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Cusco was the physical, political, and spiritual center of the Inka universe. Every aspect of the city reflected its cosmic significance. The Quechua word “Qosqo”, comes from an indigenous word meaning “navel of the world” or “center of the universe”. The historic city, with its mind-boggling Inca engineering, sits 3400m above sea level, about 30km North of the Rio Apurimac, and in a direct line only 224km from Mismi – the mountain from which springs the Amazon River. The Apurimac river makes a significant up-river curve through the mountains and the Colca Canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon) before the source stream Carhuasanta joins it at Nevado Mismi. Also near Cuzco – just 80km to the northwest – lies the incredible Machu Picchu. I’m hardly your archetypal tourist, but how could I possibly pass through this area without visiting the legendary city – and many thanks to a friend in the UK who kindly offered to lend me the money to do so.
The Quechua people, like the indigenous people of the Amazon basin, the native North American Indians and the Nepalese people of the Himalayas who live or once lived amongst the mountains, all seem to have a special spiritual connection to the natural world and the mountains, and every hill and mountain has its name. I had the pleasure of being accompanied up to the top of Macchu Picchu mountain by Quechua spiritual guide Kucho (I was later shocked to see – just days after my visit – that heavy rain and floods and a huge mud & rock landslide had hit the small town of Aguas Calientes, where tourists base themselves before visiting Machu Picchu. Many people had to be airlifted out, and as I write, the whole area is still cut off, as repairs are carried out on the rail track and infrastructure including hotels and other buildings).
🎥 Kucho sings (with cheeks full of Coca leaves) to the mountain gods (Apu) 570m above the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.
Read the story of how this ancient Inca city was brought to the world’s attention by Hiram Bingham here.
Achoo 🤧 Picchu
Apart from having wanted to visit the world-famous archeological site for as long as I can remember, the main reason for my diversion to Cusco was to organise logistics for the next challenging leg. I budgeted a week for this, but another unforeseen delay got in the way, and I contracted what I suspect was Covid. Despite being double-vaccinated, and taking great pains with hygiene and contact, I’m currently writing this from the cheapest room I could find in central Cusco with a gas stove, lying on my back after 14 horrendous days and nights of fever, coughing to the point of collapsing, and self-isolating, battling all the symptoms that point to Omicron or severe flu. The storm is now passing, however, and I just need a dentist, a booster vaccine and test certificate before I get back on the trail. I was half-way through root canal treatment when I fell ill, and all thoughts of dental pain were chased from my head by the illness. Now, of course, I need to get the teeth done! I’ve no idea how I might have contracted the illness, but I suspect the very first dentist I visited for a quote. Also, my bodyweight was less than 60 Kg when I arrived in Cusco, down from my ideal weight of 70Kg – so I think my body was weak and consequently my immune system below strength. I should point out that in general it is very safe indeed for tourists here, and strict regulations are still in place – I think I was just unlucky.
As a result of the unexpected popularity of the recent UK Times online news article about my mission by Stephen Gibbs, my funds received a desperately-needed boost, and I would like to say again a big thank you to everyone who took time to kindly donate to keep the expedition going. I am truly humbled – not to say blown away – by all the interest and generosity. I have tried to reply personally to everyone who made a donation, and have added names to my partners page . Please let me know if I’ve forgotten to add anyone.
Now, as I leave the forested mountains, the last remnants of rainforest are behind me and I head further south into a less green yet stunning landscape towards the source mountain of the mightiest river on this earth. I am in reflective mood. Looking back at the Amazon basin and rainforest I have crossed, I have seen with my own eyes its intricate web of life: the billions of trees, nature’s solar panels, reaching for the sky, absorbing sunlight and carbon, replenishing our troposphere with oxygen; giving back water by transpiration and evaporation, creating the clouds, the rain and the spectacular tropical thunderstorms that irrigate the land, the plants and the vast intricate network of life-giving rivers, not just in the Amazon but in other parts of the globe. (Read the Yale School of the Environment’s interesting article on this). I have been privileged to meet many of the indigenous and mixed-race peoples who live there, and I remember all the many people who have helped me along the way. I’ve passed through many of the busy towns and cities along the Amazon’s course, and walked ancient trails between remote villages, swum across hundreds of rivers, seen the amazing diversity of animal species, and billions of insects(!) in the deepest parts of the jungles of Brazil And Peru. It has insinuated itself into my mind and body, and I will be forever grateful for the experience.
Web of life.
The complex, interconnected web many of us think of as “the lungs of our planet” is a vital part of our fantastic earth machine, working freely for us around the clock non-stop, to keep the planet and ourselves healthy, and we continue to dismantle it at our peril. We are pushing many species to the brink of extinction every day. It feels like we are playing a bizarre game of Jenga, and if we keep on removing parts and undermining our intertwined natural support systems, the collapse may be inevitable, according to many scientific reports.
Is it so surprising that native North American Indians, with their vast knowledge and experience, already foresaw this happening over 150 years ago? This message extracted from a long speech attributed to Chief Seattle in Washington USA over 150 years ago, surely should have been heeded a long time ago.
“The Earth does not belong to man; Man belongs to the Earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.– Chief Seattle
Escape into the jungle
If you have time, and are in need of an escape, I can highly recommend putting on earphones and watching this excellent video Amazon Rainforest (below). Not many videos I’ve found on YouTube are quite as effective at taking me back to forest when I watch it. There is no narration – just mesmerizing 4K scenes of the real Amazon rainforest By Scenic Scenes.
Source YouTube ©️Scenic Scenes.
📸 Photos 📸
“The ruins of Machu Picchu are perched on top of a steep ridge in the most inaccessible corner of the most inaccessible section of the central Andes. No part of the highlands of Peru has been better defended by natural bulwarks—a stupendous canyon whose rim is more than a mile above the river, whose rock is granite, and whose precipices are frequently a thousand feet sheer” ~Hiram Bingham
“I come into the presence of <mountains> and I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free” ~ Wendell Berry
📸Near Chonta, district of Cusco Peru.
(With all due deference, I substituted “mountains” for “still waters” in the original quote).
Spiritual guide Kucho makes an offering to Pachamama and sings in Quechua to the mountain gods (Apu) 📸©️Casey2022
Quechua farmers carrying food back from their chacra high up to their village. Near Chonta village Peru. 📸©️Casey2022
The Inka stonework. Having worked in the construction industry, I find this engineering mesmerizing. Read here. 📸©️Casey2022
Street in central Cusco, the Inca stonework still on display.
Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, now one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
Llamas live and graze at Macchu Picchu. Image 📸©️Casey2022
Near to the ancient stone walls of Hatunrumiyoc Palace in central Cusco, Quechua women currently struggling to earn a living from the few visiting tourists.
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Support the expedition
Despite the the recent generous donations, I still don’t have enough to complete this. If anyone would like to help with a donation to my Paypal account to keep things going, it would be greatly appreciated. Please use the Paypal link below, which will take you to my support page. Any donation above £25 or $30 will eventually receive a special calendar with images from this trek signed sealed and delivered. Any technical problems donating, or if you prefer to help via a bank BACS payment, details are now on the support page also, Thank you!
This months Garmin Inreach sponsor is Henry Leighton.
Carahuasi to LimaTambo then climb up to Chonta village where I stopped.
Climb to Chonta village