On Saturday the sixth of August 2011, I began a trip 25 years in the waiting. It is a journey that I have dreamed of doing since I was a child. I'm off to South America, specifically Peru & Bolivia with a relax at the end in Buenos Aires. To say I'm excited would be an understatement.

This journey began for me in 1985 when I lived in Port Lincoln. It was a beautiful summers day, the sun a rich golden warmth that eradicated the edge that lingers in people after Christmas and New Years. Children were everywhere frolicking along the foreshore and through the waters, jumping from the Jetty and enjoying all that could be from the day. The morning drew to afternoon and my sister and her friends started to wander further than my mother wanted them to. She sent me to bring them back closer to her view.

I stepped into the blue water lapping the shore, took a few steps into the pitiful surf, and fell. Electricity shot through my body, screamed into my skull, nerves became alive like never before. I yelled, but not understanding the pain, thinking it was probably just a stubbed toe, I reached into the water and pulled my foot free and into the air. My mind went white, my voice pierced the golden joy of summer, the water darkened, staining with the rich blood pouring forth from my foot, opened like a baguette.

During my stay at the hospital where they repaired my foot as best they can, I received a gift from my Grandmother. It was a calendar with pictures of places around the world. In the calendar I found two that I had to see – The Pyramids of Giza and Macchu Pichu. I have carried a picture of Macchu Pichu with me since then, and finally on the 21st of August 2011, I will be there after having hiked through the Andes for the previous three days.

Below are the entries for the Peruvian leg of this trip.

August 21 2011 Machu Picchu

I have no idea what to expect from today. I have waited such a long time, as anyone who reads this blog will know.

The day starts early for most of the group, for me it's just another morning wakeup. 5:30am up, 6am breakfast, 6:30 out. We walk to the bus station to catch the bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu. The line is quite long with everyone wanting to see a glorious dawn bring the city from out of night. The thing is these people have read too many travelogues and do not get that there are few true sunrises in the Andes. For the most part, the sky lightens to grey then around the 8:30-9am mark the light changes to regular golden daylight as the clouds dissipate.

The bus journey takes around 20 minutes up the mountainside, winding its way slowly to the parking lot. At the parking lot the line is still long as security check each ticket to allow entry. There are a set amount of people allowed into Machu Picchu per day, and each day it's a sell-out. It's like the Inca Trail, only less rigorous. The Inca Trail allows 500 per day of which 300 are cooks, porters and guides. So the line takes around another 20 minutes to clear and then we are through for our tour.

The two hour tour takes us through the major features that everybody does here. The end of the Inca Trail, the Rock of the Southern Cross, the Sun Dial, the Andean Cross.

For me, what I wanted was to take my shoes off and touch the earth beneath my feet, and listen to world. After the tour I did just that. Then, I put my shoes back on and I ran. It must have been coming down from the altitude but I was energised. I ran to the Wina Picchu entrance to try and bribe my way through. It used to be free, but a month ago with the anniversary, they changed the rules. Only 400 a day, 200 at 8am and 200 at 10am. I tried to use US$20 to get through but the two guards would have none of it, they wanted 50 each and I couldn't work out if it was Sols or US$ so I turned around and ran again this time to the Inca Bridge, passing my tour group on the way. They said “slow down and enjoy the scenery”, to which I replied “I am”.

I ran, taking in the scenery, my camera flashing at the scenery as I went. I overtook all manner of Europeans and some Japanese, signed in at the security station, ran along the cliffs edge and made it. Sadly, I couldn't cross the bridge as it is deemed to dangerous. Considering it was designed to be dropped as invaders attacked, I'm thankful I couldn't cross it.

I paused slightly, then ran back, signed out at security and made my way to Machu Picchu mountain entrance. Once more, the rules have changed and you need to pay 145 Sols at the town hall to be allowed up – 500 a day. The funny thing is the ticket to Machu Picchu is 165 Sols. So, I tried my bribe again and was just flatly refused. So I ran again...

