Ruth Cooper trekked in Peru with her partner Clem and 16 other MS Trust trekkers in September 2007. She kept a blog for her friends and family to read, which she's kindly allowed us to share below.
"We did it! Thanks all for your support!!!!"
The journey over was fine. We got a bit lost at NY airport and had a little tour with Jan, but eventually found our way to the right place. Transit in Lima was much easier! In a group of 50, with Charlotte from Skyline, Simon, Joe and Mark from Discover Adventure and Doctors Katy and Roger. We arrived in Cusco pretty tired Saturday mid-day, staying at the Hotel Savoy. Not bad but not quite as posh as the one in London!!! Spent Saturday afternoon trying to stay awake - a little bit of retail therapy, some coca tea and a glass of wine helping tremendously. The hotel put on a good dinner then it was early to bed.
Sunday 16 Sept.
Up, breakfast and off we went for a local walk. Clem felt pretty poorly - headache and nausea but luckily it wore off during the day. We took the bus up to the top of Cusco and visited Tambo Machay, then had a pretty gentle walk including through some eucalytpus trees. We stopped for lunch in a lovely grove. Lunch was unreal. The crew had set up the lunch tents, loo tents, bowls of hot water and soap, and a buffet tent. We had a fantastic spread and I really couldn't see how I had ever hoped to lose weight on this trip!!
We carried on to visit Sexy Woman (can't remember how to spell it in the local lingo, but that's how it's pronounced) and a couple of other places. There was some sort of festival on at SW and it was all very colourful. We walked back down to Cusco and made our way back to the Savoy, then popped back into town for a little last minute retail therapy, including getting a new head torch for Clem as his decided to die even though it had worked when checked before leaving the UK.
We all got a bus to a local restaurant just off the Plaza des Armas (? el Grano) where we had an excellent buffet dinner. Half of us were downstairs, the rest up. Cuy (guinea pig) was served but being a fish eating veggie I declined this local delicacy. I have to say I did eat it in Ecuador over 20 years ago though! We walked back to the hotel and another early night.
Monday 17 Sept.
Up early and off in the buses. Left unnecessary kit at the hotel and put everything we would need for the next 4 days in huge orange duffel bags. We tied pull-ups to ours so we could identify them a bit more easily! A 4 hour bus journey with a stop at Calca then off on the Lares trek proper. Breathing was really difficult - there really is so much less oxgen up here!
The first day was a challenge but not too bad. We had what seemed at the time a real climb, though with hindsight was quite gentle. Clem´s headache was a bit better and he had his appetite back, which was a big relief. We hiked for a few hours, with the group spreading out nicely and regrouping every half hour or so. We were followed for the whole trek by a herd of llamas - they belonged to the farmer whose ponies we were using, and they liked to all stay together. The guys set up lunch for us which was most welcome. We then had a bus ride over a high pass, then walked the last hour to camp. All set up for us again, and boy were those loo tents a welcome sight!!
We were very privileged to see inside the house of a local lady. The traditional houses are thatched, with mud brick walls. Two storey i.e. a shelf at one end for storing food. Everything in one room not much bigger than my kitchen - bed, living area and cooking area. With lots of guinea pigs – cuy - under the bed as they are part of the staple diet out here.
Camp was two people to a dome tent, portaloos, and dining tents. All remarkably well organised. The food for the whole trip was excellent, and us veggies catered for well too. It got dark about 5.30 so it was on with the head torches and settled down to coca tea and popcorn and then sorted the tents. Locals set up their wares to sell at each stop and did a roaring trade in hats, gloves and beer. To bed soon after dinner - too cold and tired to stay up.
Tuesday 18 Sept.
Really noisy at nights here. The dogs seem to fight every hour or so and the tent zips are pretty non-stop through the night. I got about 4 hours sleep, and was up at 4 with my headtorch to the loo tent. Back to bed for an hour to try to get as much rest as poss. Today was the real killer. We were woken at 5 every morning with a mug of steaming coca tea and a bowl of hot water to wash. So welcome! Clem packed up all the sleeping stuff then I did the rest of the pack up, breakfast, some warmups and stretching (which had me puffing before we had even started walking) and off.
The day started with a fairly challenging uphill section which just got steeper and steeper. I ended up taking ten steps at a time and then having a rest. My legs were fine - I just couldn't breathe. We all made it to the top - some with the help of ponies - and what a view it was. There were some beautiful lakes, and the mountains were just spectacular. Around us we could see glaciers and it was all just wonderful. Charlotte made a little speech and a few people, including me, got quite emotional and weepy. A combination of what we'd achieved, why we were there, the beauty of the place and tiredness.
