After 2 fun months in Bolivia, we headed North West into Peru to meet up with our second visitor for the trip, Jeff, and explore the Inca ruins around Cusco. Jeff was scheduled to arrive on a Friday, so we made our way into town a few days ahead of him to sort out our trek details and get a start on visiting ruins.
Our first stops were the Wari ruins and the Tipon Inca gardens both on the road in from Puno. The Wari, a pre-incan civilization had a huge complex of relatively crude stonework. This was in stark contrast to Tipon, a former imperial garden for the Inca elite to relax, that was filled with precisely cut stones and very intricate irrigation channels including a number of fountains.
Our actual arrival in Cusco was a 2 hour nightmare of finding the campsite, which we had a GPS point for but did not have a sign, leading to much stress and driving in circles through city streets before finally getting directions from the tourist office. We spent the next day exploring town and investigating Machu Picchu treking options, talking to a number of agencies and the South American Explores Club, before deciding to hire a solo guide and carry our own gear on the Salkantay route.
This sorted out we had a couple more free days to explore before Jeff’s arrival, and plenty more ruins to see. We spent the first day at Pisac, a very impressive military, religious and agricultural site that featured extensive terracing on a step hillside as well as a number of temples. That evening after our planned campsite failed, we found the Melissa Wasi B&B where the gracious owner let us stay in our truck and hang out by his fireplace. The next day, we headed into the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo to explore the ruins there. At this site we learned more Inca history and were able to see the process used to move giant stones, as the sun temple was abandoned in construction when the Spanish arrived. In the afternoon we headed to the agricultural laboratory of Moray consisting of three depressions that were terraced and supposedly used for experimenting with crops, with up to 5 degree temperature differences between levels. We also made a quick stop at the site known as Salinas, where a salty spring is fed into a hillside worth of evaporating pools to harvest salt, a quite unique and impressive view.
We then returned to Cusco and to our now “location known” campsite to prepare for Jeff’s arrival. Friday morning we headed to the airport and met him with the truck, then headed to camp where he witnessed our first class living arrangements. We then spent the afternoon exploring Cusco and watching one of the almost daily festivals. On Saturday after Jeff had some much needed rest from days of travel, we visited the Qorikancha, formally one of the most important Inca religious sites and now an interesting combination of catholic church on top of a well preserved ruin and Sacsayhuamán a former temple where the Incas almost defeated the Spanish in the final battle for control of Cusco. That evening we went out on the town for the fanciest dinner in months and a few drinks in celebration of Jeff’s birthday (he had cuy). Sunday was spent finding food for our trek coupled with a visit to the Inca museum and a couple other small ruins in the area.
Monday morning, we awoke before dawn to meet our guide and catch the Combi to Mollepata to begin our trek with a long day working our way up a senic dirt road toward the first camp. Going was slow with heavy packs, but the views upon arrival of Nevado Salkanty did not disappoint. Day two was the big one, we slowly worked our way up to a 4600m pass next to Nevado Salkanty, motivated by the spectacular view. At the top we performed a small apu ceremony and reseted for the long descent, and long it was taking 7+ hours to the next campsite. At the end of the day, Jeff and I split off the front eager to be done with the day, while Heather held back. Unfortunately the descent proved to be too much for her knees and she barely made it into camp with another guide’s help, barely able to walk. Fortunately we were able to salvage the trip the next day with Heather taking a mule and combi ride to the next campsite, while Jeff and I walked with the guide through a lush river valley. That afternoon we layed low and rested, playing with some local children in the village and eating to regain our energy. For the last day of trekking, Heather went by combi to Hydro-Electric with some other tired trekkers from a differenet group, while Jeff and I made a sprint hike with the guide to the ruins of Llactapata. From here, Machu Picchu is across the valley, perfectly aligned on the winter solstice line with the sun temple we were in, making for a very cool first sighting. We dropped another steep descent, happy our big packs were with Heather in the combi, enjoying the views of jungle encrusted Andean peaks and stopping to snack on sugar cane, before meeting back up with Heather at the Hydro-electric train station. From here we had the option of a 3 hour hike along the tracks or a short train ride, and the arrival of an afternoon rainshower made for an easy decision to take the train. On our arrival to Aguas Calientes, we enjoyed a nice meal not cooked by me on the camp stove, and some of the best showers we have had in South America in our hotel.
The next day was the highlight, were were actually headed to Machu Picchu. Jeff and I took the stairs up from town, supposedly an hour at a good pace, for a more dramatic arrival. Heather and the guide wisely took the bus and were waiting when we arrived after 1:15 shirts off and dripping sweat. After a brief cool off we headed into the ruins along with 2000 other people. We spent the morning exploring with the guide learning about all the different buildings and history, before heading up another steep path to Huaynapicchu, where we viewed more temples and ate lunch with a spectacular view of the whole site. At this point our guide took off to return to Cusco and we spent the afternoon wandering through the maze of buildings and exploring every corner. We ended the day by walking out to an Inca drawbridge on a path cut into a shear cliffside- another amazing example of that civilization, before heading back to town exhausted and feeling like we had fully experienced the site.
The next day we took the train back to Ollantaytambo to show Jeff the town that still sits on the original site and do some craft shopping for Jeff’s family, before returning to Cusco. We relaxed and reflected on the trip then retired for an early evening before sending Jeff back to the states after a final farewell the next morning. It was great to have the company to share one of the highlights of South America.