Peru: The Trek pt. 1
The trek to Choquequirao was the highlight of the trip–the reason for going. Getting to Cuzco was so that we could get to the starting point for the four-day hike in the Andes.
Choquequirao itself was an Incan city built after Manchu Picchu. Whereas Manchu Picchu served as a city for the royal class and a religious center, Choquequirao was an army center in addition to having a royal estate and religious significance. It was built in the final days of the Incan empire, as the Spanish and their allies finished off the Incans.
We would set off from Cuzco on Sunday. Two days there; two days back. It was to be difficult. I’d brought my broken-in combat boots from Iraq–the most comfortable footwear I owned. The idea was that, since I could ruck miles and miles in the things, they’d serve me well on a more vertical hike. Eh. Not so much. More on that later.
A Sunday exit of Cuzco for the trek meant that Saturday night would precede–normally not a huge obstacle. We’d planned on facing it like every other night: by going to bed.
Little did we know the Loki hostel tradition of “80s night” on Saturdays, complete with costumes and good times (i.e. yelling, music and dancing).
It started out innocuous enough at 9 when we tried to go to bed. I dozed for a few minutes. By the time 1:30 a.m. rolled around, however, we had experienced every stomp, song and shout, courtesy of the bar directly above our room.
Four and a half hours of aggravated bed sitting was enough to frustrate me to the point of further insomnia even after the music died down. The eventual snores of my roommates let me know I was missing out on what little sleep I had left. Four forty five would come way too soon, but not so quickly as to curb the exasperated five minute spans between me checking my watch. I think I finally settled down enough to sleep around three or four. I awoke some 20 minutes before the alarm time. I was tired.
We each got up, bitching about the clog dancing they seemed to incorporate into the evening. We brushed by each other, packing the last few things, making sure all of the things we weren’t taking were stowed in our leave-behind bags.
The Loki people opened up the storage room for us and we stowed our bags. We’d be back to the hostel after the trek, made our reservations already. They were nice enough to let us keep our things there.
It was a little chilly. Although summer, the two-mile elevation pushed us up above the outright warmth, leaving residual hints at the season. It was perfect hiking weather–70s-ish through the day, some drizzles and 60s at night, enough for a light jacket. Morning still brought along some of the evening chill, and I was eager to get this thing started.
Eager and nervous. I’m a redhead, computer geek and theater guy, the complete antithesis of outdoors-man. I sunburn, am accident prone, attract mosquitoes like a Red Cross truck, and generally don’t like the prospect of encountering all manner of painful ailments. I also wasn’t a huge hiker. I could run, but I wasn’t conditioned for long-distance trekking. This would be a first for me.
The van that would take us to our starting point eventually appeared at the top of the hostel’s hill.
We hiked up with our packs to a small Hyundai van. The driver was a man by the name of Mario, who spoke a tiny bit of English. Adrian was able to chit-chat a bit in Spanish. Felix, our guide, whom we had met two nights before when he came to the hostel to brief us, was also there; as was Herbert, our smiling cook.
Herbert never spoke any English on our trek, but that man smiled every second of the day. Takes a man touched by God to smile that much, I’d imagine. It was more than just politeness, he hurt my face with his smile so wide. Crazy.
Our trip down the mountains of Cuzco into the mountains near Choquequirao was interesting. The pavement itself was in good shape for the most part. Mountains are temperamental hosts of roads, however. There were some washed-out parts and eroded holes that I said a prayer or two as we slowly plodded through in the laden van.
Three hours…and a half maybe, to the town where we’d meet up with the donkeys and such. Adrian, Sarah, Sean and I all caught naps on the way, taking in the winding hairpin turns up and down the mountains.
Beautiful. Words can’t say. Tuffs of clouds held back the orange wash of sun. Without it, gray light cast a pallid hue on the slopes of dirt and brush. Cacti sprouted up in the upper slopes. The valleys opened up below us in winding channels that wrapped around the mountain like a huge skirt. Rivers ran along the bases–unassuming powerhouses that sculpt the massive mountains. When the sun did burn through, it breathed life into the Andes. The dirt burned brighter and the emerald greens of the bushes, trees and fields also bloomed.
Farmers began to work the slopes. We sped through little villages and towns perched on the slopes along the road. Animals made their way to and fro at their master’s prodding. Life glided on.