Early mornings and too much walking

June 17, 2009 - Cusco, Peru

Hello again,

Welcome to another instalment from a very tired me. The last 7/8 days have been very busy with lots of early starts. After my last report, we had a full day to explore the town of Arequipa, one of the most beautiful places I've visited on my travels.  After an initial wander round our first point of call was the Santa Catalina Convent where for many years hundreds of nuns lived in confinement from the rest of the city. In a time when large numbers of children were the norm for many families, it was local tradition for the eldest daughter to receive the family wealth, the second daughter would become a nun and the third would stay at home to look after her parents. However, being at the convent was not cheap; the equivalent of $50,000 in today's money. The nuns were tended to by servants who were permitted to leave the convent once a month to visit the city, whereas the nuns were never permitted to leave. In 1970, the convent underwent a change in regulation; becoming a nun was now voluntary and free, and they were allowed into the city more. The convent was also opened to the public.

In the afternoon we visited what is known as the Juanita musuem. The museum is devoted to an expedition in the 1990s to the top of one of the local mountains, where they found a body of a young girl frozen in the ice. Named Juanita by the explorers, it was calculated that she was between 12-14 years old and was sacrificed on top of the mountain after a gruelling 2 month march from the capital. Chosen from a young age, these children were sacrificed to appease the Gods of the mountains, then bound and buried in the snow and ice to be found 500 years later. The museum gave a video presentation of the expedition and interpretation of the findings, as well as a display of the artefacts and the mummified body of Juanita herself.

That evening we had an early night for the alarm clocks were due to go off at 2.30am. At 3am on the dot we were all in the truck and leaving the hotel for a very cold 5 hour drive to Colca Canyon; the deepest in the world at 1,200m. The reason for the early start was we hoped to see the rare Andean Condor. With a wingspan of up to 4 metres and standing up to 5 feet high, the condor is the largest flying bird in the world, and incredibly scarce with only 700 left in Peru. However, driving along with ice on the inside of the windows after only 3 hours sleep this did not seem a sufficient reason. The trip was made more bearable after a short stop for some coca tea; made from coca leaves which can be processed to make cocaine, although the hot beverage version is legal (in Peru anyway, not the UK) and does wonders for altitude sickness. We arrived at the canyon around 8.30am and were lucky enough to see half a dozen of these amazing birds soaring up from the gorge on the morning thermals, as well as being treated to some spectacular scenery. After a brief lunch stop we headed onto Chivay, which would be our stop for the evening. I would love to tell you something about the town but unfortunately the minimal sleep the night before and complete lack of sleep on the drive meant a nap was very much needed while a few of the group headed out to the local hot springs. That evening we dined on the local Peruvian delicacies of guinea pig and alpaca (kind of a small llama) and prepared for a very long drive day.

12 hours on the truck later and we arrived in Cuzco, the oldest continually inhabited city in South America and the capital of the old Incan Empire. Here we had a full day in preparation for hiking the Inca trail; stocking up on hats, gloves and energy food and drink. The next day was a full day exploring all the local Incan ruins, the first stop being Sacsayhuaman (sak-say-wa-man, or Sexy Woman to make it easier) on a hill just outside of Cuzco. From there we visited a small local animal sanctuary with llamas, condors, parrots and other Peruvian wildlife before continuing to Pisac, which was a series of ruins with a short hike round that was to be our training for the Inca trail. After a short visit to the craft market nearby we drove down to Ollytantambo (oi-ee-tan-tambo) where we spent our final night in comfort before heading off to the start of the trail. At 7am the next morning, we were kitted out with all the determination and resolve we needed and headed to the control point which marked the start of the Inca Trail. The first day was relatively straightforward with flattish terrain and we all settled into our own comfortable paces - mine being very slow and at the rear of the group. The second day was very very tough; we were roused at 5.30am and on the path at 7am for a 6km uphill slog to Dead Woman's Pass; a gap in the mountains 4215 metres above sea level. A combination of thin air, uphill walking and general unfit condition meant it took me 4 gruelling hours to reach the top, from which it was 3km downhill to our second campsite, where we finished the days hiking at lunch to allow sufficient rest for the following day, which comprised of 14.5km hiking finally ending in a campsite with a bar, proper toilets and a shower.  We then settled down for a final night of camping ready to be up at 3.30am ready to tackle the final few kilometres to Sun Gate, a plateau of rock overlooking Machu Picchu; the finest and best preserved Incan ruins around. The rest of the morning we spent exploring the breathtaking site, discovered by accident by the American explorer Hiram Bingham while searching for another set of ruins. We then took a train from the nearby town of Aguas Calientes (Spanish for "Hot Water") back to Ollytantambo and finally a bus to Cuzco where I indulged myself in a hot shower and a clean change of clothes before dinner and retiring to bed extremely tired and aching but pleased with having completed the 44km trail.

This morning I finally hauled myself out of bed summoned by the call of a fried breakfast and pancakes before spending a little time to explore Cuzco. We have one more free day in this very lively city before hopefully heading on to Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca. However, when we got back from the trail we found out that there have been serious strikes and protests in that region, so we may well have to take an alternative route. But whatever the outcome, I'm afraid you must wait with baited breath for our time together is overly temporarily. The final installment of my adventures should be with you next week before I arrive back in the UK on the 26th. Until then, much love to everyone, and farewell.


June 18, 2009
Well done you, perhaps you should have gone into training before undertaking such strenuous activity! Playing in a darts team was not the training you needed obviously. With all these early starts I can see you taking to your bed for a week when you get home. Great writing though. Looking forward to seeing you next week. Lots of love xxxx
Auntie Karen:
June 18, 2009
I suggest a full week of working with me, up and down ladders and crawling around the floor. It does wonders for the thigh muscles.
June 20, 2009
you jammy git. i cant believe you have seen the ruins of machu pichu.. that is amazing... i will look forward to those pics. and you will be back in the uk before me! i am just on my way to turkey at the mo (well airport) and wont be back til the 28th. so you will be recieving a messagw from me then!!! take care jon, i'll try find you something cool in turkey!! x
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