A Travellerspoint blog

Moray - Maras Trip

Tuesday 3rd May

Following a fun evening with some of the ex-pats last night, in The Real McCoy at a pub quiz to raise funds for another local charity – Challenge Peru- (they do this every week) I had discussed wanting to visit Moray- an Inca site that fascinated me and which I hadn’t seen. Carol suggested the best way to get there, a lovely 3-4 hour walk if I was up for it, taking in the Salt Pans – Salinera de Maras before various forms of transport back to Cusco so I thought why not. This proved to be quite interesting in more ways than one! From strange, potentially dangerous taxi drivers to amazing Inca sites to seeing local farmers working to incredible modes of transport....read on......

So I was instructed to start early and be out for 8am, which I was. I had asked a young girl who was staying in the hostel if she had wanted to come but had declined. First I had to get a taxi to Calle Pavitos where the “Urubamba Collectivo” runs from. This is where taxis wait, fill up and take you to Urubamba...slightly more comfortable than the bus. However when I arrived a pleasant looking guy asked me where I was going. For Moray you need to get off at Ramal (basically a junction) and get another taxi to the site. He insisted I should take his taxi and he would charge me 60 solis. I asked about the collectivo – it was 10 solis but a taxi from Ramal would cost me 45 solis. After some back and forth with my pigeon Spanish I said no I wanted to go on the collective so I got into a minibus with another group. Just as it was about to leave he stopped them told me to get out as there were 2 others for Urubamba. He then sent me to his car and said he would take me for 10 solis. As I waited more cars filed out full. I got out and asked him how long I would have to wait..he said 50 mins. I said no, took my bag and went to another car with 3 others leaving in 5 mins...I actually think I might have had a lucky escape. His car wasn’t even sitting ready to leave; it was parked up! So onwards to Ramal – 10 solis (about £2.50) for a 50 min journey is pretty good. When I was dropped here there were a couple of taxis waiting, one with 3 people already in. I was told they were going to Maras but I would have to pay more for Moray as I was the only one...15 solis. Slightly different to what the taxi driver in Cusco said! Again this taxi driver tried to persuade me to have him wait and bring me back to Maras for the salt pans. He doubted my ability to walk and said it would take all day..I told him I had all day!! So finally, safely dropped at Moray, I began my exploration..I might add this is one of the new sites added to the Bolleto ticket, which lasts 10 days, and you can visit about 9 sites at a cost 130 solis. If you choose to do any of them singly it costs you 70 solis but as this one has just joined you can still enter for 10 solis...result! 
It was a beautiful day with only a few clouds in the sky..so I had to be careful of sunstroke..having already experienced this (that will come out in the Choq trek – last day) I got me hat out pronto!! There were a few tours there but not many and it was so peaceful with lots of butterflies – the lovely yellow ones I mentioned earlier – birds chirping and silence – no noisy tourists...a real delight to explore. Here is a little history of the site and the reason I wanted to visit. It is very different to the others I have seen..it almost looks like an alien landing site or a coliseum but they think it was an experimental station for plants and crops.
“The site contains unusual ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is about 30 m (98 ft) deep. The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and bottom. This large temperature difference was possibly used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. In other words, Moray was perhaps an Inca agricultural experiment station. As with many other Inca sites, it also has a sophisticated irrigation system” .
OK, what else you need to know is the excavations have found different soil in the lower parts in comparison to what is in the surrounding area to try to grow other plants. The soil is believed to have been transported from Northern Peru and was very dark in comparisons to the clay, light coloured soil from the area, to try and grow other crops. They found coca leaves amongst other things which they tried but couldn’t grow so it is thought the Incas were having limited success. They have found what they think is a complicated irrigation system underground to capture the condensation, river water and rain...all in all it was a lovely site. In each Inca wall at intervals there are various protrusions which actually seem to be steps. I used a set that seemed to be in use to descend to the floor of the sit. Unless you were reasonably fit you wouldn’t manage this as some steps were spaced quite far apart or a bigger drop..I was the only one going down..it is also quite a climb back out. In the centre there seems to be an area for a fire or sacrifice ..the reason for my own hypotheses above..probably rubbish though!!
Anyway before I descended into this site there was a guy on a bike speaking English (well American actually) so I took the opportunity to ensure I knew the path Carol had mentioned back to Maras. I knew it wasn’t the road the taxi had brought me in as it took a convoluted way to get there. He said he didn’t but his colleague would, so we went to meet him. As we walked I asked him if he had been involved in the Downhill Cycle race that Carol and Paul competed in at the weekend and Carol got 2nd in the women’s race which she was as high as a kite about. He had but hadn’t got on very well. He remembered Carol and Paul so we chatted a minute. KB, his colleague as it turns out had organised the event and he gave me clear directions about where to go. As it turns out Chris was “Chris Van Dine” and is the actual Pan Am Downhill Cycle Champion..worth a Google to see some heart-stopping pictures of what these guys get up to..not for me..but Carol and Paul get such a buzz from this stuff.
So after exploring the site I set off on my little walk. This is real farming country and looks like something from war times. On the way to Moray I had seen oxen pulling a plough, here there were sheaves of corn either drying in the sun or already constructed into stacks. This area is part of Sacred Valley so very fertile. Along this very pretty and peaceful road I met women mostly, but some men tending or moving their animals , sheep and goats running together, little piglets kept with the sheep, some fine looking bulls and donkeys..all in small numbers but what you would expect from small holdings. It was just lovely. Once I reached Maras I wasn’t sure where to pick up the track for the Salt Pans so I had to ask a few people. Eventually I found it after wandering around a number of streets, encountering the odd bull wandering around the street with seemingly no owner and some men digging up potatoes on the outskirts. The track led me straight down to Sacred Valley past lots and lots of maize plants. I wasn’t sure what I expected to see from the Salt Pans but it was certainly a surprise when I did see them. On the way I met a few locals – a couple of old ladies carrying large loads of grass in the large shawls on their backs (these red shawls are used for carrying everything including the babies) a man with his donkey laden with grass, a dog tending a herd and deciding he didn’t like me but fortunately didn’t attack me plus the guy seemed to know it and pacified it before he moved on. The local people are all very friendly , smiling and greeting you...you just have to remember which part of the day it is so you greet them appropriately..”Buenas Dias” until lunch,” Buenas Tardes” for after lunch until about 9pm then “Buenas Noches”..often this gets shortened to Buenas...kinda lets you off the hook! So just when I thought the Salt Pans were the dried hillside I had past, I rounded a corner to see a mass of white at various levels. From the distance I couldn’t tell if it was the roofs of houses or what it was but as I got closer I could see all the different levels of salt baths. From the first view point you think you have seen it all. It is only as you walk further along the path you realise how extensive they are. Most of the visitors ,who come in by car/ bus along a very contorted and long road, would never realise the true size as the rest are hidden around a bend. It truly was a wondrous sight. As with Moray I have added a bit of detail for those who are interested...
“Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. Almost all the ponds are less than four meters square in area, and none exceeds thirty centimeters in depth. All are necessarily shaped into polygons with the flow of water carefully controlled and monitored by the "farmers". The altitude of the ponds slowly decreases, so that the water may flow through the myriad branches of the water-supply channels and be introduced slowly through a notch in one sidewall of each pond. The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and the water-entry notch, the pond's bottom surface, the quantity of water, and the removal of accumulated salt deposits requires close cooperation among the community of users. It is agreed among local residents and pond "farmers" that the cooperative system was established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier. As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond's earthen walls and on the pond's earthen floor. The pond's keeper then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry. Within a few days the keeper carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt. Color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan, depending on the skill of an individual "farmer". Some salt is sold at a gift store nearby. The salt mines traditionally have been available to any person wishing to harvest salt. Usually there are many unused salt pools available to be farmed. Any prospective salt farmer need only locate an empty currently unmaintained pond, consult with the local informal cooperative, learn how to keep a pond properly within the accepted communal system, and start working. The effect of sunlight reflecting from the maze of ponds is quite stunning. “...
Quite interesting I thought. There were salt ornaments and pink salt for baths etc on sale in a shop on the site..I resisted. The bulk goes for table salt.
I had stopped here in the shade of a small church at the top of the site to have my lunch (I’d taken a couple of extra rolls from breakfast as I knew it was too early to get provisions before I set off). I don’t think I have mentioned the rolls here, but they are very flat and mostly quite hard. I am assured that seemingly yeast doesn’t function as well at altitude so it doesn’t rise..whatever the reason is, that just how the rolls are and are challenging to cut open cleanly. Invariably you have a hole 80% of the time with jam, or whatever gooey filling you may have, leaking out!
As mentioned in the last blog I also saw lots of wooden crosses of Christ sitting out, with people on watch nearby and fireworks being set off here giving me the fright of my life! As with all the churches the doors were lying open for those wishing to enter. I sat outside on one of the benches.
So onward on my walk.... it ended up coming up onto the main road again but further down from where I had left it. This time, however, I wasn’t sure which direction to walk in..my gut feeling was to turn right and (for a change) this proved right! The road had brought me out below Urubamba so I now had to flag down one of the collectivo taxis. The first couple went past, heaving with people, but the next one stopped. A young couple whom I had passed at the Salt Pans also got on this one. This was a real eye opener. This was your standard minibus with about seating for 12. By the time the driver had finished there were 24 of us on this bus (Maureen calls them the clam buses)!! Just when you thought there was no way to squeeze any more people in he would look in his mirror at us and stop again..he obviously spied a space we couldn’t see!! I had to laugh. In front of me one of the school kids was obviously doing her homework project.... Stinking little sticks together with glue making a raft, as far as I could see. I was impressed, as it was quite intricate work and the bus was a tad rickety. She didn’t surrender the spare seat beside her until the very last and pressure from the other passengers! Once in Urubamba the bus came to a final halt at the bus terminal – cost 70 centimos (less than 20p). As it turned out the girl (from the young couple) spoke some English when I had asked her, in Spanish, where the bus stop to Cusco was. She guided me through the bus terminal to the relevant side for the Cusco buses. Here we bought tickets for Cusco with seat numbers on them (cost 3.50 solis – so again less than £1 - cheap for 1.5 hours travel). The numbers were obviously written on our tickets from memory because the couple had to go back out and check as their numbers were duplicated. It took me a minute to find out how I knew which seat to sit in. I knew I had seat 15 but couldn’t see the number. It was written in pen on the panel above the seat! I thought this means of transport seems better and more organised...I should have held that thought! Just as we were about to leave, on piled all the school kids until we were fit to burst! I don’t think they must pay for transport as I never saw any money exchanged. I don’t think there is such a thing as a timetable as it only moved when we were nearly full and there was lots of shouting “Bus para Cusco”. Anyway loaded with people and anyone with large packages could have them launched onto the top of the bus via the ladder up the side of the bus by the young boy who seemed to act as a type of conductor; or they could sit on your knee. This is where my rucksack stayed for the next hour and a half, as we stopped and started (literally... as the engine cut out every time he stopped to let someone off), until we reached Cusco. The bus really was a bone-rattler and the window next to me, I felt sure, was going to fall out of its runners either on top of me or out! The bus never seemed to empty..as the school kids got off more piled in so there were always lots of people standing. It definitely was like one of those films you watch in India with people jumping on and off buses. In Cusco the bus reversed into a small yard and we all piled out onto the street. This wasn’t the bus station I had been at last year but could see I was near where I had been dropped in the morning for the collectivo. I couldn’t see any taxis so walked, in what felt like the right direction. It was still light and there were lots of people about, some smartly dressed so I felt it was OK to walk. I could see the cathedral roof a short way off and soon realised where I would come out. It wasn’t that far to my hostel. I might add I did flag down a taxi a little earlier but when I told him where I wanted to go he said “No”. Some taxi service that was, especially considering it wasn’t that far!!
.....All in all it had been a very interesting day!!

