Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Inca Trail (Day 4)..

Travel Diaries: Oct 7th

Winay Wyana -----  Destionation: Machu Pichu!!

We hardly slept last night. The anticipation of being there was unbearable :). It was much warmer that the previous night. We were to leave earlier than usual and breakfast was unthinkable so early, though i did try to coax myself into eating some toast.

Packed , we set off at 4:30 AM. It was close to an hours wait at the gate.  We were the fourth team that got there and we waited for the gates to open. They soon did..and then the rush began.
The final day felt like a race to the finish line, no kidding it really did. There were close to 15 groups all trekking up trying to get to Machu Pichu as soon as possible. The trail was narrow and we did our best to keep pace. After about an hour I started feeling the need for some sugar...So we stopped and got a few biscuits and later hurried up to Sun Gate to catch up with the rest of the group.

 Our first glimpse of Machu Pichu from Sungate
Sungate is our final pass . The final leg was a steep stretch of close to 50 steps and then we were there in Sungate ('Intipunku'), and in front of us was Machu Pichu.  When we first got there I couldn't really spot what we wanted to see as there were so many other things in the scene of view too :) ..And just when I was thinking where is Machu Pichu , I saw it . (It somehow reminded me of the episode in Friends where Rachel can't see her baby in the scan :D... Don't mean to digress;)).
Relaxing at Sungate
After catching our breath , we walked the final stretch to Machu Pichu.  Along the way we stopped to get a few pictures under the fledgling rays of the sun. It was beautiful!
A more atmospheric shot of Machu Pichu , (along the way)
And Finally we were there...!... The moment was surreal. We could scarcely believe it.  Machu Pichu is more beautiful that anything I had seen in the pictures. During the trail I did wonder at times if it would be as good as everyone said it would be. But it was a whole lot better than anything I had expected.
I just can't imagine that something like this was built 500 years back and if the ruins are so spectacular ,I would have really liked to see this sprawling Inca city during its moment of glory centuries back.

Machu Pichu
We took loads of pictures standing here...  And then we just sat there taking everything in.
We did it!!... The entire team 

Machu Pichu!!
'Machu Pichu' means Old Mountain  and was discovered by Hiram Bingham who thought he had discovered the Lost city of the Incas. At 2432.75 m, it strategically overlooks the Urubamba valley.
I was there :)...

Machu Pichu
There are several theories behind the origin and purpose of Machu Pichu ranging from it being the birthplace of important Inca Woman to it being the residence of the Inca emporor.  Strategically located it definitely was a very important Incan city.
We walked through the city (which is hugeeee) and our guide pointed out to places of interest and explained the historical significance of these structures.
Agricultural Terraces..
There are two distinct sections the Urban section and the Agricultural Section..Our guide explained that the agricultural terraces seen were not just to prevent erosion , but for temperature control enabling crops like corn to be grown at this altitude (at which they normally don't grow).

'Recinto Del Guardian' - Guardhouse

Agricultural Zone
The Inca's believed in three world - the world of the serpant, the world of the puma and the world of the condor. The Temple of the condor has a stone structure resembling a condors face and wings placed in the center. There also was a small cave like enclosure where the remains of sacrifices to the gods were thrown. Apparently at the beginning of every year a Lllama was sacrificed and if the heart of the llama stayed beating it was a harbinger of good fortune.. A still heart spelt misfortune....
Temple of the Condor
Astronomical Observatory

Sun Dial in Machu Pichu
In all our excitement to get here , we did not factor in how much energy it would take to walk the city. We thought getting here was it... But no Machu Pichu tires you out :).. The inclined nature of the city makes sure that you work hard while you are here. It was a hot day and by mid afternoon we were tired.
So we walked back and took the bus to Aguas Calientes.  It is a small town known for its hot springs.
The group converged here for a meal together. It was good catching up and everyone seemed more relaxed.

The train tracks run along the roads and there are restaurants on both sides :).
Haven seen scenes like these among the Himalayan Kingdoms in India and this most certainly reminded me of home,
Aguas Callantinas..Peru Rail
Our train was only at 7:30 Pm. So we explored the town a bit. We tried converting some currency , but the rates were terrible, definitely a bad idea! We sat in one of the small cafes and enjoyed a meal. There was only one thing on my mind and that was a warm shower. But that will have to wait until Cusco.

Some light dinner and we were all set. The train was only as far as  Ollayatambo from where we took the bus back to Cusco.

Tired, but extremely satisfied I had to pinch myself to believe that I had just visited Machu Pichu :).


Friday, October 29, 2010

The Inca Trail (Day 3)..

Travel Diaries: Oct 6th

Pacamayo to Winay Wayna

Pacamayo is the highest camp site on the trail. Last night was freezing. And today will be the longest stretch in the  Trail. We climb down from Pacamayo which is at a height of 3500 m to Winay Wayna. 
Last night saw three members of the group falling sick. In the heartland of the incas it was the deftly brewed local tea by the porters in the team that helped.  So we set off at 5:30 PM

We climbed down and soon from a distance the circular ruins of Runkracay emerged into view. Like most other ruines of note along the trail , It was also discovered by Hiram Bingham.

