July 29, 2007
Choquequirao-Machu Picchu Trek Day 1
Stats for the day: 22 Horizontal KM Walking (half a marathon), 1300 Meters Down (equivalent to going from the estimated roof of the Burj Dubai tower to the ground, twice), 550 Meters Up (as high as the roof of the Sears Tower, plus a football field)
I met Chantelle and Kim at the main plaza early today, and we together we headed to the bus station for our 6:00 bus. The ride lasted four hours and took us through some beautiful country. I slept through most of it, but still, it was nice getting out of the city. The bus dropped us off at an intersection from which we grabbed a taxi straight down a huge hill to Cachora, the starting point of our trek. I kind of felt cheated because the driver had his engine turned off for the most part, but he still got us there. We grabbed a quick bite to eat in Cachora and started walking.
The first part of the trail was very easy. We dropped down a bit and walked past a lot of farmland and friendly locals. Only around ten tourists take this trail every day, so village life still seems fairly intact, unlike along other popular treks where everyone is out to make a quick buck at your expense. The few other tourists we did see were all accompanied by a guide, and mules were carrying their stuff. My pack weighed about forty-five pounds, but it wasn't a problem to conquer the small rolling hills of the region.
After a few hours, we reached our first "pass." We had an amazing view of the region from the top of green hills and snowcapped mountains, and we could already see our campsite for the day. The only problem was that it was on the other side of the canyon, so first we'd have to go to the bottom, then back up. The Apurimac River that had carved its way through the region over the eons didn't look too far away, and if I listened closely I could even hear its rushing water. Some guides and muleteers coming back from Choquequirao cheered us on as they no doubt didn't see many people carrying their own stuff.
We had our work cut out for us. For the next two hours, we zigzagged our way down the steep path in the hot sun. When you're as high up as we were, your mind plays tricks on you. We kept dropping further and further down, but the river never seemed to get any closer. At this point, Chantelle was already complaining about not having donkeys to carry her stuff, and she vowed to get one tomorrow if possible. No doubt she was jealous seeing all of the other tourists carrying nothing but their cameras and water. This upset me because my plan was to do the whole trek other than the most difficult section without any help, and we had only begun walking. I'm not very fond of using pack animals on treks because they shit all over the trails, kick up tons of dust, are difficult to pass because they take up so much space, and they require a muleteer who has to be cooked for and paid to return to his village at the end of the trek.
Eventually we reached the mighty Apurimac, a river near the source of the Amazon that's full of class V and VI rapids and has claimed the lives of many rafters over the years. Luckily for us, our Apurimac experience only consisted of signing in at a checkpoint and walking across a well-built bridge.
From there, it was an exhausting two-hour climb up the other side of the canyon on an equally steep path as the one we had just come down to our campsite. Darkness fell halfway through the climb and the full moon wasn't quite high enough above the mountains to provide us with any light. It can get pretty lonely walking straight uphill in the dark, but at least it was warm at our relatively low altitude of 2200 meters.
We reached our campsite exhausted, but in good spirits as we could finally get rid of some of the weight we were carrying by cooking dinner. The moon eventually did come up and provided us with a great view of the canyon we had just traversed. We went to bed excited that we'd already get to see Choquequirao by midday tomorrow.
The photo album for this entry is here.