After a few days in La Paz after the jungle trek, we decided to give our livers a rest and head over to lake Titicaca for a few days before moving West out of Bolivia and into Peru. At around 3800m altitude, lake Titicaca is the worlds highest navigable lake and is shrouded in mythology for being the birthplace of the Inca gods.
|View of lake Titicaca|
Legend has it that both the sun and the moon rose from the depths of the lake, and as we took a boat over to the town of Copacabana on the Bolivian side, the water was crystalline blue and weirdly shiny. Perhaps thats just another effect that altitude is responsible for, but I'm not convinced. If there's one cliched expression on the South American travel circuit it's 'It must be the altitude' a phrase which takes all the credit for a variety of naturally occuring phenomenoms, including people's general lack of fitness and the severity of their hangovers.
It was a real shame to see the sungate; a stone doorway thought to have been constructed by the Inca people, who lived from around 1100 AD, was now covered in bad graffiti. It was amazing to see it just after sunset in the glowing red sky. The town and surrounding coast has a distinctly mediterranean feel and Fred and I climbed the mountain to the South of Copacabana in the afternoon with the guitar and watched the sun disappear into the lake. It was a great moment which I was glad to be sharing with someone as opposed to watching it on my own.
After Lake Titicaca we rejoined forces with Rich and some of his friends from back home and booked our trek to Machu Pichu. For other travellers it really is a good idea to try and get a group of you together when booking these things, because with a group of 8 people we managed to negotiate the price of the 5 day, 4 night Salkantay trail from $180USD down to $155.
The first day of the trip was quite hard work, mainly uphill, and I would recommend getting more sleep than I chose to bank the night before you leave! Try to sort out breakfast in advance as well because we ended up paying 10 Peruvian soles for stale bread and eggs with a cup of hot water. Fortunately, halfway through the day our guide, Jose-Luis was as equally tired as us.
|Jose-Luis getting some shut-eye|
|The crew; Rich, Fred, Michelle, Me, Caz and Connie|
We were all relieved to get to the base camp to eat, but hit the hay as soon as the meal finished. I awoke to one of the guides knocking on our tent and offering us a hot cup of cocoa tea. I asked if Fred or Rich wanted one too, and half the campsite started calling out from inside their tents which the guide found quite amusing. It was pretty cold in the night and some of the girls were crying when they got out the tent, but at least that was the worst night out the way.
|Chatting to the cooks|
|The full expedition team at dinner|
After breakfast the next day it was ipods in and some motivational tunes for the steepest climb of the trip up to 4600m.
We celebrated at the top of the mountain Abra Salkantay (4600m). From that point it was all downhill, which is a good thing... Once we went back down through the clouds and inevitable rain, the weather warmed up and the scenery became less desolate and more tropical.
|The sun re-appearing on our descent|
|Celebrating the power of gravity|
You begin to understand how the Incas used these trails when you consider how quickly you find yourself in completely different climates, which to this day enables the trade of different types of fruit and vegetables grown at different altitudes.
Unfortunately, since I was running around like Ray Mears sipping from any spring I could find - perhaps relying a bit too much on the purification tablets I had bought, I began to get a pretty bad stomach after day 3. This perhaps led to my eagerness to skip some of the walking and opt for a series of 6 x 700m ziplines high above the rocky valley floor.
After this we continued our trek in the boiling sun past the aptly and originally named village of Hydroelectrica, with its huge hydroelectric turbine, and then along a railroad track for what seemed like eternity with my constantly churning stomach to the town of Aguas Calientes, which would be the base for the early morning journey to Machupicchu.
|The hydroelectric turbine at hydroelectrica|
At about 3am the next day we got up and walked down to the bridge that leads to the steps at the base of Machupicchu. You want to be one of the first 400 to arrive at the top, because this is the number of people permitted to also visit the higher Huaynapicchu for the best views of the ancient settlement. Up and down altogether we probably climbed about 7000 steps that day, but the view from the top of Huaynapicchu was worth it all. You could see clearly the quarry at the top from which all of the stonework was hand chiselled. The way they built the structures, with wide bases that have withstood earthquakes, impressed even modern day Japanese scientists who thought that the amount of tourism the site now received was damaging the foundations. Their experiments using various tiltometers installed around the site have proved this theory wrong – obviously this ancient race was more intelligent than they expected.
|Sunrise at Machupicchu - Huaynapicchu in the background|
|Incan stonework - with perfect joints that have lasted centuries|
|Supposedly a stone which a puma was tied to|
Our guide gave us a lot of speculative information about the purpose of each of the buildings and structures; the Kings quarters with what was apparently a stone to tie a watchful puma to for protection, the observatory which is supposed to align with certain stars at times of the year, random stones that jut out from the stonework where sacrifices were placed. It is the type of place where it is best to just let your imagination run away with what might have happened there all those years ago, and an experience I will remember for many years to come.
|Good times at the top of Huaynapicchu|