Peru XIV-An Adventure in the Land of the Incas                                      The Final Chapter - Choquequirao 

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Our last great Peruvian adventure took us far into the Andean Mountains on a trek that was challenging, yet yeilded the most incredible rewards for our efforts. After our early days in Peru and the very difficult hike into Colca Canyon, the lesson learned there was that we would require beasts of burden to bear our bodies up to the mountain summits to the barely uncovered Inca ruins of Choquequirao. 

As mentioned above, the hike INTO Colca Canyon was difficult, but having been beaten back in that effort, we did not hike OUT of that canyon, instead exiting by way of riding in a van. We knew from that experience that this last hike would best be accomplished on the backs of horses or mules. ECS Travel, our tour organizer, made that happen for us with the use of one horse and one mule, with a slight adaptation. Our animals, much smaller than their North American counterparts, would only carry us UP the trails, but not DOWN. While we initially expected to ride both up and down the trails, that modified arrangement worked out quite nicely. 

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Hiking the steep trials was much more difficult ascending than descending, which saved our energy and the strain on our legs. Many times as we climbed upward, our horse and mule, dilly dallied, stopping frequently to nibble and chew on whatever edibles they found appealing. (We often wished they would stop horsing around and get back to work). It seemed at those frequent grazings that we might have made faster time on our own two legs. BUT, we were not getting fatigued which most definitely would have meant frequent rests and prolonged time on the trail if we were dragging ourselves ver upward. In several places, due to huge boulders to be climbed over, we were required to dismount and walk, which also was good to get off and stretch our legs plus relieving our rumps of riding in rigid saddles.

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Later on, during the 5 day hike in and out from Choquequirao, even though we had use of the animals, I felt better able to simply hike on my own than amble along on the horse. Coming back down was all on my own, and with a long hiking stride, I was farther ahead of our guide Hugo and Tom, but would wait for them periodically to catch up, then I was off again at my own faster pace.

What I have described here sets the stage for the physical efforts to reach our remote destination. It definitely was good that we arranged for the horse and mule to carry us for most of the upward trek. In addition to the animals we had Jimmy who handled our horse and mule, a wrangler who led the pack mules that carried our equipment (sleeping tents, pads and bags, cooking equipment, food, and larger cooking/dining tent and our personal belongings). Finally there was our cook who took good care of us and always provided delicious meals. Tom and I hardly had to lift a finger as they set up and took down all the tents and performed all the other duties that made our hike more enjoyable.

Our Choquequirao adventure began in Cusco where we were picked up at our hotel and then traveled for over 3 hours to the trailhead. On the way we picked up our cook. wrangler and horse and mule handler.

At the trailhead, other hikers and outfitters were also either preparing for their trips or returning from Choquequirao.

After a quick lunch, we set off on the first leg of our 2 ½ day hike to this remote and only partially uncovered Inca site. As it were, in this first stage hiking down to the Apurimac River, the effort was minimal. Jimmy with our horse and mule and the supply mules followed behind for a time, but eventually passed us on the trail meeting us at our night’s camp site. Tents were set up for us and we had time to rest before being called to dinner. 

The nights were chilly, but inside our sleeping bags we were snug and comfortable. Early mornings also were brisk which meant morning constitutionals were performed quite quickly. A healthy, hearty breakfast prepared us for the start of our second day on this trail with the first hour going down to the Apurimac River. At the river we checked in with a ranger who noted our arrival time so that all trekkers were registered and accounted for on the trail. An easy crossing over the Apurimac River on a hanging bridge took us to the start of our upward journey, a tough endeavor for those on foot but a lot less for us on horseback. 

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As we slowly managed our way up the trail, up on the steep mountainside there appeared to be a couple of large moving objects. Others ahead of our party had stopped and where focusing on what soon became obvious. Two BEARS. While a bit unnerving at first sight, the bears seemed to not be a threat to any of us on the trail. And so, onward we went.

Two hours after the river crossing, we reached the little outpost of Santa Rosa, nothing more than a stop over where a young woman and her two girls manned a corral, a small shop selling snacks, sodas, personal necessities and a place where hikers could camp overnight. After a short rest there we re-mounted our steeds and proceeded onward for another 3 hours to the little village of Marampata, where the horses and mules were unloaded and allowed to graze, while our crew prepared lunch. Hugo, our guide brought us hot tea while we rested and admired the views there high in the mountains. 

