Across The Andes By Prog (Thursday 3 November)

I got out of my sleeping bag at 0700.  It was still raining hard.  We had a brilliant breakfast of pancakes and maple syrup at 0745.  I had some coca tea.  As much for old times’ sake as anything.  This was our last day on the trek, so last night had been our last night under canvas, and as this was our last breakfast in the great outdoors, there was no need to be drinking the coca tea other than for sentimental reasons.  So I had a coca tea.  The cook and the assistant cook and the porters would be leaving us today.  We had had 11 porters while on the Inca Trail.  One of them was not at the camp because he had left at 0300 to go to Machu Picchu to get the train tickets for all of them.  They are not able to book them in advance.  He must have picked a short straw because I would not have fancied walking the trail to Machu Picchu in the dark.  And I doubt he was walking.  All of those who were there joined us in the tent after breakfast so we could give them their tip.  They each told us their name and what their role had been for the time they had been with us.  They were of all ages, so far as I could see, from some lads in their early 20s to some men who must have been older than 60.  I also noticed just how big their feet are, really thick and solid, and clearly suitable for the punishment they must take as they race around these trails in sandals while carrying a huge amount of weight on their backs.  They were all smiling as they spoke with us, all clearly and justifiably proud of their role, and we were more than happy to be giving them their tips, which were very well earned.  I have nothing but respect for what they do.

We got ready to leave the camp at 0845 and actually left in the rain at 0910.  That was how relaxed things were now.  It was the last day of the trek.  All we had left to do now was a walk to Machu Picchu.  It was 9km away but we did not seem to be in a rush.  At 1005 we took a snack break and I ate the most delicious chocolate bar, D’Anafrid Triangula.  I’m going to miss chocolate when this holiday comes to an end.  We continued at 1015 and by 1140 we had covered the mostly downhill 3km to reach our lunch stop, Winaywayna.  They had a small natural history museum with cabinets of stuffed animals from the locality.  The snakes still clearly showed where they must have received the blows which killed them.  It was interesting to see what we would have been completely unaware was lurking in the undergrowth as we had been walking past.  It had been raining all morning and though it did not let up we willingly went with Silvia to see another ruin.  I am very glad that we did.

Winay Wayna

Winay Wayna

Winay Wayna overlooks the Urubamba river and was a research station, used to try out different crops to see what would work at this altitude.  We were currently at 2650m.  The thing is, it is vast, but if Silvia had not led us to it we would never have seen it, because it was hidden away around a corner.  It really did serve to show how some of these ancient ruins could have become ‘lost’, not least because the area around them is so expansive in the first place and they become small in comparison.  We went inside from there to have our lunch, and I sat down to a hot chocolate with milk and sugar, and then lunch was fried sweet potato, avocado, tomato, cucumber, olives, rice, cheese, chips, green beans, peas, carrots, celery and chicken.  As with every meal on the trek, it was delicious.

We continued with our walk at 1340.  We still had 6km to go to get to Machu Picchu.  It was an interesting walk through the cloud forest, the rain a constant, passing some day-trippers on our way, playing ‘ant’ word games (and there is nothing wrong with chucking ‘phantom’ into the equation), and generally we kept our spirits up over this final stretch.  We could see the hydro-electric plant down in the valley below, and the trains which ran from Machu Picchu to Cusco, but we still could not see Machu Picchu itself.  We would have to reach the Sun Gate to do that, and looking around there had to be doubts that the sky would be clear enough, there was so much mist and cloud cover.  Silvia had not warned us about the steep steps which suddenly appeared in our way.  Having said that, the day-tripper in the pink tracksuit and pink trainers seemed to be climbing them with little difficulty.  We kept going to a final rise and reached the Sun Gate at 1520, and Silvia hurried us through because on cue the clouds and the mist were parting to reveal a perfect view of Machu Picchu in all its glory.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

From all the way up here it looked very impressive and daunting in its size.  I was reminded of how Wayllabamba gave a certain impression from above and then a completely different impression once you were on the ground and inside it, and I could only imagine that sort of distinction would be multiplied in this case.  It was hard to take in how massive the site of Machu Picchu was, and especially while marvelling at how very impressive it looked.  We got together for our group photo, and as we moved away from that and turned for another look, the mist and clouds were already back obscuring the sight.  We really had come through the Sun Gate at just the right moment.  Heather and Andy shared out the jelly snakes.  We continued along the trail, keeping one eye on where we now knew that Machu Picchu lay, wanting to be ready if the mist should clear again.  We passed an altar and came to a burial site which still had an Inca painting on the rock face which served as its backdrop.  The locals continued to leave little piles of rocks at the site.

At the burial site

At the burial site

We continued and gradually got closer and closer to Machu Picchu itself until almost before we realised it we were in amongst some of the buildings and overlooking the main complex.  I say the main complex, but it was readily apparent that it was far too big to be considered in those terms.

