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30th June 2010
The first day of the Inca Trail was relatively easy compared to what was to come. The only problem was waddling away after chef Alberto´s 3 course, 5 star lunch. It was obvious that Katie had made the right decision choosing the trekking company Llama Path.
Our guide Santiago, was a wealth of knowledge about the Inca and the various sites we passed on the trail as well as the flora and fauna. He made the stories come alive. ¨The Red Army¨, 9 porters together with the chef all dressed in red, carried our supplies. Each day when we arrived into camp, we were greeted with applause, even though we should have been applauding them for their effort. In the morning we were woken up with a cup of coca tea in our tents and hot water for a wash.
The second day was a slow trudge up and over Dead Woman´s Pass at 4215 metres, no easy feat, followed by 800 metres of descent. On day 3 we crossed a lower pass at 4000 metres with more Inca sites, walking on original Inca road. The trail passes through cloud forest and higher up, open grassland. Many wild flowers and orchids can be seen as well as bromeliads and tillandsias. The stunning views of the surrounding mountains got better and better. Although 500 people per day are allowed on the trail (200 trekkers and 300 porters and guides), most of the time we had the path to ourselves.
On day 4 we passed more Inca sites. Stone water fountains are still running after 500 years. Stone terraces rise steeply up the mountainside. On reaching the Sun Gate, we had our first glimpse of Machu Picchu, the magnificant Inca city beneath the Huayna Picchu mountain. We had made it!
28th June 2010
Cusco, founded around 1100AD, was the capital and spiritual centre of the Inca Empire until the Spanish arrived in 1532.
Today Cusco contains a beautiful mix of Inca and Spanish architecture. As we were walking the Inca Trail we missed the annual Inti Raymi Festival (Festival of the Sun) in Cusco but were lucky enough to watch the dress rehersal a few days before without the crowds. Apart from being a lovely place to stay, Los Niños Hotel uses the profit to feed and care for some 600 street children in Cusco.
The fertile Urubamba River Valley or Sacred Valley close to Cusco has colourful markets and many Inca ruins.
21st June 2010
Our bus from Copacabana to Puno was cancelled due to a road blockage in Peru. To make matters worse, the electricity went off for the rest of the day. The only restaurant in town serving dinner by candlelight was called ¨Welcome to Puno¨, but we were still in Copacabana. Luckily we were able to get to Puno the next day to make our train.
Just off Puno are the 40 floating reed islands of Uros where 2000 people live. We had just enough time for an evening visit, returning to Puno after dark, the city lights reflecting across the calm water. A fine Peruvian wine complemented our Alpaca steak and puree de papa dinner.
From Puno to Cusco, we crossed the Altiplano in the Andean Explorer, a luxury tourist train. By 10am, a Pisco Sour in hand, we were enjoying Peruvian music played by a colourful band. A 3 course lunch with wine followed. We didn´t want it to end.
20th June 2010
We arrived in the enchanting town of Copacabana, nestled between two hills on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca at 3872 metres, in time for a lovely sunset followed by a dinner of trout from the lake. The Moorish style cathedral, built between 1605 and 1820, dominates the town.
At 10am every day outside the cathedral, cars, trucks and buses decorated with flowers are first blessed by a priest, then sprayed with soft drink, beer, rice and flower petals. A traditional holy man then passes over them with smoke. It is quite a spectacle to watch.
A little over an hour away by boat is the Isla del Sol, birthplace of the Inca. We climbed to the village of Yumani on the southern end of the island where we spent the night, the views over the lake outstanding.
13th June 2010
We returned to Chile to meet up with Katie and Chantelle. From Arica on Chile´s dry north coast, we made our way south to Iquigue through a surreal landscape of massive sand dunes.
San Pedro de Atacama, established in 1540, is a little oasis in the Atacama Desert, the driest in the world.
17 hours away by bus is La Serena, and another 7 got us to Santiago. The Spanish arrived in La Serena in 1544.
04th June 2010
South west of La Paz, near the border with Chile, lies Sajama National Park, Bolivia´s first. We spent 2 nights in the small pueblo of Sajama (4200 metres) below the majestic, snow capped Sajama Volcano. When the sun set behind the twin volcanos on the Chile border, the temperature dropped to well below zero.
Inside the park we walked in a forest of keñua trees, the highest in the world, at over 4400 metres. We cooked eggs in a bubbling geyser, ate llama, soaked in an open air hot springs surrounded by volcanos and observed llamas, alpacas and vicuñas.
On the way we passed many ancient Aymara funeral towers, made of adobe brick and almost always facing the rising sun in the east. Many still contain human remains.
A striking adobe and thatch church stands proudly above the humble dewllings in many of the local villages. The largest and best restored of these is the church of Santiago de Carangas, built between 1587 and 1608. Inside the walls and ceiling are covered in original frescoes of bible scenes in the Mestizo style.