Peru – the alternative way by Exodus’ Sue Kannenberg
It was another stunning day when we set off from Cuzco on what was going to be my most memorable and peaceful four days in Peru: The Moonstone Trek. This little known route is offered by Exodus as an alternative trek to the ever popular Inca Trail.
With more and more people wanting to cover the last 70 kilometres to Machu Picchu on foot, the world-renowned Inca Trail has become a victim of its own popularity: trekking permits are limited and hard to come by, campgrounds overcrowded. For the Moonstone Trek on the other hand, trekkers do not require a permit. I also did not see a single other tourist during the entire 4 days. The amount of Inca Ruins you come across enroute may be less, but nevertheless stunning sights. After all, the Incas used many different trails to reach Machu Picchu, not just one.
After a quick stop at a local market about a 30 minute drive outside of Cuzco to stock up on our fruit and vegetable supply for the coming 4 days, we drove to the archaeological site that this trek gets its name from. With excavation work still in progress, the most impressive site certainly is ‘the Moonstone’ – a large rock carving that looks not unlike a sun watch, but the significance of which is not yet understood.
We start the trek at about 3200 metres in a little valley, which – I couldn’t help but think – were we to carry on driving through this valley, we would come to the end point of this trek within about a 45 minute drive: Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. But no, this would be too easy. Instead of an easy car ride we were going to take 4 days and some detours, cross some spectacular mountain passes with breathtaking views and it was all going to be worth it. And it really was. The first day found us hiking up to the Inca ruins called ”Wata” at about 3800 metres. This small Inca site looks over the valley from where we had hiked up and the guide pointed out the direction of our campsite for the night – to my relief, from where we were, it was going to be more down than up.
It was my birthday on day 2 and the cook surprised me with a little birthday cake... one of many little culinary goodies he brought out of his kitchen tent, by the way: bananas flambé for desert, hot toddies, mulled wine, he even had a gas heater for the dining tent on the colder nights! A lot more luxuries than I was used to, they really came well prepared. The second day I was told was going to be the toughest: a 4800 metre pass. Maybe it was the breathtaking views that distracted me, but I barely felt the altitude. The views just got better the further we climbed and with so much time on our hands, I had plenty of time to sit and enjoy and take it all in. As we reached the top of the pass, we could see snow covered Mt Veronica (5800 metres) for the first time in the distance. Weather changes quickly at this altitude and we just made it into the dining tent for some hot chocolate when it started drizzling a little.
The sunrise on day 3 I will never forget. Our campsite was just below the pass, situated on a plateau. The blue sky as a backdrop to the green rolling hills was perfect picture material. The scenery this day turned out to be the most spectacular: We left the altiplano by dropping into a narrow gorge. After only about 15 minutes we remerged into another valley. With the sun still on the rise, the views of the opposite lying mountain range were stunning. We had Mount Veronica straight ahead of us all morning and followed an ancient Inca aqueduct, which was used to transport water from the altiplano we had just left, to the workers in the granite quarry below, close to which was our last campsite. Some rocks in the quarry are called “dead rocks” by the locals: pillars at least 6 metres in length, meant to be used at the Sun Temple in Ollantaytambo, but never made it to the bottom of the valley. The cook had another culinary delight in store for our last night: a traditional Inca barbecue.
From the campsite I enjoyed the sunrise over the Sacred Valley on our last day, coffee was brought to me in my tent as usual – that’s what I call room service! The hike down to Ollantaytambo only took about 3 hours and we had plenty of time to explore this quaint little Inca Town. All in all, it was an incredibly peaceful four days. So remote and far away from the crowds, yet the little ruins and the aqueduct always reminded me I was walking in the footsteps of the Incas.
Suzanne trekked on Exodus’ Moonstone trek