Christmas in the Andes

Kunstmann – das gute Bier – I’m sitting in La Calera in a restaurant with the name La Estacion, where they have german beer. For me a fresh jugo de frambuesa  (raspberry juice) is waiting to be consumed, while the Beatles are playing. And just some minutes ago I was invited by the owner of this place to have lunch with him. On top he is responsible for tourist and culture informations in this region.
While I’m enjoying my day off, I will let you know how I spent Christmas and the last few days.
La Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) I spent in Rodeo, with the two lovely owners of the place called Clandestino and Arved, a german traveller. We went out for dinner at a fancy place with good food and a dancefloor out of sand. On Christmas morning I had a relaxed breakfast with fresh bread before I went on cycling.

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Another Andes crossing, this time from around 1500m to the top of the pass Aqua Negra , 4735m. The first day I met wild horses and camped on 2700 meters. Me and my tent survived a hail thunderstorm, which was going down on on my little housing with an unbelivable loud noise.

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The next day I just cycled half a day to camp on 3900m, where it was cold, but not as cold as it would have been near the top.

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The highlight of the crossing arose during my third cyling day. It was amazing: ice and snow and magnific mountains surrounded me and when I crossed the top, the chilian side was even more beautiful. I was totally flashed by the beauty and when it became time to set up my tent I arrived at a lagune, where I found the best camping spot of my whole travel.

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I arrived in Rodeo, where I visited a Observatory  learned a lot about all the things which are million light years away from us, saw the ISS passing by and for the first time the cross of the south.

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My accommodation in Vicuña was owned by a woman who used to live in Stuttgart nearly 20 years ago. I found a facecloth on my bed and had a german breakfast with Christstollen and a small Rittersport choclate.

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The world is beautiful

It seemed as if somebody threw some buckets of colours over the mountains in the north of Argentina. Amazing face of the world, unbelivable composition. After some relaxing days in San Pedro de Atacama I found my way to country number 8 on my way down south in Latino America. A lonesome region on high altitude, a dry desert, lagunes and salt lakes, decorated with vicuñas, wild donkeys and Llamas. But this time I could lift my eyes and observe my surroundings more than on the Lagune route in the south of Bolivia, cause this time the road was paved and so my joints and my affected but we’re happy to recover a bit more.

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From San Pedro I hitchhiked the 2000 meter uphill until the point I came from Bolivia, a truck from Paraguay gave me a lift and so I found my bike inbetween cars, which are transported from Iquique at the coast of Chile to Paraguay. Heaps of these trucks drive this 2000 kilometers way several times a month.

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So I was on 4600 meters of altitude again to start my way through the desert on the so called ruta del desierto. The wind was already there but this time it was pushing me into the land. Due to the advanced day I searched a shelter after a few kilometers in this impressive landscape, which appeared to be like in the mars or moon. Next to a lagune with some ducks a found a small wall which served as a shelter. The night was bitter cold, so that my water in the bottles were totally frozen and I also felt a bit cold for the first time on my travel.

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On day 2 the landscape presented me rock constellation, more lagunes and after I arrived the highest point of Paso Jama on over 4800m it started to go down. Finally I arrived Argentina and although officers at the border worked slowly like rusty trains, everything went without any problems. Looking on a map I realized that I had wrong distance kilometers in my mind and so I augmented the daily kilometers to reach Purmamarca within 4 days. At the Laguna Ana I found an old bus behind a small hill. I felt like in „into the wild“ and also the interior was not as comfortable as in movie I decided to camp inside this rusty vehicle.

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The first little village I arrived was Susques. A calm place were I could by some fruits and chocolate to get some power for the next kilometres. I went up some hundred meters before I went down a beautiful valley with cactuses and weird rock formations. It felt like in the wild west. Some kilometers further the valley opened for the great plain with the Salinas Grandes. But before I entered it, I set up my tent next to an abandoned house. From there I could observe a rising thunderstorm, which arose to an enormous spectacle during the night, the beautiful ceiling full of stars with a play of lightnings  at the horizon in the distance.

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Through the plain to the Salinas Grandes and up another 700 meters to the top of the last big mountain, I had my first lunch in Argentina: A small empanada de queso, humanitas  and for dessert goat cheese with cane honey. The last ascent was quite tiring but the way down on the other side a real pleasure. The next valley was amazing. First of all the canyon and more cactuses. And at the end, the colourful mountains round me. Blue, red, white, orange, black, I couldn’t stop to marvel.

