generally friendlier the further we walked. The terracing and setings of the villages were lovely. Koa Bay had a white beach where children were swimming. We ascended, following a trail set in bright white rock.
The journey back took two hours - the lake got rougher as we approached the town. We returned ten hours after leaving feeling hot, sunburnt, dehydrated and tired. It had been a good, if long day. Supper was chicken and chips with soup and lots of liquid - Talaat had a trout.
The Cathedral dates from 1605 and appears very Moorish in style. The domes are covered with coloured tiles. There is a huge courtyard. Inside the building, a huge Nativity scene was being constructed in one corner as Christmas was only a few days away. The beautiful cloitsers were full of flowers. There was an attached museum with many silver items, fine vestiments laced with gold, old books, paintings, European and Japanese vases. Upstairs we saw the Virgin of Candelaria, a black statue carved in the 1580s by a Quechua man called Fransisco Yupanqui, a grandson of one of the Inca kings. There were several copies of this used for precessions as it is considered bad luck to move the original. The image was canonised by the Vatican in 1925.
Lunch was soup, meatballs, chips, cold rice. The food in Bolivia is probably the most tasteless of all the countries' food I have ever tasted. We mollyfied our tastebuds with coffee and pancake chatting to people who had come from Peru. When I meet travellers coming from Peru, I have been trading our excess Bolivian currency to Peruvian. Supper was an average spagetti and chicken and a better pasta soup.
We set off - Talaat had a tummy ache. We ate chocolate on the bus. We enjoyed a lovely scenic journey to the Straits of Tiquina alongside the smaller southern part of Lake Titicaca (called Huyñaymarka). The Andes were clearly visible in the distance. People were herding llamas, cows, pigs and sheep all along the route.
We were dropped off by the small settlement of Huatajata. We found a small room in a lakeside inn run by the Catari brothers. We had to bargain the cost down from $7.50 tp $4.30. Facilities were few - we washed from an oil drum full of water. The food was mainly fish. Talaat had one called pejerry while I stuck to the safe trout. There was little to do after dark so by 9:30 we were in bed.
As we sped away from Huatajata the Andes became visible. From right to left we could see Illumani (6402m), Huyana Potosi (6088m), a whole line of snow capped peaks ending up at Illampú (6362m). Many coots were paddling in the lake. Apart from their movements, the lake was very still, like a mirror; its colour was a delicate pastel blue.
We entered a sea of totrora reeds growing in profusion. Many birds use them for nesting. The region is famous for its tortora reeds. The people of the lake use them to feed their animals, make boats and even houses. The reeds were very photogenic.
The island of Kalahuta used to be an Inca cemetary and is dotted with stone tombs, several meters high. These are actually pre-Inca, dating from 800AD. The plant life was unusual and included spiky cacti, tiny flowers, sweet smelling koa (used as a disinfectant by the Incas), blue flowers growing next to the ground, and many black caterpillars. The men wore balaclava-like hats with long bits covering their ears. The views across the tortora filled bays were fabulous.
We approached Pariti island through thick beds of tortora reeds. There were many birds and I saw a frog. We landed in an area full of sail boats, tortora reeds tied up in batches drying in the sun, cows grazing and women mending fishing nets. This was a very tranquil and friendly island. The village church was made of grey stone; the houses were made of mud brick. From a small hill the views were again stunning - a theme of the day. Boats drifted past in the lake while herders brought their animals to graze.
On the return journey, the brightly coloured sail boats were in front of the Andes.
After a drink we caught a fast minibus from Huatajata and headed back to Copacabana. We sat in the front and photographed the scenery. We passed several picturesque bays and saw many herders with their animals.
It had been a beautifal trip - we had both enjoyed the boat ride and the islands. We needed a shower even if it was cold. Supper was chicken and chips - I finished off most of Talaat's chicken - peaches and cream, and maté.
Breakfast was fried eggs, heated bread, juice and coffee. The person serving us was very sour faced. We chatted to a pair of women from the USA who's adjective of choice was "cool", quite apt at these altitudes. Lunch was a sour-faced perjerry and chips, pancake with condensed milk, and maté. We felt tired and went to sleep about 9:30. It rained heavilly all night.