Life in those mountain villages is somewhat primitive by our standards, but there were occasional solar panels in use and flushing toilets were used in most of the places where we stopped. Otherwise it should be noted that there are no roads to these places. All supplies are brought up on the backs of horses or mules or carried in backpacks. 




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Out on the distant mountainsides were seen other villages and farming terraces, the sight of which seemed odd at those altitudes and for their remote locations. Marampata was serene, a peaceful place to sit and reflect on all we had accomplished and on what final discoveries Peru held for us in our final days of this journey.











Inca terraces on mountainside















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With both the animals and ourselves refueled, we mounted up for the last time, proceeding for about another hour to our overnight location. There, many other groups were camped for the night, many on their way down from Choquequirao or from other further origins. With our own cook and dining tent, our accommodations were deluxe in comparison to many of the other independent hikers. Albeit with low hanging clouds throughout the day, beautiful views out over the mountains and valleys were part of the reward for traveling further up to our destination. 

The fading daylight, relinquishing to the approaching nightfall, cast shadows and light out onto the distant valley, highlighting both the steep slopes as well as the clouds hanging heavy above the mountains.

Next morning we arose early so that we were on the trail soon after breakfast. The day was heavily overcast as we left camp, ofttimes with limited visibility, a phenomenon that added an air of anticipation and mystery as we we made our way to our own personal discovery of the last refuge of the Incan Empire. 

Along the way, rounding a curve on the trail, was a sight that was baffling and intriguing. There, tightly clinging to the nearly vertical mountainside were a grouping of age-old Incan terraces.

The sight of which would stop anyone in their tracks for the sheer marvel of construction upon the mountain. This was not the first such sightings of Incan terraces we had seen, but the vantage point of this site from the trail was absolutely amazing. To think of the Herculean efforts of those ancient Inca people in building their stone buildings and farming terraces upon such steep slopes really does stagger the imagination.

Continuing on, nearing an upper height and emerging out of the mist, we came upon an outpost whose rock walls and stone buildings captured our attention with it’s stark loneliness still standing guard over many lost centuries. 

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Places like this were gateways to larger municipalities, such as the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu and now the nearby Choquequirao.

After exploring this place, the clouds wavering, at times lifting and then dropping, our early morning trek was soon to reach its destination.

As Hugo led us up to a higher vantage point, the clouds dissipated, as though a curtain had lifted, revealing for us the long lost citadel of Choquequirao!



Choquequirao (cho kay key ero)

This is a very remote Inca citadel high in the Andes Mountains which is still nearly 70% hidden in hundreds of years of overgrown. Prior to Tom and I planning our trip to Peru, Choquequirao was not on our radar. Tom, however, found information about this incredible place online and we both agreed that this was a must do part of our discoveries in Peru.

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We had reached our final destination of discoveries in this trip to Peru. And while not as extensive as Machu Picchu, Choquequirao was phenomenal. What has been uncoveed and restored is a marvel to behold. I will forever be in awe at how a civilization had accomplished such feats. Past peoples from all around the world have managed engineering undertakings, whether the Egyptians, Polynesians, Asians, Greeks, Romans, Mayan, Aztec or American Indians, each has left behind examples of what are still achievments that seem inconceivable to our ways of thinking. I, for one, am glad to be able to travel to these places to discover for myself what past populations have left as their legacies for future generations.

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Our day at Choquequirao was relaxed, with only a handful of visitors and a work crew which allowed for easy access to all areas. Our cook provided a very filling lunch after which I ventured to the upper area to explore on my own. As the others rested below, I made discoveries and observed things that puzzled me. From higher up, there were channels by which water flowed to the lower levels, an area that appeared to be a well of sorts, where the water may have been accessible to everyone.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Long view down Choquequirao passage

The views were incredible as one can see far out over the mountains and down into the valleys.

Returning to the others, Hugo led us to a site he often talked about on the trek, the llama terraces. Embedded in the stone terrace walls are white quartz stones that are in the images of llamas. Until seeing these fantastic terraces, it was hard to image what Hugo had been talking about. But not only are the artist's renderings in those walls incredible, so too is the steepness and drop off views down to the river. One could very easily develop vertigo standing on a wall’s edge and peering into the deep valley below. Hugo stated that this construction was from 3000 B.C.! Whether that is valid or not, the achievement of this place is remarkable.