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Finally I arrived Purmamarca. The evening I spent with a guy from Buenas Aires, we had some beer, shared a pizza before we had a red wine from Mendoza with some cheese back in the hostal. The next morning I had a walk inside thesencolourful mountains.

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When I went down to San Salvador de Jujuy, the landscape changed a lot. More and more plants transformed the natur into a green forest, it became more humid and more clouds covered the ceiling.

Sand, Salt, Rocks and Wind

San Pedro, a oasis in many regards after a week of tough cycling in the South of Bolivia. The famous route of the Lagunes on an average altitude of 4300 meters, without many possibilities of food and water supply, heaps of climbing, lots of strong winds, cold nights, intense sun, dry air and paths covered with sand and rocks. It was definitely the hardest section of my way down south so far. BUT, it was so worth it! Every single day the landscape gave me new energy! But let’s start in Oruro, where I met Sam again to take the train to Uyuni!

It was a beautiful travel trough on the flat altiplano. We saw a thousands of flamencos in the huge lake of Poopo, before the sunset atmosphere encased us with a wonderful play of colours.

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A interesting spot in Uyuni were the old trains whose shapes out of steel rust in the surrounding sand and create an special atmosphere especially during the light of a further sunset.

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We left to the Salar de Uyuni where we camped in the middle of nowhere on this huge white field of salt. It was very windy, so that we had to wait for the sunset again to put up our tents afterwards, when the wind was subsiding.

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We left the middle of the Salar, but camped another time on the salt, this time mixed with clay and therefor easier to mount our tents into the ground. In the night a sandstorm swept across our housings but both tents withstood the force of nature.

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In San Juan Sam decided to go directly to Chile, so I was on my own to proceed towards some days of adventure in the mountains of Bolivia. After some comperative easy kilometers on another plane salt lake I faced the first climb. It was horrible to ride, so that I had to push my bike several times. I first glimpse on what was coming in the next few days. I imagined to arrive at the short section of the main road but I ended up settle down for the night a few kilometers before.

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The second day I arrived at the first lake, Laguna Cañapa, where I observed the birds, flamencos and seagulls, before I cooked myself some mashed potatoes.

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For the night I arrived at the Laguna Hediondo where I asked to camp next to the Ecolodge de Los Flamingos. But instead I was offered to stay inside. They even provided me water and breakfast for free. Very nice people, so that I gave them my beani as a present when I left in the next morning.

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On my further way I saw another cyclist in the distance nd when I got closer I saw that it was Camille, a friend I’ve been hiking with near Cusco. He had a problem with its pedal, but first we cycled together and found a nice shelter to camp in the evening.

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To get out of the tent in the morning some motivation was always needed, cause the temperature at night and in theearly hours wasn’t that comfortable. During the day I passed some rock formations, one of the the árbol de piedras, a rock which looked like a tree.

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The way down to the laguna Colorada was very hard to ride, the destination close but it seemed not to get closer. But finally I was next to the lake, where the national park „Reserva National de Fauna Anadina Eduardo Avaroa“ started. Inbetween the day the Camille had further problems with its pedal, so that he arrived after me with one of the numerous trucks, which drove around the tourists.

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The pedal was fixed, welded by a mechanic and this in the middle of nowhere. After a night in the Refugio we started together, but after 10 kilometers the pedal brake again. So we had a last lunch together, before I went on climbing up the highest section of the Lagune route, while Camille went back to his mechanic.

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After another tough drive I arrived the geyser field. Steam was coming out of the earth and was blown away by a strong wind. Behind an abandoned house I set up my tent, with 4880 meters the highest point I ever camped on.

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The highest point I ever ride my bike followed the next morning, 4926 meters. After I reached the pass it went down to the Lagune de Chalviri, where a thermal bath waited for me. I directly rode my bike next to it and jumped in to relax. Two hours long I enjoyed the comfortable water and the nice view onto the Lagune.

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It was still early and so I decided to go on to the next highlight, the laguna verde and the laguna blanca. After another climb with headwind it went down again. Due to some sandy parts I was more sliding than riding down my bike. And when I arrived I was happy again to have found a nice spot to camp with a beautiful view over the Laguna Blanca.

