Gary and Sarah Girotti/Jones|
¡Hola South America!
Cuzco and the Inca Trail
Cuzco - A little bit of Vietnam in Peru
Cuzco is by far the most beautiful city we visited in Peru. It is surrounded by picturesque mountains, and its narrow streets are lined with colonial buildings, ancient Incan walls, and huge churches. The downside of Cuzco is that because of its beauty (and location), it is overrun by tourists, tour operators, hotel hawkers, postcard selling kids, and unscrupulous cabbies.
Upon our arrival we we got a cab at the airport and asked to be taken to our hotel. While the cabby spoke Spainish and looked Peruvian, he took a page out of the old Vietman Tourist shuffle book! As we exited the airport, the cabby stopped to pick up Pedro, who said he was affiliated with the hotel we were going to. After chatting politly with us for a few minutes, Pedro reversed his position and announced that he misunderstood the driver, and that he was actually affiliated with a different (much more expesive)hotel--go figure. He started into the sales pitch of his hotel and the anti-pitch of our hotel (it´s full, it´s dirty. it burned down - just like good ol ´Nam).
But we are no rookies. Sarah shut him down cold--to the hawker´s dismay she anounced that she spoke spainish very well and understood everything he told the driver. You go Girl!!! It was quite an amusing discussion. At one point Sarah asked Pedro the price of his hotel, to which Perdo asked the price of our hotel. For a good 2 minutes, the 'you first, no, you first' game was played very animatedly.
Then the hawker made one last desperate attempt. As we approached our hotel, he had the cabby quickly drop him off in front of our hotel while, despite our protests, we were taken around the block. When we got to the hotel and exited the cab there was Perdo, vehemently proclaming that he had already spoken to the hotel owners and the place was full. At this point both of us burst out laughing...rookies indeed. We walked into the hotel, Pedro following, and gee--what a surprise--there were plenty of rooms available. Pedro still persisted, trying to get a commission, but Sarah again knocked him down with a few words to the hotel owner. Pedro sheepishly left the building in a flurry of spanish from Sarah, that I think roughly translated to "Shame on you". Or something along those lines!
Inca Trail--Why, oh Why??
So the question has been raised (mainly by us) as to why we would actually choose to strap our packs on our backs and our hikers on our feet, and walk 45 kilometers in four days to Machu Picchu...when there`s a train that could take us there in 4 hours.
A lot of answers: we`re masochists, we couldn`t afford the train ticket, we get to put a checkmark next to Inca Trail on the scavenger hunt of life. Really, though...the altitude affected our heads! We couldn`t help it!
The Inca Trail is a 45 kilometer hike through the Andes Mountains, ending at the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. No one knows what the city was used for, as it was never mentioned in ancient chronicles, and wasn`t discovered until 1911. There are various speculations, however, all pointing toward it being a major hub for commerce and religious activities.
The trail itself is spectacular. It runs along the river Urubamba and it`s tributaries, although for most of the trail the river is far (and I mean FAR) below. At km 82, which is where most people begin the hike, the altitude is 2500 km above sea level, and at the highest point it`s about 4200 km above sea level. The trail winds through several climates, including cloud forests, plains, jungle, and high-altitude barrenness. There are also many archaeological sites along the way, all purported to be ancient Incan cities or religious sites.
Advice, Expectations and Revelations
For anyone considering the Trail, here are some things that you should consider:
1. Get a porter. A porter is a hired hand, who will carry your big pack for you. We would have died (or at least still be wandering along) if not for ours.
The porters are incredible. These guys strap 20 kilos on their back, and then run (yes, RUN), up and down the trail. Typically, they make breakfast, we eat and leave, then they pack everything (tents, tables, chairs, food, stove, including the propane tank!), strap it to their backs, and run by us in time to set up and cook lunch for us. Repeat for dinner and overnight camping.
If you`d like to see if you could handle the job, do the following: put on flipflops, and attach 50 pounds of various sharp or ungainly objects to your back, using only a large sheet and-or a rope. Run up and down the John Hancock tower, three times, stopping halfway to cook for the office people that are staring at you like you`ve lost your mind. For added fun, have the sprinkler system turned on in the stairwell every few hours to simulate the usual weather.
How`d you do? Oh yes, and remember, you`ll be given a whopping $20 at the end of four days. Now go back to work with a smile on your face.
2. Bring mittens and hats...and oxygen. I know, you´re thinking the same thing that we did--the whole altitude effect is way overblown. HA! There is no air, I repeat NO air at 4200 meters...well, at least very little for the tourists (the porters and Norwegians seem to be able to handle it OK!). The little air that is there is damn cold, as evidenced by our pictures...we started each day in shorts and tank tops, but were in full Arctic winter gear at the height of the passes. Brrr!!
3. Regardless of how painful the hike is, the train is worse. We figured out why we walked the trail on the train home--it was a ridiculous ride. Five hours to go 130 Km. All on poorly maintained jointed rail, which causes the cars to sway so violently that you have to hold onto the seat to stay in it. At points, we thought the train would tip over and plunge down the ravines we were passing through. And to think, we were looking forward to some much-needed sleep on the ride home.
4. Don´t eat the chicken on the last day. Six of our trail mates were desperately ill on the last day, purportedly from the chicken or mayonaise, but of course probably not helped out by the voluminous amounts of beer and whiskey consumed!
5. Preparation is useless. There is no Stairmaster setting for "Inca Trail". It doesn´t really matter if you go to the gym every day and run 20 miles--you will dread the sight of stairs for at least three days after you finish the hike.