16th November 2015

16 - 22 November: Peru Part 3…. Cusco and trekking through the land of the Inka’s

On Monday I take I easy: stroll a little bit through the city, buy snacks and water for the trekking, then the briefing by the tour guide towards the evening. Back in the hostel I split my belongings up into: what comes with me on the trekking and what will stay in Cusco together with Suzy. For the first time since Alaska I get the warm merino clothes out of the bags again. Edgar our tour guide has already warned me that it will be pretty cool, mainly the first night on almost 3900MüM. I cannot sleep very well, probably I’m somehow excited: how will I manage these four days of hiking (between 15 - 25 km per day with up to 2500 meters of elevation)? And I didn’t much of hiking the past months – not exactly part of my daily activity ;-). But at least I feel ok so far even in the altitude of Cusco.
Early in the morning at five I’m picked up by Edgar and his Team. The composition for the next 4 days: Edgar (tourguide), Mario (horseman), Epifanio (cook), 2 Dutch, 3 Germans, 2 Americans and me. And once again I’m twice as old as all the others. Only Edgar is with 28 years a little "older" as the other participants. Hmmmm ... ..well, at least under these circumstances I have an excuse in case I’m running out of air during the trekking ;-)
We drive up to the starting point of our trek: Mollepata (2800MüM). After a hearty breakfast we start hiking. We carry "only" our day backpack with rain clothes, clothes for changing during the day, drinks and snacks. The rest (max. 5kg including sleeping bag) is carried up by the horses. The first day is like a "warm up". After about 10km we already reach our first camp site Soraypampa on 3890MüM. After a delicious lunch and a short but most welcome nap Edgar walks with us up to a mountain lake. 300m of elevation, straight up high to the lake below the Humantay (5317MüM). The view is fantastic, a few "tough guys" from another group even show their courage and go for a swim !! Edgar makes this "unnecessary" walk on the first day always; partly because of the lake and the really stunning view up there but partly because like that he sees how good our condition is and plan the walking times for the next two days.
Despite the altitude (and cold) we all sleep well after a nutritious dinner; the next morning we are awakened already at 5am and get a hot cocatea for a start and after getting ready of course again a rich breakfast. Already at 6.00 clock we start our longest and probably hardest hiking day: 24km and almost 2400 of elevation (700up and 1700down), bundled up with cap and gloves as it is really cold up here. But as soon as the first sunlight reaches the valley it is getting warm and I quickly get rid of my jacket and the gloves. Although already over 400MüM I’m walking around in my t-shirt (but with the cap because of the wind). Edgar has ensured us to walk in our own suitable pace and not to rush up or pay attention to the others pace. As always I have to stop shortly every few hundred meters and take 3-4 times a deep breath before I can continue. Not really a convenient habit but one that accompanies me since I know on my hikings. The increasing altitude doesn’t make it easier that time, that’s for sure. But at least I’m not the only one who has to fight the way up to the pass. Edgar assures us, however, that we are doing well and he had much slower trekking participants before. The landscape is simply breathtaking, the Salkantay accompanies us the whole time; the beauty of its snow and ice walls are becoming clearer, the higher we get. 
After about 3 hours we reach happy but quite out of breath the Salkantaypass (4620MüM). Edgar tells us a lot about the surrounding mountains (the Salkantay was for example only 3 times conquered so far, one of them a Swiss), the significance of its name, the history of colonization and the rituals that still celebrates his people (the Quechuas) today. While he tells us all these interesting details we can observe how far up in the mountain an avalanche breaks down; however, after a short time gets stuck in the ice. 
After we have done all the obligatory reminder pictures and eat some snacks we go on hiking, but now exclusively down, partly very steep and rocky. I'm glad I rented some trekking sticks, my meniscus will thank me. Again a nutritious lunch, 30 minutes for a nap and on we go. Downwards we walk in quite a speedy pace and reach - contrary to the expectations of Edgar - the 2nd campground already by 4pm. Of course we're all pretty exhausted but also very happy with what we all have achieved that day. The landscape - and of course the temperature - has changed during walking down, you realize that we are approaching the rainforest. The campground is like the first an accumulation of simple houses which are built and operated by locals. While we sleep in a tent, the tent is under a roof. Makes it easier, since it rains almost every night here. That way we can pack up the tents dry in the morning – or in other words we can help Marion with packing them. Actually, we have an incredible luck with the weather: in spite of the rainy season it was raining only during the night and only briefly. Edgar says that our group seems to have a good karma ;-) last week it had rained continuously during 4 days – I don’t even want to imagine that – hiking in rain all the time!!
