During 14-17 August 2009 I completed the 46km Lares trek to Machu Picchu. Peru´s 9th and most successful Inca (King) Pachacutec led the Incan empire to expansion during the 15th century and it was then that numerous mountaintop citadels were built, including Machu Picchu. Apart from the indigenous Quechuas, the existence of MP was unknown until American historian Hiram Bingham turned up in 1911 with a young boy as his guide and rediscovered the ´lost city of the Incas´and shared it with the world. There are numerous artefacts that have been excavated from the site that are controversially being held at an American university at the moment, that will hopefully be shared with the world in a museum and return home someday in the future. Knowledge of why the city was built is still ambiguous but what is agreed by all is the magic and beauty of the place, you really have to be there to experience it.
The Inca trail is the typical route taken by tourists to MP and is packed during the summer. The Lares trek is longer and more difficult so I was quite nervous about what I have gotten myself into but knew I had to do it. I spent three days walking between rural Andean villages in the Sacred Valley, past hot springs, archeological sites, lush lagoons and gorges reaching the highest point at 4319 metres. It was simply amazing and most definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
On day 1 I was ready by 5.30am waiting for a taxi to pick me up to board the bus in central Cusco. We drove to Pisac where we stopped for breakfast and I met my fellow trekkers, aged 19 – 58 from Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, England and Canada. I buy my wooden trekking pole for 3 soles (about 60p) and we get on the bus again for Calca. On the way our bus breaks down (an every day occurence in South America) so we have to wait in Calca for an hour. This works in our favour as a cultural and religious festival has just begun in Peru and is being celebrated in this town during the dates of our trek, so this adds a special touch to the whole experience for me. The Festival of Mama Asunta is in recognition of a local virgin, my homestay father tells me, and many people dress up in costumes singing and dancing, and parading the streets. Its quite a sight and the colours and styles of costumes are fantastic, some even very comical and clown-like.
After enjoying the festivities we get on a new bus to Quishuarani. The drive is beautuful and quite scary. There is only one dusty lane and buses often come head to head, going around corners is no laughing matter so I take a little snooze to get away from it all and take a peep now and then to admire the scenery. On arrival we check our bags and meet the team of cooks and porters. Our main guide Saul is Peruvian and leads us to commence our beautiful trek through the Andes with a climb from 3700m to 4200m. The view of the lagoon at the top is priceless and we stop for a break to breath and take some photos. We continue trekking and stop for lunch. We´re all impressed with the standard and quality of the food and know we´re going to be well looked after until the end. In the afternoon we trek for four hours and most of this is downhill. There is a strong group at the front with a guide, I´m in the middle with three Canadian medical students and an English woman without a guide, and Saul is miles behind us with a teacher from London who is really struggling. We find outselves in the middle of the Andes in the darkness with no guide and only the stars and our torches to guide our way. This is a very frightening yet exciting experience, I feel like I am in a Hollywood movie and some beastly creatures are going to come and attack us. Yes this reminds me of Mordor and Lord of the Rings, I tell the others and they don´t like it! We´re guessing our way ahead and the path is very dangerous, one slip of the foot and you´re dead. Eventually we hear a voice in the distance and see a light, it must be Saul our guide so we find a patch of land to sit down and wait for him for about 20 minutes. What an adventure! It takes us at least an hour to reach the campsite and a couple of people in my group are feeling sick and take some medication. The altitude really takes it out of you, no matter how strong and fit you are. We get to the campsite in Yanacocha and the fast group have been there for 90 minutes already! After a tasty dinner Saul shows me to my tent and I get to bed my 10pm. 7 hours of treking have taken it out of me! Its freezing and I don´t sleep much at all.
Day 2 starts at 5am and Delmero guide number two raps on my tent and greets me with “buenos dias” and a hot cup of coca tea. We have breakfast, pack up and we´re treking again by 6.30am. Day 2 is the longest at 8 hours and we reach our highest point. The Canadian students have been sick all night and decide to head back and meet us at Machu Picchu at the end. Will the rest of us make it? We stop to visit some families near Chaqchapata. Their homes are made of stones and inside we see guinea pigs ruinning around under the bed. We continue onto our lunch stop by a glacial stream, Champacocha. I´m really struggling now, its hard to explain I´m not short of breath, but my legs will only go very slowly. I´m at the back now with another lady and Saul suggests I get on a horse. I refuse as I`m determined to walk all the way there but he insists this will cause a huge delay so I give in and climb on for about 10 minutes to speed things up. After lunch we trek up to the highest point, the passage of Auroacasa at 4600m and observe the beautiful lagoon Auroracocha. We celebrate at the top with hot coca tea and hold three coca leaves in the air with boths hands, blowing them in three different directions accross the Andes and then allowing them to rest beside a nearby rock, an ancient Andean offering that we are happy to participate in.
We begin our descent and I feel a rush of energy and find myself in the fast group at the front with no fear. I love rushing though the rocks, dodging the mud, and keeping up the speed as daylight diminishes and we are left again with only our torches. I´m behind Zacherie from Brisbane and he is pretty quick so we get to the capmsite in Mantanayin no time. I feel a real sense of achievement, what a brilliant day. After dinner Saul leads us to a campfire and we take part in another traditional Incan ritual, Saul sings and plays instruments while our eyes remain closed. He thanks the mountains, lakes, seas and oceans and Pachamama mother earth and pays tribute to them, whilst we think about our journeys so far and where our futures will lead us. After some special hot rum and fruit tea we head for bed and I have a better night of sleep despite the temperature being -2!
Day 3 and Delmero hands me a cup of coca tea in my tent and I´m shocked to see a little snowy ice covering my tent and the ground. Its amazing how the temperature and landscape changes during the trek. We start walking today at 7.30am and descend to a lower altitude enjoying amazing views and the queunas bush valley. 4 hours later we arrive at our lunch stop in the picturesque village of Yanahuara and bid farewell to our horses, handlers, cooks and assistants. We get on a bus to Ollantaytambo train station and take the two hour train to Machupicchu town, Aguas Calientes. It´s a relief to finally have a shower in the hostel we stay in. After dinner and a few well deserved beers its time for bed.
Day 4 starts at 5am. We get to our final destination Machu Picchu and some of the group leave at 3am and climb Huayna Picchu but I decide I need a bit more sleep and don´t think I could handle any more! We are there by 6am and the views with the clouds are quite simply breath-taking, this is what it was all for and it was worth it! Machu Picchu actually means old mountain and is not central to the site, as there is also Huayna Picchu and happy mountain. I can´t believe I am actually there and it feels great. Me, Andrew and Darren explore the site and walk to the Inca bridge. By 9am it is pretty busy so we´re lucky to get some good shots before the crowds arrive. We get a bus back to Agus Calientes for a late lunch and head back home.
We´re in Cusco by 10pm. I pop home and am in town again by 11pm to party with my new friends and celebrate our achievement. I must be mad getting home at 3.30am but I still make it for 8.30am the next day to continue my voluntary work at the school in San Sebastian. Machu Picchu in my opinion is certainly worth a visit even without the trek, and completes an exploration of the Sacred Valley, appreciation of the Incan empire and Peru`s magic.