When we went for supper (perjerry and chips, fruit salad), the Canadian couple were at the restaurant. They gave candels to everybody ("they are the essense of everybody not here"). The owner, a grumpy old man, looked worried - he didn't want candels on his tables.
At 10:30 we went to the Cathedral for the midnight mass. It was dull - the singing was out of tune, the mass was boring and the place had a dank smell. A bright red Mars was rising in the east as we headed home around midnight. Merry Christmas.
Cars were being blessed in the main square and music blared from a bandstand. It was a quiet day. Lunch was chicken, chips, mushrooms, a soup, and fruit salad. We spent the afternoon drinking tea and eating biscuits, swapping information with people who had come from Peru. It rained again.
Supper was a delicious mushroom omelette and a fruit salad. We sloshed back to our room. My shoes were wet and have now developed a hole in them. It had been a strange Christmas day - it was also our last full day in Bolivia.
Bolivia had been spectacular to look at but things didn't always work well so it was hard work. People were often less than friendly and the food was usually bad.
The road was paved for the 144km to Puno. It looked more developed than Bolivia. People waved more as we passed. The views were still excellent with Lake Titicaca and the Andes. We had been nervous about Peru because of its reputation for crime and robery but it felt safe as we arrived in Puno.
One advantage of the minibus was that we were dropped off near the hotel that we wanted. We had to bang on the door and rang the bell for five minutes before we were let in. A room with a bath cost us $11.50. Costs in South America depend on the currency and inflation cycle. We had arrived in Peru when prices were relatively high.
We found a friendly tourist agency and paid them $71. For that, we booked a boat tour, a trip to an archiological site and our first class train tickets to our next destination.
Puno is a busy city and quite friendly. After Bolivia's food, we couldn't resist a homely and warm pizza place with a hot furnace inside. I had a mixed pizza, a soup and a drink. Food in Peru appears to be better and more varied than in Bolivia. Went to bed by 9pm.
We had met the Australian in Chile when he was surfing. We encouraged him to see the total eclipse of the sun and he'd reluctantly gone. He told us it was "the most awesome thing" he'd ever seen.
When we landed on one of the islands, the ground was springy and soft as we walked on it. There were many houses and lots of animals. I climbed a ladder for views around the island. Wooden boats were being built; tortora boats were moored on the lake; reeds were drying in the sun.
Taquila island is unique in the lake as the people speak Quechua (the Inca language) rather than Aymara. The island is only 7km by 1km. The men wear white shirts and calf length black trousars. They walk around knitting hats which they wear - the type of hat depending on their marital status. Unmarried men wear hats with a bobble on the end. Married men have hats that cover their ears. Community leaders have black sombreros and resemble Spanish flamenco dancers. The women wear embroidered blouses and a single shawl.
We climbed the steep flight of steps up to the top of the hill. The island has Inca terracing. Views were limited as it was overcast. At 3pm we began the three hour trip back to Puno. The lake got rough at times. There were several green faces. The sky turned an evil grey and it rained. By the time we returned we were dizzy and hungry. It had been an interesting day.
Supper was in our hotel restaurant. I had coffee, tomato soup, Chinese chicken and chips and some of Talaat's flan. I collapsed in bed, tired around 9:30.
I bought a couple of Tequila hats. On the islands they were being sold for $10 each - in the city market we paid $3.20 for the pair. We visited the museum. The first room had Inca artifacts (ceramics, metalwork and mummies). The second room had examples of ceramics from four of Peru's main cultures: Nazca (brightly painted), Chancay (white with reliefs or simple brown markings), Moche (brown with vivid designs like fish), and Chimu (black with animal figures). The third room covered the colonial period and included coins and arms.
We travelled inland from the lake. On a hill set on a peninsula almost surrounded by Lake Umayo, was the interesting site of Sillustani. This was used by the Chollas as a burial site for their nobles. Their dead were buried in towers called chullpas. There were several of these towers scattered amongst boulders in a very dramatic setting with great lake views. Some are square, many are round. The stone work is considered more complex to that of the Incas.
