Friday, November 28th, 2014
It’s been about a week since we arrived in Fiji. We’ve done so much with Rhonda, Henry and Ben, on Tavewa island in the Yasawa archipelago. We’ve been handline fishing, snorkeling, swimming and eating lots of coconuts and mangos. A few days ago, Ben, Kaia and I, with the help of Henry, built a raft out of logs, bamboo, half surfboards, and vines to tie them all together. We’re planning on going fishing on it sometime. Our grandma was visiting us for the past week, and flew out yesterday. Her cruise will stop near our island next Tuesday, so we’ll get to say a final goodbye to her before she flies back to Canada.
500 years ago, most of the Andes mountains, running along the Pacific coast of South America from Colombia all the way to Chile, were controlled by a powerful empire known as the Inkas. These people lived high up in the mountains, had a highly organized society, and were extremely skilled builders and farmers. The empire was the biggest “nation” in the world at the time (1430 to 1530 AD, when the Spanish arrived). It was well over 2 000km long, and contained 7 million people. They built many towns out of stone, and trails to get from one end of the empire to the other. At the centre of all this was Cuzco, in southern Peru. The town has now grown to populate 700 000 people, but in the downtown area, many of the walking streets are still lined with Inka stone walls. Though Cuzco was the capitol of the empire, “The Inka”, the emperor, lived high up in a royal estate called Machu Picchu. I won’t go into detail about Inka culture, because Kaia will write a separate blog about the Machu Picchu itself, so I’ll get right to the point. Now, Machu Picchu is a major tourist attraction and an important part of the economy of Peru. To get there, you fly into Cuzco, and most people take a bus and train to Aguas Calientes, at the bottom of the mountain. But there are many ways to get there on foot, too.
There are 3 real treks, all of them taking between 3 and 6 days. There’s the Inka trail, the really popular one that goes straight to Machu Picchu along the old royal path that The Inka used to take. There’s the Lares trek, which goes through some other ruins before arriving in Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu. And, there’s the Salkantay trek, which goes over a high pass, then descends into Aguas Calientes. We were planning on doing either the Lares or the Salkantay trek, but we found out about a trek about 2 and a half hours away from Cuzco called Ausangate, which doesn’t go to Machu Picchu, but goes around a mountain, and includes climbing over a pass 5200m above sea level, and lasts 4 days. We decided to do this trek after visiting Machu Picchu, so didn’t do a big trek to get to the ruins. Instead, we did the Inka Jungle “trek”, which does involve hiking, but also bike riding, whitewater rafting and ziplining! We talked to a few travel agents in Cuzco, looking for the best price for the tour. There are so many travel agents there! Every time you look down a street, you see about 10 signs saying “Machu Picchu tours”. We eventually booked with a company called Marcelo Expeditions.
On November 5th, we got up early to meet our guide Aurelio, who brought us to the minibus. The first part of the tour involved a 3 hour drive up to 4300m, where they’d give us bikes and we’d ride 60km downhill on a switch backing road. On our drive up, we met our tour mates. A couple from England, a group of 3 from Argentina, 2 young women from Holland, a young couple from Switzerland and 2 more women from Argentina. And, we met the other guide, Jesus (pronounced Heysoos), who did the interpretation for the Spanish speakers in our group.
The downhill ride was awesome. The road was all paved so we could go fast, and the view of the valley we were riding into was amazing. A bit foggy at first, but once we got below the clouds, the weather was nice.
We rode down for about 3 hours and 2 vertical km until we arrived at a little village. Our bikes got put back on a trailer and we drove half an hour to the town of Santa Maria and had lunch. Chicken, rice and soup. That was where we slept the first night of our tour. But our day was far from over. After lunch, we went whitewater rafting! It was Kaia’s and my first time. The guides gave us a quick briefing about the different orders. “Paddle”, “Stop”, Paddle backwards”, and most important, “Get down!”, and we’d need to brace ourselves for a big wave. Most of the time we were floating along the river, but every few minutes, we’d go through a rapid, hit a huge wave and get drenched.
After every rapid, we’d slap our paddles together and yell “sexy llamas!”. Something tells me that safety laws are not very strict in Peru. Here’s why:
-We were rafting in thunder and lightning
– In certain places, the guide would tell us to stand up in the raft while going through a rapid!
-At one point, when we were floating down a calm section before a rapid, the guide said: “Who wants to jump in now? Hold on to the raft while you’re swimming and make sure you get back in it before the rapid.” So we did. I don’t think that’s something you can do while rafting in Canada!
