I had been a case worker for the SSAFA – Forces Help charity for about nine years since taking early retirement. Machu Picchu is one of the places I’ve always been fascinated by and dreamed of visiting. When I saw this sponsored trek to Machu Picchu advertised in their quarterly magazine, I was immediately drawn to it.
Thelma and I have always taken our holidays together and it was a difficult decision to suggest that I went on this trek alone as I realised, for health reasons, Thelma would not be up to the long trek. No sooner had I done this and agreed I would go, when Jonathan popped round and saw the brochure on the coffee table. “Are you going?” he asked, and when I said yes he asked if he could join me. So he applied and we were two of the early applicants to be accepted for what was to be a thirty strong party of trekkers.
That was back in November 2005 which gave us a good six months to raise our sponsorship of £2,800 each.
Time flew by and September was soon here. We left for Heathrow to meet up with the other sponsored trekkers together with a SSAFA representative and three members from the ‘Across the Divide’ trekking company who had organised it. One was the leader, another a doctor and the third was a nurse. They would be with us throughout the trip so we knew we would be well looked after. On reflection, the whole event was very well organised and they made sure everything went smoothly.
The group was made with about half who were resident in the UK and the other half from British Forces bases in Germany and one person based in Norway. They were a super group and we all helped each other throughout the trip.
The first day was taken up with flying via Madrid to Lima where we stayed overnight. During that evening a lady came to the hotel and changed everyone’s money to the local currency of ‘soles’. She must have been carrying a lot of cash, on her own, for the whole party and we were surprised she had not been mugged.
The following morning we were back at Lima airport awaiting the flight for Cuzco which is situated high in the Andes at 3,400 metres or 11,000 ft above sea level!
We were met at Cuzco by two Peruvian guides and transferred to the city centre by coach - having been delayed by the locals selling handicrafts and an army band passing by – all of which added colour to our adventure. Then, after only half an hour in this lovely town square, we all met at the world famous Cross Keys Pub before continuing our journey to the site of our first night camp.
The scenery was stunning and we suddenly realised the splendour of the country we were visiting. Our first stop was at a beauty spot where we had our packed lunch and this was also a popular spot for wedding photos to be taken.
After lunch we came to our first meeting with the Incas at the village of Ollantaytambo, which is reportedly the most typically Inca town in existence. With the sun shining from the west we could see some Inca ruins half way up side of the hills and our camp site at Cachicata by a river was just a few miles from this Inca village. This was our first encounter with the two-man tents and the beginning of a somewhat primitive existence for the next six days.
Day 3 - With an early start the following morning, we were driven back to Ollantaytambo and were given a conducted tour of the extensive Inca ruins there. We were told this was only a staging post for visitors travelling through the Andes. We had a wonderful tour, pausing at the water fountain, where the guide told us about how the Incas worshipped the number “3”. Their world was divided into three with the sky, earth and under the earth. These were represented by the condor, puma and snake respectively.
We strolled around and were invited into a private house and there running around in the rooms were lots of Guinea Pigs. We were told that these are one of their staple foods, but I did not manage to try any whilst in Peru.
The trek began for real here. We were now split into two groups and as our group had seen a condor flying over the Inca ruins, our team assumed that name for the rest of the trek. The other team decided to call themselves the Pumas. The afternoon was spent making our way up 250m to our second night under canvas in the school playground at Soqma. We had our meals in the class room and after breakfast the following day we presented some of the pens, paper and other items of stationery (which are expensive and difficult to get hold of in the remotest parts) that we had taken with us for the schoolchildren.