July 30, 2007
Choquequirao-Machu Picchu Trek Day 2
Just 650 Meters Uphill Today (6.5 times the wingspan of the Spruce Goose)
Chantelle and Kim spent a good portion of last night and this morning inquiring about getting mules to take our stuff the rest of the way to Choquequirao. I stayed out of it, figuring at least I wasn't trekking alone. After all, this was a tough trek and the girls were good company. They successfully convinced a muleteer from a tour group to take our stuff on the pack animals he was already using. It was pretty cheap because we didn't even have to rent our own animal, and admittedly, it made walking more enjoyable.
With no backpack to carry, I raced the rest of the way up the hill at blazing speed. At one point I passed two eighteen-year-old boys and one of their dads riding on horses. At least we weren't that lazy. Soon we arrived at Maraupata, the last campsite before Choquequirao, where the majority of trekkers dropped off their gear because they were heading straight back in the opposite direction the next day. From there we could at last see our destination covered with thick green forests in the background. We continued walking for another hour of ups and downs to arrive at the Choquequirao campsite.
Choquequirao is one of those places that you can tell will be completely different in a few years. The ancient Inca site has been known about for hundreds of years, but its importance was overlooked until recently. Now it is believed that Choquequirao was as important to the Incas as Machu Picchu, yet the facts that getting there involves a strenuous walk and only thirty per cent of the site has been excavated so far have limited the number of visitors to a few thousand per year, less than one per cent of those who visit Machu Picchu. Rumors abound that the Peruvian government is eager to build either a road or railway to Choquequirao, a project that will no doubt dramatically increase tourism there and take away some of the magic that the site currently holds.
After we set up camp and had lunch, we still had half the day to explore the site, so we walked down the path to the lower terraces, about twenty minutes straight down from our campsite. The area really impressed me with dozens of rows of flat terraces for growing crops accompanied by well-built staircases arranged in an amphitheater-like semicircle, all towering above a few stone houses. But what really amazed me was its location. Everywhere around us were huge lush hills in front of even bigger snowy mountains and even a waterfall leading deep into the gorge below. The Incas understood well the three most important rules of real estate.
The best part of the afternoon was that we had the entire area to ourselves. Most of the tour groups didn't include enough time in their itineraries to visit all of Choquequirao, so the few other tourists in the area were all at the main part of the site above us. We'll check out that part tomorrow before leaving.
Sharing our campsite were some interesting people. A group from a school in the nearby city of Abancay trekked their way up to the site from a different path than the one most people took. It was great to see some of the local young people interested in exploring their cultural roots. There were also two Americans who were utterly unprepared for the trek. They brought along nice, expensive hammocks from the US to sleep in, but were disheartened when they realized there was nowhere to hang them from in the mountains and had to pitch them Boy Scout style using sticks as poles. They didn't take enough food for the trek, so they would have to return via a quicker, albeit more dangerous, route in the morning. But they told us they didn't even have enough food for supper tonight, so we looked over our own supplies and decided that we cold afford to spare some rice and curry powder. Their next problem was that they had to cook on a campfire, but firewood was scarce, and all they had to cook in was a tiny tin cup. Still, they were grateful for our hospitality and were obviously enjoying themselves despite the setbacks. These types of places are always filled with interesting characters.