From La Paz, Bolivia, into Peru and hiking up the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
12.03.2012 - 23.03.2012 12 °C
Our overnight bus was relatively comfortable. Although it had stopped every four hours, as they do for toilet breaks, it's broken sleep at best. We pulled into the bus station in La Paz at 6am, so it said on one of the big digital clocks outside. You know the ones, like they have in the Mediterranean to let you know that your tourist spending is worth it because its hotter than England. This one said 0 degrees.
As previously mentioned in these scribbles, we have been using the 'Rough Guide to S.America On A Budget' as our bible. At the end of each accommodation section there is a 'splurge' option, which we've found still very reasonably priced (usually around US$35 for a double room with en suite) and much better than other budget rooms. Our place in La Paz was one of these and it's was lovely, as was the restaurant downstairs.
We were extremely tired travellers at this stage, after roughing it through Bolivia for a couple of weeks. Our plan was to crack on and get to Cusco as quick as possible as we'd heard it was a very nice city. We decided to only spent one night in La Paz, the highest capital city in the world, and the one thing we did of note was to wander through the witchcraft market. It's a bit strange when you see dried Alpaca foetuses hanging in the street!
The following day we caught an afternoon bus for the four hour journey to Copacabana, a small village on the shore of Lake Titicaca. Our bus was separated from us as it crossed the lake by barge and we went by speedboat.
We 'splurged' again and for US$28 got a great room looking over the bay.
For dinner we enjoyed a very tasty Lake Titicaca trout fondu. We got up early and caught a tour boat across the lake to Isla Luna. It took an hour to walk up and over the island, passed a small Inca ruins site.
Then we were back on the boat and over to the Inca pilgrimage Isla Del Sol. Our final stop in the tour was a floating village entirely made of reeds. We got back to Copacabana, ordered a take away pizza and hopped straight onto another overnight bus bound for Cusco.
Our bus took us through the border and into Peru. This was a very smooth border crossing; we jumped off the bus, checked out of Bolivia, walked a couple of hundred metres down the road, checked into Peru, did a quick shady currency exchange and got back on the bus. We had to change bus at Puno in the middle of the night and the connecting bus was annoyingly delayed. When it did turn up the bus was full cama, with seats like flying business class, awesome!
Getting into Cusco at 5am there was nothing else we could do except go to our hostel, which was only booked for the following night. The Che Lagarto hostel made us pay for the extra night as we checked in when it was still dark - I hate it when they do that, if it's 5am and the rooms empty you can assume that you've not got a paying customer that night, so just let us check in super early for the following day please, we're staying in a hostel as these are lodgings that are supposed to sympathise with travellers potentially arriving at any hour. Anyone reading this, US$40 is well over priced for the double room here and, further, the owner tried (unsuccessfully) to stitch us on the exchange rate.
We got a couple of hours more kip and set off to find a better place to stay. As our Inca trail didn't start until 4 days later, for the first time in five weeks we were going to stay in one place for longer than 2 nights. Thus, we wanted to find a nice place to relax for a while, especially as the Inca Trail was going to be a tough few days. There are lots of hotels in Cusco, catering for the massive tourist interest in Machu Picchu. But it was low season and most of the hotels had discounted their rates. We went into the top 20 on trip adviser, checked the rooms, what was included and negotiated their best rate. In the end we managed to check into the Royal Inka hotel, in the centre of town, for 60% off their low season rate. The best wifi we'd used for ages, a huge comfy bed and hot water shower with proper pressure, it felt amazing to treat ourselves with a real hotel, all for an extra twenty bucks a night!
For the next few days we wandered around the pretty city of Cusco.
It is quite possibly the most beautiful city we've ever visited, it looks like the set of a Shakespeare play.
We stopped for coffee at lovely little cafe's, shamelessly had steak and kidney pie at a British bar, had the worlds most expensive can of Guinness in the worlds highest Irish bar, bought extra clothes for our trek, bought Alpaca wool hats for our nieces and watched a season of downloaded 'Outnumbered' in our nice warm hotel room.
We needed to recharge and this was the perfect place to do it, a beautiful, relatively safe city with shops, cafe's, bars and restaurants. This city was the heart of the once great Inca civilisation, to us it was just nice to be back in a bit of civilisation.