Posted by Heather Buc 09:20 Comments (0)

Back in Cusco

30th April to 5th May

I am now in Cusco until Thursday. I'm thinking I might go and see some more of the Inca sites. Moray is one that really interests me. This requires a bus so limited walking. I also need to catch up with Maureen re arrangements for Thursday. Paul, of Amazonas Explorers, has a young guy who works for them and who has a taxi. It is a lovely story re this young chap that Paul now employs. Paul encountered this young boy begging on the street and helped him out, giving him some money and encouraged him to go to school. Over the years their paths seemed to drift apart then cross again. The young boy had taken the opportunity given to him and got some schooling. The upshot is he now has his own taxi and does some work for Paul and Carol. He is married (Paul paid for it) and they have a child which Paul is godfather to. The taxi journey on Thursday will be quite expensive as it is quite a distance (about an hour) but with the amount of luggage I have and my laptop I think it will be safer, plus the hostel I’m in is up an alley with a lot of steps..not fun for carting things...so help would be much appreciated.

After 9 days of challenging climbs and descents I thought it was time to give my knees a rest and try to get rid of my very itchy mosquito bites. Unfortunately I think I am finding new ones!! After a trek you really need time to sort things out so following good advice of a cheap laundry which will wash and iron I proceeded to sort out my clothes and take them there. Prices are calculated by weight and vary from 10 solis per kg for 2 hour turnaround, 5 solis/kg for the same day and Monday (as closed on Sunday)– 3 solis/ kg. When I got them back I was really pleased and it only cost me 15 solis..about £3.50...not bad! I may try and use them again before I leave as I will need to source new places depending on where I end up. I don’t see the living out of suitcases ending in the next few weeks as I will stay with Maureen until it is decided where will be best to base myself. The situation is very fluid as Maureen had explained the other day what they thought they were sending James to do was changed by the teachers when he got there including the number of days he would be at that school. He has ended up 4 days per week in Urubamba – a bigger town in Sacred Valley teaching English and Sport, and 1 day in one of the villages. My preference is still to work in the remote villages but I will have to do as I am told I suppose. They know best what is required and will be sustainable. I meet Sonia and Maureen at Living Heart Cafe on Thursday and will also be assessed for my Spanish..I’m dreading that bit but hopefully I can be ready sooner rather than later...I’ll do some more swatting this week. I am learning new words all the time as I am thrown into different situations, which is good....leaky sinks in the hostel, shopping, people striking up conversations with you (limited in my case) etc.
I have been very indulgent while in Cusco and decided to read one of the books which you can borrow from the hostel. This is something I haven’t done in a long time despite really enjoying a good book. It also helps when you are eating alone in restaurants I feel. It was a Dean Koontz and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I now need to find another, so will ask around. I have been told there is a second hand book store not too far away.

Things are even noisier at the hostel as they are renovating the dining room and relaying a tile floor...so tranquillity has gone right out the window. This and the delights of the College next door and their 5.30am starts make for an interesting time here. I thought about trying to change but to be honest the hassle of dragging my cases up a number of hills were outweighed by a set of ear plugs and only a few more days. I’ve also chosen not to ask for one of their heaters again and put an extra layer on if sitting up in bed at night, or sit in the conservatory as it is warmer. The reason why..as I left for my trek they hit me with a $15 bill for the heater! I’m not being stingy but I do want to be careful with my money and thought I’d try it without and it’s fine. They give me my hot water bottle and I’m as snug as a bug when in bed. There were nights when I hadn’t turned the heater on anyway but was still charged.

