During November 2010, I went to Peru in South America. The highlights of the trip included a four-day trek on the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the Amazon rainforest, the old Inca capital of Cuzco high in the Andes, and the cold azure waters of high altitude Lake Titicaca with a native home stay on Amantani Island.
After reading the trip notes over and over again and buying all the latest rain protection kit, I felt prepared for the monsoon season (as a wedding photographer this was the only time I could really go). However – what I hadn’t prepared for was unusually hot and dry weather!!! Luckily my nan made me take sun-cream and a hat….thanks nan….I guess you do know best 🙂
Our journey started when we got a flight to Puerto Maldonado, a small jungle town in the Amazon rainforest. I have never experienced humidity like this before and it came as a bit of a shock compared to my usual holiday destination of Scotland. We went by boat for 4 hours to our jungle lodge Tambopata Reserve, where we had strict instructions not to wonder off on our own. On the night time guided tour, we had to make sure trousers were tucked well into our socks to avoid the ants climbing up our legs – not my best fashion moment.
After the Amazon rainforest stay we made our way to the city of Cuzco. The city had a lovely old and friendly feel to it. Whilst in Cuzco, we visited the nearby Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman and Qenco, which overlook the city. There was lots of opportunity to buy some fantastic products such as hats and rugs from the local women, at very good prices – if only I had another suitcase with me. The Inca Trail. Unfortunately, I don’t have many photos from the first few days of the trek as I became very ill. In fact, the guides wanted to send me off the trail, but with help from some fantastic people in the group helping to carry the contents of my rucksack and even my camera equipment I managed to get through the first few days on virtually no food. I knew this was likely to be my one-and-only chance at attempting the trail and didn’t want to miss out! So a massive thanks to everyone who looked after me 🙂The aptly named Dead Woman’s Pass or Warmihuanusca, was a climb of over 1000m taking us to our highest altitude point of 4234m (13,780 ft). We were literally walking in the clouds.The most amazing location to camp, the views were incredible. Waking up to a good thunderstorm the following morning was very exciting, if not a little nerve-racking. Along the trail we visited some Inca ruins such as Runquracay. On the forth and final day, we embarked on a 2 kilometre staircase. After all that going-up it was inevitable that we had to come down at some point. I’m not in any hurry to repeat this again any time soon ;p
The final steep staircase took us to the sun gate where we got our first view of the famous Machu Picchu. An amazing view – once I got my breath back from all that climbing. We all enjoyed a well-earned treat at the natural hot springs in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes, (the pool-side bar was very welcome too). The following day we went back to Machu Picchu for a proper tour. Yes, I did buy a “I survived the Inca Trail” t-shirt.
Machu Picchu – one of the seven wonders of the world – was built in the 15th century at the height of the Inca Empire. It was abandoned just over 100 years later, as a result of the Spanish conquest. Although known locally, it was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention by the American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911. Since then, Machu Picchu has become a popular tourist attraction. Experts speculate that it served as a place of worship, a sight for tracking stars, and the ninth Inca emperor.
Next, we headed towards Lake Titicaca on a long coach journey (450km) across the Altiplano, the high plains separating the Andes from the jungle, stopping off along the way. Lake Titicaca sits 3,811m (12,500 ft) above sea level, making it the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. It is 120 miles (194km) long and 50 miles (80km) wide at its broadest point. The Uros people live on floating islands made from reeds, and they describe their buoyant life as living between water and heaven. We were shown by the woman on one floating reed island how they make them, and what happens if there is a family fall out – they use a saw and cut it in half ;p We even got to dress up in their traditional costume, but Im not sure the fashion will catch on here any time soon.Amanti Island has no electricity or roads – very peaceful. My leg muscles were punished further with even more steep hills on the island to climb, which came as a bit of a shock as I thought my hill climbing was over for the holiday. During our stay on the Island we split into smaller groups and stayed with some local families. The local well was outside the house of the family I was staying with.Coca Tea (below left) is a herbal tea made using the leaves of the Coca plant which contain several alkaloids including cocaine. The amount of cocaine in the leaves is very small though – only about 0.4%. It has a mild bitter flavour similar to green tea with a more organic sweetness. This is available to drink with most meals because it is widely believed to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. The leaves just need to stew for a while in hot water as with the mint tea (below right), but some locals like to chew it.With no electricity, their kitchen was very basic, but I have to say the food was far better than I can manage with a kitchen full of gadgets ;p This really was the trip of a lifetime and I made some great friends along the way. We’re already planning to meet up again soon. Hope you enjoyed the photos.