We stopped by the office of the company who would be arranging our Inca Trail and chatted about the route. They arranged to meet us the night prior to leaving to introduce our guide and a give full briefing. They didn't show up for that meeting though and we were left wandering what to expect...
The Inca Trail:
Day 1; Up at 5am to enjoy getting a shower and feeling clean for the last time in a few days. We had breakfast and put our bags in storage at the hotel. Then we waited to see if our guide would turn up after the no-show last night. He did and we got in a bus that took us 1.5hrs to the start of the trail. We started the trail at 09:30 and ambled along.
We stopped for a bit at our first Inca site, an ancient city control point. The trail was a little up hill but not too hard and the sun was out. We had lunch after a 4km trek, it was a three course meal! After lunch we did an easy 6km trek and the sun stayed out as we walked into camp for our first night. We lay out in the sun and did some stretches, before afternoon tea. Except we didn't know it was afternoon tea, we thought it was dinner. We had ham sandwiches and crackers, normally fine after a three course lunch. Half an hour after we'd filled our boots, a three course dinner was served! Our tents were big enough and we had a 'lounge' tent with a camping table for meal times, daily briefings etc. Our team consisted of a chef, four porters, a guide and two fellow trekkers.
Day 2: We slept ok and were woken up for coca tea at 5am. Had breakfast and started the climb up to our highest pass at 4,200m. Our team mates had a rough night with the altitude, but we took an easy pace and all made it to the top. We felt good; it was certainly challenging, but we were acclimatised and fit enough.
The trek was 12km and it was mostly sunny, only starting to lightly rain at the end. We arrived into camp at 2pm and had lunch and a siesta. Our camp was a beautiful setting in a valley next to a river at 3,600metres above sea level. Dinner was another three course meal and it started to rain so we headed off for an early night.
Day 3: We were woken early again at 05:30am. Had breakfast, left camp at 7am with a long day in prospect. We started up hill for a couple of hours before reaching the peak for the day. We had a snack at another Inca site and learnt about the history of the Inca empire.
Lunch was a further 3km on at 11:30am. Most of the afternoon was down steps, passing another couple of Inca sites, to our camp at 2,600m.
It was a 17km hike and we arrived at camp just after 4pm, so it's a long third day. There was a cold shower on offer, but we opted to stay smelly for one more day and look forward to the hot springs tomorrow afternoon.
We are expected to be up at 3am tomorrow morning and there's no tolerance as the porters have to catch an early train. Big day as we head off for a 2hr trek to Machu Picchu. The Inca site names are too hard to remember, but we won't forget Machu Picchu! Must also remember 'Chocoquito' which our guide said is the next Machu Picchu, another mountain city currently mostly hidden beneath hundreds of years of forest growth.
Day 4: Got up at 3am and walked to the security gate, we were the second group in the queue. Mel and I killed some cold time watching 'Outnumbered' on the iPad! At 05:30am we were let through and began the 90min hike to the Sun Gate. I pulled the group along hiking a bit faster than perhaps they wanted to go, but when we got to the steps of the Sun Gates, Mel and I walked through together for our first view of Machu Picchu, it was stunning. The morning mist cleared and we saw a sunbathed Machu Picchu sitting in the mountains.
We took in the view, took our photos and continued on just as the clouds rolled in, as did the rest of the hikers. It's another 30mins hike down to Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate, where we then had a two hour tour of the city. The achievement of completing the Inca Trail and the sight of Macchu Picchu was amazing, every bit as good as everyone says it is. A moment to remember forever.
We left to climb up Huayna Picchu at 11am just as Machu Picchu started to get busy with day trippers. The climb was steep with many steps and took an hour to get to the top, but the view over Macchu Picchu is amazing. It's impossible to work out how they built this up here 600 years ago, bricks are inexplicably holding on to the vertical side of the mountain. It was quite vertigo inducing being up there, so we climbed down and went for a well deserved burger in the cafe (no rice today!).
Afterwards we got the bus down to Aguas Caliantes, to soak the sweat off in the thermal baths (sorry fellow bath wallowers) our first cleansing bath/shower for four days. A 2hr train ride at 18:45 took us back to a town where we met another transfer bus. A further 1.5hrs later we were back in beautiful Cusco. Starting at 3am and getting to the hotel at 11pm, it's a long last day but another ambition has been fulfilled. We splurged on a room at the Best Western hotel to recover.