Monday, October 18, 2010

A tale of two treks

Cusco, Huaraz, PERU: 25 Sept. - 16 Oct. 2010

Over the space of 12 days I did two four-day treks - both great experiences and highlights of my time in South America.

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, 42kms, highest point 4,200m.

Machu Picchu is the most visited attraction in South America and walking the Inca Trail to get there is the classic (read popular and therefore expensive) tourist thing to do. Having heard about it for so long, I was interested to see what I would make of the whole thing.

Ciaran, John and I were put into a group with thirteen others (mostly American) and we started our trek on a sunny morning - together with two guides and twenty porters! The idea of needing so many people to do a trek initially didn't sit well with me, but I soon got used to this luxurious style of trekking, where our tents were pitched for us and the food we were served was delicious. Given that I had just spent six months living at altitude and had done plenty of trekking, I didn't find the going as hard as others in our group. So I was able to enjoy the lush scenery and the Inca ruins that we regularly came across (which added to the historic feel).
After three days of early starts (and early nights), we got to Machu Picchu at 6:30am on the fourth morning. It really was an impressive place in the most amazing of locations. It didn't disappoint.
Santa Cruz Trek, Las Cordilleras Blancas, 45kms, highest point 4,750m.

After saying goodbye to Ciaran Luttrell and John, I headed ten hours north of Lima with Ciarán Aylward, Elaine and Sally (a friend from Devon who I've met up with several times over the last eight months) to Huaraz to go trekking in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. During the four-day trek we saw some fantastic, rugged scenery and, unlike the Inca Trail, we had it pretty much all to ourselves, i.e. the four of us, our guide and his trainee, and Alberto and his two donkeys and two horses who carried our tents etc. I'm getting used to this style of trekking where our stuff is carried, our tents pitched and nice food served up!It was a very enjoyable trek and the Cordilleras Blancas rank right up there in my list of amazing places.After the trek, I continued north with Ciarán and Elaine. First to Trujillo (a colourful colonial city near a beach and with fascinating pre-Inca ruins nearby) and then to Máncora (a small beach town). Elaine left us to skip up to Colombia to catch up with her friends, so it was just myself and Ciarán left when we hit for the Peru-Ecuadorian border. I had overstayed my six-month visa but only had to pay a dollar for every day that I was over. So after paying the US$28, I left Peru having spent a very memorable seven months there.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

On the road again

Lima, Arequipa, Cusco, PERU: 15 Sept. - 2 Oct. 2010

I left Ayacucho for Lima to once again become a hostel-staying backpacker. Over the course of three days I was joined by four friends: Ciarán Aylward (Lima was his first stop on a round the world trip); Antonio (a Mexican guy I met in Mexico City last year); and Ciaran Luttrell and John O'Leary (who came to Peru for a two week holiday).

After showing the lads around Lima, the five of us flew to Arequipa where we rented a jeep and hit for the Colca Canyon. I hiked here six months earlier when I first got to Peru but was happy to do it again as the scenery is stunning. After a nice hike we spent a memorable night at the bottom of the full moon-lit canyon.Back in Arequipa we discovered that in typical Peruvian style the only road to Cusco was blocked as part of a dispute. All the reputable bus companies cancelled their services, but as we had to get to Cusco to start the Inca Trail we took a chance and went with one of the few companies that were operating. This involved having to get off the bus at 4am to walk with our bags past all the blocked vehicles and through the roadblock to a bus that was waiting on the other side. But it all worked out and we made it on time to Cusco - the backpacker capital of South America.

It was nice to finally get there as I had heard so much about this city, the former capital of the Inca empire. Here we met up with Elaine, my former Ranelagh housemate, and her four Cork friends who are travelling in South America for four months on their way to Australia - after travelling solo for so long, I was now surrounded by people I knew!

After the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu (more about this in my next blog entry), I flew back to Lima with Ciaran and John for the last night of their holiday. Unfortunately we couldn't have a drink to celebrate as the "ley seca" meant that no alcohol was allowed to be sold in Peru for the three days leading up to the elections - imagine if they tried to bring that rule in in Ireland!

It was a great two weeks and I'm happy to be back on the road again.