Friday, August 16, 2013

Off the beaten road in Peru: Choquequirao

A view on our way to the Choquequirao ruins.
Photography by Diane Patterson
I re-found this post that I had on my old blog and decided to re-share it here. Have a stunning weekend, like these beautiful mountains! Thanks to Diane Patterson for the beautiful photography.

It was a last minute trip. My good friend, Diane, invited me. Her and several others were planning a 5 day trek in the mountains to the ruins of Choquequirao (pronounced "cho-kay-kir-ow"). At this time my old high school and tap friend, Megan, was flying in to visit. I picked her up from the airport and threw out the idea. She was down, so we planned to leave the following morning at 5am. 

Setting out from the town of Cachora.

We met the other 5 ladies on a street corner in the dark starry sky of the early morning. We had our hiking and sleeping gear packed, while the food and tents were organized by our "tour". We headed out to the town of Cachora, about 3 hours from Cusco. Upon our arrival at our check-in site, it was lunch time. In the smallish rural farmhouse (with corresponding cuy, or guinea pig, chickens, cats, and dogs) we ate a home-y menù meal (which includes soap and a main dishes of usually rice). Then we were off into the natural beauty of the fields and trees, and later, river and mountains.

We were 6 ladies and 1 young Peruvian guide. We had 2 mules carrying our belongings and camp site, essentially. Venturing out into a huge natural entity, I really had no idea what to expect. For Megan and       myself it was our first real trekking experience (the     whole sha-bang, camping and all). Little did we know   that we would return true mountain women.

Day 1 was an easy easing-into the experience. With beautiful scenery, rare and strange flora, laughing and conversations, the day passed quickly. The slight problem was that we were enjoying so much, taking every picture possible, that we got a bit behind schedule. It was getting dark and we couldn't walk for too long in the dark so we stayed at a campsite which was a bit before our planned site. This meant the following day we would leave early.     

Going down the canyon to forge the river in a cage!
Photography by Diane Patterson

Day 2 We wake up about 4am while the sky has not yet awoken. We needed to go as early as possible to cross the river and start the long 5 hour uphill trek to the top of the next mountain. Being out at this time was creepy and beautiful. After several hours of down-hilling it, we approached a rocky area in the canyon. The scenery had dramatically changed from the tree-flower filled areas above. All the way at the bottom of the canyon, we reached the Apurimac River. 
My friend and I soaring across the river.
Photography by Diane Patterson

We crossed in a cage-like structure on a cable, which definitely would be a lawsuit in the US. Since the bridge had been  ashed away when the river flooded, this was how everyone crossed. Someone had to push us as far as possible, while someone on the other side would pull the remainder. If there was no one there to help, I imagine it would be quite a challenge. Then, the uphill trek began. Switchback after switchback. Playing word games and conversing kept my mind distracted from thinking about how difficult the climb was. After 5 tedious, partly agonizing and partly inspiring, hours we made it back up to our campsite on the next mountain. I am proud to say that the thought never crossed my mind that I wouldn't make it. In times like these, positivity is crucial.

We arrived at a little campo (farm) and plopped down ourselves to gaze at the mountains we´d climbed, breathe the fresh air, and admire the chickens and roosters prancing around. Soon lunch was cooked by our great chef and ready for us. Food never tastes so good as after such long and intense activity. We couldn't quite determine if the food really was that good or if it seemed better because of our hunger and exhaustion. We ate happily and relaxed in the evening hours.

