Diary 17 (or Silliness on the way to Macchu Picchu!)11/10/2001 I spent last night at Paddy Flahetry`s, an Irish pub on the Plaza de Armes: Big hello`s to Jarrod, Dean and James the token Irishman. Great thing about altitude: you get drunk a lot quicker. Bad thing about altitude: you fart a lot more too, and the hangovers hurt. Caught a bus upto Tambo Machay, Inca ruins about 8 kms out of town. These are walls with trapeziodal niches overlooking a series of ritual baths fed by the streams that fall from above. The downhill walk back to town takes me first to Puca Pucara an Incan noble´s hunting lodge that overlooks the intersection of 3 valleys. Exiting the main road after 50 yards, I descend into a long valley to S???? (I don´t have the name to hand at the moment). This huge limestone outcropping in rolling fields is honeycombed with passage ways and carved niches. Qenko is another carved outcropping, the top showing zigzag grooves used to channel chica offered to the gods. Finally back to Sacsayhuaman and a descent through Cusco´s narrow staircase streets to the Plaza de Armes and another night at Paddy´s and Xcess.Time to book my ascent of the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu (now only possible through a tour agency). Shopping for the right deal and other errands takes up most of the day. Time for a bit of variety as we head to the Cross Keys bar tonight.I´m booked to start the Inca Trail tomorrow, so it´s time to find out if the acclimatisation to altitude here and in Arequipa has really been effective. An hour on the bus north leads to Pisac, a small town with a bustling tourist market, and at 3700m above sea level another 400m above Cusco.The Inca complex here is 5km from the town, up a network of trails that climb steeply between and through Inca terracing in the hillside. The first watchtower to greet me lokks out over the valley, but its relatively crude construction is just a foretaste of things to come. The ascent between the Rio Kitamayo gorge and the Rio Chango valley overlooks vast sweeps of Inca terracing, and every fresh summit exposes another complex of buildings. The distinct Incan styles used for fortification, palaces, temples and residential buildings are all evident here, the curved walls of the religious centre is particularly impressive - it really would be difficult to insert a sharp knife between the blocks. Inca tombs dot a huge cliff to the north at the end of the site and its time to turn back. The descent is just as fun, reprising all the ruins in reverse before returning to town. Just time for some final errands to buy a new rain poncho, chocolate and some other essentials then it´s off to the Cross Keys for a swift one or three.Day 1 of the Inca Trail starts at 4.30am. We are due to be picked up between 5 and 5.30am from our hotel, but predicably the bus doesn´t turn up until 6.20am. Let me introduce the other members of our party: France & Walter "Valter" from Austria and Margaret & Dirk from Germany. Together with Diego the guide, a cook and 3 porters our happy crew is complete. Luckily they (or rather I) remember the sleeping bag that I am renting for the duration and we set off for Km 82 - the end of the road up the Sacred Valley and the start of our trek. Somehow, through a miracle of packing not normally associated with me, I have managed to fit everything into my day sack, though the ropes precariously holding my sleeping bag and mattress on prompt James to christen this my "Littlest Hobo" look. From Km 82, the path slowly climbs along the valley to the ruins of Patallacta Pulpituyoc at Km 88 where we have a birds eye view. Diego´s doing well keeping us together at an easy pace and the cook makes a good soup, spaghetti with tomato sauce and tea for lunch. The path gets steeper as we climb up Rio Cusichaca valley towards our destination for the day, Huayllabamba. Here camp is set up by the porters and we file into our tents. Teatime is a big tub of popcorn, followed by a full meal of rice and a miniscule piece of chicken. No danger of getting fat with all this exercise. The villagers are heavily outnumbered by the domesticated animals: chickens, donkeys, dogs, parrots and popcorn-eating cats. Experiences of the day: Lets start with a class A drug. Coca leaves are the raw ingredient of cocaine, chewing them helps to relieve tiredness, hunger and helps with the altitude. Just chewing the leaves is like chewing any old dry leaves, until you add the magic ingredient: a ball of limestone and ash which is sold with the leaves. The bicarbonate facilitates the release of the active ingredients, but no one tels you how much to add to the chewed leaves. Consequently my first attempt floods my mouth with enough green sap to fuel a redwood tree and the taste is overpowering. A little less ash next time! How do you tell it´s working? Your mouth goes numb: perfect for the beginnings of a toothache like what I have. Alternatively (or as well) you can soak the leaves in hot water to make tea (matte de coca). By the end of the first day we´ve had mint tea, mantezilla, té puró, coca tea and something-that-tastes-like-celery tea. My German and