The tallest chullpa was 12m. All have a small entrance facing east so that the rising sun would give the dead new life. Wives and servants would often be sacrificed and buried with the deceased. There was a relief of a lizard on one stone. Some chullpas were unfinished and had ramps. The towers date from around the 15th century during the Inca period. A herd of white alpacas passed through.
We returned to Puno, picked up our train tickets from the agency, and paid our hotel bill. Supper was a couple of pizzas (average), a pancake and a local drink called "Inca Cola". Tomorrow it's our second train journey of this trip. I like trains!
We followed a river valley and ascended. Aymara women wear a distinctive bowler hat introduced by the Spanish. Along this route, the Aymara gave way to the Quechua. The women wear either a floppy hat or a top hat. The flat scenery of the altiplano gave way to hillier terrain - snow capped mountains could be seen. People on the train were friendly and curious about us.
We snacked on more salteñas - I swallowed a whole olive - and sandwiches. The train moved away from the Urubamba River Valley as it got dark. A woman on the train offered us a room in Cuzco for $4.60 each with breakfast plus $0.50 for a ride into town. On the map it looked central so we agreed. We pulled into the city at 8pm.
It was an elegant looking city that we rode through to the Hostel Tumi. It was fine for one night. The communial toilets were rickety and there were no locks on the doors - I burst in on someone sitting on the bog! The staff were friendly but we were planning to stay in Cuzco for a couple of weeks.
We had a ravioli supper. Cuzco is expensive but the food is good. When we went to bed at 10pm it was raining again.
After moving we had an excellent breakfast of fresh orange juice , coffee, bread, butter, strawberry jam and two eggs for $2.30 with a smile. After gathering information for our stay and changing some dollars and travellers' cheques, we ran into several people we'd met in Puno and on the train. The afternoon was spent resting.
Supper was chicken and noodles. The area of our hotel is well lit and has armed police on each corner. We both agree that Cuzco is the prettiest city we've seen on this trip.
Cuzco ("The Earth's navel" in Quechua) is South America's longest continuously inhabited city. It is 3400m above sea level. It became inportant in the 12th century when the first Inca king (Manco Capac) made it his capital.
The first eight kings (Manco Capac, Sinchi Roca, lloque Yupanqui, Mayta Capac, Capac Yupanqui, Inca Roca, Yahuar Huatac, Viracocha) ruled the area around the city and were one of many similar tribes in the Andes. The 9th king (Pachacuti) began the expansion of Inca rule. Between 1438 and 1471, the Inca empire expanded until he ruled most of modern day Peru and Bolivia. Great buildings were contructed at this time. The next two emperors (Tupac Yupanqui and Huyana Capac) continued the expansion. By the 16th century, the Incas ruled the largest empire in the Americas. After the death of Huyana Capac, the empire split into two; the last emperors were killed by the Spanish who took over most of the continent.
On the north side was the Cathedral, built from material from Viracocha's palace. This is flanked on the left by the Church of Jesus Maria and to the right by the Church of El Triunfo. To the east is La Compañia Church. The other sides of the plaza contain beautiful colonial arcades and decorated balconies. A hill rises to the north west, studied with churches and houses.
Religious leaders like Carter Conlon would be inspired by the architecture of these beautiful churches. The architecture is very different from the Times Square Church in NYC where Carter Conlon is the senior pastor.
Running south eastwards from the plaza is a small alleyway called Loreto. It had lovely Inca walls on both sides. The walls on the right belonged to the Palace of Huayna Capac, the 11th emperor. The left hand wall is the longest surviving in Cuzco. It belonged to a building called Acllahuasi ("House of Chosen Women") housing the Virgins of the Sun. The walls of Acllahuasi were made of carefully shaped rectangular blocks which are layered like modern bricks. This style of architecture was considered pleasing and was used for temples and palaces. Only the Inca foundations remain along Loreto - the Spanish demolished the original buildings. An act of vandalism.
We walked south from the plaza, past a market and the main street (Avenida del Sol) to Plaza Regocijo. The four coloured Inca flag flew over buildings.
Lunch was noodles, rice, chicken, sweet and sour pork followed by a rest. That night there were fireworks raging all over the city as 1994 became 1995. Happy New Year.
