04.07.2014 - 05.07.2014
We meant to do the Inca Trail but we were so busy having a good time at the end of last year, that we didn't get round to booking it when we should have. When we finally got round to looking at it in February all the day permits had gone. They only allow 500 permits a day, and 300 of those go to the sherpas.
Initially we were a bit gutted, but the more we researched, the more we realised that some of the alternative treks offer a totally different experience and are a lot less busy.
We decided to do the two day Huchuy Qosqo trek with Machu Picchu as an add-on for day 3. The most frequented treks are generally three days so the one we went for was a little-known, barely walked trail. We saw just one other group of 8 doing it, and then there was our group... of two. Well three if you include the guide. We were quite happy to have the trek just for us!
It was a 6am start and we met up with our guide, the head chef and sous chef. They cooked up a fab breakfast in the middle of a field in a tiny settlement outside of Cusco. There was still frost on the ground and it was bloomin' nippy.
The horseman then arrived with three horses to carry all the gear. Apparently to get to us he'd been trekking since 1am! Good grief! It was a strange feeling having a support team of four people for just us two.
Breakfast clearly didn't satisfy Ant and he'd resorted to eating his trouser leg
It was uphill straight away and we had to go through a couple of mountain passes until we reached a plateau for our lunch stop.
The food was unbelievably good considering what the guys had to work with - basic cooking facilities in an erected tent in the middle of nowhere.
We passed loads of llamas and alpacas out in the open, a couple of lakes, and then finally descended to reach our overnight camp spot.
An old Inca water channel
The village where we camped just on the outskirts
The sherpas had set up our tent already on a narrow strip of ground above a small village. We relaxed for a bit when we could hear children coming up the hill, then they started peering into the tent saying "hola", it was pretty cute. They were all grubby, dirty feet and faces... definitely living the rural life.
Then the mamas started traipsing up to our campsite and before we knew it, they'd set up a mini-market of Peruvian crafts between our tents and the kitchen tent! Talk about awkward. We've already practically doubled our bag weight in souvenirs and we're pretty much done with the 'scooby-doo' stalls you see everywhere. But we were the only tourists and they looked so expectantly at us! As we politely browsed through the wares, I felt about 100 eyes burning into us willing us to buy from each mama... it was bloody awful! We felt so obliged we ended up buying a material bracelet each and had to take our leave with a "gracias" whilst they all looked back as us very disappointed.
By now, around 5pm, it was already worryingly cold with the sun no longer on the hills. The order of Andean trekking days is early to bed, early to rise, so after dinner (where we were sat in the kitchen tent shivering and just wanting it to be over), it was straight to bed. It was only about 7.30pm! I think that's a first.
I admit I was dreading this bit. I know, I've got a brilliant idea! Let's camp in a tent, at altitude, in the Andes, in winter!
The company had supplied top quality mummy sleeping bags which was a relief, along with two thick blankets, but it was cold. More to the point it was below freezing. The Titicaca homestay was positively balmy by comparison!
We kitted ourselves out in thermals, hats, scarves, gloves and an extra layer, and settled into our mummy-bags. The good thing was going to bed so early gave us plenty of opportunity to get some kip. It wasn't as bad as we had thought, we woke several times conversely either cold or roasting hot, where the sleeping bags were clearly very effective. Dogs barking in the village kept us awake, but at 5.20am when it was time to get up, we felt refreshed and wide awake. (Anyone who knows me will know this was nothing short of miraculous!)
Frost on our tent in the morning
Our pitch and distant loo tent
The second day was a fantastic walk - challenging at times - but such awesome scenery and vistas. Because we started walking at 6.45am we reached the first mountain pass before the mountain clouds had burnt off. Far below us stretched the Sacred Valley of the Incas covered in cloud. It was breathtaking!
An Andean village
The path took us through an impressive gorge and over some rickety bridges which led to a perfect rest stop overlooking the now clear valley. To top it off we saw a condor circling and casting an enormous shadow on the mountainside.
The final point of interest, and what gives this trek its name, was the remains of the Inca site Huchuy Qosqo (little Cusco). It's still being uncovered from the mud so it could be 50-100 years before the site is fully restored, but it was an impressive site.
By this point the sun was fierce, and as we were continually descending it was getting hotter and hotter. We both started to overheat and it was a long arduous descent down a steep scrabbly path which was parched and giving off a lot of heat. Despite some of the climbs we'd done, this was actually the hardest part, and we weren't far off suffering from heatstroke. So weird that it was the same day we'd set off with frost on the ground!
Stunning view of the Sacred Valley of the Incas
It was a wonderful feeling getting to the site where the sherpas had set up for a late lunch. Throughout the trip they had fed us so well, three courses for lunch and dinner, and a choice of five dishes for breakfast. And they left after us at each stop, ran past us at some point on the trail, and set up at the next stop before we'd got there... ridiculous! We had so much respect for these guys.
Tired and aching feet, but having had a brilliant couple of days, we then had a bus transfer and train journey to Aguas Calientes in readiness for Machu Picchu - our reward!