Early start. Note to self, LAN domestic flights require a check in 2 hours prior to take off! Seems like we are last to check in and get bundled up the back of the plane. Lima airport becoming all too familiar!
At least we get a window seat, just that it’s missing a vital component, a window! So the descent into the Andes mountains will be missed, probably a good thing I suppose, given that now I have started to read the book Alive about the plane that crashed in the Andes and the survivors ate each other to stay ‘Alive’.
Arrive Cusco and await a pre-organised driver. Walking out all confident like, dismissing touts for hotels or taxis saying that we are taken care of. However, the crowds thin out and we look around with no one to be found. Normally this would be OK, we’d grab a cab and head for the hotel, Cusco didn’t seem too daunting. Just that we weren’t staying in Cusco, we were continuing through about 1-2 hours by car to Urubamba in the Sacred Valley which leads up to Machu Picchu.
A few calls put through to our hotel and driver is located, running a little late. We wait out front of the airport. Cusco at 3326m in altitude is a certain change from sea level Lima and you definitely notice the breathable air, or lack thereof.
Driver arrives in a shabby taxi, standard for these parts. But good enough. We head on up, up and up even further to a mountain pass that climbs steeply behind Cusco. Keeping an eye on my altitude gauge on my watch shows us at 3800m by the top! One would hope we get a bit lower than this by nightfall as we may struggle to adjust to the altitude.
Thankfully we descend down to 3000m by the time we get to the Sacred Valley and the town of Urubamba. We head a short way out of the town centre to a turn-off to the Inkapalla lodge. Down a loose rocky road towards the fast flowing Urubamba river we arrive at a large gate which slides open at our approach. Good sign.
Inside we are welcomed by a delightful setting with many buildings made from smooth river stones scattered around a large compound and dozens of flower beds with bright coloured flowers stretching their way towards the sun. Rooms overlooking the river and dwarfed by the large mountains rising on each side of the Sacred Valley.
It’s lunchtime now so we decide to head off to Olytatambo a ‘Ye Olde’ town about 20 minutes by taxi down river. This is the stop off point for Machu Picchu day trippers, so many a souvenir stall and restaurants about. Even so the town has an authentic feel to it. The buildings made of the close fitting stones familiar to the Incan way of building with water ways running through to the town emptying eventually into the Urubamba.
Have a nice meal at Hearts cafe on the edge of the town square. We stroll up to some Incan ruins which we spy from our lunch table. Entry to the ruins is $60 each so we figure we will get our Incan ruin fix over the next week. Plus we can see most of it from the outside and there are also about 1000 stairs.
Get the taxi back to the Inkapalla lodge and chill out. Pop into the bar for a drink before dinner and try a Pisco sour the Peruvian speciality, quite lemony, bit like a margarita and at altitude, quite strong! Inkaplla Lodge setup for large tour groups headed to Macchu Picchu but at present none in, so we have the place to ourselves. Given their usual occupancy the restaurant is quite large so we feel a bit strange sitting down as the only ones in attendance. But it’s fine so we make sense of the menu and order and await the meal.
First up the appetizer which consists of 8 slices of cold boiled potato, well not technically as to be boiled they would have had to be hot at some stage but are not now! These are laid out in a 4×2 configuration, covered in two types of sauce, one green, one yellow, both awful. It is garnished with a quarter of a boiled egg. It’s practically inedible, and as one who will eat anything, I’m sorry to say it is quite possibly the worst thing I’ve been served in a restaurant (I’ve made far worse myself of course!). We chop it all up to make it look like it has at least been partially eaten.
Next up the main course, and I’m thankful now I’ve ordered the least adventurous thing on the menu, a burger. Allison’s soup comes first, although we’re not sure if the bowl has been taken from the sink with the dishwater still in it. It sounds harsh but it really was terrible. Even the burger, now arrived is made of a sweet roll, rock hard pattie which equals cardboard in taste and topped with soggy lettuce, squished tomato and a rubber band of bacon. I manage a quarter of it as I know this is the only food I will get this evening. We are about 5km from Urubamba town and a dark few hundred metres to the main road.
We agree it’s the worst meal ever and take glances to the kitchen and decide that due to the absence of tour groups the ‘relief’ staff are on tonight and are making it up as they go. Not to worry, we head back to our room and oversized bed and are out like a light.
Today we have a day in the Sacred Valley to essentially adjust to the altitude and explore some of the sights. We grab a taxi, with our driver, to cart us around for the day.
First up, and I mean up! To Morey. Half an hour drive up a number of switchbacks. Travel by road in these parts certainly involves trusting brakes and oncoming cars to allow space to pass. Would be good mountain biking around here though.
Arrive in Morey and it has historical significance in relation to the Incas. The feature is a massive man-made hole in the ground stepped around the edges like an open cut mine, yet each step is supported by a stone wall and grass covering the majority of the ground. It is massive. It is like standing on the rim of a world-class sports stadium looking down to circles getting progressively smaller towards the bottom in the centre.
The purpose of such a creation was apparently to test the best growing altitude for certain plants. A fair effort for the pioneering Incas but as we have seen, and will see, the Incas didn’t do anything by half measures. No plants nowhere of course unless they were testing out the grass, but it all seemed to be growing equally well. Of course, I was tempted and did go to the very bottom of the ‘laboratory’ for a photo opportunity in this largest of greenhouses.
Next stop Salinas. Up some more hills and down some more till the canyon opened up to a startling white valley. Salinas, as the Spanish name suggests, is a salt mine. The super salty water naturally coming out of the mountain streams. It is here the man-made pools have been created, terraced down the mountain. The salty water gathering in these shallow pools and evaporating, leaving a thick layer of pristine salt behind ready for harvesting. Not really your table salt variety, although it can be. Mainly used for agricultural salt licks for cattle to gets their fix.
So we hail a tuk-tuk for the dusty rattly ride back to the lodge, for what we think is about 2km away, so well within tuk-tuk range. 20 minutes later and through a small thunderstorm we are not seeing any familiar signs of the approach to the lodge, tuk-tuk driver quizzing us in Spanish and receiving no reply other than a shrug of the shoulders to suggest perhaps just a bit further?
Eventually a familiar advertising sign and the turn-off to the lodge around the next bend. Questioning the rigidity of the tuk-tuk on the rocky road we opt to get out at the turn-off and walk the rest of the way to the lodge.
We see the Urubamba river up close as we head down the hill towards it. This river runs quite a distance through the entire Sacred Valley to the base of Machu Picchu and beyond. It is swiftly flowing with mild rapids at certain spots. I’d like to state this river is now my new favourite river, not that I had an old one! I’d imagine camping on its banks, swimming in the pools and floating over the rapids, perhaps throwing in a fly fishing line to pull out a sizeable trout from the cool snow melted waters.
Back at the ranch we use the slow afternoon to get a massage, tough life! A reward for dealing with jungle adventures and in prep for the Inca trail ahead. A vigorous massage leaves us suitably pommeled, pulled at and I’m sure, bruised! Peruvian massage not likely to leave Peru.
Anyway, the lodge has become a lot busier, a big busload of big German tourists has since rolled up and we watch as an endless stream of bags carried up to their owner’s rooms by the porters. At least there will be a few more in the dinner hall this evening however this wouldn’t include us as we were strategic in having a decent lunch so that dinner events of the previous evening can be avoided.