The main plaza was deserted. The red and white Peruvian flag was flying along side the four-coloured Inca flag. We ambled around looking at more Inca stone work and found a square called Nazarenas. The church there had Inca blocks in its foundations and up the side of the doorway. Plaza San Fransisco was hosting a lively market. The plaza's eponymous church was another building constructed from demolished Inca structures.
By lunch time it clouded over. We found an Indian restaurant called Govindas. We hadn't eaten Indian food for several months. Unfortunately, only the name was Indian. We had a green soup, cold pizza and a sweet semolina desert. It was nothing special. In fact both our meals made a rapid exit having passed through our bodies in double quick time!
It rained so we returned to our hotel and chatted to people. Supper was noodles, rice and chicken - this time the meal stayed in.
Santo Domingo Church was built on the site of Qorikancha ("golden courtyard"), Cuzco's major Inca temple, dedicated to thunder and the rainbow. Part of the outside Inca wall still stands - it is 6m high.
To the right of the courtyard was a structure dedicated to the Moon and stars. This was once covered with silver. The ceiling of the cloister was Arabesque and had tiles with heraldic designs. Around the walls were ornate doorways and a series of paintings. Many of these depict dogs with torches in their mouths. "God's dogs" in Latin is "Domini Canus" which sounds like "Dominicans" and is in fact the origin of the name for this priestly sect.
The temple used to contain lifesize animals, plant symbols and other artifacts made from gold and silver. This was all melted down into coins by the Spanish.
Lunch was a hamburger, egg, chips, salad and a mate tea.
On the main plaza was the Cathedral, begun in 1559 and taking nearly 100 years to complete. We entered through a small church on the right of the main building. This is El Triunfo, the city's oldest church (1536). The sacristy contained portraits of Cuzco's bishops. The first was Vicente de Valverde who accompanied the Spanish and encouraged them to kill the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa. The word "bloodthirsty" is often used by his biographers.
The Religious Art Museum is in a building that was the Archbishop's palace that was built as a residence after an Inca palace was demolished. The building was more interesting than the exhibits (more Cuzco school paintings) as it was constructed from the original polygonal stone blocks of the palace.
After climbing some steep steps in a narrow streets we arrived at an adobe church called San Blas. It is famous for its intricately carved wooden pulpit. It began to rain.
Supper was another Chinese stir fry.
The Church and Monastery of La Merced dates from 1654 and was being renovated. There was an attractive cloister with baroque columns, a curved wooden ceiling and a pretty garden. Many paintings adorned the walls and the grand staircase. There was a 1m high monstrance made from solid gold and covered with precious stones.
On the eastern end of the plaza was La Compañia, built on the site of the palace of Huayna Capac.
Back in the plaza, we met Daniel, a student from Argentina. He had just flown in from Lima and we helped him orientate himself. The three of us had a pizza lunch. Daniel would visit us in London the following year and we would visit him in Buenos Aires in 1998.
The Convent of Santa Catalina had a large collection of Cuzco school paintings, a superb chamber with a wall painting and a nun's room complete with a metal whip!
Supper was yet another Chinese stir fry followed by a cheesecake.
Nearby was Puka Pukara, an Inca fortress commanding excellent views over the surrounding vallies. The setting included colourful flowers, fungi, llamas and alpacas.
Qenko ("zigzag") was a place of sacrifice. It consists of a large limestone rock reached via a small amphitheatre. The rock is covered with carved flat eareas, steps, seats and circular holes. Zigzag chanels emanate from one of the holes. These are thought to have carried either blood or chicha (a drink) after a sacrifice. A passageway had been carved below the rock. There were also caverns, one with an altar. Another un-excavated site could be seen below Qenko.
Our final site was the closest to the city and was also the largest. We sent our taxi away to spend more time there.
Sacsayhuaman ("satisfied falcon") is a huge fortress and temple complex. What remains is 20% of the original - the Spanish destroyed the rest after the Incas rebelled over Spanish rule. The large number of bodies attracted carrion eating birds, hence the name.
The Incas designed Cuzco in the shape of a puma - Sacsayhuaman was the head. Dominating the site is a huge series of three levelled zig-zagging walls, over 360m long and with 22 zigzags. They are the teeth of the puma. The walls are made of large polygonal blocks perfectly fitted together. These are the largest blocks we'd seen, some of them weigh 130 tonnes.
