Saturday, 1 March 2014

Jungle trek to Machu Picchu

As we arrived in Cusco in February when the traditional Inca Trail was closed, Cat and I decided to do the Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu and we managed to drum up some ex-Beehivers Hana and Vin to join us.3

This involves the traditional Incan pastimes of downhill mountain biking (aka 'gravity assisted') and zip lining along with the more boring 'walking' along rivers and train tracks, with a brief stint on an actual Inca trail.

So starting with the downhill biking - we got suited up at 4,700m with our 'safety gear' - knee pads and elbow pads and one size fits all helmets - I felt significantly less safe than when doing the death road! The bikes were also not full suspension and the gears were a little dodgy - however we would be doing this on paved road - so I guess we didn't need to be so cautious....

Girls working the look!

And we're off!

The roads wonderfully twisty and with lots of rivers fording it - so the potential to get wet was high! At first I managed to avoid getting wet feet by sticking my legs out - but then I needed control of the bike so wet feet it was!

This was our twisty road

We got to the bottom - a lot lower! And from here we were driven to Santa Maria. Here we would have had the option for some white water rafting, excepting it was rainy season and the police had closed the rafting after one guide did some stupid things. So instead it was beer o'clock!

The next day was our main hiking day - from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa - following the river along the valley.

Crosses to commemorate the dead when the river flooded high above the old Santa Maria village

View along the valley and of the landslides we had to traverse...

The gang on the landslide

We did some face painting in the traditional way - from the natural plant extracts

Vinnie in traditional paint for an Inca

Hana rocking the Quechua look

As we walked through the jungle the guides showed us lots of the different plants - here is Cat hiding in  a coca field!

We also saw some of the local animals

Everything is bigger in the jungle - this guy is related to the guinea pig!

Avocados and other fruit are also bigger than Cusco

We also learnt about the importance of coca in the Andes and tried chewing it - it's meant to help with the altitude and endurance! 

Next we were walking up from the river to part of an Incan trail not sure if the coca helped with this...

Inca trail! This was at 1,800m

Perched above the valley

After lunch and a few more hours walking we crossed the river a few times - the methods got more creative until we were in a basket being hauled across!

Yikes what a drop!

We made it across the river in time to hit up the hot springs to sooth our tired muscles. A night in Santa  Teresa and then the next day we chose to skip 3 hours of walking by doing some zip lining.

In our new safety gear

The zip lines were much longer than I've done before - from 400m to 1.2km!

Cat doing it in style

We finished up with a rappel back down into base camp - Vinnie went beard first!

A three hour trek along the train lines completed our Jungle trek into Agua Calientes. We could see the damage the river made on the roads and town when it was ultra high in 2010.

My first view of Machu Picchu from the valley.

The next morning we were up at 4am to hike to Machu Picchu. It took an hour to make the 400m vertically up the hill and I was covered in sweat by the time we got there; the top tip was to take a clean t shirt! Although you could take a bus up the hill it was worth it to make the walk myself - you earn the spectacular views!

Dawn over the mountains on the way up to Machu Picchu.

The first misty views as we walked into the site.

The sun burning off the clouds

We stopped on the agricultural terraces for our guide to explain about Machu Picchu - you can see the view above. Machu Picchu was 'lost' for 350 years as the Spanish never found it when they invaded and destroyed the Incan civilisation. It took an American historian Hiram Bingham to 'discover' it again and report back to the western world in 1911. Apparently some Europeans had found it when looking for flowers or wildlife, but never considered to report it back to the world. They also didn't have the money Hiram had to manage a discovery like this!

Next to the agricultural terraces was the living sections of the city - some of the ruins of the houses have been renovated/recreated to give you a feel of what it would have been like. Llamas and alpacas still roam - helping the gardeners keep the vegetation from growing back!

The Incas lived in Machu Picchu 'Ancient Mountain' (which is the name Hiram Bingham gave the site - the original name is lost as the Incas didn't have a written language and the Spanish never found out about it to write it down). These were the kings of the Quechua. They had about 500 people up on the mountain with the Inca's family. 

There were several temples, the temple of the sun and temple of the condor were two we visited. 

Can you see the condor? Beak and white breast at the front of the photo and wings of stone behind.

Being so close to the sky and sun was important for the Incan religion - to worship the sun and the condors better. Machu Picchu is at 2,400m elevation and Wayna Picchu and Machu Picchu mountain tower over it at 2,700m and 3,000m respectively.

Wayna Picchu is the mountain in the back - we climbed up this one too - 300m vertically!

Cat and me with the city behind.

Another iconic view of Machu Picchu!

Climbing up Wayna Picchu was a hit more tricky! This was the smaller hill - you can see the path to the top behind me on the mountain.

The view from the top of Wayna Picchu - you can see the road up to Machu Picchu and more importantly the shape of the site. Machu Picchu was designed in the shape of a condor - it's head is to the right and the wings across opened up.

I made almost around the whole of the site - we went to the Inca bridge - which we had seen from the valley floor on the way there - an old inca trail crossed the near vertical cliff face:

Inca bridge

Inca trail across the cliff

The only bit I missed was the Sun Gate - Cat went and reported back that it wasn't a 50minute walk, but a half hour round trip - doh! But by then my legs were giving out - so I grabbed the bus back down with Hana and Vince.

We got celebratory beers and pizzas back in Agua Calientes before catching the train/bus back to Cusco thoroughly exhausted! A highlight of the trip for sure!

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