Completely exhausting but 100% worth it!
Well what a 4 days! After a 4.30am start on the 2nd December, a 3 hour drive we arrived at our starting point at ´km 82´for our 4 days 3 night, 49 km, Inca Trek to Machu Picchu with tour company SAS. Armed with our day bags and walking poles we ventured off across the river and to our first of many hills to climb! We were a group of 9 trekkers, with 12 porters, 1 cook and our guide called Ruben. Our route to Machu Picchu is known as the Inca trek and would take us as high as 4200 meters, over 3 mountain passes and through 9 Inca ruins. There are however many access routes to Machu Picchu- ´the lost city´- and connecting Machu Picchu with all the different Inca settlements across Peru, Bolivia and Chile, creating a network of trails which the Inca´s used as communication channels with many messengers running along them to bring news and information between settlements. The trails are laid with granite stone and follow the contours of the mountains, using stone steps up and down, tunnels and bridges. The Inca towns are all made of granite, quarried from the mountains, and are all in the Highlands- closer to their gods, the highest Mountains. In Inca mythology there are 3 worlds- the upper world (represented by the Condor), the present world (represented by the Puma) and the inner world (represented by the snake)…this was inherent in the temples within the Inca places where things came in the series of 3. Also the sun was important in Inca times with settlements angling to the East. All this history was brilliantly explained to us all over the trek by our guide Ruben and listening to Ruben also represented a welcome break from the trekking!
So Day 1:
- Km trekked- 14km
- Hours of trekking- 6 hours, starting at 9.30am and finishing at 5.30pm
- Altitude at start- 2650 meters
- Altitude at end- 3300 meters
- Highest point reached- 3300 meters
- % of the trail which is the original Inca stone- 30%
- Key sights seen- First Inca Place seen was called Canabamba, second Llacdarada and third Vvilcaracau
The first ascent was hard and I couldn´t get my breathing right at all. But after a few coca candies I was on my way and soon got into a stride for the remaining of the day where the trail took us up and down gradually getting higher each time. Ooh a bit about Coca- Coca grows naturally in Peru and is a natural stimulant that speeds up your heart rate so enough blood goes to your brain to combat altitude sickness which is when the brain lacks blood and causes you headaches. If you process enough of it (50 kilos) and add a load of chemicals you can also make cocaine!. We got to the lunch stop at 1pm and felt awkwardly like royalty with individual bowls and towels laid out for us to wash our hands and faces! However when the chef Mario came out with a chefs hat on we soon realised this was the standard they were going to deliver for the entire trek. And the porter team never disappointed and always went above and beyond what you expected. Along this part of the trek there were homes dotted randomly along it- only accessible by walking the trek. The families are farmers so are pretty self-sufficient and make their living from their front yard which they turn into campsites for us trekkers as well as selling chocolate and drinks. The funniest/scariest moment of day 1 was almost being taken out by 3 charging lama´s who came tumbling around the corner….I propelled myself into a bush!
- Km trekked- 18km
- Hours of trekking- 8 hours, starting at 6.45am and finishing at 5.15pm
- Altitude at start- 3300 meters
- Altitude at end- 3600 meters
- Highest point reached- 4215 meters (Dead Woman´s Pass)
- % of the trail which is the original Inca stone- 30% before Dead Woman´s Pass and 80% after
- Key sights seen- Dead Woman´s Pass, Inca place called Rumkuracau, Rumjuracau Pass (3900 meters) and another Inca Place called Sauacmarca
Tough tough day! Early wake up with a cup of Coca tea at 5.30am and off trekking by 6.45am up to Dead Woman´s Pass. The trek for the morning was all up hill, with the stone trail mixed with a lot of steep stone steps. After 4 hours of solid trekking, we got to the top at 10.15am knackered! The pass is called Dead Woman´s Pass as the shape of the Mountain looks like a dead woman´s face and torso with the boob creating the peak! This story was told with much amusement by our guide Ruben! Then it was 1 1/2 hours down the other side to the lunch stop, down very steep and deep stone steps…tough on the knees I can tell you. After yet another impressive lunch it was up and over the second pass Rumjuracau. This wasn´t as bad as Dead Woman´s and there was much more to see along the route which broke up the trekking. Plus the 2 hour down hill had great views of the valley and was in the shade so was actually really pleasant. When we (fell) into camp at 5.15pm our calves and thighs were screaming but we were happy that it was ´easy´ from now on. The most shocking fact learnt on the second day was about a race that is organised every couple of years along the Inca Trail, from km82 to Machu Picchu. There are 2 categories Porter and Athletic Tourist. The current record for the athletic tourist is 3.05 hours! 3.05 HOURS! Held by 2 crazy american women, must have been hill runners. I actually don´t know how they did it that quick. The up hills are killers and the downhill sections are so steep you´d risk going arse over tit every few steps. But fair play, what we´re doing in 3 days walking, they did in just over 3 hours! Crazy!