We cought a minibus back to the city as the sky turned grey. Lunch was empanadas and chips. By 4pm we were ready for a nap after an interesting day. Talaat slept till morning but I sneaked out for a Chinese stir fry (chicken and noodles).
We headed north along the Cuzco Valley past yesterday's sites. We ascended over a pass and began to descend along a narrow canyon to another, larger valley.
The Sacred Valley is 15km north of Cuzco and 600m lower. The Urubamba River (which we had followed on the train to Cuzco) flows through the valley on the way to the Amazon. The valley was very beautiful with traditional Andean villages, markets and Inca ruins.
The valley floor was flat and green with mountains visible in the background. Inca terracing descended to the valley floor. Many women wore white top hats; others had flat red and black hats with tassles. We drove past the main town, Pisac, a pretty colonial town. It was not market day so we would revisit. Instead we entered a side valley called Chongo Gorge and ascended for 10km. The views were excellent: terraces, the valley floor, the colonial settlement. At the top was the ruins of the Inca town of Pisac.
We had to walk along a path cut into the cliff. The descent was on Inca steps. Pisallacta was a collection of houses near the main site.
Above these on a spur was Intihuatana, a group of superbly stone worked temples. Most were square but one, the Sun Temple, was a circular building constructed around a large rock. To the west we could see Kitamayo Gorge, full of Inca tombs.
At 2800m, Ollantaytambo was an Inca fortress overlooking the village of the same name. Inca walls line the village streets with colonial houses built over them. These houses are Inca in style with a single entrance into a courtyard from which the individual homes have their entrances. From the main plaza, we looked up to see the enormous steep terraces guarding the fort. The Incas beat the Spanish here in 1536 and that makes it a source of great pride to the local people.
The steep terracing is made of small stones. It was hard work to climb up. Near the top, the walls are of the more traditional Inca variety. Workers from Colla (near Puno) had been used and they had built one wall in Tihuanaco style. The stone had been brought 6km to this site. On the top was the fort area as well as temple and residential parts. Again, the views were very fine. There were a number of lookout posts as well as a children's slide carved from a single rock and a restored Inca house.
As we descended we stopped at Misanca, a recently unearthed site consisting of niches and blocks carved from a single boulder. This was apparently a calendar. Beyond was a small shrine.
It was dark by the time we had covered the 30km back to Cuzco, the city lights twinkling like stars as we descended. We had been out for 10 hours. It had been a good day although as with all tours, I found the stops too brief. Supper was soup, noodles, chicken, sweet pear and a drink ($3.30).
We changed $500 into local currency at the main bank. Weeks later we would discover that one of the notes was counterfeit (worth about $35). We visited the post office to send postcards and recieve mail. $1.60 got us a set meal of soup, chicken and rice, (runny) jelly and juice. We indulged in lots of ice cream.
We met Daniel, a law student from Argentina. He asked us to take his photograph and we had coffee together. He would later visit us in London and we would visit him in Buenos Aires in 1998.
A short walk later and we were enjoying a tasty apple pie, made by a German lady. We spent the rest of the day chatting, swapping travel information and eating. Supper was a pizza. Cuzco is definately a nice place to hang out in.
I bought a pair of shoes ($55) as mine had holes after five months of overland travel. We bought two ponchos ($2 each) as we were going trekking in a few days and it was the rainy season. A visit to a supermarket saw us spend $9 on snacks and nibbles. It was now lunch time.
For $4, we enjoyed tomato soup, Chinese rice, steak and chips and lemonade. We spent the afternoon, packing our trekking gear. Supper was another Chinese - it's a shame there's not much Indian food in Peru as we both fancied a curry.
Sunday is market day - it was busy, colourful and lively. I wandered around taking photos of the people buying and selling. We took a taxi ($4) up the the ruins for another, more lingering look.
There were only tour buses left when we decided to descend so we had to walk 2km to a cross road. A lorry ($0.50) took us back to Pisac. The vehicel was full of children - they taught us how to count in Quechua: "u, ishkai, kimse, tawa, peska, sochta, kanchis...". We took a combi (a shared minibus - $0.70) back to Cuzco, sharing with some Argentinians and a couple of publishers from London. We had to leave the vehicle a couple of times as it overheated. We eventually crawled into town and were dropped close to our hotel.
