On the Trail of the Inkas
The last story ends in Lima where we made it to the workshop after a bitter fight with the sick Tiger. While the cat is in treatment now, we welcome our friend Alex from Germany who is visiting us.
Before Alex arrived, we asked him, of course, what he would like to see and experience in Peru. But Alex is a very adaptable and uncomplicated travelmate: “I will do anything you are normally also doing”, he just said. Nice! So Alex has received the all-round-comfortless-package, which includes 24-hour bus rides, altitude sickness, lifting motorcycles happily through the mud, snow rides at 4700 meters, rain camping, diarrhea and cold hands. So feel warned if you’re playing with the thought of giving us a visit too!
Couchsurfing in Lima
It started phenomenal. Alex already had organized a couchsurfing in Lima from Germany as we originally planned to take a detour around the chaotic capital with the Tiger and wanted to meet up with Alex somewhere outside. Due to our electronical problems we have now landed in Lima too and have the chance of meeting Alex’ host Johnny as well. Directly, he invites us to move on his roof terrace and since we all like each other very much, we share three great days in which we consume a lot of Peruvian beer and local rum. Alex talks about all the curious things that he already experienced in Peru in the first few hours and Johnny, who already had half of the world as guests on his roof terrace, shares countless couchsurfing stories.
Galapagos for Poor People
Then it’s time to leave Johnny. We want to go to Cusco to hike to Machu Picchu. However, to get there is terribly far. We take the bus to save some time.
And because the way is still quite long with the bus, we make a stop in the national park of Paracas, which is known for its beautiful beaches and biodiversity. Here, we visit the Islas Ballestas, which are considered as “Galapagos Islands for poor people” among travelers.
The very tourist event is admittedly a bit stupid: Hundered people are crushed in speedboats and brought to the islands in a record time. The voice of the guide is constantly with a way to loud speaker in the ear. I think that a comparison with the Galapagos Islands is exaggerated, even if the islands are impressive.
Much more, I liked the night we’ve spent earlier on the beach somewhere outside of Paracas. For a long time, we were walking in the darkness along many beach residences directly at the sea to find a place for our tents. We found a nice place under an abandoned bamboo hut and woke up in the silent scenery the next morning. In the hazy light of the sun which had just risen, we were walking through the sand, where countless giant jellyfish were located. I guess the sea didn’t want them anymore. With big steps, I stepped over the harmless monsters, while I keep on looking towards the smooth, light-blue water. What a start in the day!
Blessing in Disguise
After Paracas, we continue our journey with the nightbus to Cusco, up to the mountains. Since I tend to get sick on curvy rides in closed vehicles, I try to sleep as much as possible. But in the middle of the night, we suddenly wake up by a deafening bang. Loud screams go through the bus, then more hits follow. BAM, BAM, BAM! I look still tired and confused around but no one seems to understand what’s happening here, until it’s finally over. Thick boulders solved from the mountain slope and crashed onto the bus’ roof with full force. Things like that happen quite frequently in rainy season. Fortunately, we have a protective roof over our heads in this moment. What a scenario that would be on the motorcycle…
On Our Way to Machu Picchu
In Cusco, we find by far the cheapest hostel. However, when I can’t escape the loud snoring of a drugged Backpacker all night, I regret our decision and swear to myself that I never want to sleep in a drom again. Being tired as hell is really the perfect state to start a long-distance hike.
The hostel still has something positive: we get to know Davi and Yoshi and decide to hike to Machu Picchu on the Salkantay Trek all together.
According to National Geographic, the Salkantay Trek is one of the 25 most beautiful hiking trails in the world and no longer an insider tip. Unlike the famous Inca Trail, which is only accessible with guide, you can hike the 57 kilometers of the Salkantay Treks on your own. In addition, it is also a bit more challenging as it goes up to 4600 meters.
Too fast too high
Alex already feels really bad at the bus ride to the starting point. While we are still thinking that it must come from the bad night in the hostel and the resulting lack of sleep, on arrival, it quickly turns out that it is something worse. Alex has a severe headache and can barely move forward. Together with the increasing nausea, we certainly know: Alex has altitude sickness.
I also experienced this torment in Bolivia, when we rode in just one day from 2400 to more than 4000 meters. It was an ordeal. I could only lie in bed, throw up and wait until the headache got better the next day.
Alex can’t go on and so, we decide that we will stay here at 3850 meters and see tomorrow if he is better. Moe and me have a bad conscience: we should have known better and should have taken a longer time to acclimatize in Cusco.
We ask for some coca tea which is known to help against the symptoms of altitude sickness at a small cabin. The friendly couple takes care about Alex and directly gives him a treatment with local herbs and booze. They even offer their humble bed in which Alex can rest. Since we now know that Alex is in good hands, the remaining four of us visit the nearby Laguna Humantay. The view of the shining turquoise lagoon in the midst of the magnificent snow-covered mountains is mind-blowing. I have to admit that I have never seen a more beautiful one.
After a cold night, Alex’ condition did not improve. We offer him to go back or stay one more night, but Alex remains stubborn. He wants to move forward with us – no matter how. And we can’t really disagee to his plan – even if we know it’s going to be a big agony – because we would have been just as stubborn as he is.
