Following Inca’s steps

The Cordillera Blanca abounds with hidden treasures.

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Over the last week, I had hiked through some of the most dramatic landscapes I had ever seen.

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However, I realized that those mountains had much more to offer…
Adrian, who could not walk because of his sprained ankle, searched and found some other activities to be done in the area. He stumbled upon, Atun Machay, one of the most remote and legendary climbing spot in Peru.

He told me about it and we decided to go and check it out. After a couple of hours driving on dirt roads, we reached this remote 4000 m rock forest…

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There was absolutely nothing around us. During the day, temperature went over +25 degrees and below -10 at night.
Only few people were there and made a tiny camp by the entrance of the rock forest.

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We liked it straight away and decided to spend the next few days out there.

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We had a guide book showing us where were different climbing roads around the area… There were more than 500 roads from level 5 to 9 !

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While some climbing roads were just couple of minutes away, some required a whole hike to get there. Not that far away, we could see the top of the Yerupajá glacier, that glacier we hiked around for 10 days.

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Before being a famous climbing spot, it used to be a refuge for locals.
Indeed, those large rocks provide the only shelter from the bitter wind, allowing small trees and bushes to grow and develop.

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Nowadays, most people left Atun Machay to live in cities. Yet, some shepherds still inhabit those tiny huts.

Adrian still recovering from his ankle, we decided to start with easiest roads.

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No matter where we went, we were always alone the whole day.

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Adrian, who is very experienced, taught us all the things we needed to know to secure a scaling climber.

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When moving from spots to spots, we crossed the middle of the rock forest.

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And found more challenging roads…

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Those roads that only Adrian could climb all the way to the top…

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Some days, we were so much into it that we climbed til it got completely dark. It was only after climbing at night we realized that it was much less scary, since you can’t really see the ground anymore.

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After a couple of days, we went further into the forest to seek for more remote roads.

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We walked through the whole forest (which takes more than an hour).

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At that height, crossing all those rocks takes a lot of energy.

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Yet, the payoff was huge.

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In that place called “total avatar”, we found our best roads.

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We even met the local shepherd living in the hut we saw the first day and exchanged a few words as she only spoke Quechua.

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Even in our globalized world, there are still some “untouched” places.

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It was now time for me to cheer the ocean one more time. I left Adrian an Marine and went with Yassine to Lima District in search of good waves.
We spent one day in the city of Miraflores (a district of Lima) and heard that Panamericans surf games were taking place 30 km south of Lima in a place called Punta Hermosa.DSC_1685

That city was famous for its endless numbers of surf spots. All of them had their own characteristics and worked under some specific conditions. In other words, there was always a perfect wave somewhere.

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As we were in the middle of the winter, there were almost no tourists out there. Prices were low and we got a very good deal to rent a shared flat in the heart of Punta Hermosa.

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We understood fast why there were no people. Waves were huge and it was cloudy, cold and rainy everyday.
We met a new roommate for the next few weeks, Cesar, a 40 years old Brazilian surfing champion whose only reason here was to surf as much as possible.

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And one of the most amazing surprise, Guillaume, a long-term friend I had met when I used to live in Biarritz !
He was living in Argentina and took this opportunity to surf with me for a while.

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This group, the few tourists in this area and the constant swell announced a bright surfing future for the next few weeks…

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For the next month, we followed the same routine every day…

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We started with a light tropical breakfast then checked most of the spots to see which of them worked the best.

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Then loaded up the car,

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Put on 4/3 wet suits and found a way to the surf spot,

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Warmed up…

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And surfed those glassy uncrowded waves !

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Most of days, we surfed between 4 to 6 hours (2 sessions) and came back at night to cook and jam.

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Then we relaxed to get ready for another day…

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We finally had our first sunny day 2 weeks later…

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No storms, no clouds but no waves… A chill day to recover.

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We could walk on the beach without caring for harsh wind and flying foam.

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We saw the first sunset that day.

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Time flied and after 3 weeks of surfing, Iulia finally showed up after a long travel (in her own) in the Peruvian jungle.

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Another chapter was about to start !

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Her arrival coincided with a “cock fight” night, a very local event that our landlord did not want us to miss (cultural exchange).

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I could not believe I was there one more time.

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We went to Lima and concluded those beautiful months with Yassine (leaving now to Mexico) and those surfing weeks with Guillaume (coming back to Argentina). This summer was a hell of an amazing time.

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Back with Iulia, we decided to leave the coast and head to the mountains.
Indeed, during her time in the jungle, Iulia had heard about a great hike (in the Cuzco area) leading to some unspoiled ruins. That was our next objective.

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Hitchhiking in southern Peru was easier than in the north. We had a lot of rides. We started with a police officer (driving faster than any other cars…) then this truck driven by Pablo.

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We stayed with him for the almost 24h, putting the tent by his truck at night. He dropped us close to Albancay, where our hike started.

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We decided to take small roads to see the countryside of this area. Here, in the Cuzco district, we found a lot of red quinoa fields (picture above). However, we didn’t see many cars and ended up walking most of this road for 2 days…

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Meeting occasionally locals showing us the way.

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That was a good transition to get used to high altitude after staying so long in the coast.

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We finally made it to Albancay and started to pack food for the trek.
Contrary to our last 10 days hike, we only had to buy supplies for 3-4 days as we were about to cross villages.

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As we missed walking, we decided to walk all the way to the beginning of the hike. It was fairly easy. We were going from houses to houses meeting locals.

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Until we reached the border with high mountains again, starting point of the Choquequirao hike.

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This hike is an alternative route to Machu Picchu (as it is getting very crowded nowadays). It took us to a very old Inca site that has been discovered recently.