Austrian companions can´t quite comprehend my Englishman´s assertions that these are all just pale pretenders to the throne of TEA tea, as served back in Blighty; nor grasp the concept of TEA tea being different between brands. The arguements are set to continue for another 3 days! Out here away from the light pollution of civilisation the stars are fantastically bright, though the southern constellations are still alien to me. Diego does help a little, mainly by pointing out constellations that are below the horizon - Doh! The Milky Way is unmistakable though, blazing across the sky above our campsite. Lights out at 8pm. Slept like a baby.Day 2 begins at 6am. Lunch yesterday was at 2600m and before lunchtime today we´ll climb a vertical mile to Dead Woma´s Pass at 4200m. The slog is long and hard upto the pass, though it is softened by the superb views up and down the valley, flanked by snow capped peaks on all sides. Part of the climb is through a self-contained cloudforest, the trees covered in lichens and hummingbirds feeding off flowers around the trail. A herd of llamas accompanies us up the valley, mirroring our progress on the opposite side. Finally a false summit does it´s worst and James and I sprint the last 50 meters of steep steps to the crest. I have never been so out of breath. Spending 30 minutes recovering whilst enjoying the views is reward enough though. Pacamayo campsite and lunch is another hour and a half down slippery steps: never has a meal been more welcome. Shrouded in cloud, the campsite´s views open briefly and frequently - stunning mountains in the distance. James and I are feeding off each others imaginations now, and borrowing Dirk and Margaret´s hiking poles we devise "Peruvian Stone Soccer". Receipe: First find a typical Peruvian football pitch, preferably steeply sloping, covered in stones and with a small river running over it. Set up the hiking poles as goals about 5-6m apart. Nominate one (preferably recognisable and not too sharp) stone as the "ball"; the object of the game being to drive the "ball" between your opponents goalposts with a single kick. The objective as a defender is to get your hiking boots (preferably the sole) between the "ball" and your goal, without exposing your ankles, shins or other vulnerable areas to its trajectory. After James won the first game 3-2, needless to say, no-one else wanted to play!Great, a day full of ruins. We voted last night to start at 5am and are well away ahead of the other groups on the trail. Again the views are awe-inspiring and climbing up to meet the sun´s descending shadow we are suddenly engulfed in bright, hot sunshine within 30 minutes. Time to shed some layers. The circular ruins of Runcu Raccay are typical of Inca construction, though Diego seems inclined to read too much into Incan cosmology and quote "wierd science" research for my liking. Lakes flank the second pass of the trail at 3950m after which we descend into thick cloud to the forests below. However Diego´s insistence that we feel the positive energies and make offerings to the earth god Pacamaya at each pass has it´s desired effect and the ruins of Sayac Marca are finally laid out beneath us without a cloud in sight. Sayac Marca is neither tambo, fortress or agricultural centre and the architecture here complements its geography: perched on a ridge with commanding views of the valleys beyond: if only the clouds would clear again. They don´t and we trek through several kms of cloud forest past the ruins of Colca Marca in a bubble of mist to the third pass of the trail at 3650m. Lunch is had on the crest of the pass, and as tea is served the clouds suddenly part to reveal Phuyu Pata Marca (great chain of ritual baths) below us, and then the agricultural terracing of Huinay Huayna and Intipata across the valley, sculpted into the hillside. Macchu Picchu mountain is also exposed and much confusion reigns as loads of fellow travellers think they have finally glimpsed the famous ruins - not yet my friends! The descent from here is on an original Inca staircase and I take my time, falling way behind everyone as I pause at various viewpoints to wait for the mist to clear and expose the ruins below once more - just one more photo! After the knee-bending staircases end, it´s a jog/run/trot for the next 4 kms until the first electricity pylon that should mark the start of my descent to Huinay Huayna, the Trekker´s Hostel and our final campsite. Fortuitously, James, Dirk and Margaret are resting at the pylon as I arrive full of enthusiasm, puffing breath and dripping sweat from the exercise. Accrording to my maps a diversion of 1km each way will take us to the Intipata ruins, a vast swathe of Inca terracing cut into the hillside. Luckily my companions don´t need too much convincing and off we go. These ruins are superb, with some spinach-like veggies and wild grass still populating the terraces and the trapeziodal niches and windows of the buildings still clearly visible. Absolutely stunning in the late afternoon sunshine and a definite highlight of the trek. Descending to the Trekkers Hostel, a ramshackle collection of red-roofed concrete