We got out after 2 hours of rafting. A pretty action packed day! We drove back to the town for dinner. Chicken, rice and soup again!
The next day was the long hiking day. We needed to get from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa, 18km away. We left after breakfast (not chicken, rice and soup). The first part was on gravel road, but we soon got onto a trail going through coffee plantations and coca leaf farms, the main ingredient for cocaine! Aurelio explained to us that the farmers are supposed to sell their leaves to the Peruvian government, who used to sell them to the Coca-Cola company, but they stopped using coca leaves in Coke a while ago, so there’s lower demand for the leaves. The Peruvian government is trying to buy the leaves from the farmers for a much lower price now, but the farmers find that they can make a lot more money selling them to the drug dealers!
In the morning, we’d stop every hour or so at a house where we could refill our water bottles and buy snacks. At the first house, there was a monkey with a rope around him tied to a post, and we were told to not go within the length of the rope, or he’d jump onto us. He jumped onto one of the Argentinian women’s backpack!
At the next stop, Aurelio told us about beliefs of the Inkas. The number 3 was very important to them. There are 3 worlds: The underworld, the middle world, and the upper world. The world of the dead people, our world and the world of the gods. There is an animal that represents each world: The snake, the puma and the condor. So they’d hold up 3 coca leaves, pray to the gods, then chew the leaves, which are 0.5% hallucinogen. They don’t get you high, but make you feel relaxed and make you feel not hungry for a while.
Aurelio and Jesus also painted our faces in Inka designs with an orange paint that comes from the inside of some fruit.
And, there was a marmoset there too (a marmoset is like a monkey). This guy was friendlier than the monkey at the last stop, and we could have him jump on our shoulders if we wanted!
After that, we all got dressed up in traditional clothes. Most people had colourful hats, shawls ands skirts, but Rob, the man from England, and I had these big thick cape things and weird masks we could hardly see out of!
There was also a young capybara there, and we could hold that too.
We hiked for a while after that until we got to the lunch spot. This lunch was better than chicken rice and soup. It was chips with guacamole, then spaghetti.
After lunch, my dad and I went for a walk around the area. We found a house with a little pond behind it. In the pond, there were so many ducklings! There must have been at least 40 of them, and they all started to follow me!
We brought Kaia to it, and found a kitten there too!
The hike after lunch was along a path dropping of a huge cliff on one side. The stone steps were built hundreds of years ago by the Inkas.
We hiked down into the valley until we got to a bridge across the river.
We hiked for another half hour, then had to cross back over the river, but this time, we had to use a form of local transport. It was like a zipline, but a bit different. 3 people could sit in a little cart at a time, and zip across the river.
It was only about a 5 minute walk after that to get to some hot springs. They were big, clean and didn’t smell like sulfur at all, which is apparently rare to find in Peru. It felt so good after a long day of hiking to swim and relax.
We then had the choice to either walk another 45 minutes into the town of Santa Teresa, or go in the minibus. It was getting dark, so everyone chose the minibus. We got to our hostel, had dinner, which I think was chicken, rice and soup again, then went to bed.
The next morning was the most exciting of the tour. Ziplining! When we got there, we got our equipment, then had to hike up, and up, and up until we were high above the valley. We had our little safety talk up there, then off we went!
The first 2 lines went across a smaller valley, but the 3rd line went across the big one. It was so high, more than 200m above the ground. The 4th, 5th and 6th lines descended lower than the 3rd down into the valley. Plus, the 6th one was superman style (spread eagled, facing down) and on the 4th one, we could ride upside down!
Out of the 4 times we’ve been ziplining on this trip, twice in Costa Rica, once in Ecuador, and here, I think this time was my favourite!
We then drove 20 minutes to a place called Hydroelectrica, where we had lunch. Chicken, rice and soup! But they ran out of chicken so my dad got to have beef. From there, we walked for 3 hours along the train tracks that all the tourists that don’t trek use to get to Aguas Calientes. It was in a big valley with mountains rising on both sides, and a guide told us that Machu Picchu was on the other side of one of the mountains we could see.
We got into Aguas Calientes at about 5pm. It is a crazy place. 3000 new tourists come through it every day. There are so many tourist shops, bars and restaurants. We had dinner at a restaurant that had a menu, for the first time on the tour, so we could have something that wasn’t chicken, rice and soup! We went to bed early, because the next morning, we had to wake up at 4am to get up to Machu Picchu before the big crowds arrived. Our tour was already going fantastic, and we hadn’t even got to the most important part of it yet!