As I climbed over a wooded headland, I used to be instantly engulfed by the overwhelming solitude of Lake Titicaca, its icy, intensely blue depths surrounded by glorious vistas rimmed by snow-crowned summits. The rarefied air was calm, the floor of the great lake mirror calm. The silence was profound. Lake Titicaca is sacred to many cultures, and was the cradle of Andean civilisation. In accordance with legend the first Incas Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo rose from Lake Titicaca’s mysterious depths to start their ministry to convey civilisation to a chaotic world.
The beautifully tranquil Island of the Solar is rife with Andean mythology and littered with Inca ruins. As I gazed over the Island of the Moon, over which a full moon had fittingly risen into a darkish sky smeared with stars, the lunar reflection rippled across the calm surface, becoming a member of the Islands of the Sun and Moon in a shimmering bridge of gentle. Occasional flashes of lightning danced over the distant peaks of the Bolivian Andes. Even realizing nothing about Lake Titicaca’s history and mythology, this was intensely shifting. With the Inca legends added in, the experience verged on the spiritual.
Our goal was to trace the rise and fall of the Inca empire via a journey from its Lake Titicaca birthplace, via the imperial heartland to its capital of Cuzco, and beyond through the Sacred Valley to the densely forested Cordillera Vilcabamba, the place the Incas made their closing stand towards the Spanish Conquistadores.
From the lake, we travelled north throughout the treeless, pale green Altiplano. The snow-capped Cordillera Real sparkled on our horizon. Small settlements and remote farmhouses were scattered throughout bleak rolling plains interspersed by low, remoted hills. Occasional campesinos labored diminutive fields, their small herds of llamas and alpacas grazing on thin pickings.
Beyond Sorata, we shadowed the Camino del Oro, the historic gold Stone mining route. Crossing a number of chilly mountain passes, we reached Mount Paititi, which many have searched in vain for a legendary Inca metropolis believed to lie hidden beneath impenetrable cloud forest swarming with bears, pumas and snakes with two heads!
Reaching Amarete, distinctive Inca terraces abruptly carpeted all seen mountainside from excessive peak to river. Mile upon unbroken mile of valley-filling terracing contoured beautifully all of the option to Curva. Peru currently dominates the publicity for Inca terracing, but this Bolivian valley absolutely boasts the most impressive terracing wherever. Even after 500 years, these fields still yield considerable maize, peas, potatoes and wheat for local communities.
Curva is the house of the Kallawayas, the historical healers and fortune-tellers of Bolivia’s Apolobamba mountains, who once handled Inca aristocracy. We climbed in direction of Akhamani, the Kallawayas most sacred peak, and hand-caught trout from a tiny stream for supper. We scrambled steeply over darkish rocks to a succession of excessive passes, where we placed white stones for good luck and power. Our requests have been answered almost immediately as condors soared magnificently over our heads.
The following dawn, we struggled out of iced up tents right into a bitterly chilly morning and the sight of Akhamani bathed in sensible sunshine in opposition to a cloudless blue sky and nearly full moon.
From the 5,100m Sunchulli Cross, the snow-covered Apolobamba peaks stretched into the distance to our left. To our proper, the Sunchulli glacier towered above the calm turquoise Laguna Verde, past which scowled a darkish, brooding ridge protected at its base by impossibly steep scree.
Drained and damp, we staggered into the misty stone town of Pelechuco on festival day, which locals have fun with bullfights in the main square. We paused briefly to look at the alcohol-fuelled festivities earlier than persevering with northwards. Reaching the summit of the Katantika Move rewarded us with a few of the finest scenery in the Andes: glaciers and crevasses glinting within the solar plunged in the direction of the valley far below, rimming a tranquil, trout-crammed lake bordered by Inca paving. And one other condor perched not far above my head. Past the go, the landscape mellowed markedly from jagged, icy summits to limitless rolling pampas, and finally Peru.
For several days, we crossed but more Altiplano, and met a number of hardy campesinos who extract an austere existence from the cruel, unforgiving terrain. Desolation reworked to magnificence as we reached Cuzco, the historic Inca capital and “navel of the Inca world Infinite church steeples, bell towers, palaces and different sacred buildings preserve Cuzco’s superior beauty despite assaults by the Spanish and natives in the course of the Conquest, and large earthquake harm.
From Cuzco, we entered the Sacred Valley and followed the Urubamba River in direction of Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. These most spectacular of Inca websites were all royal estates of Pachacuti, the great warrior emperor who started the Inca growth in round 1440. In Ollantaytambo, the last surviving Inca settlement, people nonetheless dwell in original Inca houses and water nonetheless flows alongside an unique Inca channel.
We climbed through clouds to Machu Picchu, the fabled “lost citadel that perches extremely atop a precipitous Andean peak at the edge of dense rainforest. By no means discovered by the Conquistadores, the abandonment of this religious, astronomical and architectural glory stays a mystery. We’d all seen it in footage many instances before, but nothing quite prepares you for seeing it in its jaw-dropping mountaintop magnificence.
Leaving the Urubamba valley, we plunged down 2km to the Apurimac River, and slogged up virtually as high on the opposite side to achieve the deserted, atmospheric ruins of Choquequirao. Not mentioned in any chronicles, the purpose of this twin-level city bordered by three monumental terraces is unknown.
We witnessed the nice winter solstice festival of Inti Raymi, enacted on the submit-Conquest Inca capital of Vitcos. Hacking our manner alongside a skinny, winding path by means of thick jungle, we finally reached Espiritu Pampa, the location of Vilcabamba the Old – closing stronghold of the Incas. Peeking from dense forest beneath a towering canopy of trees, the poignant ruins bear characteristic trapezoidal doorways and niches, but huge bushes these days overwhelm the crumbling stonework – much because the Conquistadores overwhelmed the Incas.
The Incas have been a shadow of their imperial greatness by the time they retreated right here. Close by, in 1572, the last Inca Tupac Amaru was captured by the Spanish, hauled off to Cuzco and executed, so ending the dazzling, however brief-lived, Inca empire.
Journey into remote, rugged and beautiful wilderness and hint the rise and fall of the glittering Inca empire. From the Incas legendary birthplace at Lake Titicaca, Inca Trails takes you across thrilling ranges of the Andes to the empire’s breathtaking pinnacle at Machu Picchu, and past to the Incas remaining stand within the dense Vilcabamba forests.
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