A cathartic rant in 5 revisions
22.06.2009 16 °C
One of the main reasons that we decided to travel to South America was to see the iconic Macchu Picchu, an important Inka town that was ´rediscovered´in the last century. One of the best ways to see it is via the arduous four-day Inca Trail trek, which covers 33km of undulating trail and stone steps, the highest point of which is at 4200m.
The trek is now so popular that Peruvian authorities have limited the number of trekkers to 400 each day, meaning that we had to book our spots way back in October last year. We spent ages figuring out when we would likely get to Cuzco for the trek (knowing that it was about 5 months into our trip), and finally plumped for the 20th June for our start date. This would mean that we would see sunrise at the highest pass (4200m) on the day of the Winter Solstice and finish on the 24th June, the day of Inti Raymi, the Incan new year festival. Brilliant!
Seeing Macchu Picchu in this way is not cheap - the trek costs anywhere from $350 per person, more if you want to ensure that the heroic porters who lug all the camping equipment and food up the mountain get paid more than $8 each for the whole trip. We had sent in our passport details, got our trekking permits confirmed, stocked up on energy bars and warm socks and read everything we could about the area. We were looking forward to our visit with much eager anticipation.
We decided to warm ourselves up with a 3 day Colca Canyon trek near Arequipa in Peru, which was fab. More to follow on this later. After we came back, we tried to book bus tickets to Cuzco for the following day, knowing that we needed to get to Cuzco three days before the start of the trek in order to acclimatise to the much higher altitude. But we couldn´t - the buses weren´t going as there was a civilian blockade on the main road into Cuzco. We were roadblocked.
Blockades are a fairly common part of Peruvian life. No-one knows exactly why this roadblock in particular was set up as Peruvians simply love a gathering (Is it a party? Is it a protest? Who knows?!) but the rumours that abound seem to suggest a combination of factors. It could be due to a lack of adequate water supply in Cuzco; indigenous peoples protesting about recent police brutality against the Amazonians in the north of the country, or perhaps just a good old industrial strike. What we do know is that it is seriously affecting tourism (a major earner for Peru) and nearly a month on, is showing no signs of abating.
Because the trek is so busy and so regulated, our trekking company was frustratingly not permitted to change the start date for our trek. So how were we going to get to Cuzco in time? We had 4 options open to us:
Option 1 - Travel back to Nazca and then onto Cuzco, which involves a 3 day bus ride. However, we wouldn´t get there in time to acclimatise.
Option 2 - An option suggested to us by a friendly travel agent - take ´a´ bus to Cuzco via an alternative route. This would involve riding in one bus up to the blockade point, walking for half an hour (in the middle of the night) past the blockades and then taking another bus, which would be waiting for us, the rest of the way to Cuzco. We had uhm-ed and ah-ed about this and finally decided to sign up for the journey. That afternoon we met a couple that had completed the journey in the opposite direction. They had been promised a 10 minute walk between buses with an English-speaking guide to lead them. This didn´t happen. Instead, they had to walk for NINE HOURS with all of their bags, from 3am to noon! A lucky escape for us. Another couple we spoke to had got a bus which was going an alternate route to get around the roadblocks. They were promised a 15 hour bus ride (the journey normally takes four). What actually happened was that the driver got lost in the desert and made everyone get out of the bus and push it! As they approached Cuzco the bus went past a newly set up roadblock and had rocks thrown at it. Not fun.
Option 3 - spend approximately $900 on a pair of plane tickets from Arequipa to Cuzco via Lima.
Option 4 - not go and then moan about it afterwards.
In the end, after much deliberation we went with option #4. So we didn´t see Macchu Picchu, one of the crowning glories of South America. Bugger. With a couple of weeks under our belt as of writing this, this doesn´t seem the worst thing in the world, as we´ve come to accept that changing travel plans are all part of the fun of travelling. But at the time it felt like a real blow. Sorry Sunil, Adriana and family, we tried, we really did....