On the last pure trekking day we hike down to 1500 meters above sea level and arrive in the afternoon happily in Aguas Calientes; or Machu Picchu Pueblo as it is called for the tourists as well. I‘m totally appalled by the sight that offers the village to me: hundreds of tourist shops, dozens of hotels and hostels. Although not high season there is an industrious bustle and teeming with tourists (at least it seems so). Well, to be fair, right now I’m one them as well. But honestly, I do not want to imagine what’s going on here during peak months, where up to 4,000 people per day are visiting Machu Picchu. After a great dinner we all grateful take a hot shower and fall into the beds.
The next morning we get up early again as we want to be up at Machu Picchu at sunrise. Means that we have to be at the bus station the latest at 5.30am. Of course you could also walk up but none of us felt doing that and be tired even before the tour starts – did enough of walking the last three days ;-) An in addition, I was counted among the lucky 400 who were allowed to hike up to "montana Machu Picchu“. Getting up early has not paid off, the ruins were covered by clouds and after the 2 hours - again very informative - tour of Edgar I started with mixed feelings the 1.6km distance from the ruins up to the summit (3000MüM). It is quite a hard walk up as the whole way is just consisting of stairs!! And my short legs are once more not really an advantage. But at least we are lucky with the weather; shortly after reaching the summit the clouds vanish and we have a magnificent view down to the ruins, over the holy mountain Huayna Picchu and the surrounding mountains, respectively. the jungle. The climb down then for my knee again no bed of roses but it was worth it anyway. The rest of the afternoon we stroll around in the ruins and get down to the train station just in time. 
Well, however, this time we are unlucky. The locomotive does not work – due to engine problems - and we have to wait on a replacement locomotive for 2.5 hours. I was amused how some of the guests were completely upset about the situation. A waste of energy and the train employees did really their best to keep us in a good mood with coffee and snacks. So we came back to Cusco finally at 1.30 in the night. But I didn’t care about that as I had no plan to get up early but mainly explore Cusco and plan the upcoming days.
Cusco is the provincial capital, lies on 3416 meters above sea level and has approximately 350,000 inhabitants. Already since 1983 Cusco is one of the Unesco World Heritage sites. Cusco is called in the Quechua language - the indigenous people of this region - "navel of the world" and the legend says it was founded by the first Inca Manco Capac (son of the sun) together with his sister Mama Oclio about 1200ac. Cusco is today the economical and touristic center of this area. Since it is not high season, the flow of tourists is quite pleasant and the hawkers are limited. 
Today (Sunday)I’m even be able to enjoy a parade: today the raising of the two flags (Peru & Cusco) is specifically celebrated. The city and the deputy president of the province of Cusco draw up the flags, meanwhile the local music band plays the respective anthems. While the Peruvian anthem is played all people stand up and sing along with fervor; the Peruvians are proud of their country and of their Inca history. At the same time there is a parade of various schools and children which represent different countries, of course, dressed appropriately. I did not find out what was the reason for this parade in time. I like it here in Cusco. Although very touristy, the city shows a charm that has been revealed to me in no other city like this. So I stroll comfortably through the city, let my clothes washed and indulge my favourite city passion: people watching.
In the evening I will meet Ira ( the one from Canon del Pato) for dinner which will arrive in the afternoon with another German motorcyclist. Tomorrow I will leave Cusco and drive towards Lake Titicaca - which means that my days in Peru already come to an end ...... unfortunately. Apart from the driving style I really enjoyed the time I could spend in Peru. Of course also here you could easily spend 1-2 months (or longer), that many beautiful and interesting areas and sights are still to discover. But first I look forward now to the remaining 4 weeks that I will spend in South America.

Hasta luego mi amigos