A Travellerspoint blog

Choquequirao

The Road to Ruins

sunny 30 °C

Thursday 07 - Monday 11 September

An epic, non-Machu Picchu (see last entry) hike whilst in Peru seemed like a great idea at the time. Trawling the local tour operators, a four-day fully-catered hike to Choquequirao - an impressive, intact, but relatively tourist-free Inca settlement situated high on a mountain - sounded perfect.

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Friday 08 September

Arriving at the small sleepy village of Cachora on the outskirts of Cuzco, we were introduced to our 'catering' team for the next four days; a chef, his assistant, a horse-handler, and our trusty guide, Ronal.

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The Choquequirao Four

As we ate breakfast, our packs, food, tents, and equipment were loaded onto horses which were then briskly lead away by the handler and the chef.

Well fed and raring to go, we headed down Cachora's dusty main street, across a patch of farmland and eventually onto the track to Choquequirao itself. Despite the early start the day was already hot, but the long opening stretch began on level ground before ultimately descending steeply into the river valley where we would camp for the night. We kept a fair walking pace and high spirits. We'd that this trek would be hard, but -hey!- we'd yomped up Ben Lomond in New Zealand with no problems and by comparison, today seemed a doddle... Oh how we'd look back later and laugh (cry) at such naivety.

Anyway, the scenery was breathtaking and the walking was good.

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Around midday we caught up with the chef and horses and a surprisingly good impromptu lunch was rustled up using nothing more than veg, rice and a camp-stove.

The afternoon's walk lasted only three or so hours before we arrived at camp, where our tent had already been pitched and our packs were waiting - what service! Within half an hour, afternoon tea(!) was served and then we were free to relax until dinner, when the chef again produced an impressive three-course meal using maximum skill and minimum equipment.

After around seven hours' walking, sleep came easily in the cosy black silence of our tent.

Saturday 09 September

06.45 - breakfast time. If nothing else, we were incredibly well fed on this trek. Breakfast consisted of fresh fruit, bread, coffee and pancakes, plus all the Coca leaves (to combat altitude sickness) we could eat.

Today's walk would be long, but at least began downhill to a river crossing deep in the valley, on the other side of which we would begin the steep climb towards Choquequirao itself.

A straightforward 40-minute walk brought us to the river. Once over the bridge though, it was time to ascend the first mountain. Still early morning, we had lower temperatures on our side and it didn't take us long to realise that we needed all the help we could get.

The path consisted of a steeply ascending zig-zag; the photos don't do justice to the length of each section of path, and as our legs grew steadily more tired those zigs and zags seemed to become progressively steeper...

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A mid-morning refreshment stop couldn't have been more welcome, and partially restored by sugary Fanta and Inca Kola we began to climb again. With the baking sun now climbing high, the real slog began...

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"But I've only got little legs..."

Distant Choquequirao beckoned, but as the warm afternoon gently passed the apparently endless ascending paths conspired to sap every last drop of our stamina. Stops for water became more frequent, and our pace became more gradual. And then, somehow, miraculously, the climbing ended and the path levelled into a wide sweeping arc between our mountain and the next, where the vast terraces of ancient Choquequirao rose on the slopes far below and to our left.

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Progress was easier now, but even with the spritely Ronal urging us on we were both knackered. The crunch came when we eventually reached a fork in the path; a left turn sloped gently down to this evening's camp and a respite for hideously aching legs. A right turn offered a further long, steady climb up to and around Choquequirao
itself. Sharon sensibly opted for the camp, but having come this far I had to go on...

...but this final push was well worth the effort. For my money, Choquequirao is at least as good as Machu Picchu but doesn't yet suffer from hordes of tourists crawling over every inch of it. This then, was the scene as the sun began to sink on day two of the trek:-

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Sunday 10 September

Whilst yesterday's triumphant arrival at Choquequirao gave me a wonderful feeling of fulfilment, I was so glad to arrive back at camp, eat another of cheffy's excellent meals and collapse into my sleeping bag alongside an already-snoring Sharon.

Awakening this morning it seemed as though someone had encased our legs in plastercasts overnight! Today, thankfully, was to be the reverse of yesterday's arduous climb. Not to be underestimated, of course; we still had a huge distance to cover, and this time with stiff, aching muscles, but at least it was 90% downhill.