There have been lots of celebrations continuing on every day since I returned with lots of fireworks at all times of the day and night. I’ve even heard them at 6am in the morning. I can hear them but haven’t found out where they are. There are lots of different days being celebrated. The first real big one was on 1st May and the “The International Day of the Worker” when all employees should get a day off and celebrate and believe me they do..there have been a lot of drunken people in the streets. Our hostel employees were working the owners had a party for them all on Monday. Maybe they did the other two hostels in the chain on Sunday. On Sunday afternoon I wandered about Cusco and saw lots of stalls with betting tables, betting on numbers, pictures etc; food all being prepared on the street, various street artists and lots of people milling around. Just outside San Pedro market, (a huge market with a lot of producers selling their wares... lots of food and a few craft shops dotted throughout), there was a big book fair with children’s toys too. I was sorely tempted but resisted until I know for sure age groups and what I am to teach. As I wandered it was interesting to see that the main square in Cusco (Plaza de Armas) is about the only place the festivities weren’t happening. There was also a big carnival in the college next door too. Unfortunately they do start early and use microphones so very loud again!! The other huge festival ongoing all over is “The Festival of the Crosses”. Everywhere you go there are churches and cathedrals open and wooden crosses with the face of Jesus being crucified attached, sitting out on street corners outside the cathedrals. I have seen little fires lit and people standing vigil over these. The fireworks are set off before the virgins leave the church to ward off bad spirits. Virgins are highly revered here following on from the Inca traditions. I’ll go into more detail in my detailed Trek blog which will come later and out of sync. These all seem to be a continuation of “Semana Santa”- Holy week- and is huge in South America.

Back to more mundane, but I think interesting points. Despite predictions of less rain in May we are still having some big downpours and Monday was one of them. Once it dried there was no water again in hostel as there was a problem in the hostel this time so I decided it was time to go shopping as there were a couple of purchases I wanted to get. I went shopping to some of the artisan areas looking for the actual producers and bought a small alpaca rucksack so I don’t need to use my big rucksack and some lovely silver jewellery from a lovely little old lady. Carol had called earlier in the day to ask if I wanted to go to the Pub Quiz Night. I’m not the biggest fan but decided to go along and it was fun. I met a few other people – some volunteering and some part of NGOs in conservation in the Jungle. We did win but it sure wasn’t because of me. I would have got some of the answers but to be honest our table had 6 people and most were answering the questions at the other end so I just waited to see if I could help which I did on a couple of occasions.
On Tuesday following advice from the guys I headed to Moray. As so many “interesting” things happened this is a separate blog.
Wednesday is all about sorting myself out....laundry, enough solis and if I have time sorting out some of the photos to load on at an internet cafe. There is a lot of commotion going on in our small hostel as friends (a Swedish girl and Australian boy) of the South African girl living here have been seriously attacked yesterday. The young couple, who have been here for some time, were walking alone back from a site when they were mugged, threatened they were going to kill them and the boy Nick was straggled until he passed out because he kept fighting them. Their things were taken, which included their credit cards and cameras. This was 2 o’clock in the afternoon on the outskirts of Cusco returning from an Archaeological site which is a little way out but usually safe enough. This seems to be the second time they have been mugged - the time before it was in Bolivia. Even some of the safer areas of Cusco e.g. San Blas, near where I am, friends of the girl have had their apartments broken into or money stolen in the square. The police haven’t been of much assistance in the mugging (I had heard this before). Suffice to say the girl and her mum are understandably rattled and want to help where they can. They are all leaving as soon as they can. This is a sober reminder of how you have to be careful. You do hear of some people getting mugged but generally it is not too bad...you just have to be really careful..especially in the cities and I think, with the festivities going on it will be worse just now. When I was walking back from the Pub the other night I did think a young guy was following me so I stopped and looked back when I was at a corner, more light and more people. He disappeared up a side street. The other day I was cashing quite a lot of dollars but again to be safe I did it over a number of cambio exchanges so no one person saw how much I was carrying, then went straight back to the hostel and put it in the safe. Where I am moving to should be safer than the city but you always have to be vigilant.
Tomorrow I leave about midday and head to Urubamba. My taxi is booked through Amazonas. I little more expensive but worth it when you see the stuff I have.
Chow for now...and I will be careful!

Posted by Heather Buc 09:17 Comments (0)

Summary of my Choquequirao trek

20th April to 29th April

Thought I’d give you all a break and provide a quick summary of my trek. This way if you feel you have had enough you can skip then next few blogs....aren’t I kind!!

First of all- coincidences are still popping up! Ruben (nicknamed Chino) had a Scottish trek recently and guess whose it was?? The Saint Andrews Hospice and Sam’s!! There are loads of guides in Cusco so this really is a big coincidence.

