Poll Star's Wonderings

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Yes, that is a wonder

To Cuzco
We're spending just the one night back in Arequipa; there's a massive parade and festival on, but I doubt we'll be getting too involved as we're getting up at 4 to catch a flight to Cuzco, which is essentially our base either side of Machu Picchu. Everyone else is going on the Inca Trail, because they were keen and booked at birth. I'm going on the Lares trek instead with Julio, who's doing it as part of his guide training; I have mixed feelings about missing out and getting a break from the whole group thing.

After possibly the finest veggie sandwich on earth, Brett and I left the ladies to do something called shopping, while we headed for the cathedral. It was shut as a navy band was at work out front, so we got a cab to destination no 2 the Monasterio de la Recoleta. It was shut-the Lonely Planet omitting to mention they shut for 3 hours at lunch each day. So we found an internet café, where I did the last post. Brett got the last machine in the front, so I was shown out back. This is where you get a PC next to the guy watching hard core porn. Lovely. Especially when the first thing I had to do was bend down to his ankle level to plug in my 2 USBs.

We rolled back to the Recoleta just after opening time and 10 mins later we were in. Brett and I reckon this is the best museum so far. It had 4 courtyards, one filled with cacti, so it was compact yet managed a great array of stuff. We saw tribal stuff, religious artifacts, religious painting, pottery, porno pottery, dead people, toys, stuffed animals, textiles and the library.

And one of Laura's relatives was there

You got a bit of everything and mounds of nothing.

The fiesta has closed some one way streets, so the taxi went the wrong way down one way streets as we headed back to meet the girls. We found chocolate and cash, packed, had an early and spent a strange hour at the fiesta. The highlight was definitely the spray paint artist who created something rather good in under 10 mins, then got the crowd to play bingo with the painting as prize. I was in bed by half 9 and asleep by 10.

We got a bonus when we arrived at the airport and were told our flight was direct and about an hour and a half quicker than expected. It's quite parky here in Cuzco, so I'll be getting more clothes than just the happy pants I'd already planned on buying to replace the trousers I ripped in the jungle. I expect all my shopping to fit into Swiss Toni's 'ethnic shit' category.

We were at the hotel just after 7, where a cup of coca tea proved sufficiently reviving to propel us out into town to drop off washing and have a bit of an explore. We had the quickest peek in the cathedral on the Plaza des Armas-it was only really open for those wanting a bit of a pray.

So, onto Qorikancha, where an Inca site forms the base of the colonial Santa Domingo Church. There's some nice art for a change, but we're blown away by the Inca stonemasonry. It's not decorative, but the size and quality of the blocks that they've carved out are amazing. This is no rubble wall, but a construction made from massive, regular blocks, fitted together seamlessly without mortar; much of it has stood for over 500 years, although the Spanish used a lot as building materials.

Another bizarre highlight was the German tour group, who were apparently being accompanied by their very own Inca. Clearly Peruvian and in full local dress, he accompanied the group and their guide without saying a word. It seems they had bought an authentic Cuzco tour with real live Inca. Wunderbar. Failing to get a photo shows I must be tired.

Laura gave me a lot of patient shopping help, so there's a fair chance I won't now freeze to death. However, the main talking point of the shopping trip was something we didn't buy.

We'd spotted a llama in Arequipa and had been sorely tempted to buy it for where's wally type photos. The seeming impracticality of the idea had stopped us. This time we gave it more thought and found a single stumbling block-Machu Picchu. We felt that without Machu Picchu there'd be little point in having a llama, but a solution presented itself. Vanessa isn't trekking, she's getting the train to Machu Picchu. So if we could persuade Vanessa to take the llama on the train, then the llama would be ours. Hence the photo above: Brett is displaying the joy of llama ownership, while Lor shows the empty despairing misery of denial. We're confident we can melt Vanessa with this and an almost deranged level of enthusiasm.

It worked.

So we're getting ready to go out; Brett and I are laughing at our room as we discover the fusebox is by the shower and the window casement in the bathroom isn't attached. Then I'm shouting that the mirror's wobbling. Brett's thinking that the bed is shaking. Then Iz is knocking on our door, asking why we're not standing in the doorway. Penny drops. Earthquake. Freaky, especially when so tired, but not scary, tho we are wondering if it was a small local quake, or if we're feeling something more substantial from further afield. Cuzco is not normally an earthquake area.

About 30 mins after I wrote the above, I suggested we check the breaking news on the BBC website. At that point it mentioned Lima and a 7.5 quake. Julio and Vanessa both have family in Lima, so were very concerned and did a frantic tour of the web and mobiles. Happily for them, the news was good; tragically it wasn't for so many others.