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The Laguna Verde was just 2 kilometers away from my sleeping spot and at the time I arrived the outlook full of people. Some of them coriously started to ask me questions, below them as well other cyclists. And so again I felt like a wild animal or an mascot with whom you take fotos with. But the people were all friendly and took a foto of me.

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The last day in the south of Bolivia, heading to Chile and San Pedro de Atacama was less easy to ride. The wind already woke up in the morning and my imagination about the last pass was much more relaxed. On top my legs were quite tired after the last 6 days. The border was no problem again and finally I was on a paved street again. 2000 meters downhill sounded on tarmac sounded like a dream, but another strong head wind significantly prolonged the time to arrive in the Oasis of San Pedro de Atacama!

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Finally I arrived back in the civilisation, with all culinary amenities and a hot shower. It was a great ride and great motivation to do similar treks, apart from the main roads with significant sceneries around!

On the glacier of Huayna Potosí

After the volcano Cotopaxi in Ecuador, where David and I climbed to 5600 meters of altitude, it was time to start my second try to exceed the magic number of 6000 meters! Huayna Potosí with 6088m of altitude it just 30km away from La Paz and the ascent shouldn’t be that technical. But what I learned from the Cotopaxi experience was

After the volcano Cotopaxi (5897m) in Ecuador, where David and I climbed until a height of around 5600 meters of altitude, it was time to start my second try to exceed the magic number of 6000 meters! Huayna Potosí with 6088m of altitude it just 30km away from La Paz and the ascent shouldn’t be that technical. But what I learned from the Cotopaxi experience was that my body needs more time to get used to the altitude. Although I had no major problems on the glacier in Ecuador, I was close to the inner border of my physical fitness. Furthermore it was the first experience for Sam on that height and so we decided to climb step by step to give our bodies time. Another thing I learned was to have a close look on the equipment before booking a tour and so we spent over an hour in the tour agency and tried on pants, shoes, helmets, jackets, crampons and so on! The equipment was not brandnew and some parts were not in the best condition, but nothing what would impair our safety or comfort. And so we booked a 3 day tour and bought ahead the necessary things for the ascent.

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DAY 1:
In the Casa de Ciclistas in La Paz we were on an altitude of 3500m. The days before next to the lake Titikaka we were always between 3800m and 4350m, so the first aclimatization step was already accomplished. Because of a strike of the buses in the city, which blocked the streets in the whole city, we had to leave very early to leave the city. With the taxi the agency collected us from our accommodation and at their office we switched into a van to leave the city. On our way we heard that another group, who tried to leave later, was not able to get out of the center, so we were lucky. After leaving the city boundaries we went on a dirt road into the mountains towards the first refuge on 4750m. We were welcomed by a indigenous lady of the Amayram tribe. I was still quite tired and we still had time and so I first took a two hours nap in our shelter. Well rested we had lunch with a tasty vegetable soup and for me a vegetarian main dish with rice, egg, french fries and salad while Sam was having chicken instead of the egg. I was suprised that I was asked in the tour office about being a vegetarian – very considerate!
After the strengthening we accompanied by our host woman and her child to a nearby glacier where we met Adrian, our guide, who gave us a first briefing how to use the equipment. On our way we were walking to the clouds of a thunderstorm. The noise of the thunder was reechoing in the mountains and generated a mighty atmosphere. We arrived the glacier and got to know Adrian. The first few introductions where easy to learn and viable, the second part was new to me and more challenging. Sam and me had to learn how to overcome the steep face out of ice and subsequently a vertical ice wall. And although we will not face a vertical wall on our way to the top, we were happy to have gained that experience. After that lesson we went back to the refuge were we had an extensive meal in the afternoon and plenty of time to relax.

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DAY 2:
We got up at around 7:30 and had an extensive breakfast. Before  ascending to the second refuge on 5130m, we explored the surroundings of the first refuge cause there were still some more time left. For the water supply they constructed a canal from a upper lake, which is filled by glaciers. Furthermore the use all the glacier water to produce energy, so huge power grid transport the energy to La Paz and El Alto.

