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Joanne's  Charity Trek in Peru

On 30th March 2018  Joanne and her daughter Cerys, aged 16, left the UK with a wonderful group of 32 people, including John Suchet (radio presenter) and David Suchet (actor),  to raise money for

Global's Make Some Noise. 

This is the story of their adventure.

To find out more about the challenge and donate to this worthwhile cause please click this link:

justgiving.com/ joannegowan

We meet our team at Heathrow and after 20 hours of travelling ( via Bogata) we arrive in Cusco, Peru which is high altitude at 3,350m and so a bit of a shock to the system!  We are greeted by this statue of Pachacuti, Inca king who is said to have built Machu Picchu. 

Just climbing the stairs to the hotel room was exhausting!  One of our party is taken to hospital within 2 hours of arrival with altitude sickness and the magnitude of our challenge really hits home. 

We take a stroll through the town, have a meal in a restaurant near the Plaza and a chance to get to know our fellow trekkers.  Then an early night before our acclimatization Walk on Sunday.

Sunday ...we take a short coach ride into the hills above Cusco. Meet our first llama with local lady and view our first Inca site , memorably known as Saqsaywaman...or sexy- woman of course.

We visit a textile workshop and then start our first trek from the hills above Cusco, via the Monkey Temple and down into the town. 4 hours downhill, in hot sun and starting to feel the thinner air at 3,500m.

A much needed drink at ... yes an Irish Pub ! and back to the hotel for a few hours before our second group dinner.

The best group of people imaginable : Simona, Alice, Tess, Sam , Paloma, Henry, Sandra, Teresa, Lauren, David, Diane, Mimi, Catherine, Jo, Jonnie, Phil, Nula, John, Phil, Annie, David, Sheila, Peter, Razia, Will, Maureen, David, Jordon, Patrick, Hannah and trek leaders Dougie and Tony. With Joanne and Cerys.

Monday - our first day away from Cusco , a four hour coach ride up through the high mountains to the Sacred Valley and the town of Lares, we visit a local market (where the ladies are dressed in differing hats to represent which valley they come from ) and then have lunch and a relaxing swim at the famous hot springs.

Now the real trekking begins, rapidly up steep mountains, we really need our walking stcks and at 3,800m we find breathing becomes hard work.   We walk slowly but still need a 5 minute rest every 15 minutes. 

The weather is changeable, misty and chilly then warm or hot when the sun appears.

 

The people here are living off the land with small holdings, various crops along terraces of the mountains with maize and potatoes, no mechanised help, mules for transport, a few pigs and chickens, plus of course the llamas and alpacas for their wool.   Water from the streams, no santitation, some electricity but with only the occassional light bulb or radio it was difficult imagine what it was being used for! 

The women and girls and many of the men worn the traditional woven brightly coloured cloth from llama and alpaca wool.  The ladies always wore a hat which differed in style according to their valley. 

Often the women from the hill villages, would see use coming from afar and arrive in our path, baby on their back and spread a blanket on the ground to display their range of hand woven and knitted items for sale;   hats, socks, purses, bead necklaces, fabrics.

After 5 hours of hard trekking and feeling shattered we reach our first camp about an hour before dark. We have walked about 10 miles and the equivalent of 159 floors up & down, over 22,000 footsteps!    Time to change out of our walking boots and settle into our tent before our evening meal. This campsite was situated in a school playing field at a village called Cuncani  at 3,821m.  There were very basic toilets as well as our camp tent toilets and our meal was taken in a small basic building alongside. 

Cerys and I shared a tent.

The night was very long, very dark and very uncomfortable.  I was suffering with extremely high blood pressure and that combined with barking dogs, clucking chickens  and restless mules outside the tents, made a night visit to the wc a very fraught experience.  I got maybe 2 hours sleep, Cerys did better I think as she was not so affected by the high altitude.

Tuesday -  after a pill for my high blood pressure from one of the team doctors at breakfast, I was feeling a little better by the time we set off for day 2 of trekking.

After a warm up exercise session led by Diane.......... A very long hike of about 7 hours up and down, and up and down the high mountain passes with a break for lunch. 

