By Matt Perkins
Lying just south of the equator, on the Pacific coast of South America, Peru became independent of Spain in 1824. It rises from an arid coastal strip to the Andes, dominated in the south by volcanoes; About half of Peru ‘s population live in mountain regions.
It is situated on the eastern-central part of South America bounded on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil and Bolivia, on the South by Chile and on the West the Pacific Ocean. Its border with Bolivia runs through Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world (3810m)
Peru has an area of 1,285,215 square kilometers, covering every climate type from Desert to snow capped mountains
Population: 25.2 million
Currency: Nuevo Sol (New Sol)
Official Language: Spanish and Quechua
The official name of the country is “The Republic of Peru”
Cuzco, Huycho and The Sacred Valley
Huycho is the name of the village where a plot of land had been donated to the local Scouts to be developed as a campsite. This plot of land is situated on a meander in the Urubamba River just outside Cuzco in the Sacred Valley. The desert like piece of land covered in cacti, rocks and scorpions was to be our home for the first 3 weeks of the expedition. When we arrived in Cuzco we were met by our contact Raphael. He is the leader of one of the local Scout Groups who had organized our project. The main aim of the project was to clear the campsite of all the rocks and cacti and remove all the litter that had been washed up on the banks around the site. It seemed that this was all he had planned for us which, based on the previous community projects we had carried out in the UK, would take us a few days at the most. As we had allocated 3 weeks to the project we decided to go one step further in developing the campsite and planned to build an entrance gate, 4 flag poles, a Scout?s Own, campfire circle and paths around the site.
The day after we arrived at the site we split the expedition into smaller groups or patrols so that basic needs such as collecting and filtering drinking water and cooking could be achieved along side the project work. Each of the 4 patrols, on a rota basis, were required to collect drinking water, buy food supplies and cater for 18 people, carry out project work and ensure that the only ?toilet? was kept as clean as possible so that no-one picked up any nasty stomach problems!
Before we arrived at the site, during two days of acclimatization in Cuzco, one patrol had visited the local market to buy cooking utensils and stoves and essential food items such as rice in case we were unable to buy food as soon as we reached the site. I accompanied this patrol to help negotiate prices with my limited Spanish which became invaluable over the next 6 weeks. It was amazing just seeing all the different types of food that were on offer and trying to haggle for the best prices.
The nearest town to Huycho was Urubamba. The Base Camp team who?s job it was to do the shopping and cook for the rest of the group would travel here by bus/taxi which was an adventure in itself. The buses would be overloaded and have live pigs and other animals strapped to the roof. Going shopping took several hours as trying to find things that you wanted was quite hard and getting it back was even harder. We sampled much of the local produce including maize (corn) and lots of fruit which was delivered to our site by two local women for a small charge.
The job of collecting water was probably the hardest as it required walking about 1km to a hacienda or farmhouse in Huycho where we could use a tap fed by a mountain stream rather than use the polluted water from the river. It was about a 45 minute round trip, sometimes in the dark carrying very heavy water containers and being chased by dogs!
By taking it in turns to carry out the different jobs we found that everybody could get the most out of the project work. Several holes needed to be dug for the various flag poles and the foundations of the gate which took hours of hard work as the ground was so hard and full of rocks. The local children who were on school holiday helped with this task, which they seemed to cope with better than we did!
As the work on the site neared completion and we still had time available, we went into Huycho in search of more. After talking to the local children and after having played football with them on the playground in the center of the village it was clear that they would benefit from having new games lines painted on the floor and a new basket ball hoop at one end of the court. This required another trip into Urubamba to buy paint and order a metal hoop from the blacksmith?s.
With some extra paint we painted our expedition logo on the floor of the playground which some of the children helped us to do.
Sadly, our time at the site had come to an end and after a tearful farewell with Sacundo and his family and one last game of basketball we had to leave and start the Inca Trail.
We had been welcomed into the community by everyone, especially Sacundo, who?s wife would have maize and chicha waiting for us when we went to collect the water and it was very hard to say goodbye. We didn?t know how to thank them enough. As we wanted the development of the site to be continued by other Scouts, we left all the tools and materials that we had bought with Sacundo for them to use. We donated a large tent and all our cooking utensils and stoves to the San Jose de la Salle Scout Group in Cuzco who had helped us so much and organised the project.
