|The main reason we came to Peru was to visit Machu Picchu, the world famous Inca ruins. However, we're not the only ones - every day 500 people trek the Inca Trail to get there! Not surprisingly, the trek was fully booked for months in advance so we went for the alternative Lares trek, also following an Inca Trail, finishing at the amazing Machu Picchu.
Little did we know that the 36km hike wouldn't be the only challenge we would face. Stolen luggage and avalanches would test us before the trip was over!
Day 1 (9km)
We were a little apprehensive about the trek, especially as we were one of the few in the group carrying our own bags. No porters for us, we would rather die trying than pay $40US for a horse to take our bags! The first of our early starts, we met in Cusco at 6:30am and boarded the bus. We knew straight away that we had a good group of 16 and everybody would get along.
Our first stop was at Calca to buy rain ponchos and walking sticks (professionals). It wasn't the quick stop we expected though, as when we returned to the bus, our guide Jose's bag had been stolen! Everything he needed for the trip was gone, but showing the same fighting spirit that continued throughout our trip, we carried on regardless.
Finally arriving at Lares, the trekking began. Lucky we had those ponchos as the heavens opened and we set off in the pouring rain. The rain continued right through till lunch where the porters had raced ahead of us to set up the tent and cook us a fantastic meal - the first of many. Finally the sun came out and we continued in shorts and T-shirts.
Now we began to enjoy the landscape, noticing the huge mountains, snowy peaks, llamas and an ice cold river flowing beside us. We were greeted along the way by numerous Andean kids who seemed so pleased to see us, especially as we walked into more and more remote places.
None was more remote than the village where we (or should we say the porters) set up camp for the first night. Adobe (mud) houses were scattered in the valley where llama farming and potato crops were the way of life.
Day 2 (15km)
We were honoured to have been welcomed into the Huacahussi community, especially when we were allowed into one family's house to see how they live. Basic is an understatement, it was like living in the stone-age. No lights, heating, furniture or even beds - at night they would wrap up in llama skins and lie on the mud floor. The conditions didn't seem to bother the squeaking guinea pigs who were being saved as special dinner treats! It was shocking to see the way they lived but the family seemed happy enough - maybe they know something we don't? Perhaps it's their Inca motto of "don't lie, don't steal and don't be lazy"?
We had been warned that this was the hardest day and it lived up to reputation. As we trekked for 3 ½ hours to the peak of 4,400m, breathing became harder, legs tired and shoulders ached. Maybe we should have paid for the porters after all? Arriving at the top was a real accomplishment and proud that the hardest bit was over, we looked forward to the rest of the trip.
Lunch was next to a mountain lake, where we watched a small boy splashing around trying to catch fish with his bare hands. How he hadn't turned to a block of ice, we will never know - even as we watched the hail began to fall.
Once again we continued in the rain, hail and even snow to our next camp at the village of Ipsacocha, which was a bit more modern and even had real toilets (well, not a hole in the mud anyway)! A huge, delicious 3 course meal was accompanied by good humour and conversation - our group were really good fun. Fun yes, but practical no, as our many attempts to light a camp fire failed!
Day 3 (12km)
All downhill in glorious warm weather, yippee! Along the way we stopped at a local school in Patacancha which was a really moving experience. The conditions were basic and it was sad to see they didn't have many of the materials they needed. Some of the group had come prepared and handed out books and pencils, bringing a smile to their faces. It was hard to believe that in this day and age schools lack such basic amenities. As a farewell we were sung a song in their language of Quechua.
Our final lunch was in a glorious spot by the river, deep in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This was the best meal yet and we were treated to such delights as stuffed peppers, avocado and cheese, chicken and asparagus, and fragrant rice. Understandably the chef got a good tip as we wished them farewell!
Our final stop was in Ollantaytambo, where things took a turn for the worse. Read Machu Picchu to find out more...