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At 10 a.m. we left, the weather was good, some sun and some clouds took turns. The equipment for the glacier in our backpack, as well as some food and the sleeping bag, we had to carry around 15 kilos up the mountain. The way was good to walk, the altitude bounded the speed but after two hours we arrived in Campo Alto! The day ended by playing the card games ‚Rikiki‘ and ‚Belotte ‚which were teached by group of belgium travellers. The atmosphere was very good under all the groups who wanted to climb to the top! At 7 o’clock everybody went to bed to gain energy for the next day.

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DAY 3:
At midnight a guide entered the bedroom by making the noise „bru bru bru“ to imitate an alarm and one by one everybody went on their feet! Somebody was playing a song on their cell phone and suddenly everybody were tapping in the rhythm of the song. It seemed as if everybody were excited to go up.
Sam and me were informed that we will have another guide for the ascent. Juan seemed to be a little tired at the beginning, cause he first forgot to get on his crampons and after he put them on, he left his gloves in the snow. Good start, I thought, but no further similar incidents happend. The way up was again taking ages – step by step we were walking up. In the dark the world of ice and snow around us as well as deep holes and slopes were not visible. Only the lights of the other groups and the alighted feet of Sam and the snow in front of me were able to be seen.

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Steep parts and nearly plane parts alternated. After around 4 hours we were going up on a steep ridge of maybe one and a half meters wide, where on both sides it was going down into the darkness. Leaving that behind it became to get lighter – the sunrise was getting closer until we could turn off our headlamps.

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The last part of the path was possible to see and with it the steepness of the last few meters to the top. Some groups were already inside that part, struggling to go up. Other groups already turned around and I also had my problems. I had to fight against a rising headache and while we had a break I was getting tired. The guide already asked if we should turn around but we were close and so Sam and me mobilized our last energy. The steepest part at the end was demanding everything of our endurance and concentration and I was again at a point to give up.
When I was finally reaching the top, I was so touched by the view and by the fact that I had really reached the top of Huayna Potosí, which is an insane 6088 meters high.

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We enjoyed the view for some minutes, but due to the rising temperatures we had to start the way back to the refuge. After 6 hours of such a hard climb we still had to stay concentrated for the descent and it appeared to become a very challenging way down cause due the sun the ice was starting to melt. This fact entailed that the crampons were full of snow and so the grip was getting less. Now we were able to see all the beautiful forms of the glacier, but also the steep slopes directly besides us. Reaching the ridge, the situation was extremely dangerous. We went down very slowly, removing the slippery snow underneath the crampons nearly every step. After another 3 hours we were happy to reach the Refugio. Here we had one hour to rest before we went down another 1 1/2 hours to the second refuge were the car to la Paz was already waiting.

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It was another amazing experience, but I guess I wouldn’t do it again. The view from the top is mind-blowing, but it does also demand everything of yourself, it’s definitely not healthy and also not without a risk!

Chance of a better future

I was sitting in a kind of big classroom, when suddenly a young peruvian girl was coming up to me to give me a hug! I was overwhelmed by this cordially gesture and said to myself that all people on the world should have the same possibilities to develop in life!

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Two weeks ago I visited the German development project „Kinderhilfe Cusco“ in Quiquijana, a small village 70 kilometers in the south of Cusco. I arrived at the „Albergue“ in the evening and received a warm welcome by the volunteers and the nuns. The time was an interesting experience for me. Helping children with their homework, teaching them english, playing soccer with them and get to know their backgrounds moved me and offered me a good variation in my current cycling life.

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I spent three nights at that place to gain an impression about the work of the volunteers and the project as a whole. The project Kinderhilfe Cusco – Peru e.V. started in 1989 by supporting a lunch table in Cusco and from 2001 on a second one in Quiquijana. Cause of a missing infrastructure this involvement led to the construction of a youth center, which was opened in 2008. Besides offering a place to stay for up to 100 children, it’s a place for social and pedagogical education.

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The main goal of the project is to fight the poverty and to help to improve the education and food situation. Over the years further support grew in the area of Cusco.
The children in Quiquijana come from tough family backgrounds, live in poor conditions and some of them wouldn’t even have the possibility to attend school, cause their homes are to far away to go this long way two times a day.
In the „Albergue“ in Quiquijana 6 volunteers work for one year to support one local teacher, a cook and three nuns of the sisterhood „Siervas de Christo Sacerdote“. The 4 girls and 2 boys just finished school and most of them found the project over weltwärts. They had a prepartion seminar as well as six weeks of a spanish language course in advance. Furthermore the local teacher seems to have a lot of experience and a good apprenticeship and therefor can support the young and motivated volunteers. This combination make sure that the children get a good support. Besides the time with the children, the daily schedule includes some hours of work in a nearby farm in the morning.