To the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is at the top of the Inca Trail and offers a grand view. It took me 30 minutes to run up to the top. At the top, I sat on the grass and enjoyed the view, my shoes off again and gripping into the soil, reclining on a cliff face. The view was incredible and difficult to describe with any justice.

After another half an hour, I made my way back down to the city proper and found a nice little room to sit back and recline in, to enjoy my last hour in Machu Picchu. And here is where my brain went splat. Here's my great revelation:

If you feel the need to achieve something, let nothing and no-one stop you from achieving it. If it is important to you, then it will be important to those who share your life and they will do everything they can to ensure you accomplish this thing, the same as you would help them to achieve their goals.

It's a very basic understanding, and one we all now but I think often we forget. I know I do. I have a habit of forgetting myself for the greater good of those around me. So, now I understand the need to be a little selfish for personal growth because anything else is suicide by a thousand cuts.

So, what was I expecting from this place besides a brain splat? I'm not sure but the feeling I am left with is the sense of terrible loss for the world that these great thinkers and engineers have passed from the world. What a world could have been made if only Europeans had come not blinded by gold but with desire to expand their understanding of the world. The knowledge these people possessed of their world was incredible. If we can but decipher the limited writings of the Inca and anything of the pre-Inca, who knows what unique perspective might be added to our own?

Another sad thing about this trip to Machu Picchu, is that many may never have the chance to walk the green terraces and sit amongst the granite walls. Machu Picchu is becoming unstable apparently, and the damage hard to repair. So a platform is going to built whereby people will gaze down upon the city. Apparently this could be in as little as two years. While I don't believe they will permanently close the site, I think they will make the price so incredibly high that only a select few will ever be able to afford the experience.

Other Peru Articles:

August 18 to 20 2011 Lares Trek

Today is not a good day. I went out for dinner last night and had a bad burrito. I was up most the night vomiting, and I know right now I'm disoriented and dehydrated. I'm taking my re-hydration powder, which tastes foul, and am trying to control my tumultuous stomach. My fellow travellers seem to think I look like a corpse, all sunken eyes and pale skin. Still, I am not going to let something like this stop me. I have all that I need to get me through the next few days – sheer willpower.

First off we need to gather our group. A bus ride around town finds us picking up 2 Australians, 3 British, and 2 Germans, joining all of our group except the Danes. We all chipped in some money to buy bread for the locals that we would meet on our journey. The bread is a gift to the peoples for crossing their land, and is something that is difficult for the locals to sustain in their diets, and it is better than giving sweets as these people do not have the access to dentists and do not practice oral hygiene as we do. The bus then takes us up the mountains to the start point of our trek. We then drove to Pata Cancha (3900m) to begin.

At Pata Cancha we met with our guide, chefs and porters. We shook hands and greeted each other. Anan, our guide, then introduced us to chewing coca leaves and the offering the Apas and Pachamama coca leaves along our trek. Then he handed out some snack bags and we began our ascent. We hadn't gone very far when Anan stopped and explained a little about the importance of the Apas to the people of this area.

Not long after we encounter another troop finishing the Lares where we began it.

When we continued onward, it was again steadily upward. In under an hour the group had already divided into the fast and the slow. I was in the lead group, even aching under the weight of my sickness. Up through the valley, the town slowly disappearing behind us, only small collections of habitations before us. The sun was mild but bright and the land radiated warmth, yellow and white stone interspersed with grasses and small trees gripping for all life.

Anan stopped us at a small village (5 houses and small farming area) and spoke to a local. He then took us to their home where we waited for the rest of the group to catch up. I lay back, using my pack as a pillow and my hat to shield my eyes. It took 15 minutes for the rest to rock up. We broke into two groups and went into the family's home. It was a single room, dirt floor, thatch roof abode. In the corner was the bed for the whole family covered with alpaca weavings. Across the floor scurried guinea pigs, chickens, and a cat. Outside was another cat that I had seen and two dogs. In another corner was a small wood stove for cooking. The room has a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

Anan spoke with the women of the house. She is 18 years old and before her stand her two children aged 3 and 1. Her husband, 23, is outside tending their small field. The animals, Anan says, are to deal with various pests in the area or provide a need:

  • The dogs deal with foxes
  • The Cats deal with Rats
  • The Chickens provide eggs
  • The Guinea Pigs provide an education for the children and later on food.