Next day, as I walked through the main square, the Cuzco flag was at half mast. Sobering to think that we were around Pisco, Nazca and Ica in the last 7 days-towns where hundreds now lie dead. I toured the cathedral, from which I'd expected more. I've found the churches/cathedrals rather samey. For the most part, they've been architecturally uninteresting and without stained glass. The effort is focussed on the decorative side, which is the bizarre mix of the gaudy and the sentimental; the extensive use of gold and the worship of dolls. Still, it's worth visiting anywhere with a painting of Jesus and the disciples tucking into a Last Supper of roasted guinea pig.

Lorna, Lor, Brett and I are proud new parents. For just over 10 quid we took possession of Lionel the llama; we also got Penny thrown in, who's coming with me on the Lares trek and is small enough to sit on my hand.

The number of smiles we got just taking Lionel home proved to me he'll make the world a happier place. It's unclear from now on if any photos can be taken without Lionel. Although no one else seems to want to share in Lionel's parenting, the rest of the group has shown enthusiasm and changed the plan. Unlike me, Lionel will travel the Inca trail. Tests proved he can be successfully strapped to a day pack.

Facebook, visits to all 7 wonders, a website and an ongoing global roving role are among the plans for Lionel.

Sacred Valley
A day of Inca ruins and markets as we transfer to Ollantaytambo to start the treks. At this stage I'm pretty much over markets, but the Inca side was great. Having said that, I've written so much of late that I'm going to let the photos do the talking.



Lares trek
We were all due to leave at 8, but my bus was late. I made some rather awkward au revoirs with some of the others, then met Sarah and Tiffany, who were in a similar position with the rest of their group heading off to Inca.

Julio is taking great pleasure in telling me how gay my stuff is. Admittedly I chose the only purple duffle bag for the trek, got a purple poncho and am wearing a purple shirt. He was overjoyed when he saw my purple maglite.

'Look how much bigger your day pack is, and I'm a gay.' it's hard to argue with that.

I'm not going to go into it here, but I've been rather out of sorts the last few days. I've been flat, felt disconnected, unsure of myself and irritable. Alright, more irritable than usual. Can't remember the last time I said something funny. Hopefully some time more on my own will give me a kick in the arse. I'm thinking about being rather insular and anti-social on the trek, tho the odds are I won't manage it.

Today we cross one pass: we start at 3,700m, cross the pass at 4,250m and finish at the campsite at 3,950m. I think it's a fairly short day-we start walking about 1 after a stop to buy toys for the kids we'll see on the way.

We are very well looked after-there are 10 guides, cooks, waiter and horsemen for the 9 of us. At least they use horses to help here-the other 14 have 22 looking after them on the Inca. In fact, it's kinda embarassing. We set off while they're packing stuff and loading the horses; carrying just day packs, we are soon passed by the laden porters and horses; after an hour and a bit of huffing and puffing, we arrive at the lagoon, where a kitchen tent has been erected, a dining tent (complete with table and chairs), a toilet tent and a hot lunch prepared-each of us is provided with an individual bowl of hot water to wash our hands before eating; we set off again, leaving the guys to clean and pack up; again we are soon passed; when we finally roll into the evening campsite, it's the same scenario as lunch, but all our sleeping tents have been put up for us-they're collapsed and put away the next morning. Did I ever mention I don't like being fussed over? It's all amazing, but a part of me would like to carry a packed lunch, eat it sat on a rock, put my own tent up and piss in a bush. They must think we're bloody pampered and useless.

Julio has told me he hates me-if it wasn't for me, he wouldn't have been on the trek and I think that would have been his preferred option.

It was a good day, but due to the late start it was as good as dark when we reached camp. My fleece was quite damp from the mist that had envelopped us throughout the trek. We'd been to some great looking spots, but the views were all in our imaginations as the visibility was really low.

It cleared at some point later- when I had to brave the great outdoors at 3 a.m I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the night's stars, framed by the ridges and mountains that surround us.

Day 2
So this is where we camped

always strange to be somewhere for 12 hours before you see it.

As we clambered up out of the valley the mist was both rising and rolling towards us.

A mixture of luck and the desire to see the views we were denied yesterday kept us ahead of the cloud. From where I'm sat, memorable passages waxing lyrically on natural beauty haven't been a feature of this blog. So here are some photos of what we walked through.

Each morning we receive a bag of goodies-today was a muesli bar, sublime (top local chocolate), apple and juicce. Naturally we couldn't go till lunch without a snack stop in a scenic location

Cheese sandwich and biscuits more than kept me happy. From there it wasn't much further to the high point at 4,780 (a climb of 830m for the day)

Sadly while I was clambering about looking for good photo rocks, Tiffany got some pretty bad altitude sickness, which she's still suffering from 24 hours later. The descent back to 3,900 wasn't so physically demanding, but needed a lot of concentration. I managed to catch her once, but she had a nasty fall as well.

Originally I was worried about the Inca trail; physically this is meant to be more demanding, but I really feel I've quite a lot left-we may have started walking at 7.10 this morning, but I was done at 2.15 and there was more in the tank. Climbing 3 volcanoes in Ecuador probably helped a lot. Here's home for the night

I feel a bit bad that none of us joined the crew for the game of football. I watched for a bit-with 6 North Americans, Julio, Sarah and I, I reckon we'd have cramped their style.

