We continued our peaceful existence in the town of Cusco for several days. A free walking tour took us to a posh clothing shop, where we were shown the leaves, flowers, even corn, which provide the pigments for the natural dyes used for llama and alpaca clothing. When the group was presented with two items, I was the only person in our group to correctly identify baby alpaca wool (of course being terribly modest about it all the while), the answer being neither, my lucky guess based on a stab at psychology rather than an advanced knowledge of what they termed ‘maybe alpaca’ products. We then climbed up one of the city’s many steep flights of cobbled steps for beautiful panoramic views, and wandered into the surrounding countryside, past fields of quinoa and through a number of Inca ruins, all the while accompanied by our enthusiastic guide’s commentary.
Cusco is working up towards the biggest festival of the year, just after the summer solstice, so we ate overlooking the square, or wandered through to watch, as each day parades, with rows of multi-coloured costumes, filled the main square, and each evening, groups of teenagers gathered to practice local indigenous dances.
After a few relaxing days, we got moving again, the final spurt of energy for the pinnacle of Nae’s ten week adventure. A minibus drove us six hours or so along an extremely precarious, winding road through the mountainside, with incredible views. Testament to the fact that I have got used to South America’s roads, especially after cycling along Death Road, I didn’t even notice it was a hairy ride until I overheard fellow passengers talking about it afterwards, with relief in their voices.
We were dropped off at a hydroelectric plant which marks Kilometre 104 along the Inca Trail, a guide drew a map in the sandy side of the road with his umbrella, and our little group of five set off on our own. We followed the railway track through the jungle, balancing our way across the beams of a railway bridge at one point, exchanging travel and life stories in our group, until we reached the small town of Aguas Calientes. We found our way to the somewhat dingy hostel designated for us by our tour, to receive instructions for the following day, then spend the evening wallowing in the waters of the hot springs which the town is named after.
The next day began with an extremely early start at half past three, followed by an extremely steep and strenuous ninety minute climb up the mountain. We left the village and began walking along blindly in the dark, accompanied by the vast curve of the stars above us, and ended, sweating profusely and almost 400m higher, stood in the bright new daylight in the queue to enter the city. We edged ever closer, as the bar code of each ticket was scanned in and passports were checked, and just as I was about to stroll confidently through, Nae and I were informed that we had, in fact, got tickets for the 11th of July rather than June. I was assuaged from the terrible guilt which would have plagued me if an error on my part had prevented Nae from seeing Machu Picchu, by a kind official who went off and made a case to her manager and ten minutes later we were triumphantly hugging each other on the other side of the ticket turnstile.
A guide showed us around for a couple of hours, pointing out a few things I remember about the fascinating astronomical city from my last visit, and much more that I didn’t. In the couple of hours free time which followed, Nae and I, with our new American friend Eric, chose to climb a little way above the city to the guardhouse and sit there in the sun, taking in the aerial view of the city and the mountain range which surrounds it. The warmth, the company, the view all made for a spectacular pinnacle to an excellent ten weeks.
By midday, as we headed back down to Aguas Calientes in the bus, it felt as if we’d already been up for a whole day. Instead of walking back along the railway track to the hydroelectric plant, we took the posh option of the most beautiful train I have ever been on, made of so many panes of glass that it felt like we were gliding along in a greenhouse with seats. The long drive in the minibus back to Cusco was spent in a state of wooziness, all heads on rucksacks or resting on any shoulders which were nearby.
During our last couple of days in Cusco we ate, shopped, and hung out with Eric. We all got an Inca massage, with small, extremely hot stones balanced at strategic points across our backs, arms and legs.
The Posh, Posh Travelling Life
Our final travelling hurdle was the twenty-two hour bus journey to Lima. However, we didn’t bank on the luxury of Peruvian buses; the front row seats on the top deck, TV screens showing film after film, meals handed out, and toilet on board made for a practically unchallenging journey.
In a fit of madness, and as the grand finale for Nae’s trip, we had founded a last minute deal and booked a room in a beautiful, swanky, four-star, skyscraper of a hotel. We wandered into the glassy lobby, with our large dusty rucksacks and smelling pretty questionable after the journey, and shot up to the ninth floor in the mirrored lift. The minute the door closed on our new room, we leapt around in undignified excitement at the huge windows, large, over-pillowed double beds, and beautiful bathroom. The afternoon was spent napping in the delightfully soft, duveted beds, then in the evening we made use of the pool, complete with mini waterfall, and enjoyed the cocktails which were brought to us, because of course, seeing as we were now posh, we couldn’t possibly fetch anything ourselves. The staff looked shocked enough when we were polite or chatty with them.
We headed out that evening for Nae’s penultimate night on the continent, and ended up in a local bar chatting with some new Peruvian friends until the early hours.
For Nae’ last full day, Eric arrived from Cusco for his flight home that evening, and we all hung out in the hotel by the pool and in the sauna until mid-afternoon, when I started feeling questionable. An hour or so later I came out with a full blown fever and headache, and a doctor was called out. She pronounced me ill from a stomach bacterial infection, gave me an antibiotic injection and course of antibiotics and told me to call an ambulance if I got worse. Luckily I improved slowly over the night, so that a weak and weedy, but no longer feverish, Helen checked out the next day. Nae and I took a taxi together to my new place, a nice apartment complete with large bedroom, ensuite, kitchen and sitting area, the new domain for my recovery and some writing time. We said our goodbyes, and all too soon Nae was gliding away in the taxi, off to the airport.
I’m feeling much better now, a couple of days doing nothing but resting and slowly eating again, and I almost feel back to normal. I’m even planning an exciting trip to the bakery today, so watch out world… I’m back.