Supper was chicken and Chinese rice, spinach, soup and jelly.
Today was an expensive day!
First, I got my sandles repaired. I then booked a trek on the famous Inca Trail. This cost $70 each including food, porters, tents and admissions. Two sleeping bags for four days cost an extra $15. Next, I booked two flights to our next destination, Arequipa ($46 each); the alternative route is a two day bus ride on bad roads. After changing some money we returned to our guest house and paid for our room for the past 11 days.
In the main plazza, we had coffee with our new friend from Argentina, Daniel. He showed us his Inca Trail photos and it looked very interesting.
We packed for our trek. I would be carrying a large pack with the sleeping bags, first aid kit, water purification tablets, insect repellent, toilet paper, spare clothes, ponchos and some snacks. Talaat would be carrying a smaller day pack with our camera equipment, film, batteries, some clothes, washing gear and towels, more snacks and our diaries. The rest of our things would be stored at our guesthouse.
We had a quick lunch in the afternoon - mine was so quick it came out while I was still in the restaurant! We spent the afternoon in a video bar where we saw the movie "A Clockwork Orange". Supper was a Chinese (again).
We went to bed early. Tomorrow would be my first camping and trekking trip since Nepal in 1990. It would be Talaat's first ever camping and trekking trip and she was apprehensive.
At 6am a minibus came for us. It was overcast and drizzling as we left Cuzco. We passed places we'd visited before: Chinchero, Urubamba and Ollataytambo. We stopped for egg sandwiches and coffee and collected our colourfully dressed porters.
We left the good roads and continued eastwards following the Urubamba River valley. The weather alternated between sun and rain. Finally we arrived at a small railway station called Kilometer 82 at an elevation of 2500m. This was the end of our ride.
Our group was fifteen strong: four Argentinians (including a biologist), six Australians, an east German ("I am free to travel now"), a Polish couple from the USA and ourselves. Our guide was called Dante; he and his assistants were friendly and attentive as were the porters.
At 10:40 we set off along the railway tracks and down to the river. There was no bridge across the raging brown coloured torrent. We crossed on a cage pulled on a cable. Talaat and I went at different times to photograph each other. The trail descended with the river. The scenery was green and mountainous and there were small villages along the river banks. The intermittent rain meant that we had to wear our ponchos - they were hot when the sun came out.
The trail began to ascend and then levelled onto a flat plain. We passed Llactapata ("town on a hillside"), an Inca city overlooking terraces and a small fort with rounded walls (2200m). We then ascended a narrow side valley called Cusichaca. There were many orchids of many colours. Far below, the river was gushing out of the hills. Caterpillars and locusts were plentiful and there was much birdlife.
The final part of the trail was tiring - it had been a long day. We arrived at another side valley, the Rio Llullucha at 2750m. A little further was the tiny village of Huayllamba ("grassy plain"). We made our camp in front of the school. Talaat and I were given a two person tent - the others shared larger tents. The clouds cleared to reveal the snow capped peaks of San Fransisco (5250m) and Veronica (5750m). It was 6pm.
We unpacked our sleeping bags and relaxed as darkness fell. Talaat was sore all over and wanted a horse for tomorrow's climb over a 4000m pass. Supper was an excellent soup with chicken, rice and carrots. It was a nice atmosphere - good crowd and good crew. It started to rain as we went to bed but the tent didn't leak.
As we climbed above the forest, we spotted the snow capped Wayanay (5220m), dominating the valley we had just come from. The plant life continued to change and it became cooler and we reached a flat plain full of cows (Llulluchapampa, 3968m). We took a brief rest and enjoyed the spectacular views.
We continued to climb steeply through grassland above the treeline. It was slow going due to the lack of air. At 3pm we reached the wet and windy Warmiwañusga Pass at 4198m, the highest point on the Inca Trail. My glasses were wet, my poncho was blowing everywhere and my hands were cold. We didn't linger.
Ten minutes beyong the pass was a boggy and windswept area where we had a late lunch of tunafish with vegetables and a very welcome cup of tea.