The inca ruins of Runkuracay

Inside the ruin of Runkaracay
Overlooking the Pacamayo valley, it probably served as some sort of watch tower and might have been a resting place for travelers walking the trail. We walked on. The climb got a little steeper as we made our way to the second pass  Arba De Runkuracay.
 Lake along the way to the pass
The trail got prettier as we walked on. Once we got to the pass we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the peaks. It was only the first few hikers who got to see the view and it soon fogged up.
View of the peaks from the pass
We rested a while enjoying the scenery and waited for everyone to get here. It was unimaginable for me that those who fell sick the previous night trekked this stretch. It was demanding enough when you are fully able.
The path we climbed to get here...
The trail got narrower as we climbed down. Our knees hurt. But the views got prettier. We were promised that we would see loads of inca ruins today and with that driving us we walked on.

Climbing down from Arba De Runkuracay..
The stone staircases were built differently. They had been carved into the mountain by the incas and the steps slightly tilted upwards. The genius of this was that in a downward slope it gives the walker. a near horizontal footing.  Sayacmarca was our second stop. Saycmarca means inaccessible town and seeing the ruin tells you why
The Ruins of Saycmarca - 'Inaccessible town'
The vegetation changed drastically as we lost height. Yesterday was dry, but today was all flowers and sunshine and plenty of trees. The most exciting bits of the trail for me was passing through a small Inca tunnel. Its amazing that these structures were carved through the hard mountain rock centuries ago.

Walking through the Inca Tunnel

No am not posing :)

The ruin on Phuyupatamarca is incredible. From a distance the terraces that are the defining feature of the ruin were spectacular.

close with the ruin of Phuyupatamarca
Getting here involved a slight detour and meant we would take a good hour or so longer to get to our final stop. But it was well worth it. 'The Town in the Clouds' it most certainly is. The views from here are spectacular. We could see the river in the distance. All the inca ruins we saw so far seem to have been built strategically. The kind of thought and engineering that must have gone into these ancient structures is unimaginable.
A section of the ruins of Phuyupatamarca 

The view of the river from Phuyupatamarca

View form the top
We hurried back on our way. It was almost evening and we wanted to get back before it was dark. It was a little difficult finding our camp site as there were close to 15 teams camping in Winay Wyana. Luckily everyone was friendly and helped us get to our spot. We hurriedly dumped our bags and headed to see the ruin of Winay Wyana.
Winay Wyana
Winay Wyana  is beautiful, the biggest among the ruins we have seen so far.  We were told by our guide that the ruin is possibly much bigger as sections of the forest around it haven't been cleared yet!!!!
The entrance to the ruin

'Winay Wyana' in Quecha means 'Forever Young'. It was supposed to serve as agricultural terraces . There were several beautiful rooms on the top of the ruin overlooking the entire region. The view was amazing! The setting sun was the perfect foil to this incredible location.

Perfect locations and big groups call out loud for a picture. So we requested a fellow traveller while we stood and smiled.  The picture taken we walked away. It was only when I aimed my camera for the next shot that I realized I was missing the camera cover. Precious that it is, I panicked. I was certain I hadn't lost it. We combed the area and there seemed to be no trace of it. The only possible explanation was it wasn't returned. We looked in vain for the guy who took the previous picture. But he had long since gone.  My mind was swimming with thoughts . How could I have been so careless and how on earth were we to find a perfect stranger among hundreds of trekkers camping. We walked to the camping site and S spotted the guide with whom the other group was visiting the ruin. In broken spanish we explained to her that the gentleman who took our picture probably inadvertently took the camera cover. She promised us that she would speak to him once he was back and   we left giving her details of our camp site.

We walked around and then walked back to our camp site.  Everyone was more relaxed with the hardest part of the hike behind us. Everyone got there and dinner ended with a celebratory note with the chef bringing in a freshly baked cake!!!!!!... How someone managed to make something like that without an oven is a question we couldn't answer (and he didn't either :)). But the cake was one of the yummiest I have eaten.  Just as I as devouring this dessert something sweeter surfaced. The stranger who took our group picture at Winay Wyana that evening came by to return the camera cover. He had accidentally and probably by habit of taking pictures put it in his pocket. God Bless him!

We were told about the need to rise early the next day and warned about the hordes that were trying to get there :). Having walked a good 15 km we were ready to go to bed :)


Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Inca Trail (Day 2)..

Travel Diaries : Oct 5th

Wayllabamba to Pacamayo

Today is the toughest day on the trail. So we leave early. We were advised to hire the services of a porter if we hadn't already. I slept well last night.  The tent was roomy and comfortable.
Breakfast was delicious, especially the pancakes with some fruit layered into them (think it was Mango)
Pretty soon the team was off. The climb was steep.

 The Day's trek begins... Climbing our way up ..