We were shocked at breakfast to see that one of the packhorses had bled profusely from the neck; according to the handler the horse had been prey to a vampire bat during the night. Ugh.

Inevitably, travelling downhill was quicker than climbing although we were still overtaken shamefully quickly by the chef and the horses despite leaving camp a good hour or more ahead of them. The day seemed cooler and as we hit our stride even the tension in our leg muscles seemed to ease. Not being as time-pressured as yesterday we were able to fully appreciate the majesty of our surroundings once more.

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In what seemed a surprisingly short time, we were following the path along the river valley to the bridge that would take us over and up to the camp at the end of day three. But as we made that brief climb to camp, warning bells began to sound - and fresh agonies sprang from our tortured leg muscles. This was a one-hour climb; tomorrow we would be climbing solidly for a good five hours...

Monday 11 September

Ronal had been very patient with us; he sensed that we might not be quite as fit as we thought, and so today he cannily ensured that we quickly left camp after a very early breakfast.

What can I tell you about that last day's walk? It was hot, it was strenuous, it was exhausting and it was long. Those steep zig-zags that we had merrily cantered down just days ago now sapped us remorselessly. On the upside, though, frequent rest stops gave more opportunity to admire our surroundings and on one memorable occasion we were fortunate enough to see a magnificent Peruvian Condor in flight.

Slowly and surely we ticked off the kilometers and -after an age- the last climb levelled out. Choquequirao was now far behind us, invisible behind a mountain, and we were back on the long winding trail to Cachora. Sensing the proximity of the home straight rewarded us with a sudden burst of speed, which we maintained right up until reaching the farmland outlying the village; here, Sharon's legs finally admitted defeat. With much cajoling and encouragement from Ronal, we crawled the last few hundred yards into town and stopped. As our ever-conscientious chef produced one final excellent lunch for us, a wave of ecstasy and fulfillment at what we had achieved washed over us - it had been hard, but the trek to Choquequirao formed perhaps the defining moment of our year; we wouldn't have missed it for the world.

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Sunset from Choququirao

Posted by andymoore 20:37 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

To Machu Picchu (via Cusco)

Breathtaking... ...ly Expensive

semi-overcast 22 °C

Monday 04 - Wednesday 06 September

Shunning a further overnight trial-by-bus, we took a morning trip from Puno for the gradual descent into the bustling town of Cusco.

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Arriving in the early afternoon on Monday you soon see just why Cusco is so bustling; the place is teeming with tourists eager to make the backpacker's pilgrimage along the famous Inca Trail to the even more famous Machu Picchu.

We were just happy to settle in to our digs here that first afternoon, stepping out in the evening for the customary beer and bite to eat.

Tuesday 05 September

Some time before embarking on our world-journey we'd dismissed the idea of trekking the Inca Trail; firstly, you need to book a place months in advance which would have dictated our itinerary somewhat, and secondly we'd heard from fellow travellers that the 'uniqueness' of the experience was becoming diminished by the sheer volumes of daily trekkers now following the trail.

But of course, you can't come to Cusco and not visit Machu Picchu; and we'd heard that the scenic train journey to the site was a worthwhile alternative to hiking there. Thus we made our way to the PeruRail office and forked over $105US each (ouch!) for the Vistadome (a glass-topped train affording better views) service leaving at 6am the following morning.

With Machu Picchu booked, we were free for the rest of the day to take in more sights of historic Cusco and to return to the Cross Keys - an English-style pub! - for a pint to console ourselves over our prematurely empty wallets...

Wednesday 06 September

We arrived at Cusco station early, supped a quick coffee and boarded the train. Perhaps the expense had been worthwhile; the Vistadome train was spacious,modern and comfortable, and - crucially - the large glass viewing windows were perfectly clean. The four-hour journey was terrific, an ever-changing panorama of mountain and jungle. And then we were stopping...but not at Machu Picchu. The last stop for the train is at a town called Agua Caliente. Here, we were dismayed to find that we now had to pay for entry to Machu Picchu, and also for a bus journey to get us there. Note to self: in future, research these things better.
A trip to the town's only ATM was required but -guess what?- a power failure had rendered it out of order. What now? With amazing presence of mind, Sharon found a money-changer and changed our emergency stash of US dollars.

