Travelling on Tapir with Leonie

Leonie is travelling on Tucan's 3 week tour of Peru, Tapir. Read about her encounter with the flora and fauna of the lush Amazon Jungle, and see if she can conquer the infamous Dead Woman's Pass (the climb to the highest point of the celebrated Inca Trail). If you want to know what it's really like on one of our tours, then read on!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Inca Trail Trek

Our whole group was very excited about the upcoming Inca Trail trek. We had a meeting with our Inca Trail guide, Julio, a couple of nights before our trek began, and he attempted to prepare us for the trek to come. We were to walk a total of 39kms in 4 days, reaching altitudes as high as 4,200 metres, and culminating in a visit to the amazing Inca site of Machu Picchu.

There were about 33 passengers in our group, and we had 44 porters and 5 guides to help us, lead us, feed us and carry things for us along the way.

We set off for Ollantaytambo by bus on the first morning. This is where we commenced the trek at the point known as Km 82. We stocked up on water, snacks, trekking sticks and coca leaves (to help with the symptoms of altitude sickness), and then began the long, long, long walk to Machu Picchu.

Day one of trekking was the easiest, but was by no means a walk in the park. We walked around 11kms the first day, reaching our campsite by about 3pm.

We were very ready for lunch by that point, so we were pleased to discover that our team of porters had arrived well before us and prepared an amazing meal for us. They had also erected our tents, so while some of the group had a game of football with the porters (I have no idea how they still had any energy), I snuck off for a siesta before dinner.

We had been told by our guide that day two was the hardest trekking day, but still nothing could have quite prepared us for the huge inclines we had to climb. We could see the high passes we had to reach from where we set out in the morning. The sight of "Dead Woman’s Pass" in the distance (the second of three high passes we had to cover that day) was scarier than inspiring for most of us I think, but we all made it through the day somehow.

Our group had a variety of ages and levels of fitness, but everyone encouraged each other, and we all took it at our own pace and managed to make it through. The highlight of the day for me was as each of us reached the highest point of the trek at Dead Woman’s Pass (4,200m).

Those in the group who were already there were cheering us on as we climbed what seemed to be a never-ending slope, and one of our tour leaders was waiting at the top with a celebratory nip of rum. It was a great achievement for all of us to make it to the trek’s highest point. After our high-altitude celebrations, we had to continue on for another couple of hours, to our campsite for the evening. Thank goodness for our amazing porters who set up our tents and again prepared an amazing dinner for us on arrival. I had discovered a new level of muscle-pain by the time i crawled into my sleeping bag that night.

We were told the third day was the best of the Inca Trail, as we stopped at 3 different sites of Inca Ruins along the way. We took the opportunity to walk slowly (ok, that was mainly because of exhaustion, not by choice), and enjoy the beautiful scenery. We had 13kms to cover over the course of the day, again climbing, climbing, and climbing. By the afternoon, we had to begin our descent to the 3rd camp. I’m not sure if we were relieved to be descending, or disappointed to "un-do" all that climbing uphill, but in any case, walking down hill was just as strenuous as walking up hill by that stage. Luckily, we had the motivation of hot showers waiting for us at the third campsite. Not quite sure that the definition of "hot" was accurate in this case, but we all enjoyed the opportunity to get clean and have a few celebratory drinks that we had made it to our final night of the trek. We had another amazing meal prepared by our cooks, and then our porters gathered together to celebrate our achievements of the past three days.
These porters are nothing short of amazing. As we struggled along the path with our little day packs over around 8hrs a day, they would race past us uphill in sandals, carrying between 25 and 27kg´s each on their backs, reaching each location in time to set up our meal or campsite for us, staying up long after us to pack up and prepare for the next day. Most of the porters were from the local community, many speaking only Quechua, the local language. They sang us a song and then were introduced to us. I was amazed to discover this was the first trek for many of them, and some were aged as young as 16 or 17 years! We sang a song in return and gave thanks for their amazing assistance along the way.