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Few people are taking it, since it is a a strenuous trek. It keeps on going up and down 1000 m almost every day going through glaciers, tropical forests and desert areas.

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The beginning was quite warm and dry.

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The next day, we gained a lot of altitude and entered the sub-tropical forest where lays the old city of Choquequirao.

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Completely hidden, it is only when we got close enough that we saw the first signs of the Inca city of Choquequirao.

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We made it next morning and discovered the amazing way Incas were cultivating their crops. In this environment, the only way to grow anything is through terraces.

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It was mesmerizing to observe how they had shaped those fields in this very steep mountain. In this area, they were growing mostly corn and potatoes.

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And they must have been very fit… Going up and down those stairs must have been a daily challenge !

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Then, we went to the highest part of the city where they used to live. It’s incredible how this site was preserved and how few tourists were there.

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On the other side of the mountain they also had a bunch of (very steep) terraces.

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Where lamas and alpacas were highly regarded.

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We left ruins and kept hiking. Most people go back, as the next city is 4 days walking, but we had a lot of time ahead and decided to keep on going.

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This day, we went down 1300 m going from cold forest to desert areas. From time to time, we crossed some old ruins.

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We entered a “semi dead forest” where only living things were thousands of flies.

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Fortunately, I still had my mosquito net that a cool French Canadian had given me when I was hitchhiking in Quebec through the black flies season !

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The next 2 days, we gained twice the elevation we lost. From 2000 m we went all the way to el San Juan col (4150 m). Those stairs were made by Incas and they are part of the famous Inca trail.

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The vegetation here was still tropical yet freezing.

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The path became steep and views spectacular.

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We lost one more time all the elevation we gained and entered another part of a sub-tropical forest.

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For the last 2 days of hiking, we went through the highest part of the hike. We left the forest and climbed up to the first glaciers.

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Where the weather was as challenging as mesmerizing.

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We slept below those “giants”, wondering if any of those had ever been climbed by anyone.

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The path to the glacier was still part of the Inca trail. Those stairs survived for over 6 centuries of harsh weather conditions.

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The view from the top was absolutely incredible…haha.

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We finished our 8 days hike in a tiny hotel owned by a local Peruvian. She took care of us and invited us every day to eat in her kitchen.

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We were now in Quillabamba, city at the entrance of the Amazonian jungle (as we crossed the last part of the Andes) and enjoyed the abundance of fruits that was provided.

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Now, our next objective was Cuzco. Indeed, after walking the Inca trail, we wanted to see their capital.

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Even though there were a lot of tourists, this capital is a must go. It’s one of the oldest city where both Inca and Spanish colonialism architecture cohabits.

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The famous Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption cathedral just lays in the middle of Plaza de armas.

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Just behind are the wonderful Inca walls, masterpieces of engineering.

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This fascinating history is still very embedded in the life of Peruvians. They keep celebrating christian traditions all over the year in some demonstrative ways.

DSC_1915We left Cuzco and headed towards Bolivia since it was almost 6 months we were in Peru. However, we knew that Bolivia was famous for high altitude hiking and desert crossing.
In order to get used to it, we decided to spend the last weeks in Peru volunteering in the Colca valley (close to Arequipa) at 3500 m.
We choose to settle in Yanke, a tiny “untouched” village.

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The landscape around the city was spectacular.

DSC_1931I guess the most impressive scene was the endless ashes cloud rising from the Sabayanca volcano.

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Yanke was definitely marked by Inca’s history as well. The whole landscape was made of terraces.

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And some remote hikes took us even further in history. On the surroundings of Yanke, lays a old pre-Inca cemetery.

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Here are many open tombs where Collagua people (pre-Inca civilization) and later, Incas left their dead bodies.

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To this day, tombs are still open and skulls well preserved.

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Those rites kept on going until conquistadors came and imposed their own religion. To this day, local population follows Christianity rules and bury dead people in cemetery.

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Nowadays, this area still has lot of traditions… Women living in the Colca valley had some of the most amazing sets of clothes !

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Unfortunately, our time in our hotel did not work out and we left earlier than expected. Still, we enjoyed the numerous hot springs surrounding Yanke, day and night.

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Most of the time, we had a 40 degrees pool just for ourselves.

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After a few days relaxing in pools, it was time to move on to Bolivia.
It was almost 10 months that Iulia and I were traveling together and 34 months since I started my world trip.
Now, I only had 2 more months until I came back to France. I had to go all the way to Argentina where I would meet my family and get my plane ticket.
In other words, I still had 2/3 of the continent to cover in a very short time. Iulia having different plans, we decided to end our adventure together and travel on our own. It was by far the hardest decision to be taken, yet the wisest.

I said goodbye to the best partner I have had in this travel and carried with me all those precious memories we had built together.

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Now, the adventure keeps on going… last kilometers are ahead !

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2 thoughts on “Following Inca’s steps

  1. Art: in one side, i´m very impressed because your marvellous trip. I have enjoyed each spot, each moment, each word that you have taken, lived or written.
    On the other side, i must confess you that, even for me, is sad that Iulia leaves your company. In such a strange way, i have been in love with her (sorry, but she seems a very special woman and i´m spanish). Anyway i remember you that when you return to France and if you go to the south, you could find easily my home at Getxo in Vizcaya, Basque Country, near Bilbao. You are invited. I have a nice and old surf board (my old times!) and her you will find good sopts, good food and good friendship.
    So long valiente francés!

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  2. La culture Inca est tellement fascinante, ça doit être impressionnant de voir ça de ses propres yeux! Bientôt ton retour! Faudra que tu me racontes tout ça de vive voix! 🙂 En Attendant, je te souhaite de profiter toujours autant!

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