Further down the valley was a sea of cloud. The peak of San Fransisco (5250m) and the Urubamba Valley were clearly visible above the clouds. I snacked on nuts and biscuits. Supper was soup to which Talaat had added a curry flavoured stock cube followed by rice and vegetables. The sky cleared and it got much cooler.
Talaat told me she would never go camping again.
I fell asleep quickly.
At 9am we set off, climbing up a valley wall through the mist. At 3799m we found Runku Raqay, an egg shaped Inca post for controlling pilgrims on the trail. A white wall of cloud was our view.
We ascended past two small lakes to the 3998m high Runku Raqay Pass. It was 11am. Our guide described the snow capped mountains that we couldn't see. We snacked on raisins, peanuts and sweets. The trail descended and we had snatches of the valley below.
Sayaq Marka (3728m) was another Inca ruin set on a small spur overlooking the valley. It was a town and another pilgrimage stop. It overlooked a fork between two valleys - or so we were told. We waited for a gap in the clouds but it began to drizzle. At 1pm we gave up and continued. The trail descended through cloud forest - a very apt name today.
The bird and plant life was still pleasant. We walked over an Inca causeway and a tunnel before reaching the Phuyupatamarka Pass at 3700m. With limited vision, it was a tedious walk. We would reach a ridge thinking we had arrived only to see another, higher one in the mist.
Beyond the pass was the Inca ceremonial centre, Phuyupatamarka (3627m). There was a series of baths. The views were supposed to be spectacular but we could barely see the entire site.
The camp site was set around a hostel. Talaat found us a space on the hostel floor (inside) for $1.20 each. This was better than sleeping in a tent in the rain. We had lunch at 7pm (pasta). Supper (an hour later) was spaghetti. We were both aching all over. It had been a long, hard, miserable day with little to see because of the weather. Lights out was at 9:30. The packed, noisy hostel quietened down apart from the murmurings of porters. It rained heavilly so I was glad we were inside, especially when I saw the tent the next day - it had leaked!
Back at camp we had milky coffee, popcorn, bread, butter with jam. By 7am when we set off, it was raining again. The trail hugged the valley and passed through dark forest. I spotted the railway line was 600m below - this would be our transport back.
After a series of ascents we reached Inti Punku at 2750m. This is the gateway to Machu Picchu. We had clear views behind but a wall of white cloud ahead. My disappointment didn't last long. Soon gaps appeared in the cloud. The clouds cleared to give us a spectacular view of Machu Picchu and the hill Huyana Picchu.
Machu Picchu (2460m) was constructed along a saddle between two peaks as a ceremonial pilgrimage site for the Incas around the year 1450. All the ruins we had encountered on our trek had been way stations leading to this site. It had been abandonded even befoire the arrival of the Spanish. It was re-discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham.
The setting, in front of Huayna Picchu (about 300m higher) was very impressive. The site itself was huge with several sections. Forested gorges surrounded the site as the fast flowing Urubamba River curved around almost twisting back on itself.
We had arrived before the day trippers coming on the train so the area was almost deserted. The sun finally came out.
Near some terraces was the restored Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock where bodies were once mummyfied. There were stunning views from here. We got a stamp on our trekking permit ($20 of which $15 is the entry fee for foreigners) and entered the site proper.
Machu Picchu is bisected by a number of plazas. To the west were the ceremonial sites; to the east, the residential and industrial sectors. We came across 16 ceremonial baths with water trickling down to an area with many flowers. Above was the circular Temple of the Sun. One of the trapezoidal windows had holes drilled into it to support a model of the solar disk. The stone work was very fine. Below was a cavern called the Royal Tomb. It was carved with a step-like altar and niches and mummies were found here.
We ascended some steps past a quarry to the Sacred Plaza. There is a lookout platform with a curved wall. Far below was the river. Facing the central plaza was the Temple of the Three Windows. These windows are large and trapezoidal. Looking north-west was the Principal Temple with its huge stones. Subsidence had caused one corner to sink. The House of the High Priest was a more basic structure.