Despite all of the celebrations, we still had our final day to come.
Unfortunately, due to a landslide, we were not able to trek the usual route through the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu. Instead, we arose at 3.45am and walked to the town of Aguas Calientes, from where we took a bus to Machu Picchu. No matter how we got there, the site was nothing short of amazing, and the pain of the past 4 days trekking was (almost) forgotten with the first view of the awe-inspiring Inca Ruins. Sadly, the pain returned quite quickly as I realised we had about 3000 plus stairs to climb in exploring the ruins! In anyway case, it was a great finish to our 4 day trek, and I literally felt on top of the world as I wandered around Machu Picchu.

Later in the day, a few of us visited the local hot springs at Aguas Calientes to ease the pain of 4 days trekking. We then returned to Cuzco by bus and train for the final night of the tour. I have no idea how any of us still had any energy after the huge 4 days prior, but we somehow summoned up the energy to go out for a final night together in the great party atmosphere of Cuzco.

I was a bit sad to leave Cuzco as I boarded my (very early!) flight to Lima. Luckily, I have a few days stopover in Buenos Aires before I have to return to reality in Sydney. I’m looking forward to catching up on some much-needed sleep and doing some therapeutic shopping in the meantime.

All in all, it’s been an absolutely amazing and awe-inspiring trip. My group was great, and I’m already looking forward to my next trip.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Me and my new friends in Cuzco!

Travelling along the river to our lodge in the Amazon Jungle

Friendly locals along the way

The relaxing hot springs in the Andes

Colca Canyon - Amazon Jungle - Cuzco

This morning, we had a very early start at 6am as we headed to the Colca Canyon. The terrain was rough, and we climbed to an altitude of around 4,900 metres and then travelled down into the Colca Canyon. The journey took about 5.5 hours and the views were great. This was our first experience of altitude, and luckily I didn’t suffer too badly at all from its effects - thanks to the help of a couple of cups of the local Coca tea. We wandered along the side of the canyon and took in the beautiful vistas, and we also spotted a number of Condors cruising above.

Everything is much harder, slower, and exhausting to do when you’re at high altitude, so we finished off the afternoon with a relaxing visit to the local hot thermal springs.

The next day we began our journey to Cuzco, one of Peru’s most popular tourist destinations. It was a long bus ride (around 12 hours) but well worth it as Cuzco is such a fantastic city – there’s so much to do and see! Cuzco has a lovely feel to it; wandering the cobblestone streets you can’t help but love it.

Cuzco was our departure point for our flight to Puerto Maldonado, the gateway to the Amazon Jungle. We took a bus and motorised canoe to our jungle lodge. The canoe trip along the river took about 2 hours and we saw the first of our Amazon wildlife along the way.

The staff and our guides at the lodge were incredibly knowledgeable. I was a bit uncertain about the night walk that would take us to spot snakes, frog and toads, but I got through it unharmed and even got up the nerve to touch a (admittedly very small) snake!

I did think our guides were joking at first when they mentioned our 4.30am start the next morning, but sadly, they were not. The early start was well worth it though, as we trekked through the lush, green rainforest for a 10km round trip and saw so much amazing scenery. After that we had a chance for a well-earned afternoon siesta. A few of us went down to the river for a swim - the staff assured us it was safe - but I was a bit disturbed when the girl swimming next to me had to rip a piranha from nibbling on her knee!

Our jungle lodge staff had an interesting rule when swimming: if you accidentally touch or kick someone under the water, you have to say ‘That was me’ so that everyone involved knows it wasn’t a caiman swimming around looking for lunch! Luckily my swimming experience was Caiman-free.

We did get a chance to go caiman spotting later that evening by torchlight on the river. We saw four caimans from our boat, and I was very impressed.

I would have loved to relax in the beautiful jungle surroundings for another week or so, but we had to head back to Cuzco. We have a free day today, which gives us the opportunity to visit the city’s many nearby ruins, museums and markets, or perhaps get a taste of more adventure - white-water rafting, or horse-riding.

Tomorrow we set off on the 4-day Inca Trail trek. It’s going to be tough but I’m sure we will all make it and the reward of the amazing ruins at the end of the 39km trek will be well worth the effort.