The morning the coach arrived to pick us up and take us to the start of the Inca Trail, all of the people we had made friends with came down to the site to see us off and say goodbye.
The Inca Trail
The Inca Trail was the next part of the expedition, which many people were using to count towards their Queen Scout Award or the Explorer Belt. The classic Inca Trail takes 3 or 4 days to walk but we decided to extend this by starting further down the Sacred Valley at a town called Chilca. The route we had decided to take would take 5 days with an extra day spent exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu.
The first day started off in the Sacred Valley with a climb of over 1500m according to our guide Max who seemed to say something different to the guides books we all had! It was fairly easy going as we had all acclimatized by now but it soon got much harder as the weather went from hot and sunny to cold and wet, then to very cold, windy and snow! It hadn?t snowed on the Inca Trail for the last 6 years and by the time we reached the camp for the first night there was about 1 foot of the white stuff!
The team of 21 porters we had hired had ran on ahead during the day and set up camp so by the time we arrived, dinner was nearly ready. After a very large meal everyone headed for bed wondering what to expect the next morning.
Breakfast was served bright and early and no one could believe the amount of snow that had fallen during the night. Only a few of the team had previously walked in winter conditions before so their knowledge came in useful for the less experienced of us. Most of the porters, with their leather sandals had never even seen snow before, let alone walked in it! The main task today was to cross a mountain pass of 4000m in altitude but according to Max it was nearer 5000m. One of the team suffered with altitude sickness, which soon subsided when we descended on the other side.
The Camp for the second night was below a look out point which the Inca?s used to protect the route to Machu Picchu called Paucarcancha. This site was at the end of two valleys surrounded by humid cloud forest.
This day was a short day, but involved a fair bit of climbing and was the start of the tourist section of the Inca Trail. After breakfast we realized that all of the porters had got snow blindness from the previous day as none of them had any sunglasses which was a bit worrying as we nearly had to hire some more to replace them. They all ended up wearing our sunglasses, which took the glare off their eyes and cheered them up! We stopped and had lunch on the side of a mountain with fantastic views of the valley below. The thought of a campsite with a flush toilet seemed to make everyone walk faster and we arrived at the site quite early, which meant we had a long time to rest, write in our diaries and eat. The next day was going to be the longest in terms of distance walked and height ascended/descended.
The first obstacle on this day was to climb up and over ?Dead Woman?s Pass? at about 4200m, which certainly took a lot of effort. The porters didn?t find it hard at all! On the other side we could see the next pass we had to overcome which meant descending and then ascending another 1000m or so. There were 3 passes to go over this day but the views at the top of each made all the exhaustion very worth while.
The fourth night?s camp was on the side of a strangely shaped mountain called Phuyu Pata Marca, which was dwarfed, by the highest mountain in the region, Salcantay at over 6200m.
This was the best day for me as I really enjoyed the walking and the views, which made for great photos. The amount of knowledge we gained from our guide Max was immense. He could tell you anything and everything about the ruins we passed and the wildlife we saw.
Today was the last day of the Inca Trail which meant descending the mountain we had slept on and then traversing the next to the Sun Gate or Intipunku which overlooked the ancient city of Machu Picchu. It was hard work climbing the steps up to the Sun Gate but eventually we reached the end of the trail. It was amazing to actually see the ruins, which I?ve seen many times on TV and in guidebooks and the size of it was just unbelievable. We spent a while just taking in the view and congratulating ourselves on getting there before we descended and made our way towards the city itself. The last thing any of us expected to see on the other side of the world was some one wearing a Portsmouth football shirt that had read about our expedition in the local paper back in the UK before he had gone to Peru! We reached the top of the ruins where the typical post card photo could be taken and then spent a short time walking through the ruins before we met the coach at the visitor center, which took us down the valley to the town of Aguas Calientes or ?Hot Springs?.