After a good two hours or so we stopped for Brunch. I was famished. Today's climb was mostly uphill.
The little tips given by our guide, like walking zig zag greatly helped. Pacing was of paramount importance. So we did not give ourselves long breaks. Just a couple of minutes to catch our breath and nothing more. We kept climbing higher after lunch. Our destination 'Dead Woman's Pass'  is at 4200 m, the highest we get to on this trail.  We kept pushing ourselves. The last leg was incredibly steep and seemed to go on forever. And after what seemed like an inordinately long period of time we finally reached the top.
 Reaching Dead Woman's Pass
The entrance to the pass was full of trekkers calling our to others nearly there, cheering and clapping as everyone crossed the line.  It was almost festive up there. Who would not want to be celebrate getting to the top, for the toughest part of the trek was supposedly over.  The scorching sun along the way seemed to get stronger as we reached the top. The weather was confusing. It was really hot. But cold winds made sitting in the shade hard. Luckily it did not rain.

 At the Pass.. We were there :)
Once the entire team got here we were told about the history of the pass. The pass apparently gets its name from the way the mountains look - like that of a dead woman lying on her back.
Since we have climbed close to 1000 m today in a span of 7 hours, we were told to watch our for altitude sickness. Rehydration was of paramount importance. A few people in our group were already beginning to feel a little sick.
The entire team
Pictures were taken and it was soon time to head down.
Climbing down is just as hard, maybe even harder..  Knees hurt... Slowly we made progress. It was amazing to see porters run past us with really heavy bags slung over their shoulders. Some of them were just wearing flip flops. Its unimaginable the kind of pace they manage to maintain..
We were told to keep left to avoid accidents.
Climbing down form the pass..
We kept walking.. And we finally reached Paqaymayu (3500 m ,11480 ft).  Lunch was served late.
We were so tired that we headed to our tents for a quick power nap
Sights along the way..

Another round of introductions , this time with the support staff -the cook and the porters. It was amazing listening to their stories. Some of them were as old as 46.   We managed to introduce ourselves with all the Spanish we could muster :)
Dinner followed. No campsite is complete without a session on Ghost stories. The legend of a girl lurking in the woods (who was supposedly murdered) and who drags men out of their tents was told in graphic detail by our guide :). It was a fun night. We were exhausted after the day's walk of 12 kms and wanted to get to bed. So we called it a day early.


Friday, October 22, 2010

The Inca Trail (Day 1)..

Travel Diaries - Oct 4th

Cusco to Wayllabamba

We hardly slept. The need to rise early always interferes with a good night's sleep and today was no exception.  It was too early for breakfast though we did grab some tea and toast...
And we waited. Our pickup time had been specified as 5:40, and we did begin to get worried as we began to approach 6:00. Dawn was breaking. It was a beautiful day outside, beautiful but cold.
Soon the bus pulled up , and our guide E hurried us inside...

The drive was beautiful. The scenery kept me awake as we passed the lovely villages of Chinchero, Urabamba and Ollantaytambo.  We soon reached what was called Kilometer 82 in the map.
Ollantaytambo is where we had breakfast with our team and our time there was made of the stuff of first introductions and first time conversations. It was our last chance to buy anything we wanted, that we might have missed. So we got hiking sticks, and water. We collected the sleeping bags we had hired . We mulled over hiring the services of a porter as the sleeping bags and mats did make our backpacks bulky and unwieldy. We were in luck... Luggage sorted we followed our guide

Vilcanota River..
A river has many names... Here she was called Vilcanota, more popularly known as Urubamba, and elsewhere as Wilcamayu. We were told she has her origins in the Andes. The river flows across the Sacred valley and wore the freshness of the morning. Our trek starts here.

The Entire Group :) 

Inca Ruins - Llactapata

We hadn't gone very far and we got to see our first Inca ruin :). The ruins of Llactapata was discovered by Hiram Bingham (who also discovered Machu Pichu) in 1912.
De-cyphering the two words - 'llacta' means town and  pata means "height" Archaeologists believe that it was built by someone of high rank , and that it must have definitely been connected to Machu Pichu considering the proximity to the site. Like Machu Pichu this site was covered by dense vegetation which had to be cleared.

Hiking up..

The Ruins 
We walked past the ruin and spent some me taking pictures. The sun was moving higher up into the sky.
We were told the settlement comprised of more than a hundred buildings. They were to house soldiers and workers. It is believed that it might have been an agricultural station the purpose of which was to supply maize (the staple grain) to the important site of Machu Pichu.
Our Lunch spot from a distance..
We walked on. Hunger gnawed on our insides, Breakfast seemed to have beena  long time ago :).
Thankfully lunch was soon declared.
Our Dining Tent
The first sight of the lunch tent was really something, a well laid table, with the silver...
What followed was even better, a starter, sumptuous soup, and a main course. Amazing that so much and in such elaborate detail was done to such perfection in sparse conditions such as these
Playing footie with the locals..

We trekked 12 kms in all. We finally reached our tent spot Wayllabamba. Exhausted, we were delighted to find our tents pitched, two per tent. So we dumped our bags and headed off to watch some football action. Some from the gang decided to join the locals.. S had loads of fun and I was  a little worried that he would wear himself out. Tomorrow was a big day. We had been repeatedly told that it would be the toughest day. We retired early , bracing ourselves for the challenge ahead. It would be a crime not to mention that Dinner was an affair to remember!



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