All the animals live in symbiosis, understanding their role and position in the household.

The family spends the majority of its time tending their small field, helping in the community and weaving textiles for sale. The husband comes in, places an arm around his wife and beams a smile so bright. He is very proud of his family and the life they live. The wife and Children also shine with smiles. These people are very poor by our standards but happier than most of the people I know or see in Australia.

We continue on our way up the valley. We need to make it to our lunch spot in good time. We are not walking for more than 20 more minutes when our cooks and porters overtake us. They are locals and are amazingly agile and swift at this altitude. It will be hours before we catch up to them and by then they will have set up the lunch tent, the cooking tent, a toilet, and have lunch prepared for us.

Onwards. Upwards. Bank left. Track Right. Crest.

Every 20 minutes it seems the land gets more beautiful. Each turn shows me something that takes my breath away. This land is raw, young and gorgeous. The striations across the hills lends the mind toward terracing, as though the land is informing the inhabitants of how best to live here. The rocks change hue, adding reds and pinks, browns and blacks. There are moments I feel in some mad special effect of what should be planet earth but the depth of field is wrong, the palette is off, It is intoxicating. I wonder how many people would choose such a place to die, in peace and beauty.

We arrive at a stream, steadily flowing and park ourselves once more to allow the group to merge once more. Pack = pillow, Hat = Face cover.

The group converge and the strain of altitude is showing on Nathan. It's been a hard walk for him.

A rest for everyone. The good thing about being upfront, is that the rest is longer. I'm feeling much better already with the thin mountain air. I can feel the strength returning. This land is a powerful one. Metaphysical people will say that the youth of the land and the pure air, the clean flowing stream allows for increased pure energy flow. The Quechua will tell you it is Pachamama. I say, that this planet has some incredibly beautiful places that no matter how jaded you are, or spoiled for beauty in your homeland, can't help but make you stop and appreciate the that very moment in space and time. Call it what you will, I call it powerful.

Up again and on (this will be a theme if you haven't guessed). More beauty, more valleys, more streams. The Lares takes you through small villages of no more than 5 families. Ahead we see the tents and it is time for lunch, or at least it will be when the others catch up. The lead porter gives a cold juice & water when we arrive and the lead team sits down and basks in the wonder of the area. We are at 4200m.

We eat a light lunch of chicken, rice and bread. Once we are all rested, off we go again, except for Nathan who unfortunately has to turn back. The altitude is taking too much of a toll on him, and for his health he must return to lower ground.

We have three hours of hiking to go to reach our camp-site and our porters will overtake us within the hour. I am completely recuperated, and lost in the wonder and beauty of the landscape. I'm not sure what people think of my silence, but I don't care. I've nothing to say, I am enamoured.

We reach the peak our days journey at 4450m and the vista is incredible. In the far distance clouds dance between the mountains, giant plumes of moisture twisting in the channels of air from the surrounding topography. I thought I had seen beauty in the first part of the day, but I was wrong. I knew now I would be seeing beauty all the way, some subtly different and others vastly so.

The rest of the walk was easy going, downhill to the 4100m we would be sleeping at. Down into the valley with the dancing clouds, then along a mountainside to our camp – completely made with smoke already rising from the cooking tent. We are settling on the side of a water catchment, not quite a swamp, but more than a marsh.

We eat and play cards into the night, fighting off the cold. Some go to bed early as they are not feeling well, the altitude affecting them. We didn't know it yet, but tonight it would drop to minus 8 degrees centigrade. Not the coldest I've ever been, but when it comes to that level of cold it's something you don't really get used to. Most people commented on the cold.

The next morning. we rose and got ready to start our day. The porters brought bowls of warm water to refresh ourselves. A breakfast of quinoa porridge and coca tea, then onwards again. Today is the big one where we reach the highest of our journey – 4600m.