So back to the team and our trek. Well you know what they say about first impressions...yep..don’t trust them!!
We had some really good laughs on the trek and some challenging moments, shall we say!! This was another very different group to any other I have been with. Three were real seasoned trekkers having travelled all over the world doing long treks..although they did admit this was a tough trek...Thank God it wasn’t just me!!
There were a number of unusual occurrences on this trek. As I said there were 6 of us. Of the six, 3 were lawyers, 3 of us had a birthday on the trek and we were from 3 different countries... this was a first for Chino. Other than lawyers there was me (my pharmacist skills were required on the trek and I managed not to kill anyone (despite the fact that it is 6 years since I had really practiced); a project manager for an HR company and a partially retired business man who has dabbled in most things in his life. He started out being drafted onto a ship at 16 so has seen many countries. As you can see there was a real mix of people and due to their many experiences the conversations were very interesting; touching on many countries and topics..some serious , some very light hearted. I might add talk is limited at times due to real exertion while walking, quick turn arounds for meals and early beds. As a group we had 2 people who could really pace on – John- (project manager from Charlotte, North Carolina -who turned 40 on our first day) and Paula (63 – lawyer from New Mexico) whose need to walk constantly was unbelievable. This lady gets up on a regular day at home at 2.30am to go to the gym (they have now given her a key!) and starts work at 6am every morning. (She goes to bed at 7pm every night). I have never seen a driven woman like her, and never expect to see another one of this calibre. Paula is also vegan but I would say a fussy one as there were so many veggies she didn’t like. She lived on a few veggies, milky sugary tea, crackers and a lot of butter. She also sooked sooky sweets while walking and drank sweet iced tea. In Cusco Paula was up at 4am to go walking for 3 hours before her husband got up (on the day of our trek starting and the day they flew out... Quite a woman..and very single minded..There was no shifting Paula when she wanted to do something. Neil (49 – lawyer from Brussels but with Scottish origins) was also a seasoned trekker with top end equipment who suffered a heavy cold and asthma for half the trek (poor soul). He tended to be third in the pack. Bruce, Paula’s husband – also a lawyer from NM and turned 63 on the trek, was usually next ..just a little way behind the front three , then Mike (67 and partially retired business man)and I vied for the rear. If I was at the back ..believe me I was well behind at the back!! This usually occurred going up the steep inclines, but going down I seemed to be faster than Mike on these stretches. Jose was brought in as second guide to support Chino which he did very well. He is 24 and training to be a guide. He was working on his English while we were there. I gave him a loan of my Spanish phrasebook and we had regular discussions as we walked about the right way to say something. I gained a few more Spanish words but probably not much improved. To be honest the exertion of getting to the top of the mountain was more than enough to contend with at that time! Pedro the cook(called Pedrito on the trek) and his assistant Maxi and our muleteers – 4 in all, the head of the team was Delfin who was often to be found following the group with one of his mules carrying water and the first aid kit.

Well enough about the group...Our trek was 10 days in total. This is not for the faint hearted I can tell you! The trek consisted of steep climbs up and then steep declines down the other side of mountains. Most days we were told we would be walking about 10 hours but as we were walking at quite a pace we set new records for the trek...even me! We always had to wait about 30 mins for the cook to prepare the meal as we were always early for lunch and tea. We walked 150km over mountain passes all the way to Machu Picchu...through thick mist (most days) which meant I missed some photo shots; blazing sun when this burnt off, (when it was cloudy it was a little cooler); rain (fortunately mostly at night) but we did get a couple of long downpours through the day (day 6 was a real treat with pouring rain, very steep rocky, muddy inclines), mud and lots of mosquitoes. As you can imagine I was not a happy bunny..even Chino noticed ( as you know I’m so good at hiding my feelings ). Neither was I prepared for the mossies biting through my clothes. Let’s just say my feet, legs, waist (yes front and back) and arms are a bit of an itchy mess just now!! The mossies made peeing outside, for us women, a challenge!! I managed to figure out a technique that kept them at bay but poor Paula didn’t! She admitted to me on the last day she had some very uncomfortable itches!! From the first day I seemed to have been given the title of middleman/ spokesperson between the guides and the trekkers. This involved arranging tips for people along the trek and the support team at the end and various other little changes along the way.

A typical day consisted of getting up at between 4.30-5.30am, walking by 7am each morning, happy hour about 5.30pm, dinner at 7pm and bed by 8-8.30pm.
Food was really good if a little light, not helped by the fact that dogs seemingly broke into the cooking tent and stole meat, cheese, crackers and other provisions.
Breakfast was typically bread and jam, peanut butter, cream cheese (while it lasted) with either omelette, porridge (like a thin rice pudding with fruit in it..very nice). One day we had an abundance of fruit with granola and yoghurt on top..mmmmm.
Lunch was soup to start (very popular in Peru) which was always delicious followed by a main meal of beef or tuna burger, shredded chicken and veg, eggplant lasagne and usually with rice and some sliced tomato.
Happy Hour – at 5.30pm – could be popcorn, crackers, jam, peanut butter and hot drinks
Tea – soup, main course of pasta, meat casseroles, rice or sweet potatoes and sometimes fruit or birthday cake to finish.
Snacks – we got a paper bag of snacks each morning with a piece of fruit, chocolate bar; nuts, crisps or dried fruit slices; a pack with 2 biscs (oreos or something similar), 2-3 sooky sweets and occasionally a small carton of orange juice. This was duly demolished at various stops along the way..or in my case often while I was walking in the morning!

