I've Seen It From the Top

It would be
impossible to tell you about everything I did in Cusco--I did and saw so
many things!  This photo collage is a pretty way to summarize some of what I was up to...

Cusco Blog.jpg

 

Caption:

First Row: Arriving
at the airport in Cusco, modern art in the Q'orikancha museum/convent/inca
temple, 22 steps carved from living stone (and some silly guides) on the Inca
Trail, an illegal photo of the dome inside Cusco's cathedral, ruins at
Ollantaytambo, my lunch (menú S./ 4, about $1.30!)

Second Row: Llamas,
Inca stonemasonry at Ollantaytambo, Cusco's famous 12 sided stone, me with some
GIANT stones at the Sacsayhuamán ruins, Inca ruins on the Inca Trail

Third Row: Iglesia
in the Plazoleta San Blas, having dinner with a friend I ran into by accident
in Cusco, the 'classic' Machu Picchu photo, little kids in indigenous costumes
dancing in Cusco's Plaza de Armas, Plazoleta Recojizo in Cusco

Fourth Row:
Exploring Ollantaytambo before hopping on a bus to the start of the Inca trail,
the backside of Q'orikancha in Cusco, our Inca Trail group chillin' out at
lunch the first day

Fifth Row: Inca
Trail hiking group on the first day, still clean and happy.  10 people, 7 nationalities!  Plaza de Armas, gringo central in Cusco.

Click see more to read about my experiences hiking the Inca Trail!

While I was in the
Sacred Valley, I also 'hiked' the classic 4 day trail to Machu Picchu.  It was an amazing experience, and definitely
my favorite part of my trip to Cusco.  It
is now illegal to hike the Inca Trail by yourself--you must go as part of a
guided group--and entries to the trail have been limited by the Peruvian
government to a total of 500 a day, in an effort to help protect the trail and
surrounding areas from excessive degradation. 
I say 'hiked' because the guided tours have evolved into quite the
pampered experience. 

 

First off, if
someone wakes you up with a hot cup of coffee at your tent in the morning, it
can't really be hiking.  It also can't
really be hiking if they serve you pancakes for breakfast!  Also, for our group of 10 hikers and 2
guides, there were 16 porters. 
Sixteen!  Hikers carry any
personal items they wanted with them, clothes, snacks, toiletries, etc, and
their sleeping gear.  Porters haul the
tents everyone sleeps in, the food, a chemical toilet, and assorted other
items.  Hikers also have the option to
hire a personal porter--so that they carry only their water for the day, a
camera or two, and a jacket.  In our
group of 10 people, a whopping SEVEN hired personal porters.  I was pretty surprised.  In fact, I felt a little uncomfortable and
exploitative about having porters while hiking the Inca trail.

 

Most of the porters
are from the indigenous communities in the Sacred Valley.  They are often farmers with little or no
education, and few opportunities.  Recent
legislation about porter welfare has helped improve their situation--the weight
they carry is now limited to 20 kilos, and the tour agency must have food and
adequate sleeping arrangements for the porters.   Still, many of the porters walk and run the
trail in just sandals.  They carry heavy
loads in just duffel bags or wrapped up in a piece of cloth and bound to their
backs.  They makes a pretty sharp contrast
with the tourist hikers, with our technical fabrics and modern internal frame
backpacks and hiking shoes with special extra-sticky rubber.

 

 The company I hiked the trail with seemed to
treat our porters very well.  The guides
knew their names, and they were always joking around with them.  At the end of the trek, we had a meet and
greet, in which the hikers met the porters and vice versa.  The porters told us who they were, where they
were from, how old they were, and what they carried.  We told them where we were from, and thanked
them for their service.  Our group also
left a generous tip for the porters, and tipped both of our guides.  

 

The Inca Trail was
amazing and beautiful.  It had sooo many
stairs!  The 2nd day is about a 5 hour
ascent to the first pass, the Dead Woman's Pass, which is at 4,200 meters above
sea level!  The third day was my
favorite--the views and the flora on the undulating, nearly-all-original path
up to the third pass were amazing.  While
the hike was fun, it was also really tiring! 
The last day, we woke up at 3:30 am to wait in line until the checkpoint
opened at 5:30 am.  From there, it was an
hour of hiking to the sun gate, Intipunku, for a gorgeous view of ... mist.  Machu Picchu was completely obscured, because
it's the rainy season in the mountains right now.  From the sun gate, we walked another hour to
arrive (finally!) to Machu Picchu.   But
I have a horrible confession.

 

Are you ready?

 

When we got to Machu
Picchu, one of my first thoughts was, "I've seen it from the top, I think
I'm set.  Where can I go lie
down?"  I was so tired I didn't want
to wander around and see all of Machu Picchu! I guess that's what happens when a coffee-addict like myself misses her morning cup-o-joe.  Unfortunately, the last day of the trip did not come with the wake-up coffee, due to the early start.

 

Thankfully, our
group had a 2 hour guided tour of the ruins, and then I even went and did extra
walking around with folks from my tour group. 
Once we got past 8am, I perked up a bit and felt a little more
energetic.  Still, I'll be forever guilty
of thinking it would be fine to just see Machu Picchu from the top.

 

Lima vs. Leuven
needs its update!  I'm going to give +3
for running into friends by accident in Cusco, +2 because it never rained while
we were walking on the Inca Trail, +2 for Inca mysteries, +4.2, where points
are equal to highest elevation attained in a trip in meters divided by 1,000,
and +1 for truly impressive stonework. 
At least some of the Incas must have been engineers!  That leaves us with Lima 35.4 and Leuven
33.9, although I have the feeling Meghan racked up plenty of arbitrary points
on her trip to Paris!  

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