We had reached Machu Picchu

We had reached Machu Picchu

We had walked 9km to get here and would be coming back tomorrow, so we were not going to be looking around in any detail right now, but our appetites for a full tour were whetted as we just passed along the outskirts on our way to the buses so we could get to our hotel.  There were hot showers with our names on waiting for us.  Or so we hoped.  Honestly, there would be something of a riot if there were not.  Given the way the bus driver was driving, we would be finding out very soon, or we would never find out.  The road was narrow and winding, but neither point seemed to be a good enough reason to restrict the speed of the bus as we hurtled down the hill.  There seemed to be no space between the bus and any vehicle which came the other way, and very soon we were crossing a bridge to the other side of the river running through the valley, and before we knew it were in the town of Machu Picchu.

We got to the hotel at 1730.  The girls were going to meet up at 1800 to go for a spa treatment or some such girlie stuff.  I was just intending to sort out my kit, have a shower, and do some shopping.  I wanted to get some things for Stephen and Caitlin, and had a special purchase in mind for myself.  The shower was wonderful.  It was hot.  That in itself was enough.  It felt like we had been rained on for days, and now that was all washed away.  The town itself was one long road with many side roads leading off it, and a big crafts market at the top of the road, across from our hotel.  I walked to the bottom of the road and then came back up to the market, which turned out to be huge, and led to the railway station.  I found some excellent items for Stephen and Caitlin, and also found the special purchase – a poncho for myself – a fabric one with a red base to the colour, and straight rainbows one either side.  Very Peruvian.  I wore it to dinner at 1930.  I was feeling thirsty so I had a banana milkshake, a pineapple juice, and a mixed fruit juice.  They were all very refreshing, and were all drunk in no time at all.  I ate a sausage, mushroom and pineapple pizza.  There was a pan pipes band in the restaurant and we were asked if we wanted some music.  Of course, we said that we did and they sounded so good I bought their cds.  And so we went back to the hotel to go to bed.  Well, we would have done if we had followed our standard pattern from being out on the Trail, but that had come to a finish now, so we threw standard patterns to the wind and followed Katherine’s desire for a Cusco Sour, except for Helena, who really was very tired.  Silvia took us to what we presume was her favourite nightclub in Machu Picchu.  We were the only people in there.  Everyone else ordered the Cusco Sours, although I am sure no-one had any real idea what they consisted of (and looking at how the barstaff made them at the bar I am not convinced they knew either), and I had a fizzy drink of some description.  Silvia and Heather were up and dancing every time the DJ put on something which took their fancy (which was probably half of the time), and were often joined by Sally and Katherine.  Andy, Russ and I saved our dancing exploits for an exhilarating rendition of the Village People’s YMCA, and I think the poncho fitted in just fine.

That will be the Y

That will be the Y

We were still the only people in there and appeared to be keeping the barstaff up, so we decided to call it a night, and as we left the DJ put on AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long, and I cannot help wondering if the music was about to get good…  Silvia said I should lead us back as I had not been drinking, and I am pretty sure she thought I would not remember the way.  Actually, I do not think I did remember the way, but I may have stumbled across a shortcut because we were soon back at the hotel.

I am not sure what time we got back to the hotel, but it would not have been so very late.  I still felt awake, so I put on my iPod Shuffle.

Riverside – Hyperactive
Kate Bush – The Big Sky
Matt Stevens – Big Sky
Rush – Changes
Marillion – Afraid Of Sunlight
OSI – Terminal
Steven Wilson – Deform To Form A Star
IQ – Ryker Skies
Porcupine Tree – Deadwing
Tinyfish – Bad Weather Road
Tinyfish – Rainland
Magenta – Glitterball
Von Hertzen Brothers – Disciple Of The Sun
Frost* – Milliontown (live)
Matt Stevens – Rusty (The European Perspective session)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
Jethro Tull – Aqualung (live)
Jethro Tull – Hunting Girl
Neal Morse – The Truth Will Set You Free
Gazpacho – Desert Flight
Phideaux – I Was Thinking Of You
Tinyfish – Wide Awake At Midnight
The Waterboys – The Pan Within
Pendragon – Indigo
King Crimson – The Sheltering Sky
Peter Gabriel – San Jacinto
Phideaux – Tempest Of Mutiny
The Fat Lady Sings – Providence
Lazuli – Cassiopee
Von Hertzen Brothers – Freedom Fighter
Godspeed You ! Black Emperor – The Dead Flag Blues
Pure Reason Revolution – The Bright Ambassadors Of Morning
Panic Room – Apocalypstick
Twelfth Night – Counterpoint

I am not sure how many of those I consciously heard, because falling asleep was easier in a bed than in a tent.

You can see more photographs from the day here.

This entry was posted in Peru, Walks. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.