GREAT BITS on the trek–
• Choquequirao (day 3 and 4) – although there were others in our campsite we pretty much had this new, huge, incredible site to ourselves which they are still uncovering. They can only do this in the dry season due to danger of landslides.
o Llama site – still being uncovered but steep and huge.
• The food – quality of it was great...very tasty.
• Some really good banter and fun on some of the evenings.
• Dancing the La Bamba in Agua Calientes at our Celebratory Dinner.
• Machu Picchu as always. It is such a stunning site even if it is smaller than Choq (but absolutely heaving with people) – much busier than I have ever seen it. They were expecting 4000 people through that week and had 2500 the week before.

WORST BITS –
• Feeling really light headed while walking (on 2-3 mornings) as not enough to eat at breakfast on those days and really challenging walking. Those who know me well know how much I eat in the morning. On these treks and on certain challenging days, I absolutely need to eat loads and snack throughout the morning. I think the heat and humidity made this much worse as I haven’t been that bad on other colder treks.
• Being left alone, way behind the others –despite two guides and the others wanting my pictures there were a number of occasions when they were well out of sight and it would be 20 mins or so before they would stop and wait on me. On one occasion, nearing the end of our trek, I tripped crossing over a fast moving river with widely spaced sleepers (along the railway track) but fortunately managed to right myself. The others however were nowhere to be seen!! On the uphills I was carrying quite a lot of weight which meant I was moving slower than the rest. I drink such a lot of water and the amount I was losing on this trek made it essential along with sugary and salty snacks. I was carrying and drinking 2.5-3 litres of water for the morning and afternoon trek, drinking a further 1-2 litres at meal times...total – drinking about 7-8 litres a day. The rest didn’t seem to drink as much as me. This and the weight of my camera made uphill a real challenge for me. The others did offer to carry my camera for me but you can’t take photos if your camera is a mile in front so I just had to push on.
• Mossies – little buggers got everywhere!
• Mud, really rocky steep incline on day 6 with detours for mudslides and pouring rain!

MEMORABLE MOMENTS –
• Playing Frisbee in the plaza at Choquequirao, and with about 20 kids in Lucmabamba.
• The smiling children when we gave out toothbrushes and toothpaste again especially when I showed them their pictures on the camera. (I bought a job lot on the way to our starting point).
• The stunning tropical scenery, with an amazing amount of butterflies flying around you as you walked, the beautiful orchids, daisies, geraniums; and an amazing number of waterfalls too.
• Of walking over some incredible mountains miles from anywhere and anybody.
• Watching Mike and Jose singing and dancing to La Bamba on my I Pod in the middle of the mountains..so funny!! (They had struck up a real relationship – calling each other granddad and grandson)
• The cold showers at 2 sites- talk about brain freeze when I tried to wash my hair!

For those who want more detail of the trek, the day to day activities will follow over the next few days or week.
Adios para ahora mis amigos

Posted by Heather Buc 18:38 Comments (1)

TUESDAY 19TH APRIL – The day before my Choquequirao trek.