Day 3
Today's itinerary-3 hours walking downhill, then bus to Ollantaytambo to catch the train to Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu town). Then tomorrow early bus to Machu Picchu itself.

We got a lie in this morning-all things are relative, so we got up at 6.30. I was in charge of the tips, so had to do a fair bit of maths over breakfast. When we set off, I felt it had a very LOTR feel-specifically when they're working their way through the woods along the river at the end of the Fellowship. Although the river was small, that's basically what we were doing.

Somehow I managed to lose the group:

we were a little stretched out as people's pace varied, but there were 4 and a bit in front of me when I lost control on a steep bit and hared off away from Victoria and Tiffany. I couldn't see very far ahead as the path twisted through the trees and kept thinking the others must be just round the next corner. When I caught up with the porters, I realised something was a bit odd. When I waited at the bus for half an hour before the others turned up I realised I'd found a short cut without noticing a fork in the path. Could have been fun.

I deserve kicking for saying this, but overall I found it a touch lightweight. Yesterday's tough 8/9 hour day wasn't easy, but we took 7 hours between camps, walking 4 hours. It did take its toll on some of the others, so I should probably just accept that, despite my Denver experiences, I'm genetically well disposed to altitude and shut up. I'm glad I did it and loved that the only evidence of other tourists we saw were some empty tents on day 2 and 3 or 4 puffed trekkers today.

The Picchu
It's 8.30 pm. I'm sat on the train to take us back to Cuzco. Julio and I talked till past midnight last night. The alarm went off at 4.30. We caught the first bus at 5.30. Met the Inca Trail posse at 6.30. So I am a little weary.

Can I find the words for one of the new 7 wonders?

Not really.

And I'm not sure it matters. Machu Picchu is so familiar that my spin on it would be redundant. It was spectacular, special and singular. The chaotic nature of the day and my tiredness probably meant I didn't feel the magic and the spiritual connection of Uluru, Rapa Nui, the Opera House or Milford Sound. A disappointment it most certainly was not; it was well worth it.

So instead of a history lesson, this was my day.

It was great to see Lor, Lorna and Brett again. I'd really missed them, guess I probably should tell them. My one regret of the day was not getting a photo of them at the Sun Gate. There are those who would think my trip to the Sun Gate pointless; I think it was the best decision I made in a while. Vanessa, Julio and I pottered up the stairs and got an early look at a misty Machu Picchu.

I then had the option of hiking to the Sun Gate, where the Inca Trail ends or waiting for the rest to come down to me. As the others had a 2 hour hike to the Sun Gate, going to them seemed the right thing to do. I'm not sure Julio wholly agreed. It was tough going-warm and quite substantially uphill. Towards the end the hikers arriving held us up as they moved against us. I could make out figures on the Sun Gate, but didn't know until the shouting and screaming started. Closest to me, sat together on a wall, the first faces I made out belonged to the 3 Amigos. That's the photo I should have got. We managed a Machu team photo all the same

The guys' Inca guide gave us a tour of the site, but it didn't feel right. This was a time for being here, not a lecture. Breaking away, we found this spot

Despite the weight of tourists, there seemed to be plenty of spots that felt secret.

All that remained was to hike Waynapicchu-the decent sized peak behind the site.

The altitude's nowt-2,600 and change, but this was difficult. It's quite a rise, steep in parts (handrail needed), scary in parts (when you remember you're scared of heights) and includes a bit where you take off your daypack and basically crawl through a fissure in the rock. If you do it in sandals, there's a fair chance of feet looking like they belong to someone of different ethnic origin. But it's all about the photo ops and you should be beaten up to get these views.

In conclusion? Machu Picchu-I have nothing clever or insightful to say.


  • sounds brilliant, although you do sound a touch downbeat about the whole thing, if you don't mind me saying. Travelling fatigue or just a bad day?

    One thing though:

    "Brett and I left the ladies to do something called shopping, while we headed for the cathedral"

    What were you doing in the ladies?

    And am I the only person in the world who doesn't get facebook? If you're talking about making a llama a page, then it must really have jumped the shark.


    By Blogger swisslet, at 7:43 AM  

  • oh, and good to know that you're not dead too.

    By Blogger swisslet, at 7:43 AM  

  • Hey John,

    Can't remember how much longer you're due to be on the road, but we're looking forward to your return! Excellent work with the Llama. I assume that once it gets to Machu Pichu it will be recording a suitable cameo entry for Stat Jon's blog.

    Reading the blog brings back some very fine memories of my much briefer trip to Ecuadar a few years back (and less good memories of some of the dodgy internet cafe's but nothing quite as horrific as the special PC in the back!). Still very jealous of the amazing time your having.

    Tim F.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:02 PM  

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