We (the 50 or so strong team of charity trekkers) reached heights of 4490m and although several people didn’t make it all the way – with one ending up in hospital – and despite the fact we encountered many other ups and downs with the weather and our energy levels throughout, I am thrilled to report our success. And what a success it was: just over 50 people raised a whopping £150,000 for a range of charities and as I write this, I am well on my way to making my own £8,000 target.
(Here is a picture of the group of girls I met on the trip and couldn’t have managed without. Left to Right: Alex, Emily, Me, Zoe, Clem and Fran)
To thank you for your generous support, I have compiled this short report of a Princess’ quest to conquer Peru (in pink rather than purple because purple hiking gear is incredibly hard to get hold of, mind you, pink isn’t that easy either!).
We arrived in Cusco after 3 flights and instantly felt the altitude. We were taken to our hotel by bus and told to drink lots of cocoa tea and walk very slowly to gently acclimatise. Eager to look around, after 2 cups of coca tea a few of us who had bonded on the flights headed up-hill to the main square where we took lots of pictures (including the one below, which was the last shot of any of us with clean hair) and settled down for a delightful afternoon of people-watching with a pot of yet more coca tea in one of the balconied cafes overlooking Cusco town.
Although later dinner of guinea pig didn’t go down too well…
The first day of hiking, which was deliberately gentle to allow us more time to acclimatise, took us through several local treasures including an Inca spring at Tambo Machay, and a site known as Sacsayhuaman (practically pronounced Sexy Woman, much to our school-girl/boy amusement). The Incas built Cusco in the shape of a Puma and Sacsayhuaman; its jagged rocks are believed to have represented the teeth. We were unable to clamber throughout the Puma’s dental-work, however, due to the Inti Raymi festival, which marks the coming of age of local teen boys. After this, the hiking started in earnest and we soon discovered that it was important to take things slow and steady and to drink lots and lots of water. Of course the water drinking had the upsetting side effect of making one need the loo ALL THE TIME, which meant ducking behind the nearest rock or llama pen and being as quick as you could so that the rest of the group didn’t catch up too quickly (I wont even go into the embarrassment of when half the group thought I’d stopped to take a picture!). You’ll be thankful I have no pictures of such activities, but I do have a shot of us en-route to the Ipsayccocha Pass. However we encountered a range of problems which made finding private places to pee pale into insignificance. For one thing, as we made our way up a sharp incline to reach a peak of 4590m, it started first to hail pea-sized rocks on us an a 45° angle and then to snow:
Then of course, as I assumed it might, my poor nose gave in:
And until I discovered I couldn’t get warm enough to sleep in temperatures of below freezing I was thrilled at the idea of staying in tents:
To be clear, I would like to point out that this trek did not involve walking the so-called Inca Trail. This is because the company organising the trip are pioneering new routes, well, I call them new, but in fact they too are Inca trails. Peru is utterly covered with trails built by the Incas and Machu Picchu itself is entered by not one, as many tourism companies would have you believe, but eight. Although The Inca Trail is somewhat greener than the countryside we traversed, it is lacking in one element which really made this trip for me: Peruvians! The Lares route is still inhabited by Amerindians who live in an entirely Inca way (using such rules as don’t lie, don’t steal and don’t be lazy). They still farm the terraces the Incas built to manage the land and live in tiny stone cottages which sleep entire families of up to eight or so on llama skins on the floor. We visited one such house, which will remain etched in my mind – perhaps never more so than when I snuggle up on my huge red leather sofas and watch the TV.
But my most indelible image of Peru will be the young children of such families who appeared to be sprinkled haphazardly across the mountain sides, watching serenely as we walked and waiting, presumably, for a relative to return from their work and gather them up in their blanket and carry them home on their backs for tea.
Soon I arrived safe, sound and smelly at Machupicchu (note the fact it is actually one word and is pronounced Machoopickchoo). Although we had been fed amazingly well all along the way, few of us had had even one decent night’s sleep, so the joy of making it to the amazing mountain top was marred just slightly by exhaustion (and an increasing desire to find soap and water and scrub ourselves raw).
There is really nothing I can say that would do Machupicchu justice so I wont try; photos really don’t capture it either. If you’ll excuse the Hippy-ness of this: there is an energy there that, whether the result of over-excited trekkers all assembling in one place after an arduous pilgrimage, or of the location (between three other sacred mountains) in the clouds, or of the worth it was imbued with by the Incas themselves, is definitely palpable.
That evening we went to the hot springs at Aguas Calientes and drank the odd Pisco Sour as we soaked our aching limbs and the next night (after a long train and bus journey back to Cusco) I found my make-up bag (and a new magenta scarf) just in time for the celebration dinner!
(My only let-down was not winning the award for being the most glamorous and still maintain that a tiara and pair of sequinned socks are worth a lot more in the fashion stakes than Ugg boots and lipstick ;-) but I enjoyed my hiking success nonetheless. In fact I’m happy to report that I really can’t wait to get my hiking boots back on!)
By way of a small bit of respite – a change is as good as a rest and all that – a few of us then travelled on to the Rainforest at Puerto Maldonado. Our visit involved more hiking, some floating in boats, climbing into trees,
and dressing like human Jelly Babies As far as I was concerned, however, none of these were more important than sleeping!
I really want to thank you from the bottom of my heart (and my stinky hiking boots) for supporting me.
There is a saying that ‘charity starts at home’, which is often misinterpreted as something to the effect of keeping your money for yourself and your loved ones. Of course what it really means is that kindness should begin with the ones closest to you, and resonate out from there. You all know that I lost my oldest friend almost a year ago in a terrible accident, and all I could imagine doing was showing her the greatest kindness I could think of and both learning from her and making a tribute to her; it was my hope that such kindness would in turn expand to encompass many others – through the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity. I am so excited to announce that I have been more than successful with my aim!
With lots and lots of love and gratitude…