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In two greenhouses vegetables are grown to supplement the daily meals for the children. A third greenhouse is in construction to plant roses, which will be sold to gain money for the  facility.

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More information you will find on the official page of the german development project.

So, why do I think this project is worth to support? For me some things are important to declare it a helpful and meaningful project:
– collaboration: decisions are taken together, the local people together with the donor
– local support: investments involve local enterprises, so that the money support the economic development of the region
– transparency: the use of the donations is transparent for members and supporters of the projects
– sustainability: to act in a sustainable way, help to self-help

In all of this topics the Kinderhilfe Cusco is doing very well and I was impressed by the effort of the founder Dr. Heinz Gravenkötter and the volunteers.

If you have any further questions about my experiences about this development projects, feel free to ask!
Three of the current volunteers share their experiences on their blogs, which will give you another insight about their work and the project jn general:
sarahserlebnisseinperu.jimdo.de (Blog of Sarah)
einjahrinperu.jimdo.com (Blog of Ronja and Leander)

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Choquequirao

Choquequirao, the small sister of Machu Picchu, doesn’t get so much tourist attention, indeed there were only 3 more persons around us when we visited the place. So it felt, as if we had the ruins on our own. No officers who tell you were you are allowed to go ( in Machu Picchu there are plenty of them), rathermore a pleasant silence without a mass of tourists. Choquequirao was also one of the last bastions of resistance and refuge of the Inkas and therefore an important historical place.

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I’ve already left Cusco to stay to nights in Quiquijana, 70 kilometers in the south of the city, when Vincent, a Canadian cyclist ask to join him to do a trek. And so I left my bike in this little village to return to Cusco. The bus took two hours and just cost 5 soles. Of course I took the chance to have another meal  in „Green Point“, the vegan restaurant with the amazing lunch offer. There I met Vincent and Camille, a french cyclist, who were also in to do a trek. We had to choose between Ausangate, Choquequirao and a tour into the jungle. Before I received the recommendation from a local to do the hike of Choquequirao and it was also the easiest considering the organization, so the decision was taken.

We left Cusco very early at around 5 a.m. to start the hike from Cachora in the late morning. The weather was beautiful, maybe to good, because the heat of the sun made the hard trek of Choquequirao not easier. After a just a few kilometers and the first descents, Vincent figured out that the rented shoes had a metal thing in the front, which let him suffer while going down. This escorted him half of our tour and we had to slow down to made it endurable for him. And after a rather flat part it was going down the rest of our first day. Still not crossed the Apurimac river we found a beautiful campsite to put up our tents. The view was breathtaking, the sunset behind the mountains opened up a colourful sky followed by the bright shining stars!

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The next day we reached the river, the sun was burning down on us, which made the climb on the other side of the river a big challenge. 1500 meters uphill. We had to break several times but we were willing to reach the campsite close to Choquequirao to discover the place in the morning. On our last kilometers, we met two other cyclists, one of them carrying a second pair of shoes with him – the salvation for Vincent you suffered a lot under his bad shoes. The place to camp was another time blessed with an amazing view into the valley, so that Camille and me enjoyed taking pictures again.

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Day 3, climbing up the last few hundred meters to Choquequirao. Still tired of the last day we were dragging ourselves through the ruins inbetween which we had to overcome some other ascents and descents. But it was worth all the way. Nearly alone on that hill we discovered the remains of the culture of the Inkas. After some hours we started our way back, which started with a long way down back to the river! This time Vincent was much faster, so that we reached our last campsite of the trek early. Totally tired we cooked and watched the stars again. The temperatures in the evening were just perfect, but the Mosquitos were not our friends during all the days.

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The last day we had to go up another 1500 meters again, but we arrived early on the top and catched a taxi, who took us back into direction Cusco.
A beautiful, but also a hard trek to visit Choquequirao!