After a perilous-looking, steep and zig-zagging bus ride up a mountainside we finally made it; Machu Picchu lay before and beneath us.

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The steep and winding road to Machu Picchu

And was it worth the effort and expense? Well, see for yourself...

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Posted by andymoore 18:12 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Magnificent Two hit Peru

Puno - Titillated by Titicaca

sunny 25 °C

Wednesday 30 August - Sunday 03 September

We spent the last two days of August making our way overland through Chile to the Peruvian border. Pleasant memories of quick, comfortable flights were soon replaced by the harsh reality of two consecutive overnight bus trips. To be fair, the first - from Calama to Arica was uneventful if somewhat cramped, but the second from Tacna to our first proper Peruvian stop at Puno was hellish.

Peruvian folk are small, and bus seating reflects this fact. Okay, so we're used to folding ourselves into cramped seats. More disconcerting was the fact that some of the bus windows were broken, or missing altogether. The devastating significance of this hit us in the early hours of Thursday morning; the outside temperature had plummeted to around absolute zero and we were woefully underdressed. The cold wasn't just uncomfortable; it was painful, and we looked on jealously at the sensible Peruvian travellers cocooned in warm clothes and blankets and sleeping peacefully, oblivious to the two shivering Gringo icicles sat next to them.

Friday 01 September

The bus had been climbing steadily during the night, and as the sun rose and we began to defrost, we caught our first glimpses of magnificent Lake Titicaca - at 3,860m above sea level, the world's highest navigable lake - and shortly after, the outskirts of the town of Puno.

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If we were relieved to see Puno, we were positively elated to arrive at the Hotel Conde de Lemos ; despite our early arrival (before 7am) we were welcomed with breakfast and coffee while our room was prepared, and then - after one of the most horrendous night trips of the year - we collapsed into a deliciously comfortable and, most importantly, warm bed.

By the afternoon, we felt restored and emerged into the warm Puno sunshine to take a stroll around town and later find somewhere decent for dinner. A 'turistic' restaurant with an engaging menu caught our eye, but sadly the pricey meal didn't quite match our expectations.

Saturday 02 September

After a further morning's nose around Puno we took a half-day tour to see Sillustani, an ancient pre-Inca burial ground overlooking the shores of Lake Titicaca.

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Tower-like tombs at Sillustani

In the stillness of the late afternoon sunshine the ancient stone structures - some desecrated by grave-robbers, others simply unfinished - provided an enchanting landscape.

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Travelling back to Puno we stopped briefly at a traditional homestead to gain a taste of peaceful rural Peruvian life;

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and as the afternoon drew to a close, the distant skies darkened and we were treated to the sight of a spectacular dry electrical storm, with bolts of forked lightning illuminating the western hills.

Sunday 03 September

And so, to the real reason we came to Puno; Lake Titicaca. Whisked by bus from the hotel to the harbour at 6am, we were on the lake in time to catch the first of the early morning sunshine glinting on the water.

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Covering a surface area of 8,400 square kilometers, Lake Titicaca is huge and home to numerous small communities living on more than 40 man-made islands.

Landing at one such island - Amanecer - we were given a first-hand demonstration of island-creation. Constructed from mats of dense vegetation, walking on the island gave the same weird sensation we'd first experienced in Los Esteros del Ibera, Argentina.

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A lesson in island-building on Lake Titicaca

Whilst here, we had the opportunity to sail in a traditional boat woven entirely from rushes - a far more placid way to enjoy the lake by contrast to the motorised launches of the tour operators...

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After browsing the inevitable handicrafts on sale here (we bought a terrific tapestry!), it was time to leave the island and cruise onward into the greater body of Titicaca.

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Some 45km into the lake from Puno lies the beautiful, hilly island of Taquile, where we landed to begin a hike to the highest village for a spot of typical Taquileno lunch. This turned out to be fish and chips!

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Beautiful Taquile Island

After lunch we were treated to traditional dancing by the villagers, with Sharon being called upon to show us a few moves herself...

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Get yer coat Luv, you've pulled!

At last it was time to bid farewell to our smiling hosts

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and wend our way back down the hillside to the boat, and the gentle evening cruise back to Puno. With the sun setting on Lake Titicaca, we could look back on a great introduction to Peru and look forward to more adventures to come.

