17.03.2011 - 08.04.2011
As we near our final week its time to bring you all up to speed on the last leg of our journey (although I hasten to add this is NOT our last blog post). Henry survived biking down the worlds most dangerous road in La Paz and I survived my day at the spa (not knowing quite whether or not its customary to take your clothes off can be quite tricky.) We moved on to Copacabana and the famous Lake titicaca. The magnitude of this lake creates its beauty and Copacabana is a cute, hippy town with many trips to the Isla del sol leaving from the banks. We took an afternoon trip which included a yomp up some Inka steps, this knocked the breath right out of me (shouldve given us some warning for the Inca trail but more on that later). From Copacabana we crossed the border into Peru and into Puno. Its a shame this is the first city of Peru that we saw because it is horrible, its smelly and run down and short of the trips to the reed islands theres really no attractions here. We took an afternoon trip to see how the Quechua people still llive on floating reed islands in the middle of the lake. They demonstrated how to build an island and showed us round their houses. Lots of diehard travellers thinks this is very touristy these days but I enjoyed it, its a very different way of living and is definitely bringing more money to the communities (some seemed to have sky tv?!). From Puno we moved on to Cusco, a beautiful city based around the Plaza del Armas where there is a big catherdral that looks stunning at night. We were spoilt with restaurants and shopping in San Blas, Cusco, lots of narrow cobbled streets with all clothes, jewllery and art hanging out of every window. We made a list of things to buy once we had completed the Inca trail.
An Honest Account of the Inca trail from the Perspective of a Not -so - reasonably - fit Individual
We met our group and guide (GAP adventures) for the Inca trail at a 3 star hotel, this was off to a good start nicer ccomodation than wed been able to afford to date but then we had shelled out a lot for this tour. The group seemed good, a honeymooning irish couple, another pair from Cambridge, some kiwis and a bunch of 18yr old lads oh and a 69yr old canadian. I figured my fitness level should be somewhere in the middle of the group. The first day was a sightseeing day around Ollantaytambo, we went into houses with lots of guinea pigs in them and saw some inca ruins (the steps nearly killed me bu i didnt think much of it). The second day we started the Inca trail proper, no more hotels just trekking and camping. Our guide Roger was a real character and had told us to take everything very slowly because of the altittude. I thought there should be a few of us plodding along at the back. The first day we walked around 11km over undulating paths, lovely scenery, we did some Inca rituals along the way but the group was like lightening and, it must have been the altitude, or my tiny legs but by the end of the first day I was in tears. You see the first day is meant to be the easy day and Roger had already had to drug me up the only hill there was. (Theres a plant that grows by the sides of the paths and when you rub it between your fingers it releases a pungent menthol like smell, if you inhale this is opens your lungs and helps with the altitude.) But the 2nd day is known for being the killer, you have to scale dead womans pass, thats 6 hours pure uphill and Im already at the back of the group trying to keep up. But Roger reassured me, we would take it slowly and he would be with me the whole way, him and his potions. The second day it turns out was gruelling but so rewarding. The scenery is stunning again and once you get over the psychological hurdle that you are not as fit as a 69 yr old nor the 3 year old peruvians who are wandering past you, its a really rewarding day. About an Hour and a half in i started with stomach cramps typical of altitude issues and Roger produced some smelling salts. Jeeez they were strong , Im not sure i had many hairs left in my nose but it got me another hour up the hill. I also had brightly coloured electrolyte drinks and coca sweets. So a mixture of tartrazine, coca, and sheer will power (along with an excellent guide and good company) saw me and Henry toddle over the top of dead womans pass at 4215masl. We were walking with Glen and Renee, the kiwis, at this point and they did a great job at keeping our spirits up. Me and Henry also helped each other, Henry started to feel it just before we reached the top, by that time i was high on all sorts ("iz all natural Kattie") and could reciprocate his earlier encouragement. 2 hours later and we were at camp.
Here is a good place to mention the porters, youngest 21, oldest 59. In our group. On the trail the oldest was 79. The record time to do the whole trail is held by a porter , he did it in 3 hours 45 minutes. The trail should take 4 days. The porters carry all the tents and food (including an oven) on their backs, and RUN past you on the trail. GAP limits the packs to 35kgs but some companies still carry up to 80kgs per person. By the time we reach camp our tent is set up with our sleeping bags and clothes etc inside, there is a bowl of hot water and soap for a quick wash and a mess tent erected for afternoon tea. The food was out of this world considering we were half way up a mountian. On the third day they baked a cake, fully iced, saying "Happy Moon", this was for John and Caroline who were on honeymoon. They all did a steller job we were so well fed. Oh we were woken up with a cup of tea in our tent too, the little bits of luxury made all the difference.
The third day was Dickensian in the sense that it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In the morning we had another climb to do and today we were walking all day, 17 km, including the dreaded 3000 steps. In the morning it rained and rained and me and Henry slowly got further and further behind until even Roger couldnt wait with us and had to march on to find the rest of the group. (2nd cry came here). The floor was so slippy and i kept falling so i had to go so slowly. The pink poncho i had bought that looked fetching in sprinkles of rain simply didnt hold out in this torrential down pour and we were both soaking and cold and miserable. By the time we reached the lunch stop I was cold to the bone and really pissed off. I shared a hot bowl of water for my feet with Caroline and that made things a bit better and the sun slowly came out. In the afternoon we had the most glorious walk with Roger, the Austrailans, Megan and Sally and Renee and Glen. Roger loves orchids and we found at least 8 different types growing in the wild. We even decided to take the long way home, where we walked into this huge clearing across an Inca site, WinayWayna and a huge, double rainbow was arching across the sky. We did some good photos and were back in time for tea. It was a brilliant afternoon.
On the fourth day we woke at 3.45 to reach the sun gate in time for sunrise. By the time we got there (at times on our hands and knees due to the steepness) I was so exhausted I didnt want to walk anymore. There was no sun just a llama eating grass. Still half an hour to Macchu Piccu. By this point I was past caring about the site I just wanted to go home. When we got to Machu Piccu it was raining and cloudy but the clouds sort of hang and give it a really ehtereal feel which i liked. I was so tired I felt physically sick and although Roger gave a good tour I was finding it hard going down any steps because my legs felt like they were made of steel fibres. As the morning wore on and we were given time to explore as a group, my tiredness lifted and I realised that hard though it had been we had made it to this beautiful ancient site. We explored the nooks and crannies and got some good photos and felt very pleased with ourselves for getting there. It was a once in a lifetime experience and once is enough for me!
We moved on from Cusco to Arequipa where as many of you know we were incredibly ill, it has taken us a week to get over some dodgy calamari. But finally tommorrow we are going to colca canyon to see the condors fly!