It was relatively easy until we reached the major ascent. Each time we thought we were reaching the top, there was another peak. It seemed to take forever. I was in the lead group which consisted of myself, two other Australians (1 male, 1 female), and a British girl. When we reached the pass between two mountains that marked the highest peak of our trip the view was incredible. A glacial lake below, a sheet of ice on the mountainside directly next to us and a view behind that stretched for hours. It was incredible and more than made up for the stop starts on the way up the last 500m.

The remainder of the group joined us over the next 30 minutes and each had wonder in their face as they saw through the peak. When Anan arrived, he offered up his altimeter for use in photos – we had reached 4700m under our own steam.

The downhill segment to lunch, where we camped, was easy. The night was much like the previous one, cold, reaching only minus 6 degrees centigrade.

The following morning we trekked downhill to a kindergarten where we would eat lunch before taking the bus back to Ollantaytambo.

The Lares was an exhilarating walk, not actually all that difficult except for the lower atmosphere, but beautiful and rewarding. There are so many other trails throughout this area that I look forward to returning here and exploring some of them more.

At the bottom of the trek, we caught a bus and then a train to Aguis Callentes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.

Other Peru Articles:

August 16 to 17 2011 - Cuzco, Planeterra project, Pisac - Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo

We flew to Cuzco via Lima as our original direct flight was cancelled. When we landed at Lima, we had 30 minutes to disembark and make our way through the terminal, past ticket control and security, to our plane. It was tight, and was quite hectic at one stage as the line-up at security was very long, probably 80 or more people. Ali our guide managed to wrangle security to let us cut the line. 5 minutes after we were on the plane we were taxiing.

Cuzco is a the cultural heart of Peru, the gateway to the Sacred Valley and thus to Machu Picchu (the most popular attraction in Peru, and the one that has captured my desires for a quarter century). Cuzco has all the standard requirements for a colonial city – central square with cathedral, museums, restaurants, statues, etcetera. It is a bustling metropolis and for today we had an afternoon to explore but first lunch. A popular dish in Peru is Roast Chicken. You can get a quarter chicken and chips with salad for around 10 Sols (AU$3.00).

After lunch, Ali took us to one of the local markets to see some of the food on offer. The market was a large tin shed filled with small booths of alpaca, wood, and stone souvenirs, Beyond the first layer comes the fun stuff, the food. The next two lanes are juice stores – think Boost juice but crazy, cheap and exceptionally good. Next came the grocers, fruits and vegetables galore all very fresh and very cheap. Bananas were the highlight for me, a bunch of them costing me 5 Sols (AU$1.50). Needless to say, I've been eating a lot of bananas to get myself caught up after months of not having them due to their expensive prices in Australia. Ali introduced us to a range of local fruits, some sweet, some sour, and one peculiar and difficult to describe.

Beyond the grocers came the butchers. The butchers area is an open market, not refrigerated, and everything is freshly slaughtered that morning. By mid-afternoon nothing will be left and by tomorrow all that was sold will be cooked and eaten. The Peruvians do not let anything go to waste so at the butcher you can buy everything from a fresh cut of your favourite meat to every organ and extremity. It's probably quite off-putting to a lot of westerners to see all this on display, but I find it refreshing that everything is used and that the Peruvians are not squeamish regarding their food. I hope they never lose that in their march toward modernity and westernisation.

Here at the markets I had a goal, a food to try that was apparently a local delicacy – Jugo De Rana, Frog juice. It took a while to find someone that would sell me a frog (2 Sols) but once I had it, I made my way to juice alley and gave it to the woman working there to blend with some orange, apple, papaya, and carrot juice. The result was a beautiful drink with an excellent protein supplement (4 Sols).

The markets are also home to the witches and you can purchase any manner of medicinal remedy or offering to the gods.

The rest of the day was wandering and eating. Most of my travelling companions seem to prefer the basic westernised foods such as pizza, pasta and sandwiches. Thankfully most restaurants offer those as well as some local dishes.

The following day...