More of Heather's ramblings

Well as I said I opted to do a warm up walk to test my lungs and continue to walk in my boots. I wasn’t keen to pay out 70 solis for Sachsaywaman (an amazing Inca site just above Cusco) as I was only going in for a couple of hours so I went on a reckie to see what I could find. I was looking for steps to climb up and also down as a lot of my trek will be about long drops into canyons then steep climbs back out. Cusco is a sprawling city and sits in a valley. It is so densely populated that houses and hostels etc are now high up each side of the valley into the mountains. I am staying in an area I haven’t been in before which means lots more exploring, which is good. It is in the San Blas area. This is the old original part of Cusco with a real artisan feel to it. There are obviously a lot of poor areas everywhere in Peru but the contrast in this area is very striking as there are some 5* spas , private and paid accommodation in this area. Anyway as I puffed my way up some of the hills and steps I spotted a sign for the Cristo Blanco (the White Christ). This was sent as a gift to Cusco from the Vatican with 2 others many years ago. One went to Bolivia, Rio and Cusco; as Cusco was originally the capital in Inca times. If I was looking for steps I found them..lots of them up the side of the hill so needless to say I went for it. I must admit I had to stop a couple of times as they were very steep. Small homes were at every level. It puts you to shame though when small children coming out of school go running past!! School is a bit bizarre here from what I’ve heard and not sure if it applies to all areas yet, but the school next to my hostel starts at 5.30 to about 10.30am for the first shift..those kids go home and the next group come in from 11 to 4 (or something of that ilk). I must admit the loud music at 5.30am as they start their exercises is a real treat in the morning  Anyway I digress again. Once at the top of the stairs I was faced with various dirt tracks to follow so using my best judgement I picked one. The path took me through bushes and along narrow dirt paths on the edge of steep inclines. It did cross my mind I had heard of robbers waiting on unsuspecting people in these bushes but I hoped it was too early in the day for them! All was well anyway and I eventually reached the Cristo Blanco. I spent time walking around this area( it is a large area) and a neighbouring Inca site to give myself a good walk. Although it is coming into their winter (their dry season)the sun is still really strong even if there is a cold wind so you need to use a really high factor sun cream, cover up, good hat and drink lots of water. All in all I managed to walk around for 3 hours before returning.
Tonight I had my pre-trek meeting. There are 6 on the trek with our main guide Ruben who seems really nice and has offered to be my Spanish teacher while on our trek...woo hoo!! This should help me enormously. There are 2 Scots (I’m one of them), an Englishman (living in Brussels) and 3 Americans. I’m sure all the personalities will come out as we trek. First impressions.....I think there will be some I’ll give a wide steer!! Despite Ruben offering some poles and suggesting knee supports to help, some are refusing...could be interesting!! Carol told me we have the best chef with us..so good food – yey! This is the first trek of the season though so we don’t know if there has been any landslides which might mean slight detours but it will be fine. Ruben gave us a really clear picture of what each day will be like but it looks like it is gonna be a tough one!! He has even made up a little chart with how long before lunch and dinner each day, i.e. how long each stretch of the trek will be (allowing us to decide how much water we want to carry on each stretch), how steep the gradient (up or down), whether there are mosquitoes on a stretch and the temperature variations as some days it will be very hot and humid and other days, when we are higher, will be colder. He is very organised. He used to be an ex lecturer but can make much more money being a guide..go figure!! We will also get rain at times as we are not completely out of the rainy season yet. We leave at 7am tomorrow so I have a 5.30 alarm call to finish my packing, get my holdalls stored at the hostel and get some breakfast. Carol phoned me tonight to see if I’d be up for giving them photos to use to promote their treks so I’m quite up for that, I seemingly just need to get agreement from the group in case they don’t want to be included in some of the pics that may be used. In return she will help organise a cheap visit to one of the areas I’d like to see before I finish which is fab. Oh well my followers, I’d better sign off and get something to eat before bed. There will be no more blogs for about 2 weeks – about the beginning of May I think. I’ll fill you in on my trek then. It proves to be exciting.

Posted by Heather Buc 21:08 Comments (1)

More from Cusco - Sunday - Monday

TRAVEL BLOG 3 – SUNDAY 17TH APRIL – 7AM.

It is Sunday morning and it has been raining , so our day trip to Pisac may not be as nice as I hoped but hopefully it will clear up.
Had a nice night last night meeting the ex pats. Interesting the majority of men are married to very attractive, petite, Peruvian women and as you would expect they sit together and talk (in Spanish) so no good to me...yet!!
I spoke to some of the English women and listened to the men talking about football mostly, but all were very friendly.
Dougie and Gary gave me some useful tips that may help when I meet up with Sonia at Living Heart.
I have a sore head this morning...definitely not alcohol. I had 3 knocks to my head yesterday and can feel each one today!!
The first was a blackboard which fell off from above a restaurant door and hit my head in the morning. In the afternoon twice I missed a low door and hit my head. It was a little deceptive, before you say anything! There was a step down so it looked like you could clear it.
I’ve discovered a problem with one of my $100 bills I purchased from the London Exchange. It has a slight tear in it and no-one will accept it. I have asked around but I either have to try the banks or see if I can find an American to swap it when they are about to leave, otherwise I am stuck with it for 6 months! A little frustrating but hey ho.

Not sure how I am going to fit in a lot of pre- trek walking as a lot going on here that is too good an opportunity to miss. I seemingly need to practice on lots of steps as this seems to be what the trek is about. We seemingly drop down a considerable height, head into swarms of sand flies (nice!!) then climb back up the other side. This continues on for about 5 days. I feel my knee supports will be vital on this trek!

SUNDAY - LATER

I took a taxi to Carol’s as Paul had decided to cycle it (about 2-3 hours to cycle and it looked fairly gruelling). Taxis are cheap (3 solis for a 10 minute journey..that’s less than a pound) and there are loads of them. You do need to be careful at night that you get into the right ones. It is not unknown for the wrong ones to take you out of town and take all your belongings. I was introduced to Carol’s 3 kids...Lara (10), Oliver (8), Charlie (5). They were really nice kids and adventurous , as you can imagine when you have parents into extreme sports. Carol and Paul have signed up for a vertical downhill in a couple of months!! On route to Pisac Carol decided to stop at an animal conservation project. It was really interesting with a number of different recued animals. Lara was brilliant as she translated what the Peruvian lady was telling us. The animals ranged from 2 pumas which had been rescued from a disco where they had been drugged and jumped through hoops, a small raccoon type animal (can’t remember it’s official name which had had its front claws cut off as superstition has it their blood cures snake bites to 4 young rescued condors. With the improved farming there is less for them to eat and as they struggle to fly unless well fed, if they reach the ground from their high perch and there is no carrion for them they don’t have the energy to fly back up and starve to death. I’ll post a few pics as they had me crouching as one flew over my head. As long as you didn’t move quickly all was well!!

