Exploring Ancient Inca Ruins
GoNOMAD Book Excerpt:
Exploring Ancient Inca Ruins
This story is a chapter of Kinga Freespirit’s book: “Led by Destiny – Hitchhiking around the World”
editor’s note: It’s the beginning of Kinga and Chopin’s third year on the road, hitchhiking around the world. After North and Central America, they are now in Peru, finding themselves… buying a horse to hike across the Andes.
16 Oct 2000
The winding road leads through snow-covered mountains, green valleys, and little mountain villages. Our truck stops to pick up an Indian family carrying bags of llama wool and leather to Cuzco.
The men hop in the back, and we share the already cramped cabin with a woman and her baby daughter. She tells us she carries the wool as a side business, but her main business is smuggling cigarettes from Bolivia. I hope she’s joking when she makes me an offer.
“Do you want to swap? I’ll give you my little one,” she says pointing to her baby girl, “in exchange for a car. It doesn’t have to be a big one, just any car, so that I don’t have to drag along with these slow trucks anymore.”
I point out that we too are ‘dragging along’ – in the same truck that she is, and for the same reason – we don’t own a car. But the Indian woman just gives me a doubtful look that says: “You can’t tell me that you gringos can’t afford a car.”
We’re breaking some new records here – it’s already the third day in this truck, and there are still a few hundred kilometers to Cuzco. The ride is slow, but beautiful – until the end of the paved road. Then, it becomes slow and painful. The truck has lost whatever shock absorbers it once had, and the road is so bumpy that there has been no chance for a nap – through the entire night of driving.
Only frequent repair breaks bring us brief relief. Today we stop again with yet another tire puncture, and the driver walks off, telling us that we’ll continue in a few hours. We’ve had enough. We thank him and say goodbye. Luckily, we’re not in the middle of nowhere, but in a town called Abancay, where we can finally get a decent meal of rice and beans at the local market.
We don’t know it yet, but there is a reason why we stopped here. At a gas station outside the town a local man tells us about some intriguing ruins. They are Inca fortifications, comparable with the famous Machu Picchu, only totally unspoiled, hidden deep in the jungle. That’s enough to fire up our imaginations. We turn off of the main road towards the village of Cachora where the trail to the ruins starts.
In the village, we find out that from the ruins of Choquequirao, you can trek all the way to Machu Picchu. Some people say it takes twelve days, others say you can do it in six – all you need is a guide and a horse to carry your supplies. A few people offer their guiding services, and they have horses for rent – for astronomical prices. We weigh the options and come up with a better idea. We figure that we can buy a horse for the trip, then sell it later. Let’s do it!
In Search of a Horse
Walking around the village in search of a horse we get plenty of offers. One man wants to sell us a twenty-five year old mule; another, a blind mare. Yet another one tries to convince us that the best thing would be to buy two of his donkeys. But the owner of the little corner shop warns us:
“Only not a donkey! Donkeys are afraid of the water, and there’s nothing in the world that will make them cross a river or a stream.”
So we finally strike bargain with this shop owner. He offers to sell us an eight year old horse for a hundred dollars. He’ll bring him here in the morning. If the horse is alright, we’ll start tomorrow.
“He’s a strong, brave horse. His name is Alasan,” the shop owner tells us.
He shows Chopin how to secure our backpacks onto the horse’s back, and while they’re fastening the ropes, I feed Alasan some alfalfa. We are also lucky to find an excellent topographical map of the area – and with that, we’re ready to go.
A New Adventure
As we leave the village, Alasan is still a little wary, but we are not surprised, considering the way animals are treated here. He doesn’t yet know that we will treat him well. With every step, I breathe in the air of a new adventure. There are high mountains all around, a deep canyon, a narrow path, Alasan, and us.
We reach a place which is completely enveloped with mist and clouds. We grope our way through the clouds, trusting the path, not quite knowing where it will lead us. We push on for a few hours, then the mist clears away and we are presented with a breathtaking view of a lush green valley, with a river winding through it at the bottom and a high mountain range on the other side. We know that the ruins lie behind that range, but this isn’t relevant now. Right now every step on the way to our destination is just as interesting.
After a full day of hard climbing, we reached the ruins of Choquequirao last night, but only briefly saw the setting sun cast its orange light on the Inca ruins before disappearing behind the snowy peaks. We camped at an Incan terrace at the bottom of the fortification, where Alasan found plenty of grass.
Today we get up at sunrise to visit the ruins. What’s most incredible about them is their beautiful, remote location among total wilderness. As we walk through the crumbled walls and stone buildings, we meet a local archeologist. He is the only person here, along with a few helpers, and they are astonished to see us. He tells us that the Choquequirao complex is even more remarkable than what we can see now since most of it is still covered by jungle, waiting patiently to be unearthed. However, due to the lack of funds, the excavation work is slow-going.
The Trail to Machu Picchu
Reluctantly, we decide that it’s time to move on. We pack up, the archeologist wishes us luck and we’re on the trail again towards Machu Picchu. The path isn’t as clear now as the one leading to the ruins was, so we have to be careful not to lose it. We descend to the next valley and have to cross a fast flowing but luckily shallow mountain river. We take off our shoes and pants, and wade across, congratulating ourselves on not having bought the donkeys. Our brave Alasan has no problem crossing here.
Finding the right path on the other side of the river isn’t easy; there are no signs, and nobody around to ask. We survey the area with our map and compass until we finally come across what we think is the right path – leading upwards. It took us half a day to get down to this point, only to have to start climbing up again now.
Stumbling Through Darkness
The narrow, zigzagging path climbs steeply up the side of a mountain, covered in thick jungle. It’s getting dark and there’s nowhere to camp, not even a small piece of flat ground. All we can do is keep climbing. We stumble through the darkness for what seems like eternity.
Finally, sweaty, exhausted and hungry, we reach a piece of flat ground with remains of a straw roof. We don’t need more – right now it seems better than a five star hotel; in fact as we fall asleep we marvel at the sky above us, full of exceptionally bright stars.
To see how it all ended (or how it began): ledbydestiny.com
To Buy This Book From Amazon visit Led by Destiny: Hitchhiking Around the World
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