Saturday, 19 December 2015

Around the world in 54 days.

Stage 1 - Madrid - Cusco - Matchu Pichu.

Written on the plane from Santiago, Chile to Easter Island on December 16th

Two families, three Continents, four adults, five children (16, 15, 14, 12 and 10) and a six pack of beer. What more do we need to write a holiday blog? Did we forget a 'one' somewhere? Yes, one blog written by our father for almost three years and read by the most discerning of audiences. Thanks Dad for lending us your Blogspace for the next few weeks with the hope of maintaining your standards.    

Our Blogs will describe a two month “Around the World in 54 days” trip. Hugh and Martha had been planning it for years and Edmond and myself (Tina), jumped on board in February 2015. A trip that would take the adults away from busy day jobs and the children out of school to, perhaps, learn something useful about our planet. There was a great sense of excitement when Hugh, Martha, Liam, John and Rachael from Dublin, and Edmond, myself,  Edouard (Teddy) and Lucy from France hooked up in Madrid airport on  December 8th.

Cusco Airport - one of the most challenging in the world.
From Madrid to Lima, then Cusco; Capital of the Quechan Incas. Aim one of the holiday was trek the Inca Trail for four days to Machu Picchu, “lost city” of the Incas, rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. Why the Inca trail? We have no idea; it just sounded like something that one should do on a World tour.

Cusco is a typical Spanish colonial city, but at an altitude of over 10,000 feet. If you live there for long, you develop big lungs and lots of red blood cells. You also don’t tend to mess up your lungs, and less than 5 percent of the population smoke. We acclimatised for a day by wandering around the stalls and the San Pedro market place. The locals were friendly and helpful and our teenagers thought they were ‘givin’ it away’ in the markets.  I didn’t have any opinion on this since I spent the two days in bed with serious altitude sickness.

At 06.00 on December 11th, we were picked up by Martin, our head guide and Hugo, our driver.  We set off for kilometre 82, a two-hour bus drive to the starting point for the Inca Trail. Green countryside, mountains high and low and the glaciers of the Andes, now rapidly retreating due to global warming (Gosh! Won’t Dad be pleased with us for getting both smoking and global warming into the first stages of our Blog!).   We were all ready to go now and delighted to be away. After stopping in a village to pick up ponchos (a supposed must for the rainy season), coca sweets and lots of water we did the last part of the bus trip and arrived at KM 80 around 10. There we met the rest of the supporting team; 14 porters, Chef and assistant chef.  They were busy getting all the gear together for our four days.  The porters all carry around 30 kg in weight and are incredible athletes.  Once ready they went ahead to the entrance of the 42 km hike we were to undertake. We also had backpacks with essentials for the day: water, passports, sun glasses, sun cream and cameras.  It was a magnificent day and the sun was blazing from the sky.

The guide had told us that the first day was “relatively flat” and easy and only 8 kilometres so after the first checkpoint we set off.  We quickly realised that Quechan “relatively flat” was an over-statement.  When we stopped for lunch after about 2 hours   we were puffed.  Lucky we didn’t know what lay ahead!!  The porters had set up lunch and the food was simple and delicious.  Over the four days we discovered many varieties of corn and potatoes but other vegetables too like yucca and quinuio.  We ate trout and chicken and lots of rice.  We walked uphill for another two hours after lunch and between breaths were able to admire the scenery.  At this altitude it is difficult to recover quickly so an even pace is required and slow deep breathing.  When we reached our first camp we were very happy, but tired.  After a good dinner and early to bed (around 8 pm) we spent our first night camping.  It was a real first for some of the party and Martha discovered a new passion (not!).  We were at an altitude of 2,925 metres.

What goes up must come down.
The next day we were up and on our way at 6 am.  This was to be the tough day.  We trekked uphill for hours to reach the “dead woman’s pass” (Warmiwanisca).  The pass is called like this because of the shape of the mountain that looks like a lady lying down.  We felt it was more appropriate to call it like this because of the difficulty in reaching it!   What an achievement for everyone to get there with John and Liam leading up front, Teddy and Lucy behind them and Rachaelita as she was known to the guides doing a great job with her mum and dad to get there.  Edmond and myself were the sweepers along with Edward our protector.  It was a spectacular scene at the top of the pass and we stopped for a while and had our second group photo.  We were at 4,215 metres and it was just amazing.    We weren’t the only group trekking but there were rarely moments when all groups were together so when we were walking we could be on our own in contemplation of the beautiful surroundings.  From there we started downhill.  Luckily we had taken walking poles which helped in the uphill and downhill moments (actually there was practically no flat ground).   After an hour or so of downhill we reached our second camp.  The showering facilities and toilets left a lot to be desired.  Some braved the cold-water showers whilst others preferred to rinse their faces in the spring water running by. Another lovely dinner and bed just in time for a thunderstorm to cool us down. We were at an altitude of 3,520 metres now.

A little rest.
Day three was to be our longest day.  Up at five and on the way at six.  We climbed uphill for two hours, then descended to phuyupatamarta (high clouds) for lunch (altitude 3,510 metres); the views were stunning.   After lunch we started a steep one kilometer descent, with steep drops and bamboo forests above and below. Martin and Edward’s knowledge of Quechan history, culture and the local fauna was phenomenal. The group had formed an excellent solidarity.  When it was difficult, someone was always there to encourage and help.   After a very long day we stopped at our last camping space on the side of a mountain.  The terraces had been built by the Incas to protect the mountain from subsiding but also for cultivating their vegetables and foods.  We had a festive evening to celebrate Tina's 55th birthday.  The Chef had even prepared a cake!  These guys were amazing.   We then had a short ceremony with the porters where we all introduced ourselves by name and we presented them with the tips we had prepared in advance. After admiring the constellations we were all in bed around 8 as the night would be short.

Last day and we were awoken at 3.30 to pack up and let the porters set off.  They had to get down to the local train by 5 am and had no time to lose.  We walked a little to the next check-point where we waited until 5.  We finally had the opportunity of wearing our ponchos for about half an hour as it was raining when we got up.  The only “daytime” rain we experienced over the four days.  Once through the checkpoint we had a one hour walk to reach the Sun Gate.  From the sun gate our hope was to see the clouds lift from below in order to spot the Machu Picchu site.  We waited and waited.  There was no point going down to MP until the fog lifted as we would not see much anyway.  At 8 am exactly there was a sudden lift in the fog and there beyond we gasped at the site of this most famous Inca City.  Within three or four seconds the fog descended again!  We had had a glimpse of our destination.  We set off and when we finally reached the site we were overcome somewhat by the crowds of visitors arriving by bus. We had experienced the open air and few people for four days and this was a shock to the system.  However once we had gone through to the site there was a dispersion of the crowds and we were back in our little group again.  The sun was bursting from the sky and reverberating from the lego like stones of the walls and the buildings of the City.  It was fascinating to hear about all the different areas (sun dial, astronomical basins, the condor carved out in stone, the solstice windows and more) but at the end of this long four days it was tough to stay out in the sun.  We arranged that the guide would finish our tour after 2 hours because of the heat and fatigue.   It was truly amazing.

Worth the wait.
We had set out to “do” machu picchu but in fact it was much more than that.  The four days trekking to get to machu picchu was a physical and mental challenge.  It was a great reward to visit but it was the four day experience that was most important.  This trek was a wonderful way to allow the group to bond for the two months that lay ahead.

After one night in Cusco we set off for Easter Island via Lima and Santiago.

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