I crossed the border into Peru with a group of Italian riders on an organized tour from Santiago de Chile to Cusco and back in 21 days. They were pampered: they had a LandCruiser with a guide + mechanic on board, loaded with spare parts, extra gas, tools and their entire luggage. I tagged along until Puno which was my stop for the day while they kept riding toward Cusco (Kilometer 28,159; Puno, 24-Jul-10 @ 14:50). I quickly checked-in and jumped back on the bike to visit Sillustani funerary tombs (Kilometer 28,192; Sullustani, 24-Jul-10 @ 15:30). I made it there and back by sunset including being stopped by my favorite buddies, the Peruvian Polica de Transito. After realizing they won’t be able to extract money from me, one cop asked to be driven back to Puno as his shift ended. He also wanted to see how fast I can go… fast enough on turns for him to scream for me to slow down 🙂
I didn’t linger more than the night in Puno. It’s not a very attractive city and I previously visited it and also stayed in the nearby Amantani islands, plus I couldn’t hook-up with my buddy Rafa (whom I met back in January) since he’s living in Arequipa, so I just headed to Cusco the next morning (Kilometer 28,633; Cusco, 24-Jul-10 @ 17:50). There, I settled comfortably in my hostel as I knew I will be staying in this city for a while. I was joined by a bunch of cool French travelers – including Sarah who managed to find work at the hostel – and we spent the first couple of days doing what Cusco is known for: visiting this imperial city and partying. Mama Africa popularity dwindled but Ukukus, Km-0, Mythology and especially IncaTeam took over harder than ever. And if I thought to myself I will take it easy when Roy comes to town since we will be preparing our trek, I was soon corrected and put back into place. Roy has led a group of French tourists down Colca Canyon and we met them again in Cusco for 2 nights of unbelievable party.
On Monday morning, after our second night of party and “after-party”, we said goodbye to the girls, went back to our hotel, packed our stuff, bought food for the trek and rushed to catch the bus to Cachora where our next adventure will start. We were so tired we fell asleep in the bus and missed our drop-off point :)… but not by much and a short taxi ride corrected everything.
Cachora is the starting point of the Choquequirao trek, an Inca site little known by tourists and often skipped. The other reason why it’s bypassed is: Choquequirao complex is nestled high up on a mountain overlooking the Apurimac river (Apurimac == “where the gods speak”), a steep and demanding trek requiring 2 days to get there and 2 days to get back. There are no roads or train out here which is actually a great thing. Roy and I decided to combine Choquequirao with Machu-Picchu, an 8 day trek. This time we both agreed better to rent a donkey (not to mention the price was low) and we found Noel who will be our ariero for the trip, accompanied by Pedro (his donkey :)… I also met Carlos, a Colombian traveler who is touring South America on his bicycle for a 2 year period: www.pedaleandoalma.org. His plans were to accompany us only up to Choquequirao but after spending couple of days with us, he couldn’t help but to tag along all the way up to Machu-Picchu :). He is great company and the fun only grew, with Roy leading the way.
As we approached this majestic site, a sense of excitement overwhelmed me: Choquequirao was standing proud and strong facing the centuries and I was so eager to discover it. The complex occupies an area bigger in size then Machu-Picchu but with fewer number of buildings and ceremonial centers than its more famous counterpart. While it is believed Machu-Picchu was built as a ceremonial center for the Condor, Choquequirao was built as a temple for the Llama. A tremendous count of steep terraces surrounds the complex with some of their walls having embedded white stones in the shape of llamas, a stunning sight to see. But what rendered my visit an astounding experience is the fact that until 13:00, we were absolutely alone: not a single soul was roaming the grounds. We humbly wondered inside the complex, undisturbed, absorbing its mystical energy, admiring its beauty and letting our minds wonder and imagine how it could have been before. Better let the pics do the talking.
The total trek up to Machu-Picchu was a hard one, with 2 steep mountains passes to climb (highest @ 4,500m) separated by valleys, the lowest at about 1,600m. The sun hits so hard in this region that we used to wake up at 5:00 and start walking immediately after breakfast to skip the blunt of the afternoon sun. But it was really a wonderful hike with tremendous views along the way. Each day we crossed different type of climates and vegetations as we climbed up & down these mountains or being on their eastern vs. western face. And Roy picked up the jokes were he left them back in Aconcagua so the fun and laughter joined us for the whole trip, to the great amusement of Carlos and Noel. We arrived at Santa Teresa in 6 days, earlier than expected… we actually could have arrived a day earlier if not for our donkey Pedro being tired and needed to rest! 🙂 However the fun was soon squashed: In Santa Teresa, Roy received some devastating news and he had to rush back to Arequipa to be with David. After some discussion, it was agreed I would stay behind with Carlos, visit Machu Picchu and then carry all the equipments back with me to join Roy & David in Arequipa.
To reach Machu-Picchu, we needed to go upstream along the Urubamba river: a path + road takes us from Santa Teresa to Hydroelectrica before we follow the railway track to Aguas Calientes, the base village below Machu-Picchu citadel. This route not only saved us loads of money (the train ride from Cusco to Machu-Picchu and back costs U$D71), it also an easy and nice hike along the river, walking between steep mountains and their many rock cliffs. Not to mention we passed by fields of bananas, limas and avocados which we gladly picked and ate (plus carrying some for dinner & next day snacks). On our route, we also met with Jorge, a very cool local guide, which not only was fun company but also found us cheap accommodation in Aguas Calientes and gave us all the information & tips needed for our majestic visit. Not all was rosy though; the rain hit us hard during the whole way and didn’t stop for the remainder part of our trip. Our Machu-Picchu experience was soaked. The following day we did manage to get 3 hours of dry weather in the early morning to enjoy Machu-Picchu’s complex but by 10:00 it was rainy, foggy and cold… very miserable. Our hike to Huayna-Picchu was also affected by the weather as the fog rendered the postcard beautiful views of the citadel (and it shape of a condor) mostly obstructed. Few people stayed long at the site which was the only positive side of this weather: instead of the usual 2,500 visitors, there were less than a 100 walking the site in the afternoon. As for Carlos and I, we stayed until closing time; soaked and drenched but not ready to let go of this mystical experience. And I thought to myself: “I previously visited Machu-Picchu under sunny and blue skies, now I get to experience its other face”. Positive thinking… although it didn’t make it any better 😦
However, a warm bath back in Aguas Calientes does do wonders. Not to be outdone, the hearty dinner that followed further replenished my energies and I felt satisfied. All I needed now was a good night sleep and I headed to bed replaying in my mind this discovery adventure that started back in Choquequirao.
or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.