The final destination: Machu Picchu
We decided to do the grueling 4 day hike along the Inka trail – here was our group of hikers - it was an interesting group of people from around the globe, though everyone spoke English.
We took a bus to the dropoff site, kilometer 88 on the Urubamba river. The trail itself is a latticework of pathways that form a road system of over 25,000 miles! It connected the entire Inca empire from Ecuador to Chile, with many branches. This path to Machu Picchu was not discovered by the Spaniards - so the ruins and cities along the way were not destroyed/built upon like most pre-columbian sites in Peru.
The view in the Andes was really incredible. Here you can see, way in the distance the kind of reddish peaks of Dead Woman's pass - about the halfway point of our trek.
One of our first stopping points - an overlook of llaqtapata.
The chaskis (chasquis - they preferred to be called by this name as opposed to porters) were amazing. We were carrying our own packs (quite ambitious as everyone else in our group had hired people to carry their main luggage) which were around 40lbs, which was really challenging - the chaskis carried packs of almost 100lbs and were flying up the stairs and along the trail. Their strength was incredible!
A high mountain lake. We climbed through cloud forest and alpine areas including tundra. The environment was constantly changing, the clouds and mists roiled around (and under) us.
A closer view of dead woman's pass. It is named that for the shape of the mountain - you can see the breast/nipple and side of the face pretty clearly here. Though with the altitude I would easily believe that it was from the lethality of the hike. We did pass bones of people (mostly chaskis) who had perished on the hike over the years. We did also see some of the areas which were wiped out by the landslides earlier in the year, where the hikers had been stranded.
Circular ruins at Runcuracay.
More ruins along the trail.
Detail of the stonework - you can see how amazingly, intricately cut the stones are. The scale of everything is really mind boggling.
The terraces show how the Inca people were able to farm even at the incredible, inhospitable heights in the mountains.
Closeup of the terrace walls.
The stone steps are how workers would move between terraces - for scale some of the terraces are so steep they can be 2-3 feet between the steps, straight up.
Mist and clouds appeared and disappeared constantly.
Ek, Mbala and myself along with one of our guides at the top of Dead Woman's pass. I was really looking forward to the downhill portion of the trek - 14,000 feet at the equator is too high for me! I actually had to take some oxygen at one point along the hike since my limbs were going so numb. It's amazing when oxygen feels like some incredible drug because you've had such a hard time breathing for so long!
A wild deer we spotted along the trail.
Each night we camped - off the trail in the evening and then back hiking early in the morning, sometimes as early as 4-5am, always by 6.
Exhausted after a demanding morning hike including a set of the steepest stairs I've ever seen in my life (affectionately termed the 'gringo killer'), we reached the Sun Gate and had our first view of Machu Picchu mountain.
Tired but amazed - Mbala and I at the Sun Gate.
It was pretty funny - there are two entrances to Machu Picchu - one from the Sun Gate, which is only accessible by hiking and one where a bus takes people up from the nearby city of Aquas Calientes. So you've got a bunch of groomed, typical tourists and a bunch of dirty, tired campers mingling about. It is very obvious who is who.
There were little lizards scampering all over the ruins. I also saw a wild chinchilla but I didn't manage to get a photo of it.
Flower on the stone.
We spent the morning on a tour of the different sites of Machu Picchu and then had some time to tour it ourselves. It was really beautiful and surreal, especially the mountain views all around. Afterwards we took a bus ride down into town where I did a bit of wandering and most of our group passed out for awhile until dinner and a train ride back to Cuzco.
Aquas Calientes - you can see the amazing mountains that tower over everything here. They are so steep!
Some other pictures from Peru:
A high altitude lake we had lunch at.
Another high Andes lake.
The Andes are an amazing place to see rainforest and desert so near to each other.
Mbala and I took some time to visit a pre-columbian art museum in Cuzco - it was really neat to see in person many of the pieces that I have studied for years in books.
Bondage deer vessel!
This art has always been a great inspiration to me and my own work.
Typical small city streets.
We attended an interesting demonstration about how natural materials are used in the dyeing of llama wool. The most unique was this bizarre cactus insect that looked like white chalk but exploded with blood which was used for a rich magenta dye.
Faces and storehouses in the stone.
Detail of face carved into the mountain. Can you see it?
There were some elections going on in the Sacred Valley so there was music and rallying while we were there.
Even the cows are cooler in Peru!
School parades in Cuzco town square.
There were a ton of dogs on the street - most actually had homes but wandered during the day. There were notable packs working different sections of the city - they were fascinating to watch. My favorites were two german shepherd brothers who ran a place north of the main city square, but I didn't get a picture of them. One other interesting thing was they had big bags of dog food (like you would buy here, 33lbs) that were cut open in the stores with a scoop - people would buy a scoop of dog food at a time.
Incredible roof tiles.
Parade is serious business.
I miss Peru. :)