Peru 29 Apr 2008 06:13 pm
We’ve finished the Inca Trail yesterday and this is a good time to summarize the week we’ve spent in Peru so far.
So, the trip began on April 20th with a flight to Madrid, where we spent a night in a nice hostel in the center of the city. We got a chance to see very little of Madrid in the evening and early morning before the flight to Lima. From what we saw, it’s a nice city. We’ll spend almost a full day there on the way back.
The flight to Peru was long and tiring, almost 12 hours – all during the day. We landed in Lima at 18:00 local time. Lima is a huge, noisy and smelly city. Our hostel was located in the Miraflores suburb – a much more serene community inhabited by the rich and by tourists. We’ve spent a full day at Lima – rode to the city center on the combi (local minibus which is the main form of public transport in the city) and walked around it for some time. It has some nice churches and promenades with shops, but is not very interesting overall.
On the next morning we woke up at 02:30 to catch the 05:30 flight to Cuzco. Since the flights have to cross the Andes, they only fly early in the morning, and the price goes up steeply in later flights. 05:30 is a pretty good trade off between early wakeup and price. The flight itself lasts an hour and is spectacular. We got to watch the sun rise over the mountains, and later flew between the mountains themselves – with some great views.
Cuzco is a lovely town. It has a population of 400,000, but it seems much smaller, because the houses are low, and the town is spread out in the valley. Cuzco is located on the mountain range, at 3300 meters above sea level. At this altitude the air is thin, and we both got a bit of altitude sickness (a difficulty to go up the stairs and a light headache). So it was a pretty good idea to stay here two nights before the trek to get used to the elevation.
The uncomfortable feeling passed after a day or so, maybe partly due to the local method for healing it – Coca tea. Unlike what you might think, the taste and effect of the Coca tea is the same as a regular green tea – it is not considered to be narcotic. So we are happily drinking it on a daily basis. In general, the coca here is very gimicky. They have coca leaves (to chew), coca tea, and even coca toffee and candies!
In Cuzco we took the ‘day tour’, in which we saw the town, and the major archaeological sites around.
One of the salient features of Inca history is their stone architecture. The Incas did not use cement for their important buildings. Instead, they used polished stones with many corners that fit together like a plug and a socket (or like Lego). In the next photo it is possible to see the walls of the Saqsaywaman (pronounced as: Sexy Woman ) fortress.
The construction methods of the Incas were anti-seismic. The walls are inward sloping, and the whole structure is made of many trapezoids – it is the shape of the windows, and the shape of the cross-section of the walls as well. In 1950 there was a large earthquake in this area, and many Inca buildings were discovered as the colonial churches that were built above them collapsed, while the anti-seismic Inca structures remained.
On the morning of April 25th we began the Inca Trail trek (Camino Inca) which we’ve ordered two months in advance. This is one of the most popular treks in the world, and for the high season it has to be ordered half a year in advance, because the amount of trekkers is limited to 500 a day (including porters and guides).
The porters carry the tents and all the food, so we only had to carry our clothes, sleeping bags, water and the sleeping mats the company provided. We’ve placed Anna’s sleeping mat above her backpack, which when covered with the rain cover gave it a very inflated look. It really isn’t as heavy as it looks, but it impressed a lot of trekkers along the way – especially ones who hired porters to carry their backpacks.
The Inca Trail lasts 4 days, from km. 82 in the sacred valley to Machu Pichu (40+ km total), and it is compulsory to go with a guided group which includes a guide, some porters and a cook. Our group had 6 trekkers (which, from what we saw, was quite typical) – a couple from Spain (Basques) on their honey moon, a guy from Argentina, a guy from England and us. Here’s a group photo, with our guide Simba, at the top of Dead Woman’s pass – the highest point of the trek (4215 m), which we reached in the middle of the second day after a 6-hour climb (the most difficult part of the otherwise not-so-hard trek).
The scenery during the trek is very beautiful. The landscape is dramatic – with high mountains springing all around, and huge altitude differences. In addition, there are a lot of interesting Inca ruins along the way. The climax of the trek is reached on the last day. A wakeup at 04:00 and a 2-hour walk to reach Machu Pichu as early as possible. Machu Pichu (which means old mountain in the Quechua language) is as spectacular as it looks on the postcards, speaking of which…
And the proof we were actually there:
We spent a few hours in Machu Pichu in a guided tour, and then climbed Wayna Pichu – the mountain behind it on the photo. The climb was quite difficult, but we were rewarded with excellent views from the top. This is Machu Pichu viewed from the other side:
The locals insist that Machu Pichu has the shape of a condor from this point of view, but we couldn’t see it. A toad was about as far as our imagination went.
After that we took the bus down to Aguas Calientes and from there a train back to Cuzco. Here we have the same hostel booked for two nights, after which we plan to take a bus to the Lake Titicaca region.
There are more photos in our album.