Our new companions Yoshi and Davi stay on our the side. The two are entertaining companions: Yoshi, the Japanese, has already traveled through half of the world, and Davi, the Brazilian, is on his first big trip. Yoshi’s dry humor ensures a good mood while Davi is an expert in negotiating. Both are well prepared and know at any time where we are and how far we are still from which points. Good that they are with us!
Everything is Grey
It’s rainy season. That means it’s inevitably raining. Quite often. That alone wouldn’t be too bad, although sunshine is of course much more fun than constantly unpacking the poncho and hiding ourselves underneath. It’s really a pity that we don’t get anything to see. Nothing of the snowy peaks, nothing of the crazy chasms, nothing of the idyllic valleys, because everything is grey in grey and you can mostly see only 10 meters far. That’s not how we imagined this hike!
Even at the peak there is no view – still, we are in a good mood!
The most exciting point is when we get to a water crossing, where a fierce current has evolved. The water flows directly into the big, restless river which is just waiting to entrain everything that comes in his way. “If we are swept away with the flow and land in the river, it means safe death”, diagnoses Yoshi. So, we’re trying to build a path with stones that we can all get safely to the other side. About an hour, we try to move the stones in the best way possible but the current is just too strong, the water too deep. When we finally manage to make a reasonably decent path, which would be passable with some bigger jumps and the risk of getting wet, Yoshi says that it is too dangerous anyway and he doesn’t dare to cross.
The little adventurers in us are visibly disappointed. Yoshi could have said that before we spend an hour getting our feet wet. Davis pants even ripped. But it doesn’t help anything. Since Yoshi can’t be convinced, we all turn around and take the alternative path that leads us over a road and finally to a cable car that we have to take to get to the other side of the river.
In Bolivia, I have already refused to enter such a not very trustable construction. Now, there is no alternative. “I have now stopped counting the near death experiences”, Alex confesses in the sight of the improvised cable car.
In the next few days we are slowly progressing and actually never alone on the trek. Several guided groups trudge through the pampa and some of them tell us about the tight schedule. At five o’clock in the morning they have to get up, so they can complete the hike in three days. They stay at small campsites which are next to the trail. And for having a guide who leads you through a clear path where you can’t get lost anyway, you pay 400 US dollars. Just for not carrying your own tent. “The way you do it is much cooler but I’m just lazy”, admits a polish guy while laughing. While in my world the terms far-distance hiking and laziness are rather an opposite, it seems to be a booming business model here which meets a great demand.
While we climb up a mountain, we meet some Peruvians with self-made backpacks which are the triple (!) size of their bodies and have a chat with them during a break. They tell us that they carry the luggage of the guided groups every day. Two small old men are struggling with the stuff of eight young people who are just too lazy to carry it themselves. Isn’t it a beautiful world?
That makes us even more proud of Alex who is not giving up, despite his miserable condition. We don’t have a tight schedule and just take a little more time to get to our destination. Alex is getting better from day to day. Therefore, we also hike the last four kilometers up to Machu Picchu, instead of taking the bus.
We arrive very early and so we are one of the first to visit the inca site which is shrouded in mystical fog. However, in order to channel many tourists as efficiently as possible through the walls, there is only one direction. And since it has not been correctly pointed out before and we take a wrong turnoff without knowing, a supervisor follows us to make sure that we do not go back again. However, we have only seen half of the site and just want to go back to the beginning so that we can still see the rest.
A staircase of exactly five steps would take us back right there but a little wooden fence and the supervisor are now in the way. I ask the supervisor to open us the gateway and explain our situation. But he doesn’t care about it and he says we should go out and enter through the main entrance again. I remember that the ticket seller told me two times that only one single entry is possible. There was even a sign.
Since I want to avoid a discussion at the crowded main entrance, I ask the supervisor once again to open the gate just shortly, because we just need five seconds for the five stairs and thus would be back in the beginning. I tell him that they wouldn’t let us in at the main entrance again. But the supervisor is stubborn: “Just say that you had problems with your stomach and that’s why you had to go to toilet urgently.”
Slowly, I’m getting really angry. This stupid excuse won’t work for sure. We have experienced such situations too often in South America: instead of trying to solve a problem, people send us somewhere else just to make sure that someone deals with us. It really makes me upset because it doesn’t cost the man anything to open the gate just a second for us. No one would see it and he would have made us very happy.
But no. He has the instruction to show people their way out. It doesn’t matter to him that we haven’t seen everything yet. I get louder. This can’t be true. The supervisor looks like a bucket and nervously mumbles something in his radio.
Two more visitors arrive who came here exactly the same way we did. They are also trying to negotiate with the supervisor – no chance! They want to go out and try it again at the main entrance. At this moment, fortunately, the boss of the supervisor arrives, apologizes, and explains that it is not possible to reenter at the main entrance. He opens the gate immediately. I can’t resist to give the supervisor a victorious look.
Let the fun begin…
After another 24-hour bus ride back to Lima, we are ready to resume our motorcycle journey. I think I have already mentioned that we are in the middle of the rainy season. Not only once were we warned by locals about riding into the mountains. But Alex is here now and we definitely want to ride together. So, we pick up the Tiger in Lima from the workshop which is running better than ever and Moe and I start riding to Huánuco.
Alex will follow on the bus and rent a motorcycle there. However, we have to experience a few setbacks and changes in plans, but more about that in the next article.