The climb up had been 4 hours. We then had to get down for lunch. I had a problem as it was so steep in places. I was tired through lack of sleep and the really demanding climb, and also had a headache - whether from the altitude or crying I don't know. I ended up having Clem and the guides holding my hands as I was getting dizzy with the sheer drops and narrow path. The climb down took 3 hours and we were pretty weary. We'd been lucky with the weather but all we wanted was to sit down to lunch. Yup, seven hours hard walking BEFORE lunch.
After lunch we were told we had another three hours, two and a half of which were downhill. Some people took the bus on to camp but I decided I could do it. They lied! We had an hour downhill then it was a steady up. After two hours Clem took my backpack as I was struggling so much. I ended up in tears trying to carry on but in the end succumbed for the last hour to the luxury of some Andean pony trekking. Amazingly we had all made it over the pass (4400m) and to camp. Dinner and bed were welcome, and it didn't seem as cold as the previous night.
Wednesday 19 Sept.
Up at 5 again and another mountain to climb. Today's was just as high but much gentler up. My lungs struggled but didn't give up. A couple of people had to turn back. The trail we took was so beautiful and we hardly saw any other trekkers, just locals at work, selling their wares, and lots of llamas, alpacas, some sheep and cows, pigs, and also chinchillas. Very cute!
As we neared the top it started hailing. By the time we were at the top (4400m again) the ground was white and it was quite magical. The group built a small cairn and I had a good cry as I put a stone on for mum. The descent was much easier than yesterday's and we all enjoyed a good lunch by a lake halfway down the mountain. By the time we had finished lunch the hail had pretty much disappeared and the sun was out again, and we carried on down for another 3 hours along a lovely valley. I was very lucky - no blisters the whole trek. Clem had one and of course just carried on as if he didn't have any.
Camping was plan B, as our original camp site had been dug up to make earth bricks for housing. We ended up on a football pitch. Usual popcorn, sort the tent, dinner and bed. Before bed we had a small presentation to give tips to fantastic local crew - from the cooks to the porters to the toilet men! The sky was very clear tonight - so very cold too - but lovely to see all the stars and the sideways moon. Once again a noisy night – don't think I managed more than 4 hours in any one night.
Thursday 20 Sept.
A lie in today - up at 5.30!!! Packed up, left the stuff we didn't need for the porters and off we went in the buses to Ollaytantambo. We had half an hour free there - a shame it wasn't longer as there were some fantastic archaeological sites we could see from the square.
From there we got a train to Aguas Calientes. The train took about an hour and a half. Good weather yet again. At AC we checked into the hostels - the group was split in three. We were in the Hostel Viajeros. A really bustling little place. We dumped our stuff then got on the buses to go to Machu Picchu.
The bus took an hour to climb on switchback roads, then we were there. A quick packed lunch including a Guinness for Clem and a Pimms for me (which I'd brought from home) then into the sacred site. It was awesome and everything I had hoped for. After the group photos we split into two groups. We were with Saul who gave us a four-hour guided tour. It truly is a special place. To top it all while we were at the top we saw a pair of condors gliding below us - it couldn't have been staged better.
We got the buses down then had the joy of a hot shower. Some people went off to the hot springs but Clem and I decided the hostel bar needed some support. Dinner was quite jolly and then most people headed off to the Tequila club. Having had a bottle of wine (and apparently one glass at altitude is equivalent to 4 at sea level - hic!) already I decided bed was a more attractive option, and enjoyed the luxury of a bed with sheets and an inside toilet with flushing water – its amazing what we take for granted at home.
Friday 21 Sept.
Slept for 4 hours before the rest of the guys started heading back from the bar. And that was a treat! Carried on sleeping then a real lie in today - up at 6.30. It was quite funny at breakfast watching some of the poor souls who had stayed up partying til 4 struggling to stay awake.
We headed off to the train station at AC then back to Ollaytantambo by train. We were entertained by one of the train crew putting on a show. They then tried to put on a fashion show but were upstaged by Bob doing his own version. At Oll 10 of the group went off to try white water rafting while the rest of us got the bus back to Cusco.
Arrived back at the Savoy at 1ish. Headed into town for some lunch but Clem got side tracked by Paddy Flaherty´s bar and the rugby. I sorted our hotel for when we are due to come back to Cusco, then went off to a cafe and sat writing my diary with some lunch and a glass of wine. Then to the children's project which SAS (local travel) support. They were very grateful for the children's books we had all had taken out. When we came out it was raining hard. I met up with Clem who was not impressed that Ireland had lost to France. Taxi back to the Savoy (all of 30p) and finally a chance to get on the internet.
I hope this has given a flavour of how things have been for us so far. All in all it has been a wonderful experience. The trek was tough for me physically and emotionally, but I wouldn't have changed a thing!!! Til next time, Rxx