Following in the footsteps of the Incas

I’m not quite sure where the time has gone, but the Inca trail marked the mid point of our six month adventure. We had a bit of a mission getting to Cusco, starting with the floods in Peru blocking our intended bus route for a few days and ending with a nasty dose of the travel bug from some innocent looking fruit. But we eventually arrived back at altitude for a few days to recover pre hiking at an amazing AirBnB in the pleasantly clean and historic city. This offered the chance to catch back up with our fellow Irish travellers, explore the colourful San Pedro markets and warm up the glutes on the many cobbled stairs to Sacsayhuman and the San Cristobel church for panoramic views of the city. The only downside of Cusco for me was the constant haggling by street sellers, from massages to bus tours they were relentless but I guess that’s to be expected in such a touristic centre. Not going to lie I did treat myself to a 30min massage with two other kiwi kids, and although we were led down some dodgy back shop alleys to the room it was 20 soles well spent.

 

The Inca Trail 🤸🏼‍♀️🗿⛰⛺️

Now we had to book months in advance to reserve our spot on the Inca trail, with only 200 people per day being allowed on the track. Mind you that’s 200 tourists and 300 guides, porters and chefs so the National Park really is getting a hammering. There are a few alternative treks now, including the Jungle Trek, Lares and Salkantay which can be booked on arrival in Cusco or you can just train and bus straight to the front door of Machu Picchu. Both of us have never travelled as part of an organised tour, which is required for entry to the national park. We chose to go with G Adventures; a Canadian based company with a big rep for paying their local porters above average, limiting their weight allowance and contributing to the local community through projects and sponsorship. It really seemed like our guides and porters were proud to work for this company, so we would happily reccomend them in future.

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Our tour was 6 nights including the first and last in Cusco, and a night in Ollytamtambo in the Sacred Valley to begin the walk closer the infamous kilometre 82. We had 22 porters and 2 chefs making the trek with us, aging from 18-65 years old! They were crazy little men, running ahead of us with 20kgs on their back to set up lunch or our tents for the night and whip up a legit feed – some even wearing converse chuck taylors. They even carried a small cooler and two gas bottles, and played tricks on the young guys putting extra rocks in their backpacks.

Our pre walking day took us to the Ccaccaccollo Community Project (good luck pronouncing that one), the huge Pisac Incan site, a delicious lunch at Parwa community restaurant and the Ollytamtambo Incan ruins in the Sacred Valley. Our guides Chino (Edwin) and Alex were super knowledgeable, and proud to share their history. The locals at the weaving co-op were supported by G Adventures through building a community centre for the women to work in creating crafts, school and meetings to be held, and bringing tour groups through who purchase their handmade products. We were shown how the alpaca wool was cleaned, dyed and spun using natural tools and colours from the environment around the community. It was pretty impressive to see the ladies all nattering away like a stitch and bitch club creating these amazing patterned, colourful clothes, unlike a lot of the questionable touristic items being sold in the city. The Incan sites were super impressive, with the stone retaining walls supporting the steep terraces for agriculture. We learned about the burial tombs in the mountain side, the direct line linking all the sites back to the sun temple in Cusco and how the Spaniards conquered the Incan empire only 100 years after it had formed. We stayed in Ollytamtambo for the night visiting one more Incan site, and getting to know the tour group over a couple of pisco sours so we were primed to start the walk!

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The Inca trail covered 46km over 3.5 days, with 5am wake ups and the final morning ending at the sun gate of Machu Picchu. Our first day was pretty chilled, undulating for 11km past Incan ruins to our first campsite near the local farming village of Huayllabamba. Here a few families make money carting tourists on horses who underestimated the walk or through hiking up to the following checkpoints selling Oreos, water and of course a few cheeky bottles of rum! We shouted our porters one for being so insanely amazing.