Can you spot us on the terraces? 
Photography by Diane Patterson 

Day 3 In the early hours we prepare and set off on a several hour hike to the ruins, which was farther than we imagined. Upon crossing over to the next mountain, again the scenery diverged into a lush and green array of colors. We passed several refreshing waterfalls along the way. Alas we arrived the entrance of the ruins and our first exploration were the gigantic terraces, with great views of the soaring mountains. Then we continued up to the Plaza Principál where we ate lunch and rested. Then off to explore all the areas of the ruins Temples of the Sun and the Moon, workshops, storehouses, terraces for growing medicinal plants, and at the very top the palace of the Inca. Then we hiked down one side of the mountain to find the Sector de las Llamas. There are basically stone constructions that make up 24 llamas in the terraces. When we crossed to a view point, we could see the whole wall. Gorgeous views as the sun played its shadow dance upon the mountains. Visiting the ruins was an all-day event and we returned after nightfall, with our headlights shining the way 

Apparently, the ruins aren't as big as Machu Picchu but it felt even more incredible because of the challenging arrival and because there were so few others. It seemed like a desolate ancient city that we'd discovered.

Day 4 We packed up our campsite, filled our water bottles, and headed back down the switchback slope. This time instead of 5 hours, it was only 3 as we could go back much faster. It was nice to walk in the morning, cool and fresh. But we also needed to hurry because in a few hours the sun would be furiously beating upon us. Along the way, we met a couple. The woman had hurt her back and was on the ground, lying there. We stopped to help, gave food and water, made a type of shelter out of the emergency blanket. We were under the impression we could notify someone to help at the base on the canyon, where there was a center. Then we received information that there were no longer radios there and the only way to contact a source of help was in the ruins at the top, about 6 hours away if someone went directly. We wanted to help and were torn about what to do. We said prayers and words of hope for them and had to continue on our way. 

Lots of rare and beautiful plant life.
Photography by Diane Patterson
This became own topic of discussion for the next few miles. We crossed the river and headed up the dusty rocky switchbacks. The sun began taking its midday course, making the incline that much more difficult. After a few hours, seemingly an eternity, we arrived at our rest and lunch site. We rested in the cool shade of the lemon and avocado trees, drenching ourselves in water (and at least myself, tending mosquito wounds). Lunch couldn't have been better. Just a few more hours uphill brought us to the campsite of the first night.

At some point this afternoon we were relayed news of the woman that she was alright, nothing was broken, and she was able to move and continue the walk. I was glad, but still raging about the irresponsibility of the park.

Day 5 Our last day of the journey would be no shorter than the others, but we would return to Cusco triumphant and with a certain bond that would never be broken. We trekked up to the top of the next mountain, to a great viewpoint. Where we took more jumping pictures, to stay true to our theme throughout the trip. Our guide led a little ceremony for the Pachamama (the mother earth) and we took a few moments to meditate in the greatness of the mountain wilderness. On our way to our final destination, Cachora. Again, the scenery changed into a Eucalyptus- and muña-filled forest and I began to recognize where we were, although it looked quite different now.

We had arrived, exuberant in our achievement but exhausted from its difficulty. I savored the feeling of taking off my tight and dusty shoes. Eating lunch was a much needed revival of energy. From here on we would head back to Cusco, and decided to stop at some "hot springs" along the way. They turned out to be somewhat disappointed and were just tepid swimming pools. Car games, a whole lot of singing and laughing, and we were back to the reality of Cusco.

A few tips if you're thinking of trekking Choquequirao:
     ~ I recommend going with a tour agency. Ours was about $200 and included a guide, a cook and all meals, and mules to carry our things.
     ~ Bring poles for climbing, they really came in handy!
     ~ Go in dry season! There are many accidents with rock slides in wet season. 
     ~ It's a good idea to bring a full equipped emergency kit. As of Aug. 2012 the stations weren't well equipped with emergency gear or radio signal, which can be dangerous.
     ~ If you're looking for a more off-the-beaten-road adventure than Machu Picchu and a challenge, I highly recommend this trek. It is sure to be fill with fun and stunning natural views.

Have you ever felt really accomplished for something yourself to do? What keeps you inspired?

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  1. Oh my goodness, the scenery is just gorgeous!

    1. Isn´t it?? Even still, it´s hard to capture it all! Thanks for stopping by, Megan :)