The Incas called the wonderful city of Cuzco the 'belly button of the world', and although the Spanish conquistadors destroyed many parts of the city, there is still loads to see and do. We spent the day exploring the city and some of the amazing Inca ruins that are still only minutes from the city centre.
Day 2 arrived, and the reason we had all travelled for 30 hours - trekking in the beautiful Lares Valley!
After an early start the bus took us to over 4600 metres above sea level, before dropping us at a slightly lower, 4100m! Luckily, the walk was mostly downhill, although the occasional uphill left us all puffing and panting!
We had our first 'wild lunch', which included a dining tent, tables with table clothes, waiters and loads of lovely food - so not too wild, then!
Our afternoon walk involved a steady descent down to the village, and onwards to the local hot springs! Once we arrived, our guide Erik told us he had arranged for us to camp here, and that we could spend the rest of the afternoon in the thermal baths while the local staff took care of the tents and dinner - brilliant!
The next day was the big one, about 20km with 1500 metres of ascent!
Keen to make the most of our surprisingly luxurious home for the night, some of us started the day with a quick 'pre breakfast' dip in the lovely thermal baths. Our route took us steadily higher and higher, through more untouched Inca ruins and through little villages.
We had an opportunity to have a look inside one of the traditional Inca homes still used today, although we weren't sure how welcome we were!
More ascent took us further into the Andes, around ploughed areas (used exclusively for potatoes, the only crop hardy enough to grow in such an inhospitable terrain), and suddenly ... the lunch tent! Unlike yesterday, the whole morning had been up, up, up, so we were really glad of the comfort of the food tent (and the chairs, the food & the waiters!).
As usual lunch was fantastic, a good job as the trek continued up into the mists! Eventually we arrived at our high point, a small pass at 4600m.
Erik, our guide had told us that his grandfather had been a Shaman, and he was now able to do an Inca ceremony to the gods of the glaciers around us. This was really emotional and left us all in tears!
Finally, after nearly 8 hours of constant uphill, we were heading down! Within minutes we could see the lake we were camping by - the tents were there, waiting for us! Although it was beginning to get dark, we had a renewed energy as we headed for that nights home. Shortly after arriving, we were given warm water to wash with, hot tea and biscuits and a chance to rest for an hour or so before another lovely dinner. Afterwards, Erik brought out a bottle of rum - most of us had one glass and collapsed in our tents, the big day done!
The following morning we could fully appreciate our surroundings. Similar to Snowdonia (it had been raining, after all!), except that the only neighbours was an Inca farming family, complete with alpacas, dogs ... and a pet pig!
After breakfast we set off - Erik told us it was all down hill, so we walked and talked, enjoying the scenery and the fact that we could breathe! As we descended we passed several small villages, and we had the opportunity to spend time in a small nursery school, part of the governments attempts to encourage remote communities to access education.
Our final destination that day was Ollantaytambo. Although this is known as the 'gateway' to the world famous Machu Picchu, the town itself (and the local Inca ruins) are lovely, and worth spending some time looking around.
Another early start, two buses and a very grand train journey, and we arrived at Machu Picchu. Erik our guide had been such an expert throughout our time together, now he came into his own with his knowledge of the Inca culture, telling us about traditions, society and of the ruins themselves. As the Incas didn't record anything, all we know is based on speculation - he explained that the most likely purpose for Machu Picchu was as a university, studying astronomy.
And so, that afternoon we headed back to Cuzco for our final day together ... but what a lovely day! After spending the morning making our own chocolate and looking around town, we ate at one of the most delicious restaurants in Peru. What a farewell meal, washed down with Pisco Sour - perfect!
As one adventure ended, another began - after saying our farewells, Charlotte and I set off to book a tour ... into the jungle! Our mountain guide Erik had suggested the best way to fully experience the Peruvian jungle was to travel deep into the Manu Reserve. After a rest day spent back in beautiful Ollantaytambo, we set off.
At first we travelled uphill, the bus getting to 4000m before beginning our descent through various climates, ending beside the river Alto Madre de Dios. After a day on the bus we embarked on part two of our journey, several days travelling deeper into the jungle, accessible only by boat!
As time went by, we saw more and more animals - pairs of Scarlet Macaws flew overhead while monkeys shook trees as we floated by. There was a series of splashes near the riverbank and we saw a Tapir emerge, looking annoyed at our presence! We visited communities of natives that had little interaction with the outside world, who were happy to share their Masato, an alcohol drink made of fermented corn pulp - errrr, yum!
Our guide - Llucho was extremely knowledgable, showing us loads of plants and animals. At times we felt the first people to explore as we hacked our way through the undergrowth and climbed over trees. Luckily we had a local with us - Custo not only knew his way round, he was also pretty handy with a machete!
Seven days after we left Cusco, we returned. It felt like we'd been away for ages - warm water, wifi and clean clothes ensured a welcome return to civilisation. The next morning we set off for the long journey home and over thirty hours later we were back in Wales. What an amazing trip!