 This is a real culture shock, the Peru hill people still live like European's did in the Bronze age !   Stone walls with no windows, thatched roof with no chimney, inside mud floors, a straw and wood bed with a rough wood fire for cooking , a few shelves and strange objects hanging from the ceiling , including the traditional Inca good luck item...a dried llama feotus! 

Trekking at altitude is a slow process even for those who are very fit in our group, a rest every 15 minutes or so is essential.  Also a great opportunity for a good chat and chance to get to know our fellow trekkers.   We walk in a group with mules alongside to carry trekkers or their back packs at need.

Meanwhile our lunch tent, chefs and portable toilet tents (!)  go ahead of us.....so when we arrive at the high mountain lakeside ...lunch and confort stop is provided with quite a view.

First stop is a tiny hamlet of houses half way up the mountain pass, rarely visited by tourists we are privildged to be shown into one of the elders houses. 

 A neighbouring house had a group of guinea pigs running about ...pets which can also become a snack when needed! 

Our second campsite was at Huacahuasi at 3,836m , a small community where we camped alongside a river.

 

  After a few hours rest in our tents ( i finished a watercolour sketch started at lunch and some other trekkers provided assumement with a overpacked tent party!) , dinner was provided in a large tent for all of us.

Wednesday - we are woken at 5am with hot chocolate after another fairly sleepless night but with the longest trek ahead of us. It is a bright clear and cold morning with fantastic views of the mountains around us coming in and out of view through the mist.

 

Today we will be walking for 9 hours and over 14 miles at the highest altitude of 4,600m. We will be gradually gaining height using a little used route in the shaddow of the mountain with snowy peaks, Tirijhuay.

We climb up the mountain side and into the strong sunlight...suddenly we are all too hot and must stop to take off jackets and jumpers and apply the suncream.  The sun burns easily at these high altitudes and some of us have already been caught out with sunburn. 

The scenery is stunning and it seems as though the llamas and shepherd have posed specially for us under a clear blue sky and beautiful moon.

I am breathing hard and the lack of oxygen up here is very obvious.  But the slow progress does give plenty of time to soak up the surrounding if little breath for chatting!

Cerys is very cheerful and  we do enjoy the day despite the hard work of breathing.

As we climb into the mountain passes, we pass groups of children running down to school in the valley.  Paloma talks to them in Spanish and we discover that they make the journey to school every morning starting at 5am and returning at the end of school 3pm,  5 days a week.

 

It takes them 2 hours to run downhill to school and 3 hours to walk back up to their mountain houses.  They have sandals on their feet, school uniforms and no coats.  To the question what they do when it rains ...the reply was   'get wet'. 

The road seems to go on forever and the weather gets colder again.  We stop for a mid-morning snack and as if from nowhere a group of women arrive with children, dogs and their blankets full of homespun wares. 

After more hard trekking ( over 30,300 footsteps today, 13 miles up & down the equivalent of 192 floors !)

We finally spot our lunch tent in the valley ahead and it becomes almost a run downhill.

Here is the only moment on the whole trek that Cerys had had enough ! 

In the background is the lake and tent where we had had our lunch but as we emerged for the last 3 hours trekking of the day ( already very exhausted ) we had to retreat inside due to a dramatic thunder and lightening storm with 20 minutes of hail! 

But we had no choice but to continue in the freezing weather, upwards again and then downwards.  Hilarity set in as we all battled with the weather and as we descended the hail stopped and it warmed up a little.    The ground was treacherous however which led to my slipping over twice and getting rather muddy, Cerys thought it very amusing as did I,  as well as embarrassing myself  in front of the charming David Suchet!   I realised how lucky I had been to only have my pride hurt when a few minutes later one of our Peruvian guides Tony,  slipped and had to continue the journey on the back of a mule with a broken leg.

At last we reached our coach for the final hours of travel to our third campside on the outskirts of Ollantaytambo.  Along with my fellow trekkers we looked longingly as we passed hotels but continued to a campsite, arriving at dusk.  It did have the advantage of a brick built dining room and flushing toilets but the disadvantage of a bull in the next field and being very close to a noisy train line.  We all slept from pure exhaustion between the last train hoot at 11pm and the first of the morning at 2.30am !!

