July 31, 2007
Choquequirao-Machu Picchu Trek Day 3
Stats for the day: 300 meters up, 1200 down, then 800 back up, so we barely made any progress!
During breakfast today, Kim broke the news to us that she didn't want to continue any further. She would rather stay at Choquequirao another day and go back the way we came. The main problem was the heavy rented tent she was carrying. I felt bad that she had to carry so much weight, but my backpack was already quite heavy and I didn't think I could handle much more. We split up our food so we'd each have enough, and Chantelle and I left early to see the upper part of the site before our long walk today.
We had a steep climb to get to the main part of Choquequirao from our campsite. When we got to the courtyard which was the center of activity at Choquequirao, the only other person we saw was Julian, the park ranger who was busy meditating. When he finished, he explained the parts of the site that were used as living quarters, for ceremonial rituals, and for crop growing. It was really interesting walking around a city as important as Machu Picchu, but with no other tourists around.
When we finished looking around, Julian told us that we should climb the big hill next to the main site because it was a "natural energy center," similar to the ones that supposedly exist in Stone Henge and Machu Picchu. The Americans we met yesterday had a slightly different explanation for the hill, however. They claimed the hill was used as a helicopter landing pad so the president of Peru could visit Choquequirao without walking there. Either way, it was the view that impressed me. We could see the entire region, including all of Choquequirao, some farm fields on a hill on the other side of the valley that would remain visible for almost our entire trek, the surrounding mountains, forests, and even yesterday's path. The natural setting alone made the site one of the most amazing places I've ever visited.
We had attempted to contract a donkey to carry our stuff again today, but to no avail. Almost everyone who visits Choquequirao simply returns back to Cachora on the same path, so we found it impossible to convince any of the local farmers to continue on the trek with us. We were on our own again, but that didn't bother me. The only problem was that we didn't leave until noon, which didn't give us a lot of time to get to our next campsite.
Our trek today began with an uphill climb which afforded us another great view of the "natural energy center" far below us. Also visible from the pass was the confluence of the rivers Apurimac, which we crossed on our first day, and Victoria, which we had to walk to today. From there, we were on the sunny side of the hill, which made for a hot, dusty descent through a desert-like land.
Halfway down the hill we passed yet another ruin called Pincha Unuyoc. The only people there were two excavation workers. Work on the site appeared to have just begun. At that point, Chantelle finally started appreciating not having donkeys with us. It was a very serene experience walking down the face of such a huge gorge without anyone else around.
It took us another hour of zig-zagging down the steep path to reach the Victoria river. The current was strong, but there was an amazing pool of freezing water to swim in. The water revitalized me, but I had to get out quickly to avoid the millions of sandflies, which are locally known as pumahuacachi, which literally means "that which makes the puma scream."
As we were walking along the river searching for the path up the other side, we spotted a backpacker walking toward us. He was from Colorado and was an absolute bear of a man with a huge frame and long beard to match. He said that he had been walking through the Andes with his girlfriend, who was slightly behind him, for the last six months, starting in Santiago. I had never met someone who had spent so much time in the mountains and would loved to have heard his stories, but it was getting late and we all still had steep climbs ahead of us on opposite sides of the canyon. We exchanged some advice about our trails and continued on our way.
We knew that the climb we were beginning was the largest of the trek at over 2000 meters. We only had about two hours left before dark, but the good news was that there was a settlement partway up the hill called Mysal where we could camp. From the previous advice I had received, I figured it would take about one and a half hours to get there. We walked and walked for what seemed like forever. I was exhausted after an hour, but determined to push on. When it started getting dark, I figured we must be close. I looked across the canyon and saw that we were already above the level of the ruins, and they were 500 meters above the river. Soon it was completely dark, but we had no choice but to keep walking. Luckily, Chantelle was in good spirits and seemed OK with walking in the dark.
I kept looking for lights and listening for voices. Any sign of civilization would have been helpful. My brain started playing tricks on me when I saw fireflies and thought we had arrived, only to see the "village" turn off. Finally I was sure I heard barking dogs, but the noise was way in the distance, and the trail was leading us away from it. Eventually we hit a switchback and started walking toward the dogs. When I had almost nothing left in me, we reached our first split in the trail, but there was no indication of which trail led where. We wisely kept walking toward the dogs and arrived in Mysal five minutes later. We had walked up about 800 meters (half a mile) and it took three hours, much longer than I had expected.
We were surprised to see half a dozen tourists at Mysal after seeing nobody but the mountain man all day, but I think their guides were even more surprised to see us. We told them how far we had come and they immediately gave us a cup of coca tea. We had some nice conversations with the guides, and when one of them pulled out a guitar, we joined the other tourists. However, none of them even said so much as "hi" to us. It was really strange being given the cold shoulder like that, but I was too tired to care.
The photo album for this entry is here.