I must admit to feeling some trepidation today as we begin the journey I have waited so long to achieve – The Sacred Valley of the Inca, then onto the Lares Trek leading me towards Machu Picchu. It's a weird feeling to stand on the threshold of a dream. I oft wondered what would happen when I achieved this. All know for sure is that my brain will liquefy and splat against my skull (figuratively, not literally, of course). But that is in the days to come, and first we must visit the Sacred Valley.

The way out of town takes us past the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, pronounced Saxy Woman. This was a major fortress that the Spaniards stripped for building supplies in Cuzco.

Our first stop is a Planeterra project run by GAP Adventures. It's a Women's Weaving Project at Caccacollo. This project is a sustainability project to help this community maintain their traditions and support themselves (see The women here use the traditional techniques to dye and weave the wool into scarves, jumpers, hats, gloves, bracelets, and women's ponchos.

One thing I find strange is that in school we were taught that the Inca never invented the wheel and yet I see it use everywhere in the communities. The Inca had the wheel, they just never used it the way we did in the west, and a quick look at the terrain and you can understand why. The wheel for carts wouldn't work with the llama over this terrain. Better just to load the animal and go. Here they use the wheel for spinning wool, crushing ochre, leaves and Cochin, running out and levelling their weave. It is an amazing thing to watch.

From here we travel the winding roads and stop in a village for a light snack of coca tea and traditional epinadas. Epinadas are a small pastry like a pasty with various fillings. The pastry is sweet and the fillings savoury, baked in a clay oven and makes for a satisfying snack.

All through these hills and valleys are the villages that were once ruled by the Inca from on high. The homes are mud brick, made locally from the surrounding mud and grasses. To we in the west it may seem like a poor building material, but it is cheap, effective and survives. All of these homes have electricity, and house at least one if not multiple generations tightly if not comfortably.

Our guide says something very interesting regarding the poverty we are seeing:

“These people are not poor, just poor in technology. They have ample food and water, shelter and community. If you have all that, how can you be poor?”

The agrarian Peruvians live for decades longer than the urban ones. It is not uncommon to see old men and women in their 80's and beyond out here in the countryside.

Our next stop was the Inca ruin of Pisac. The first thing that stands out is the terracing. This is the feature that most people know about the Inca – terraced mountains for their crops. The terracing makes excellent use of the terrain, allowing for maximum agricultural use of hill sides in what would otherwise be unforgiving terrain. The stonework is incredible. The Inca were able to move granite rocks, many tonnes in weight and put them together without mortar with seems so tight you cannot slide even a sheet of paper between them. The Inca built up on the hills for protection and power, to lord from on high, and with structures such as these it's not hard to see why the people deferred to them.

On our way from Pisac to Ollantaytambo, we came across a small town celebrating something in the town square, so we stopped to have a look. There were devils on the roof of the church and a range of people dancing. I'm not sure what reason it was today, but it really seems as though Peruvians need very little excuse to have a party.

Ollantaytambo is the final stop on our tour today. Here is another Inca ruin, looking over the town which is still in the original layout with Inca streets and water ways. The streets are thin with Inca stone forming the first half of the walls. It was a Spanish technique to demolish the top of the Inca buildings and keep the foundations. As such you have beautiful stone topped with plastered European style walls and roofing.

Ollantaytambo is an incomplete city, and is a treasure to behold. Majestically stepping up the mountain to the peak, terrace after terrace into the sky. The structures at the top are impressive, but more so is the pieces left unfinished. There are stones that weigh several tonnes that have been placed near their final location ready for finishing, half polished and smooth. Touching the stones, they are as smooth as glass. You can see from here, across the valley the road used to bring the stones from the quarry several kilometres away.

It is hard to stand here and not appreciate the majesty and wonder of these people and the land in which they lived.

Looking over the town from on top the ruin, there are Incan granaries and a walkway. It is a short journey to the walkway up the mountain, and it is here that I get my first taste of what is going to happen tomorrow on the Lares – the difficulty getting enough air when climbing these stairs to the Granary.

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