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Mike's Pilot Log: South to South Adventure

We lay on the grass and dreamed of flying...

We were awake early and after a really sh*#ty breakfast, caught a taxi to the station in Cusco. The taxis are always cheap. The train ride was entertaining and interesting. The first thing, which we were not used to, was the crush and rush for the train, which is typical of some South American countries. We held our bags tightly in front of us so that the local pickpockets and bag-slashers would find us a difficult target. In a crowd it's easy for them to slash the bottom of your bag open and to remove the contents.

After the train had been going for about 10 minutes it stopped and started to reverse. After about 5 minutes it stopped again and went forward hooting all the time. It did this about 5 times. We managed to work out is that it was zigzagging up the very steep hill above the town. From the top of the hill we looked down on the beautiful tiled roof town of Cusco with the large churches around the square, Plaza de Armas.

At the first stop some kids of about 10 years of age jumped onto the train, ran into our coach and immediately started playing on local Peruvian musical flutes. Entertaining and very good, but of course they asked for money afterwards. We gave them some coins - better than stealing!

The train ride was 4 hours. We slept and read and chatted and watched the amazing countryside slide past. Rural Peru is as I always imagined it to be with the woman in traditional dress and everyone toiling away with cattle in the fields. Most people are very poor. The Snow capped Andes towered above us most of the way.

At Puerto Ruinas we caught a bus to the top of the mountain where the magical Macchu Picchu ruins are. The bus ride up the steep mountainside was awe-inspiring. I realised why everyone who had told me about this place said that it was magical – the Incas built this village with pathways, terraces, special temples, stores rooms, workshops, a royal palace and a jail on top of a mountain with very steep cliffs all round. It was the most sacred of places for the Inca Empire. I didn't find out how high the ruins are above the valley below but I would guess it to be about 3,000 ft high. 

After getting off the bus we walked for 5 minutes until we were in the ruins. A little valley with the ruins and green grass stretched out in front of us and on the far side was a near vertical huge rocky outcrop that disappeared into the cloud. All around the mountain dropped vertically for thousands of feet. On the other side of the valleys/ravines were huge vertical cliffs with the tops of all the mountains in the clouds.

I sat down for a while trying to take in and comprehend the ruins and unbelievable scenery that lay all around me. In a place like this you truly feel close the heavens. I have never seen or experienced a place quite like this.

For 3 hours we walked around the ruins enjoying this incredible place. For a while the sun came out and the whole place seemed to glow. It also rained a little. All day the clouds swirled around the peaks and sometimes descended down to the ruins.

The one thing that fascinated us most about the buildings was the amazing stonework. In the royal palace and the temples, huge granite blocks that the walls were made of were so finely carved and dressed that it is not possible to fit a matchstick between the blocks …. Anywhere. Some of the blocks weigh up to 100 tons and were carried from up to 20km away.

At one time Olivier and I looked for a place to land and take off. We paced out 120 m of clear space. We lay on the grass and dreamed of flying there and spending the night secretly in the ruins. The moon is full at the moment and it probably affected our minds because we both know it would be far too dangerous to fly in the mountains that towered so high above us.

The ruins were discovered in 1911 by an archaeological expedition funded in part by the National Geographic Society. They had remained hidden for more than 300 years after the Incas abandoned the mountaintop sacred village in the 15th Century.  The most likely reason why they abandoned such an incredible place seems to be that they suffered from flu and similar virus deaths because the Incas had no resistance to the viruses that the Spanish brought with them from Europe. There is also evidence of fires. The Incas left no written records.

For a few coins a young boy of about 12 raced the bus all the way down the mountain to the market below. He had the whole bus cheering and clapping for him as he screamed at us as we raced past him on the flat sections.

We arrived back in Cusco at 8:30 pm, headed straight for the Internet café, had a bite to eat and then popped into one of the local discos. "Mama Africa" was crowded with Israelis. So apparently was the other place. (Forgot the name!)

The Israeli men must do 3 years and the women must do 2 years in the military as soon as they are finished school. After military service most Israelis travel either to South America or to the Far East. Cusco is a favourite stop for them – and for good reason. It's cheap, there is a lot to see and do, lots of cultural and historical sites and museums, and lots (like probably 120) of other Israelis to party with. And do they party! Also, by the look of things there is also a lot of Israeli bonking going on in Cusco!

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