- Km trekked- 10km
- Hours of trekking- 4 hours, starting at 7.45am and finishing at 1.30pm
- Altitude at start- 3600 meters
- Altitude at end- 2650 meters
- Highest point reached- 3740 meters (Puyipattmarca Pass)
- % of the trail which is the original Inca stone- 70-80%
- Key sights seen- Intipata Inca Place, Wianayhuayna Inca Place
So the massive Day 2 meant that day 3 was effectively a 1/2 day, starting late at 7.45am and ending at lunch at 1.30pm. The trek was much easier than day 2 too, but my calves felt like rocks so that hampered progress until they loosened up a bit. It was 1 1/2 hour trek up to the 3rd and final pass and then downhill for 3 hours, broken up with seeing Inca Places and going through original Inca tunnels which were really cool. Downhill was all stone steps and after the overnight rain still were quite slippy. I only fell on my bottom once though which was good going for accident prone me! So Ruben tells me, there are 127 micro climates in the world and 87 of them are present in Peru- pretty big number. And in this day the micro climate was high jungle. I got to see lots of really pretty and colourful butterflies which flew up at you as you walked past. Also lots of orchids grow out of the rock edges of the paths in extremely vivid colours. It was quite a delight. So we got to our final camp of the trek at 1.30pm for lunch and then had a big siesta afterwards (although this soon turned into a trumping competition between Adrian and the guys tent (Devin and Tim)…Adrian won by far!) Hedd braved the ice-cold showers whereas us girls wimped out and settled once again for our baby wipe bath! In the afternoon we checked out the Inca place right next to our camp called Wianauhuayna, which had super steep and lots of Inca terraces going down the mountain which was quite impressive to see. Then it was bed early in prep for our super early wake up call the next day for the final trek to Machu Picchu.
- Km trekked- 7km
- Hours of trekking- 3 hours, starting at 4.30am and finishing at 9.30am at Machu Picchu city
- Altitude at start- 2650 meters
- Altitude at end- 2400 meters
- Highest point reached- 2720 meters (Huayna Picchu)
- % of Machu Pichu city which is original- 60%
- Key sights seen- In Machu Pîcchu city= Farming area, urban area, religious area (3 windows temple, temple of mother earth, temple of the sun, principal temple), the Principle square with the Intivvatana stone which is carved in a way that the shadows when the sun hits the stone show the timings of the summer and winter solstice). And of course the terraces and temples on top of Huayna Picchu.
So very very early start on day 4 with the wake up call at 3.40am and setting off at 4.30am to the check point. We walked 10 minutes and then hit the que for the check point which opened at 5.30am. The people at the front of the que had got up at 2.30am apparently- crazy! The waiting was pain staking but we saw the sun come up and there were 2 english women doing a finger puppet show of jack in the beanstalk, which was completely random but quite humourous at that time of the morning with little sleep! Once the gate was opened the que went through quite fast and we were off on the 2 hour walk to the Gate of the Sun. It was an okay walk, gentle (ish) up and down until the last bit which was 52 incredible steep steps which you basically scrabbled up. We got to the sun gate at 7.30am and it was still pretty cloudy over the city at this time. But the wind blew the cloud to and from the city so we got to see a good view with it being quite mysterious at the same time. We stayed there admiring the view for about 40 minutes and then took the last hour walk down to the city. So the city is between 2 mountains- Machu Picchu mountain (where the sun gate is) and Huayna Picchu mountain and was the principal city of the Incas. It is large with different areas and farming terraces to the front of the city going down the mountain side. All the buildings and paths and walls are made from granite. The ruins were discovered by Hiron Bingham in 1911 and have since been restored. But 60 % of Machu Picchu city is still original. The city is so well-preserved as it was abandoned when the Spanish first conquered Peru so they never found it to destroy it like they did with all the their Inca places. When Bingham found it it was covered by hundreds of years of jungle vegetation. Must have been quite a discovery! After a pit stop at the loo´s (first sit down toilet in 3 days- hoorah!) Ruben took us on a tour of the city. He showed us the different areas of the city and the various temples and the intivvatana stone which acts like a sun-dial showing the seasons. He also showed us the principle square which