Had one more day before the trekking started.  We headed to the Sacred Valley to check out some ruins around Ollantaytambo and Sacsayhuaman. Got a great view of Cuzco on the way, you might be able to see they have a Cristo, like in Rio de Janeiro, overlooking the city.

Apparently there is one in Bolivia too but I didn’t get to see it. Anyhoo we checked out a llama farm on the way to the sacred valley. I think llamas are a bit scary at times…..

Like overgrown sheep!! Okay, okay some of them are pretty cute but this is as close as I was willing to get. The ruins and scenery around Sacsayhuaman were beautiful……..

……..and we got a few short treks in over the course of the day. We headed on to Ollantaytambo where we learned more about the Incas and how they achieved architectural marvels by hand – more or less. Check out this face carved into the mountain…….

……pretty amazing!!!! As the crew were all doing the Inca Trail, I left them in Ollantaytambo, where they would start from the following day. I headed back to Cuzco gazing at a gorgeous sunset against the most amazing backdrop but honestly I couldn’t even concentrate on it because the nerves about the trek were really kicking in!! Went back to Cuzco and packed my duffel bag (which the porters would carry) and the lightest possible day pack.

Okay so I made a decision not to do the Inca Trail just because I heard that it is really packed and I heard about an alternative called the Lares trek. It’s another (less heard of Inca trail) which was said to be just as nice as the Inca trail. It’s about 5km shorter but the altitude is much higher so I heard that it was really tough. All through Bolivia, I didn’t really suffer badly from the altitude so I knew I’d be okay, apart from maybe slight nausea and dizziness. The only thing I was a little sad about was missing seeing Macchu Pichu from the sun gate which can only be seen when you do the original Inca Trail.

Anyway the day arrived and I was picked up at 6am. Met my group and we drove towards the town of Lares. Stopped off at a market to buy little gifts for local kids we might meet along the way. Next stop was Lares which was the last stop in “civilisation” but on the way I started feeling really quesy. I put it down to not much sleep the night before and maybe some nerves. By the time we got to Lares, I was running for the bano (bathroom) and having some serious upchucks!! Boo to that. Tried to convince myself that I felt better as we moved on to meet the porters and cooks to have our first camp lunch but couldn’t manage it and had a sleep on the grass until we were ready to set off for day one of the trek.

Couldn’t believe I was sick from the altitude and we had not even started!! Didn’t really want to let on to the others how horrible I felt because that would be admitting it and I knew I’d feel worse. Literally just put one foot in front of the other and that distracted me pretty well but to be honest that was a hellish walk to first base.

Camp for the night looked pretty much like this……

……and I counted the minutes before I could go to bed. Managed to get some soup into me and headed for bed. (anyone who knows me well will know I’m ill if I can’t stomach food – it’s just never a problem)  Never felt so dreadful and even though it was freezing (and I mean seriously brrrrrrrrrrrrr) I was feverish yet shivering in my thermals and my -20c sleeping bag!!

Day two arrived and this was to be the day of hell by all accounts. Now I start very slow when trekking anyway but the next morning, I couldn’t get it together at all. We spaced out and I was walking alone for the first while. I’ve trekked a bit on my travels but this was soooooo hard. Actually started crying in the first half hour and that did it!! I just snapped with myself and said “come on Linda, you have to do this, there’s no way back so get on with it” Think I scared myself a little but it worked and I picked up my pace.

One of my group, Rachel had caught up with me and we started walking together. The first pass was just under 5000 metres above sea level and we’d just pick a marker, like a rock or something and aim for that so we could take a break to catch our breath. The funny thing is once you stop, you feel fine straight away but then you start again and 20 metres later it feels like your lungs are about to explode!! That damn altitude is a killer and makes you feel so weak. Anyhoo, by picking our markers, taking shorter strides and looking down, we hauled ourselves up that first pass!!

Woooooo hooooo, we’d made it past the worst point!! Yippeeeeeeee :-) OR SO WE THOUGHT!!! Beautiful view of this lake and we bounded down towards it. The scenery up in those clouds was just amazing and as our group was small and we spaced out a bit, myself and Rachel had it all to ourselves. After a few minutes, it began to twig that we were really descending quite far and then we realised that we would be starting even lower for the second pass!! So  unfair!! We almost cried ………… and then the hailstone started :-( Boo to it but honestly it was almost better than rain because it did just bounce off us. Thank god for small mercies – I think?!

So again we had to slap ourselves and start the ascent up to the second pass. It was just as hard as the first one and all that kept us going was that after that we would finally be coming down from the altitude – somewhat anyway. So we made the second pass and then the trail got a little confusing so with my limited spanish I asked a local farmer if we were headed in the right direction. He pointed us on our way and off we headed to third pass.

As soon as we got over the third pass the trail split into four so we were totally confused. We walked on for a bit and realised we were totally lost!!! Sooooo we had to BACKTRACK to find the others that were walking behind us. A bit of a trial to do the pass again but the thought of being lost in the Peruvian mountains kinda spurred us on. So if anyone is interested in doing the Lares because the Inca Trail is too packed, I can guarantee you won’t be bumping into anyone too easily. Plus this really is some of the most beautiful landscape and to see it with no one around is pretty special.

Anyhoo, we eventually found the others and stopped for our lunch. Ended up doing an extra couple of kilometres which was a bit of a struggle but never mind. We were a much happier and healthier bunch reaching base camp that night…..

……..but some folks decided to do the easier walk the following day. Ended up being just four of us (outta nine) finishing the intended trek. We literally ran up the mountain and back down but I have to say it was worth the walk. Saw some great Inca ruins, probably the nicest so far but I guess the sunny weather had a lot to do with that :-)

The high was really kicking in that day……

 

……..dispite 40km, some quite hellish, and many blisters from going down – which is sometimes worse than going up especially on the knees. But nevertheless I had done it, me – very unfit me – had completed an Inca Trail and I felt I’d paid my dues to see Machu Picchu the following day.

We trekked down to Ollantaytambo and met the others. Caught our train to Aguas Calientes and relaxed in the hot springs that evening, pretty damn proud :-)

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616471465288/                                                                            http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616382224505/