It was close to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), the sun was relentless without any shade, the boulder and loose rock path descended at an extremely steep pitch to our first camp and the weight of our backpacks with tent, pads, sleeping bags and everything we would need for five days was just too much for our knees and hips to absorb. Why were we doing this?
Because, Choquequirau, a breathtaking Inca ruin larger than Machu Picchu with about 30 visitors a day rather than 4,000 to 5,000 at Machu Picchu was precariously perched on a mountainside 21 km ahead of us and we knew we needed to see it. Suckers for remote and little known destinations, the lure of Choquequirau was too much to resist. Most people (20 to 40 years our junior) who attempted the trek hired mules and arrieros (mule drivers) to carry their heavy gear and carried light weight day packs with only water and other essentials for the day. Some trekkers also hired guides and cooks. Unable to hire a mule with late notice we ventured on our own but when we reached camp one we knew we were in trouble. Thankfully, a guide on his way out with his two French clients took pity on us -two viejos (old people) without support and arranged for transport of our heavy gear to camp two.
Although the round trip distance of the trek was only about 45k (28 miles), the difficulty was due to the intense heat and the nearly straight down descents and straight up ascents. Between the two of us, we’ve done a fair amount of trekking, but this one took it out of us! We learned it was time to face the music- at this point in our lives we needed a support team to share the weight and the work on multi day treks. The group of women on a fully supported trek dined on soup and trout in an equipped dining tent with tables and stools pitched next to us. We, on the other hand dined on spaghetti and tomato sauce in the dirt floored kitchen of an Andean woman who worked at the camp. Her self-sustaining stock of cuy (Guinea pigs) flocked around our feet as we gratefully chowed down our carbs while watching her pluck the fur from a yet to be gutted cuy. Authentic it was!
And Choquequirau did not disappoint. Spectacular, remote and about 30% cleared and restored, the ruins of Choquequirau are often described as a mini-Machu Picchu. The breathtaking site is located at the confluence of three rivers and has been positioned as ‘the next big thing’ for the last few years. There has even been talk about the construction of a cable car which could transport a few thousand people daily to the site eliminating the need for the grueling trek to glimpse sight of it. Locals were skeptical that a cable car would ever materialize especially since a new bridge to traverse the river took six years to complete. I for one am quite delighted that we were able to experience this magnificent ruin without lines, inflated prices, entrance controls and throngs of people. We happily sat on the terraces where the Inca planted their crops overlooking the mountains, eating our can of tuna in solitude.