The main attractions of this town is the natural hot springs which we bathed our aching limbs in before finding Max?s favorite Pizza restaurant where we had dinner.
We woke up, got showered, had breakfast and packed our bags all before 6am when we got on the coach and drove back up to Machu Picchu to spend most of the day exploring the ruins. Every building, even every stone has a purpose for being there. The Inca?s were amazing architects and astronomers and so much of the city was used to observe the sky both at day and night. Many of the windows would be aligned so that when the sun rose during the Winter Solstice (21st June) shadows would be cast in certain directions.
All of the stones used to build these magnificent structures had been carved by hand and were completely smooth. We needed much more than a day to explore the ruins but our train back to Cuzco wasn?t going to wait, so we left Machu Picchu probably exactly the same as the Inca?s had left it hundreds of years ago.
The next 2 weeks were spent being real tourists! We were given the opportunity to visit the highest navigable lake in the world and spend the night with a local family on the Island of Taquile. We went by motorboat to the Uros floating islands, which are made from reeds. You can?t stand still for too long as you might sink through the floor! The Uros people make their living by catching and trading fish.
The next stop was Taquile where we stayed in the home of local families and experienced a typical Peruvian party or fiesta, with traditional music and clothes, which we were given to wear.
We ate fresh fish with rice that the mother of the family prepared, followed by a short walk to the top of the island we watched a magnificent sunset across Lake Titicaca and the surrounding islands.
After a cold night on the island we sailed to the main land and visited some pre-Inca ruins where the dead were buried in vertical tombs, believed to aid reincarnation. We saw how the tombs would have been built with the use of ramps and levers and how each of them differed from the other depending on who was buried inside. Our guide Tito new all there was to know about the cultures of the Uros and Taquiles people of Lake Titicaca and the ruins that over looked the lake.
The next stop on the tourist routes was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. We traveled down the coastal Pan American Highway from Lima to the port of Pisco where the famous Peruvian drink Pisco Sour is made. Here we spent 2 days in the Paracas National Reserve where we visited a flamingo colony, a natural history museum and during the evening ate the most delicious seafood at a restaurant in the Paracas Bay.
The second day was probably the most memorable of the whole expedition for me as we traveled by boat to the Islas Ballestas where a sea lion and penguin colony can be found.
After the tour of the islands, we went further down the coast to Ica where we boarded small 6 seater planes and flew over the famous and mysterious Nazca Lines which were drawn on the desert floor thousands of years ago and have remained in perfect condition. They can only be seen from the air and some people believe that aliens created them. Many form the shapes of animals such as a monkey, whale and spider and huge trapeziums up to 300m long.
To round off our last day in Peru we visited The Huacachina lagoon, which is an oasis in the middle of the highest sand dunes in the world. We all decided to go sand boarding which involved climbing up the giant dunes which were scorched by the sun and then slide down them at great speeds on pieces of wood strapped to your feet! It was brilliant fun and I keep finding sand in my boots now!
The rest of the afternoon was spent returning to Lima in time for our flight home the next morning. We spent the evening looking round the art markets of Mira Flores before heading to the hotel for some well deserved sleep.
On our arrival back in the UK we gave a full presentation to our family and friends at the Guildhall in Winchester, which was a great way of ending the experience of a lifetime.
The project we carried out whilst at the campsite in Huycho has hopefully encouraged the village to start up its own Scout Troop and take full advantage of the facilities that are on offer.
It is the intention of Raphael to promote the use of the campsite to scouts from across Peru and around the world who will further contribute to it and the local community.
I would like to take this opportunity to say a very special thank you to all the people who helped me take part in Inca Venture 2K1 and to all of the expedition members who made my time in Peru such a memorable experience.
Pat Staples Interiors
Shield Veterinary Centre
Charles M. McHardy Fitted Carpets
Droxford & District Relief in Need Charity
The Gales Youth Trust
Westcliff Business Card Ltd
Swanmore Education Charity
Driver & Co Solicitors
Cynthia Tester Blinds
The Hunters Inn
Chamberlain School of Motoring
Hazel?s, The Florist
W J Heard, Motor Repairs
Finesse of Romsey