Here are some facts about how to get there from Cusco: there is a bus station in the street Arcopata, which is in the north of the historical center, Here small buses leave from 5 o’clock in the morning to Curahuasi (15 Soles and about 1:45 hours of driving). From Curahuasi you can take another small bus or a taxi to Cachora (15 Soles and about 45 minutes). In Cachora there is the possibility to go to close to the Mirador de Capuliyoc to save about 10 kilometers of the trek. For the way back the prices are the same.

La bonita ciuadad de Cusco y las ruinas de Machu Picchu

After 5 days in Cusco, including the trip to Machu Picchu, I spent my last hours hours in the vegan Restaurant „Green Point“ to write. The restaurant does not just provide healthy, ecological and vegan food, but offers an pleasant atmosphere. But the best is the lunch offer for just 12 Soles,  which does include a salad from a buffet, a soup, a main course, a dessert and a frech juice. For the main course there are two options, between you can choose. Currently I’m just having a coffee while listening to the music of Vintage Reggae Café.

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Cusco entered the charts of my top cities in Latino America on number one. Cuenca y Cartagena had a great atmosphere as well, but Cusco had its special charme with numerous culinary and culture offers. The nice market of San Pedro, the neighborhood of San Blas, the narrow streets and the colonial buildings. Additionally there are several treks around to walk in the mountains or to discover the ruins of the Inkas. Cusco in pictures:

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I spent a full day in Cusco, walked around a lot, visited the museum Coricancha, gave away my camera to let it clean, visited the market and bought a new gas cartridge as well as some care products. So I was prepared to go to Machu Picchu the next day. There are several options to visit the city of the Inkas. You can take the service of one of the hundreds tour offices, which is maybe the most expensive possibility. Then you can follow the Inka trail or other treks, which will take several days. Another economical way and that’s what I have done, is the public transport, which I will sum up shortly.

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The map shows how to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu. At first you can take a bus for 15 Soles into direction Qillabamba and leave the bus at Santa Maria. To get there, the bus needs around 6 hours. Arrived in Santa Maria further taxis and small buses will wait for you to go go to Santa Teresa (10 soles, 1 hour) or Hidroeléctrica  (15 Soles,  1 1/2 hour). From Hidroeléctrica there is the possibility to take the train (38 $, 15 minutes) or to walk along the rails (2 hours). In Aqua Calientes there are many hostels in all price categories, so no need to reserve in advance. Also restaurants are numerous. If you want to avoid the touristic prices, go to the small market, which is near the Plaza de armas. There you get a meal for 6 soles. Usually  you stay one night in Aqua Caliente after a one day journey to arrive there. In the next morning you can take the bus (12 $, starts from 5:30) or walk (bridge opens at 5:00) up to the entrance of Machu Picchu pueblo (opens at 6:00). It’s a steep walk, but if you hurry up, you will arrive before the first buses.
For the tickets for Machu Picchu you have three possibilities. Machu Picchu Pueblo (128 soles), Machu Picchu Pueblo + Machu Picchu Mountain  (148 soles) and Machu Picchu Pueblo + Wayna Picchu Mountain. The tickets can be purchased in Cusco or near the Plaza de Armas in Aqua Calientes.

So, back to my experiences: I got up early in Aqua Calientes to walk up and arrive for the big mass of tourists and indeed I did it and after I entered the entrance I got to see the ruins without people while the llamas were running over the green areas inside the village. It was an awesome experience when I catched the first glimpse. It’s impressive that human beings were able to construct these houses and walls during that time, considering that it’s high up in the mountain and the stones are quite big and heavy. After I walked to the Inka bridge and walked around a bit, I went up to the mountain of Machu Picchu. I was still exhausted from the first climb and didn’t expect that another 500 meters steep walk up to the top waited for me. The weather at that morning also wasn’t the best, foggy, cold and during my way up I even went into the clouds. On the top I was surrounded by a big white soup of clouds and it took over an hour before I could look down. But after the torture of the climb and the amazing view over the ruins, which finally appeared, it was totally worth to wait for a while.

Waiting for the bridge to open.

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The view, when I arrived on the top of Machu Picchu.

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A part of the ruins were visible.

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And finally the clouds were gone.

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The street from Aqua Calientes to the entrance of Machu Picchu pueblo.

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Machu Picchu on our way back to Hydroeléctrica

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I left Cusco to Quiquijana, a small village 70 kilometers in the south of the city. There it finally worked, what I tried from time to time during my travel. What it is will be found on my blog in the next few days.