That Choquequirao is so remote and requires a great deal of effort to reach was well worth the endeavor. There is talk in Peru of constructing a tram/cable car system so that more tourists can easily reach the site and enjoy it. However, if that happens (and by all accounts it is still a long way from even starting), Choquequirao will not be so special anymore and hordes of visitors will lessen the significance of and appreciation of it. For all who are willing to endure the hardships and strain in reaching this site, the reward is much more meaningful with a lasting memory etched into one’s soul.

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Stone steps built into and protruding from the walls


















A water channel runs down alongside the steep stairway on these Llama terraces.





























As we had not used the animals to hike up, we began our hike down later in the afternoon from Choquequirao to Marampata reaching the village after several hours of hiking. There we set up camp on a terrace as part of a local family’s property.

Several hours of windy weather, especially during our dinner, meant bundling up to stay warm.

Comfortably cozy in our sleeping bags provided another good night’s sleep  which ended with an early wake up and breakfast. Breaking camp we then headed back down to the Apurimac River where we could once again cross over and begin our final assent up the other side.





Being a long day hike, we spent one more night on the trail, stopping at a collection of run-down looking buildings that were not much more than shacks and looked abandoned upon our approach. But a family did reside there and was our encampment for the evening. Another couple also chose to overnight there on their way to Choquequirao. In chatting with them we learned they lacked a few necessities, like sun screen and insect repellant, which we were happy to give them, thus somewhat lightening our loads. This camp was rustic for sure. A toilet was located a good distance down the hill from the tents. Barely an enclosure existed but a porcelain toilet sat behind the flimsy wall. No running water was available but a large barrel of water with a plastic pail providee the “flush”. Oddly enough, however, the flushed remains did not empty into a septic tank or sewer, but could be heard exiting a pipe out onto the hillside a short distance from the facilities. Sanitary? NOT. Rustic? YES!


































The night was cold but nice snuggled up in our tents. Fresh snowed capped some of the higher mountain peaks, and low cloud cover floated over the trails as we began hiking before having breakfast. An hour to two brought us back to the trailhead, where we enjoyed our last trail breakfast and gathered up our equipment, boarded our van and then continued on for several hours to Cusco.

One more day there with last minute exploring, we departed for Lima the morning after. 

In Lima, our same driver picked us up at the airport in the afternoon and brought us back to our hotel. 


A Peruvian delicacy that I had not yet tasted was to be my lunch choice - guinea pig. 

While that may seem reprehensible to some, it is very common in Peru. I was neither put off nor particularly impressed with the meal. It just was. 

Ending up our last day in Lima, we took a city tour that included their old Federal Reserve building that has become a history museum. The large collections there prohibited a very lengthy visit, before going on to Lima's Plaza de Armas. There, around the park are many government buildings, the Lima Cathedral and Archbiships palace. Many vendors were actively trying to interest all the tourists in a large assortment of souvenirs. They were prolific, persistent, but not pushy. Lastly on the tour was the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco best known for its underground catacombs that contain the bones of 25,000 souls. No photos were allowed inside, so I cannot share any visuals, but I can share that in the subterranean tunnels were bins of bones, some with all arm bones, femurs, skulls, etc. In an old dry well in the catacombs were bones aligned artistically in a circle. It really was not creepy as it may sound to some. Other highlights within the basilica is an ancient library with many, many volumes still lining the dusty shelves. Artwork and the interior of part of the large church were also a part of our tour.

On our last evening in Lima Tom and I dined at a highly recommended up scale restaurant, where I actually tried their version 

of guinea pig. It was different, but not a dish I would probably order again. 

Our return to the States was uneventful, re-enty in Miami went smoothly (no dogs sniffed out my smuggled coca leaves, 

phew!).  As always, it was good to be home. 


























Our journey to Peru was an incredible experience, with memories to last a lifetime. By writing about our adventures I hope that I have adequately shared our experiences, our new found knowledge, the mysteriousness of this ancient culture and people, their feats and remarkable lives. 

Thank you for following along through these memoirs.

Adventure begins at your doorsteps. 

















 


















kdonald940@cox.net © Donald E. Kline 2012