Friday, October 3, 2008

September 29 - October 2: Lares Valley trek and Machu Picchu

As an alternative to the classic Inca Trail, we decided to do a trek through the Lares Valley and then onto Machu Picchu. We were a bit wary of all the crowds on the Inca Trail (500 people per day) and also remembered fondly our trek through the Atlas Mountains in Morrocco a few years ago which sounded similar to this Lares Valley trip -- walking through small mountain communities along the way. This trip was simply wonderful and we didn´t see any other hikers along the entire journey. We highly recommend it to anyone considering an alternative to the Inca Trail.

There was only one other couple on our trip -- Claire and Barry from London who were great travel companions. Roberto, our guide was wonderful as well. Our trip started off a bit rocky as the wrangler and the horses who were supposed to meet us at the trailhead never showed up after 2 hours of waiting.... we soon learned from other locals that he had broken his leg the day before. Living deep in the mountains far from any medical care this was something to be taken very seriously and our frustration quickly turned to sympathy for him and his family. So our first day of trekking actually turned into a day of driving to the next campsite where another wrangler could join us. A bit of a dissapointment, but we were lucky that the next site was accessible by ¨road¨ (just barely) and it was actually pouring rain for part of the day so maybe it was all for the best!

We camped that night next to the primary school of a small community. Along the way we saw a few other primary schools that had been recently built by a Dutch foundation. This same foundation built a secondary school that we passed on our third day. Students walked as far as three hours each way to get to this school every day. As we observed their lessons for a bit, the intensity of their focus was remarkable and a stark contrast to the classrooms Allison had spent time in over the past several years.... A reminder that motivation comes from within when the goals and purpose of ones education is clearly understood.

On day two we started our trekking early. We had beautiful weather and the scenery was breath taking. We passed several lakes and summited two major passes. Along the way we passed through serveral communities -- generally consisting of 8-10 families living in proximity to each other. Often when we passed through all the adults were out working while the few young children played at home along, some as young as 4 or 5 years old. All of the children spoke only Quechua and we all seemed to play the same role in our non-verbal exchanges of smiles and waves, each equally mesmorized by the foreignness of the other. We found ourselves in that same eternal debate whenever exposed to indegenous cultures. They have so little and their lives are so hard-- but is what lies on the other side really any better? This seems to be the debate that many of the parents are having as so many of the teenage children leave home for the cities. We didn´t see anyone between the ages of 18-30 really, which is an indication of how this way of life may be dissapearing.

We camped on the second night not far below our highest pass -- at around 4,100 meters. Unfortunately we were both struck with pretty bad altitude sickness (Allison worse than Nader) which made us a bit nervous for future high elevation stops along the way, but this had to have been one of the highest. Despite the sickness, the site was incredible. Our crew caught some trout in the lake which we ate for lunch the next day.

The third day of was fairly mellow -- mostly downhill. We were picked up in a small town (which felt massive after all the tiny communities we had walked through). Nader played soccer with some of the kids while we waited for our van... They dominated him with their high altitude running skills. From there we headed to Aguas Caliente where we spent the night to allow for early morning access to Machu Picchu.

Day four, Machu Picchu. The location alone is truly remarkable. We arrived early in the morning and it was awe inspiring to watch the mist dance in and out of the surrounding mountains through the light of the rising sun. It´s amazing to think that the Incan empire ruled this region relatively not that long ago -- just alongside the renaissance movement in Europe. Their worship of the natural world was remarkable and we wondered how their civilization here may have advanced had the Spainards never have arrived.

We´re now back in Cuzco regouping and planning... Off to Bolivia tonight. Oh, and a correction to our last entry which reflected some ignorance of high mountain animals on our part. Llamas and Alpacas are DIFFERENT animals -- were pretty sure that the ¨donkama¨was saw was actually an Alpaca, which come in many different varieties. Now we know :)


  1. hjcleland@sympatico.caNovember 23, 2008 at 7:16 PM

    Hi Alison and Nader,
    Just read your South American adventures and want to tell you how much we enjoyed them. What a great way to "SEE" the world. If we, North Americans can get over our propensity to self reference everything, the world is and its people are wonderful and fascinating.
    happy travels
    carolyn and Hugh

  2. We´re glad you are enjoying them. We´re enjoying both the adventures and keeping our friends and family abreast of them. Hope to see you guys over Christmas.