Thursday -   now that the trekking through the high Andes is complete , we all look forward to the excitement of a jungle trek culminating in our first view of Machu Picchu.

We take a train along the side of the Urumbamba river for 100km   and then we are dropped at the trackside !.  The terrain has changed completely. Here we are at the edge of the Amazon rainforest, it is warmer, humid and the plants are quite different.  We cross the river and enter the park of Machu Picchu to start the jungle trek along the traditional Inca Path to the city ...over 3000 steps 

We cross the  Urumbamba over a traditional rope bridge and start the climb up stone paths .

It is humid and tiring but we are all excited for the last part of our journey. 

The views as we climb looking back down to the river are increasingly stunning.

The foliage is lush and green , rather like being in the middle of a never ending Kew Gardens Palm house!

The path is surrounded by orchids of all shapes and sizes as well as flowers of all types, numerous butterflies in a miriad of colours and the funnel type webs of large spiders...which our guides said were tarantulas !  (Cerys always looked away at this point !) 

We reached our first Inca ruin .... the terraces and stone houses of Winywayna.

But we cannot linger to explore for longer ...many more steps to climb

The trek through the jungle was hard work but oh so beautiful.

Incredible to imagine the first Inca people cutting their way through this jungle mountain side and laying these stone pathways.

Lots of help from fellow trekkers Henry, Jordan and Will ready to carry a rucksack for us or offer words of encouragement.

We come across a near vertical set of steps ...and the only way to climb it is on all fours ....however not too much further........

The photo on the right shows our first view of the Sun Gate ...the end of the Inca pathway and opens onto the the first view of Machu Picchu.

We have made it . Thanks to a brilliant group of people, a huge amount of mutual support and love and excellent guides....we have all made it from Cerys as the youngest,  to all the ladies and gents in their 70's.

 

 A lots of hugs, and quite a lot of emotion and some tears.....

Here we are !

None of the photos that you have ever seen can actually prepare you for how extraordinary it is in reality.

I include some photos here but I am afraid you just have to go yourself.  

( you don't have to do the trekking to get there!)

We walk through the site which is now closed to visitors, we take our time and soak it all up.

Then it is onto the bus and down into the town of Aquas Calientes to our hotel.

The hotel has real beds ...oh at last ....but sadly the raging torrent of the Urumbumba outside our windows leads to very little sleep again.

Ironically  Aquas Calientes appeared to have very little warm water.  Cerys was one of the lucky ones to get a hot shower but hot water at the hotel ran out for most of us!

And so we have an excellent dinner in the town of Machu Picchu ...Aquas Calientes.

Cerys and I are shattered and have to head to our beds...but we were sorely tempted to join some of our fellow trekkers dancing and drinking the night way!

Friday - morning arrives and we take the bus up the mountain side for a full tour of the Inca City in the clouds .

This is the way most tourists arrive, a much easier route but without the rest of the Peru trekking, I am not sure it would have the same meaning or that we would have any idea of the hardships faced by many of the people of Peru ...not only in the Inca Empire past but in the current day.

Here are a few photos of the site.  I won't begin to explain...there is too much to say and many books of the subject.  However the best part was discussing my own impressions with trek leader Dougie who was hugely knowledgable on the latest archaelogical research which didn't always dovetail with the official guides.   It was great to share my own impressions and theories and I have hundreds of photos.

After a full tour of the site over several hours. Cerys and I returned for a second look and we spend some time on the terraces just looking and sketching and enjoying.

And so ...time to leave ...we take the train and a coach back to Cusco for our last evening in Peru.

A celebration dinner in Cusco is a opportunuty for a little too much drinking ..I have to say that alcohol is extra potent at high altitude.  But what happens on the Machu Picchu Trek stays there, as said by John Suchet in his closing speech after dinner ...so sadly I cannot divulge here the funniest moments !

We all receive a medal to mark our achievement.

Saturday - we have the day in Cusco for some market shopping, a visit to the Museum where Cerys and I view some Inca mummies, and some time with our new friends for lunch and a stroll.

Then off to the airport , we leave Peru and start the 20 hours journey home.

The trip of a lifetime, an amazing experience, a beautiful place and the opportunity to get to know a wonderful and diverse group of people...we are already planning our next adventure together .................