Saturday, November 20, 2004

Inca Trail

I wrote a post just before heading off on the Inca Trail but somehow it didn't get posted, ah well, I suppose you can't fully rely on this new-fangled technology, but here's what I can remember from it (for those of you who are interested it was called Coca In Cusco).

I had a day to explore the city. There aren't any complete buildings left over from the Incas as the Spanish tore them all down, however they did keep a lot of the original foundations, and it shows that the Incas knew a thing or two about architecture. The foundations are built with stone pieces that fit so exactly (just like jigsaw pieces) that they didn't use any mortar or cement to keep them together. What's more, over the centuries Cusco has experienced numerous earthquakes and each time most of the colonial buildings have had to be repaired or completely rebuilt whereas the Inca constructions are as good as the day they were built.

Another quaint tradition that is quite common up here in the Andes is the chewing of coca leaves to help with altitude sickness and as a stimulant when walking long distances. I don't know what it is about traditional drugs, but they always taste foul. And as if chewing coca leaves on their own isn't bad enough the locals here have found a way of making them taste even worse: along with the coca leaves they chew a black paste (which, amongst other things, contains ash, lime and salt) that acts as a catalyst for the drugs inside the leaves. Personally I'd prefer altitude sickness any day.

So after 4 days on the famous Inca Trail (3 days walking and the final day at the ruins) to Macchu Picchu I am back in Cusco. The trail itself wasn't particularly difficult, although there were a couple of tiring climbs (especially on the first couple of days), and the altitude wasn't a problem as I had had plenty of time to acclimatise. However, saying that, it probably wouldn't have been that easy if we didn't have an army or porters to carry most of our belongings, tents, foods, etc. They are really quite impressive: managing to run up hills that we have a hard time slogging up, and all the time carrying 25kg (whereas I doubt I carried more than 4kg at any one time). What's more some of them weren't that young, with the oldest porter being 64 years old! The trail itself is very pretty, with some stunning views and interesting Incan ruins along the way.

On the final day we got up at 4am so that we could hike the few remaining kilometers to the Sun Gate from where one has an unparalleled view of the sun rising on Macchu Picchu. In the end it was in vain as the only unparalleled view we got was of a combination of mist, fog and low-lying clouds. Macchu Picchu, however (once we got to see it that is), was definitely worth the trek. Not only is the setting, high on a hill surrounded by rainforest, beautiful, but many of the buildings are still in good condition because the site was only discovered by Westerners in 1915. Although the site still poses many mysteries as no-one really knows why it was abandoned all those years ago, and they aren't even too sure as to its purpose (though it's probable that it was some sort of spiritual centre).

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