Posted by andymoore 14:02 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Rio de Janeiro

Ipanema Dreamer

sunny 34 °C

Thursday 24 - Tuesday 29 August

The flight from Salvador to Rio was terrific; comfy, great views from the plane's windows and above all, quick. Arriving in darkness in the downtown suburb of Botafago, we were pleased to see that after the basic digs of rural Brazil, our hostel here was equipped with a bar, pool table and internet access. We soon settled in.

By now the norm in our travels, we spent the first full day just exploring our surroundings; just being in Rio is pretty mindblowing, the city has a life of its own - it's hard to put the general "sunshinyness" of the place into words.

Despite the proximity of the beach, we instead headed to a nearby shopping mall (sad, yes); after much travel some of our garments had reached that make-or-break 'brittle' stage and so a search for replacements was in order.

And so we spent the day just mingling with the beautiful people, admiring the beach and Sugar Loaf Mountain from afar, taking in our surroundings and just generally hangin' out. And loving every minute of it.

Friday 25 August

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Of course you can't just admire Sugar Loaf from afar; if you're in Rio you have to go up there. A half-hour stroll from our hostel brought us to the first of two cable-car stations, from where our steep but breathtaking ascent (actually, not breathtaking for Sharon; she had her eyes closed) began:

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"Ooh - look at the tiny cars."

The cable-car to the first peak is only half the story; to reach the summit a second exhilarating ride is required...

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...but of course the views at the top make the journey worthwhile.

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It's not all scary cable-car rides and great views though; inevitably there are a number of cafes and gift shops, but other attractions include a pleasant walking trail and an example of a cable-car (and occupant) from the olden days.

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Saturday 26 August

It's long been a dream of mine to visit Ipanema. Today my dream came true. Ipanema - the name conjures up visions of beautiful Brazilian people living a bohemian life against the backdrop of a stunning beach, the sun constantly shining, that song playing in the background...

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I wasn't disappointed. Ipanema is simply lovely. Yes, the majority of the folk on the beach are beautiful; toned, bronzed, muscular blokes and tanned supermodel girls abound, but so do ordinary folk - and no-one seems to judge anyone else; everyone just fits in and gets along nicely.

Our hostel, surprisingly reasonable for such a reputedly jet-set location, was handily placed for the beach and the town. The bar (Garota da Ipanema) in which The Girl From Ipanema was written was just a ten-minute walk away.

With the sun beating down, a walk the length of the beach was in order followed by cool drinks in a hip(ish) bar and rounded off by a good meal in one of the many local restaurants.

Sunday 27 August

I was in two minds, but Sharon was adamant. We couldn't come to Brazil without witnessing an example of the beautiful game. The last time I'd witnessed live football was a game between Milwall and Sheffield Wednesday at the Old Den back in 1990, but I was sure that there'd be a world of difference between that match and a local Brazilian derby.

There's no doubt that the Maracana Stadium - one of the largest in the world - is impressive. Today's match was between Flamengo (at home) and Sao Paulo. Away supporters were definitely in the minority.

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Gringos like us were seated away from the majority of hard-core supporters, but even so the vibe in the crowd was palpable and at times deafening; it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement, hand-clapping and chanting. Excitement peaked when a few over-zealous Sao Paulo fans infiltrated the Flamengo stands - scuffles ensued, baton-wielding police appeared, and order (of sorts) was quickly restored.

Sadly though, the exhortations of the crowd could not elevate the standard of play and the mediocre match resulted in a disappointing 1-1 draw. We didn't mind; for us, the match was secondary to the experience.

Monday 28 August

Another of those must-see destinations in Rio is the enormous statue of Christ the Redeemer which sits atop the Corcavado (Hunchback) Mountain and overlooks the city. Our last day in Brazil, we signed up for a trip to this famous landmark but we got much more than we bargained for...

Our first stop seemed familiar - we were back at the Macarana Stadium! Still, we got to follow in some famous footsteps:

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Next up was a 'stadium' of a different kind; the Sambadromo, a 1.5km long parade-ground which is home to the annual Samba School Parade - a competition between Rio's top Samba schools to showcase the best carnaval costumes, floats and displays.