buildings, our campsite is at the bottom of the tiers with an uninterrupted view of the valleys beyond. After the tipping of the porters, the final night is a raucous affair and after a few beers we retire to the campsite for a lightsaber fight in the fog with our torches and a rendition of the 20th Century Fox theme, complete with searchlights. Between my excitement, James kicking everything in the tent as he answers a call of nature and a cat/possum fight outside there´s not a lot of sleep had tonight.6am, 5am, 4am. The "day" starts early this "morning" with a quick breakfast. Despite the early start and my prepardness its only at my prompting that Diego releases us from the reins of control and I lead half the group into the growing dawn to Intipunku - the sun gate that overlooks Macchu Picchu. to be honest it´s a stiff pace and France & Valter quickly fall behind as I concentrate on closing the gaps ahead. The skys are completely smothered in early cloud and there´s literally nothigng to see except the closest trees of the familiar forest, barely a twitter of bird song with the low light. The cloud brings a light drizzle that becomes rain that would soak everything but for the protection of my trusty poncho. Eventually I catch sight of a final set of heels on the climb to the sun gate but this middleaged German is having none of my cheekiness and I arrive scant yards after him on the pass. Intipunku is the final climb of the trail and the architecture reinforces your sense of anticipation, with a false gate beforehand. Bring on the dancing girls, Macchu Picchu beckons, or it would if not for the thick cloud cover that blankets everywhere. The cover lifts briefly after 50 minutes, but by now I´m soaked to the skin, cold, miserable, dissapointed and accompanied by 50-60 other complaining hikers. James´ arrival spurs me into action and we begin the descent to Macchu Picchu itself. Our descent is still smothered in cloud but the tantilising glimpses of the ruins and the sugarloaf mountain behind are more than enough to whet ones appetite. The "Watchman´s Hut" affords our first clear vista: these religious, industrial and residential buildings deliniating open squares between them and surrounded on all sides by more terracing are truly inspiring. After stowing our bags, the same can not be said for Diego´s tour, though his description of the ritual baths and the hitching post of the sun are memorable for the fevour of his religion (Pagan, Inca and Catholic it seems). He departs at the Sacred Stone and the rest of the day is ours - it´s 10am and the mist has only just lifted. The six of us look at one another, and Huaynu Picchu beckons, a climb to its summit at 2700m is undertaken over slippery steps with the aid of braided ropes and steel hawsers. The multi-faceted summit has many viewspots, one just the right size for my bum, and the newly exposed sun begins to dry us off. The cloud has now retreated to parts unknown and the reverse views of Macchu Picchu are perfect. By noon, even Intipunku is clearly visible in the distance, our path deliniated across the face of the hillside. We are joined on the summit by a Scottish minister, recent benefactor of a children´s project in Inquitos where he delivered an ex-MOD boat for use as a ferry, from Portsmouth! Did I mention that the ruins look brilliant from up here? With echoes of Hiram Bingham´s discovery soaking into our retinas its a slow descent back to the ruins at 1pm. We meandered through the industrial and residential complexes back to the site cafe for an over-priced hamburger and coke. Small world: on the way I chatted to an old gent called John Barrett, who lives near and knows Robert Fowler. Before leaving for good though there´s a quick return for a few more photos. A rainbow! Curving over the valley below, it lends a sense of completeness to the trek, more than compensating for the lack of view this morning. Another headlong hurtle down the steps reunites me with the group and we trek into Aqua Calientes together. They are all off on the train tonight, but I plan on spending a night here to soak in the hot springs just out of town. Unfortunately after waving them off I´m too late to go, but the hotel has warm water in the showerhead as I retire to bed, ready for a 6am start to catch the train back towards Cusco tomorrow. Our educator in all things coca.  Red fort.  Corn beer.  Remember Guatemala?  James and I are booked on the same trek. Hurray!  Hi Sarah!  Both picked from the side of the trail by cook.  OK, I am, it can´t do any harm ;-)  Waypoint, inn or traveller´s stop-over.  Staircase. Hah! At times its nothing more than a collection of rocks sunk randomly into the side of the mountain. Not exactly inducive to easy walking, even strides or happy knees and ankles.  7 groups in total.  I know you don´t believe me but I can do anything now I´m acclimatised!  It´s 2 hours until cook serves popcorn.  It always is - some sort of hierarchy going on here!  You just have to blot out the pylons and electricity cables.  Including me.  He forgot to take account of the long toilet queues.  Hi Wendy!  And stealing James´ last pizza slice.