The second day was by the far the hardest with a battle between stairs and altitude, climbing up to 4300m above sea level through Warmiwañusca (Dead Woman’s Pass). But the constant banter of the group and games of Who Am I managed to get everyone to the top. The climb down to the second campsite isn’t the real inca trail, built by the park to avoid flooding and land slips prone at the older campsite. However little did we know at the time we were sleeping on an old burial ground, which would be definite tapu at home and kind of creepy.

The last full day took us 16km, with an abrupt uphill to start the day and remind the legs what’s up. We passed 2 Incan sites and climbed down god knows how many stairs through the cloud forest for amazing flora lined trails. I really enjoyed this day being pretty laxed, with the opportunity to take in the scenery, sneak the best selfie ever with a llama and even race our guide Chino at the final descent. Phill and Liam managed to run with the porters for the the afternoon leg, who found it pretty funny these crazy tourists wanted to slide down the steep rocky stairs with them! By some magic only known to the chefs, they had whipped up a cake at 4am at 4000m above sea level, and carried it all the way to our final lunch stop for a super tasty treat!

Our final morning started with some raving beats at 3am to wake up, allowing our porters to make a run down to the valley floor to grab the 5.30am train in Aguas Caliente. Once we were allowed through the control point there was a definite energy lift to make the last 6km to the sun gate and highly anticipated views of Machu Picchu. We were not disappointed, with the sun rise beaming down on us and a real sense of elevation from making the historic walk to this city surrounded by sheer mountains and jungle. It definitely did take a bit of steam out of the achievement seeing bus after bus roll in with people who took the lazy option to reach the site, but we managed to get a few early snaps without too much of the horde. Machu Picchu as it was named was officially rediscovered in 1911 by Yale professor Hiram Bingham after the trails were blocked by the Incans to protect the temples from the Spanish invasion, although it’s existence was already known by local families living nearby. We definitely wandered around in awe at how the people managed to build this city with immaculate stonework, while most of us can’t even build a fence straight without a laser and string to help nowadays! Exhausted after our amazing adventure, we got the train back to Ollaytamtambo, which in true South American style was blocked by locals throwing logs across the track in protest. A fitting end for the long 4 days!

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Sky Lodge Adventure Suites ⛰👀

The final exploration in Cusco was Phill’s much anticipated splurge to stay overnight in the Sky Lodge capsules, suspended on the face of a mountain in the Sacred Valley.

We climbed up 400m using rock faces and a Via Ferrata system of metal hooks in the cliff, to reach our super unique accomodation. Although Phill kindly forgot to mention there would be a wire bridge crossing with a sheer drop below, the climb up offered some amazing views of the sunset and a definite adrelenin boost!! The capsule was made in 3 sections , with the most comfortable bed ever at one end and a seperate toilet area at the other. It was quite the novelty having to get harnessed up to climb to the main dining area built into the rock face for a 3 course meal and couple of bottles of wine our guide whipped up (and had carried up in his back pack on the climb!)

Potentially the best bit, our descent down to the valley floor was by zip line. Covering 2.4km we flew over the mountain side, using our gloved hand to brake. Not sure how that would work with health and safety anal laws in NZ! But we made it down in one piece for one very memorable adventure of the trip.

The Kai 🙏🥗🍞👨🏾‍🍳

Now while the blog has focussed on our Incan adventure, Cusco town did not disappoint on the food front. I definitely have to give props to the chefs on our walk who whipped up some super tasty meals, with a massive range of salads, meats, local dishes and desserts! The meal at the sky lodge was also a highlight, sourced from a local organic shop in Urubamba. The bread for breakie was the first “real” bread I’ve had in all South America with seeds and nuts on top, which probably added to my extra speed on the zip line as there was no way I’d let Phill’s portion go to waste #carblife. The standout in Cusco city was definitely cafe Organika, pretty much summed up by the name. Delicious well priced organic salads sourced from the Sacred Valley with blimmin tasty home made mint lemonades, and to top everything off a freshly baked lava cake which may have been on par with Nana’s self saucing pudding. We stocked up on our green fix here before and after the walk and I’d happily have eaten here every day!

Next stop 🔜 Galápagos Islands, Ecuador 🇪🇨🦈🐢🐠

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