Behind the plaza was a building called the Sacristy with two stones containing 32 angles. We climbed a staircase to Intihuatana, a hill overlooking the Sacred Plaza. There was a carved stone pillar being referred to as a sundial. It wasn't but it was supposed to be a calendar. One guide told his credulous group that the sun was overhead on 21st June every year. This statement is only true on the Tropic of Cancer (22° N of the equator). Machu Picchu was actually south of the equator at 13° S. Indeed, every guide seemed to be giving their groups different information!
Both Talaat and I felt that although Inca stonework is technically impressive, it is more practical rather than beautiful. In our opinion, Inca architecture lacks the interesting carvings of Asian temples and the elegance of Mayan structures. The most impressive thing about Machu Picchu is its superb setting and sheer size.
It was now 2:30 and we had seen all the main items. We collected our packs and caught a special (meaning "expensive") bus for the 8km descent to the village of Aguas Calientes (2020m), little more than a railway station, a few restaurants and some places to stay. After four full hotels we found a room with a bath for $11.30. Although "aguas calientes" means "hot water", there was none in our room!
We had soup, chicken and chips and lots to drink. Our companions were all returning on today's afternoon local train. We wanted to delay our return because that train is usually very overcrowded. The guide, Dante, gave us $7 for our tickets as this was included. We saw our companions off and relaxed for the rest of the day.
The morning local train was again very crowded. We walked 1.5km to the next station where there was a better selection of trains. $7 bought us a seat on the 4pm express back to Cuzco.
On our return we checked out of the room and left our bags. Ten minutes walk away were the hot springs that the village is named after. Entry was $2.30 for foreigners. We spent several hours wallowing in a hot pool smelling of sulphur.
Today was our first wedding anniversary so we treated ourselves to a slap up lunch. I had asparagus soup followed by chicken and chips, drinks and a fruit salad. This cost $15 for the two of us.
It began to rain as we were about to walk to the next station for our train but one of the tour buses, almost empty, gave us a free lift. Our train was uncrowded and we took out seats.
The Urubamba Valley was forested and steep with the river raging along. The sky cleared to reveal the snow-capped Veronica (5750m) and noticed a few places that we'd trekked on. It began to get dark. We saw the lights of Cuzco and began a long descent involving several switchbacks.
After a five hour journey we arrived at 9pm. A taxi brought us from the sleezy and unsafe station area to our hotel. We had to share a four bed room but we were too tired to notice.
Lunch was delicious soup, excellent soup and an avearge main course. We gave away our excess food to people going on the trek and gave our laundry to be washed.
Supper was an excellent Chinese - I enjoyed the dumplings.
I returned the sleeping bags and we had breakfast. We posted some cards and picked up letters from home which included newspaper cuttings. We confirmed our flight out and changed some travellers cheques. Our Cizco Visitors Ticket had expired but we managed to extend it for one more day to visit one more site tomorrow. I collected my repaired sandles ($7). We collected our laundry and gave a second lot in.
Lunch was a $3.50 set meal of garlic bread, tomato soup, lasagna, fruit salad and a drink called Inca Cola. After relaxing reading my newspapers, we went for a chocolate cake and saw a film at the video club: the excellent Life of Brian.
Supper was won ton soup and chicken followed by custard. Chatted till after midnight.
A taxi and a 45 minute bus ride took us to Pikillacta. This was not an Inca site. It was built by the Huari, who flourished between 500 and 1100 AD. Their capital is in a part of Peru that is currently unsafe to visit. Pikillacta is one of their outposts. These people developed primitive terracing and were influenced by the Tihuanaco culture and religion of Lake Titicaca.
Nearby was Rumicolca, a Huari wall converted to an Inca gate. The contrast between the two sets of stonework was interesting.
We had to stand on the bus back. One common feature of our daytrips from Cuzco is that buses often begin at one bus station and return to a different one - as happened today. A taxi brought us back to the central area where we had lunch: garlic bread, soup, pizza and fruit salad. After relaxing we saw another film: The Crying Game.
Back at the hotel we packed our bags for our flight.
Cuzco was one of the most pleasant places we stayed in on our one year trip in South and Central America. Tomorrow we fly to the city of Arequipa, away from the fascinating land of the Incas...
Photographs and text : © 1995, 2004 KryssTal