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Oh, if only we had the chance to try on some of those outrageously flamboyant carnaval costumes... OK, you're ahead of me:

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Charles Hawtrey and Hattie Jaques in "Carry on Carnaval"

On a more sedate note, our next visit was to a rather unusual cathedral; a concrete edifice on the outside:

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but with fabulous floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows inside

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Finally we were on the long, winding drive up and up the Corcavado Mountain. Here we'd behold in all it's glory Christ the Redeemer, our last vision of Brazil, one of the most famous landmarks in the world, a lasting memory, a golden photo opportunity...

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Oh bugger. Yup, after days of sunshine and clear blue skies, the fog descended. Well, it's the thought that counts.

Tuesday 29 August

And, once again, it was time to move on. Brazil had been great - fun and sunshine all the way. We'd managed to pack an awful lot into a brief time; no mean feat since we'd arrived in the country with no route planned and little idea as to what we wanted to do.

Now, owing to a quirk in our South American planning, we would fly back to Chile for a one-night pause before heading on to another new and exciting country - Peru

Posted by andymoore 19:02 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Salvador

"In your face."

sunny 27 °C

Monday 21 - Wednesday 23 August

An early start from Lencois bus station saw us on the 08:30 to Salvador. Salvador is a sprawling urban city with a 'historic' central area. Arriving around midday we jumped straight into a taxi (best not to hang around South American bus stations) and headed for the centre.
Historic Salvador consists of a central square surrounded by a labyrinthine jumble of narrow streets, some pedestrianised some not, but all teeming with tourists and - notably - lots of Tourist Police. The city has gained a reputation for petty crime against tourists, so the abundance of uniformed officers was a welcome sight. The taxi driver found navigating to our hostel (cunningly hidden in a traffic-inaccessible side street) decidedly tricky, so he deposited us in the adjoining road and vaguely gestured us toward our destination.
Once checked in it was time to join the other Gringos milling around, and take in some of historic Salvador's fine architecture.

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As we wandered, we began to see why people describe this part of Salvador as "in your face" - heavily tourist-oriented, you are frequently accosted by beggars, money-changers and hawkers. Prostitutes are less than discreet, although they seem to be tolerated by the police.
Not wishing to venture too far today, we retreated to an excellent coffee shop (I'm a coffee addict, and good coffee shops had been in short supply lately) where we stopped to watch the world go by, and enjoyed a decent early evening meal.

Tuesday 22 August

Our route through Brazil had dictated the visit to Salvador; moving on from the Chapada Diamantina, Salvador was the next major city from which onward transport to Rio de Janeiro - our last stop in Brazil - could be arranged. Today, we faced buying the tickets for the thirty-hour bus journey to the capital; a prospect I was dreading. We made for the travel agent recommended by our hostel and were shown bus times and prices. On a whim, I asked for the price of an internal flight. Our man hastily tapped away at his internet connection and gave us the answer. We were astonished - a 90 minute flight cost just a few quid more than the unfeasibly long (and loathsome) bus trip. We handed over the cash without hesitation. Tomorrow we'd be flying down to Rio! No evil bus! Woo-hoo!
Immeasurably relieved, we spent the day exploring further, and riding Salvador's huge public elevator down to the city's lowest level to browse a large handicrafts market situated by the harbour.

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Later, returning to the square and with camera in hand, we were accosted by four ladies in elaborate costumes; desciples of Brazil's Candomble religion. They happily posed for pictures with us,

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then suggested we part with £20 for the privilege! They seemed happy enough with a fiver...

The general bustle, noise and attention from traders hungry for the tourist-dollar can get wearisome after a while, so this evening we were grateful to find an oasis of calm in the form of a second-floor restaurant near our hostel, from where we could observe the goings-on in the street below in hassle-free comfort.

Wednesday 23 August

A slight hitch this morning; we had to vacate our room at 11am, but weren't due at the airport until 4.30pm and the hostel wouldn't store our backpacks for us. Luckily, the place where we had breakfast would, and so we were free to spend our last few hours in Salvador browsing the varied shops and sights, revisiting last night's restaurant for lunch and - naturally - topping up the afternoon caffeine levels in the coffee shop. And then it was time to board our airport transfer, check in our luggage and be whisked into the night sky en route to the fun, sun and romance of Rio.

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Historic Salvador

Posted by andymoore 20:53 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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