used to have a obolysk in the middle of it. However in the 1990´s it was temporarily removed so the King and Queen of Spain could helicopter into Machu Picchu and when the workers went to put the stone back it broke! So that was final rubbish thing the Spanish did to the Inca´s 500 years after the first colonisation! We left the tour and the rest of the group 30 minutes early to catch our 10am slot to climb Huayna Picchu. When we were waiting in the que for the check point I was honestly thinking I must be absolutely nuts to climb this mountain after 3 days of trekking. My calves and thighs were so tight….I was pretty worried. But as soon as we started the trek the adrenaline kicked in and we absolutely stormed the ascent in just 40 minutes (meant to take 1 hour). The climb is crazy steep in places and you have to haul yourself up the stone steps using the rope on the side with a sheer drop on the other side! But we made it and the view from the top is amazing- truly spectacular and much better than the view from the sun gate. Plus its super fun at the top too. Plenty of ruins to explore, crazy steep steps which you have to shimmy down, plus a tunnel which you have to crawl on your front to get through. We spent a good half hour at the top of Huayna Picchu and it was actually the highlight of the trek for me. Well worth that extra bit of effort, even after 3 days of trekking. After a slightly precarious slide down the mountain (!) we strolled through the city again to the exit and had a well deserved (but ridiculously expensive) cup of coca cola. And then it was a short 30 minute bus journey down windy roads to Agua Callenatis, arriving for lunch at 1.30pm. I was straight in the shower and on the Pisco Sours for the rest of the afternoon and enjoyed a spot of shopping in the amazing market they have there. Although during this trip around the market I did get poo-ed on by a bird, much to the local stall holders amusement! I burst out laughing too (after being horrified!) and after a quick change back at the hostel I was out again having a pisco sour to recover from the ´trauma´(of course!)
So this morning we caught the 8.50am Peru Rail train to Ollantaytambo and then it was a 15 sole taxi collective back to Cusco. And after a couple of loads of laundry later, the sense of accomplishment that I made it to Machu Picchu by my own steam, walking, hasn´t died down. For me it is definitely the highlight of our trip around South America so far and will be quite hard to beat I think. But we´re still yet to arrive at some amazing places on our 5 1/2 month trip, so who knows Machu Picchu and the Inca Trek might still have competition for their current top spot. Can´t wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store…
Machu Picchu and The Inca Trek in a snapshot:
- Weather= Sunny by day, raining and storms at night (luckily when safely tucked up in our tent!)
- Food= Oh my goodness, a feast for breakfast, lunch and dinner…our chef Mario is a miracle worker to produce such food in a campsite in the middle of nowhere!
- Drink= Milo! (Hot chocolate with lots of vitamins in it- brought back fond memories of drinking copious amounts of it up Mt Kilimanjaro)
- One thing I will not miss= Long drop toilets
- One thing I will miss= Mario´s 3 course dinners
- One thing that is truly unforgettable= The sense of achievement felt and the view of Machu Picchu- the lost city- after reaching the top of Huayna Picchu
Hedd´s words of wisdom:
So, we´ve just got back from the Inca Trek, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu and it was amazing. Bloody hard at times, but amazing. I have been worried about this trek for the past few months ever since I hurt my back playing football and ended up with a prolapsed disk and the fact that i´ve been having a few problems with my left knee recently (I know, I´m getting old!!). So having completed the trek, I would like to thank the following for helping me through it:-
- My back support belt;
- My newly purchased knee support;
- Clare and Ger for pointing me in the direction of Diclofenac drugs to help with my Sciatica;
- Farmacies in South America for providing Diclofenac “no questions asked”;
- My rented trekking poles;
- The porters that carries the majority of my stuff;
- All our fellow trekkers for providing such good company and banter;
- and of course, not least, my wonderful Helen for being by my side throughout our adventure.
I read somewhere that people who suffer from back injuries fall into two categories, mopers and copers. Well I certainly coped and I suppose the point I´m trying to get to is that there are always ways to overcome setbacks and that if you really want to do something, you will find a way.