We reached Pisac on some very dicey roads, parts that are still not fully repaired after the landslides in Jan 2010. It’s a good job they have a sturdy 4 by 4. Pisac is at the top of Sacred Valley. Our journey was made all the more entertaining by the kids all singing all the words to the Black Eyed Peas albums. I had little Charlie singing right next to me. I was struggling not to laugh as it was so sweet!! We stopped at a prearranged spot and picked up Paul, but only after we had some Empaladas. These look like glazed Cornish pasties and actually were introduced to the area many years ago by Cornish tin miners. They were very tasty and there were various sweet and savoury options. We then headed to the ruins at Pisac. I hadn’t realised they were so big and sprawling. You could spend all day up there. They sit well above Pisac as vantage points were very important to the Incas to protect their land. The terracing on which they grew their crops is incredible – they are very large areas taking in all the mountain side with nothing wasted. Paul was telling me about an archaeologist who is trying to replicate the way the Incas moved water up the side of the mountains to irrigate the crops. With the populations ever growing and Sacred Valley being the prime growing area it would make sense to use these amazing platforms to grow more food. We spent all afternoon climbing up and down through various ruins across the hillsides. It was a lovely day so made it all the more special. Carol started taking the kids down, Paul had gone to collect the car and I decided to go up to a watch tower and down a different way. As it turned out some of the signage was missing and I ended up back on Carol’s path. Unfortunately she had taken a different path and we ended up coming down a very narrow, steep path. Charlie was screaming as he had been bitten by ants and that is how I found them. A very kind local man left his large load of dried grass he was carrying down the hillside came up and piggy backed Charlie down. Lara and Oliver had managed on their bottom which is what Carol and I had to do too. As Carol didn’t have any cash on her they gave the farmer and his son their pic’n’mix sweets as a thank you. After that it the rest of the path was plain sailing down into Pisac and some stunning scenery. As this is the end of the wet season, coming into their winter and dry season everything is still very green. As the dry season continues this will burn off and be brown.
The kids were really keen to go swimming so we headed across town to the pool. This is attached to the Royal Inca Hotel in Pisac and is Olympic sized. I have never seen anything like it. The down side is it is covered but unheated..OMG was it unheated when we got in. You didn’t hang about!! The altitude does affect your breathing when trying to swim lengths so I only managed 6 with a breather in between. Paul and Carol get around this by using a snorkel. We only got an hour but to be honest it was long enough. Pisac is renowned for its Sunday marker but I wasn’t bothered as I will either be staying near there or in Pisac so can visit again. Paul had picked up another British family- 2 doctors and their 2 children from Cornwall who they had taken out of school (they were 10 and 8) and were on a 3 month world tour. It sounded incredible where they had all been. Paul gave them a lift back to Cusco and we all went to dinner together. It was lovely and a great day.

When I got back to the hostel I was looking forward to a shower as there were only cold ones at the pool. The problem was it was switched off again. This had happened the night before too and was to continue each night. It goes off at about 6pm so we have to put water down the toilet over night and wash early! It is only affecting some areas of Cusco and is because of burst main water pipes but some people are really kicking off. I felt sorry for the receptionist. She’s a young girl and only trying to do her best

MONDAY – 18TH APRIL

There is a huge Easter ceremony today at 2pm in Cusco where they will carry out the black Christ from the cathedral (blackened by all the candles being lit in the cathedral). This very heavy edifice is carried around the square and all around Cusco until it returns to the Cathedral around 7pm where it blesses the people in the square. Somehow they make it bow, and all the people in the square kneel before him. They then return him to his rightful place. It is a huge structure and very heavy so the men carrying it have to keep changing. Needless to say the procession is very slow. As they proceed the priests walk backwards, waving incense in front of them, so he is shrouded in mist and people sitting in balconies and on the street fling special red flowers at him. These flowers seemingly have stamens which look like Christ on the cross. This celebration has been running since the 1500s when there was an earthquake here. Seemingly some of the people ran into the cathedral to remove Christ on the cross as they thought the cathedral would crumble. As they left the earthquake stopped. As superstition runs very high here this has been seen as a sign and therefore explains the ceremony. I went down to the ceremony and took a lot of pictures. I met Caroline, one of the ex pats, who had told me about it. She had a route planned so we could take pics in the main square and run up to their local pub – “The Real McCoy” and take pics from the balcony. Unfortunately this didn’t quite work out. As the procession passed the crowds grew, with police pushing us back. Caroline (who is mid fifties) was for none of it though and nearly started a fight with an old lady after she had had words with a few policemen!! I had suggested going round the long way which we did in the end and got there with time to spare. I’ll need to edit but there should be some good pics I hope, which I will publish as soon as I can. When we were chatting in “The Real McCoy” Jess (the soon-to-be new Living Heart coordinator) asked if I had been in Pisac on Sunday. She had spotted my hair up the mountain!! Already I am being noticed..hee hee!!
Time to go.... I can still hear the bells chiming as The Black Christ continues on his way back to the Cathedral. It is now pitch black outside and the procession still has 30 mins before reaching Plaza de Armas from where it started.
Tomorrow is about an acclimisation walk before my pre-trek meeting at night and packing up for the trek. Hopefully I’ll get time to drop a line before I’m out of touch for about 2 weeks.

Posted by Heather Buc 17:06 Comments (0)

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