09.04.2010 - 12.04.2010 23 °C
Day one of the Inca Trail started at 5.20am with a city tour – care of picking up everyone else after us. By the time we got out of the city we had been on the bus for just over an hour. 2 hours later we stopped for breakfast at Ollantaytambo which was a simple buffet run by some of the porter’s families (porters will be known from here on in as Chaskies – fleet foot runners, in Quechan (the local dialect), who were the messengers of the Incan Empire) . After breakfast we were amazed at how much people purchased from the small shop, such as snacks, water, torches and other items we thought perhaps people would have prepared with prior. Obviously not.
We arrived at km82, Piscacucho, at about 10am and walked to the entrance of the park and the start of the Inca Trail. We had to show our passports and sign in which all took time so we were probably walking by about 11am. We had arranged to have 1/3 of a Chaskie each. Which meant we could give them 6kg including our sleeping bag and sleeping mat, which we had hired. So we had just our day bags with a few extra clothes and snacks. Other people had their entire backpacks, 12- 18 kg. They had decided not to hire a Chaskie and had not really given much thought to the difficulty of the walk, as it appeared.
Day one was brain-numbing. Nice scenery, but we did not walk for much more than 25 minutes continuously and the guide kept the pace at the front, stopping for informative chats along the way. A couple of people struggled to keep up, and the assistant guide found himself following them 10- 20 minutes behind the group.
Oh yeah, forgot to mention we stopped for lunch as well. Let me explain. The Chaskies each carry 18kg (the weight is supposedly regulated, but as our guide said “this is Peru”, so not too regulated), there were 16 people in our group and 21 Chaskies and the chef, plus two tour guides.
We arrived at our lunch spot to an erected cooking tent and dining tent, with tables and stools, tablecloths, metal cutlery etc, we thought we would be eating out a plastic bowl on our laps! Lunch was soup, main and dessert, far too much, especially as we felt like we hadn’t really walked very far! But it decreased the need for snacks, significantly. It is fair to say that we had three huge meals a day, plus afternoon tea. They carried everything, gas, cooker, rice, popcorn, chicken etc etc. Amazing.
Arrival at the camping site, Huayllabamba, on day one was at 5.30pm. The last bit was about 20 minutes of uphill, which finished off a few people, and we found it quite amusing because they all complained about the weight of their bags! We had a great view from our already-set-up campsite on the side of the valley – tents set up, dining tent up and welcome drink ready. It was five star camping. This was all possible because the Chaskies, in their sandals, would literally run ahead with the gear and get there so much before us that everything was set up. In the past (and still with some unscrupulous tour operators) Chaskies carry between 40 and 50kg. Wait for the rest for the explanation of the walk to be impressed.
So day one ended with us consuming 10 times more calories than we had burnt. We were advised that Day two was going to be 5 hours of straight up, 1200m in altitude, followed by 1.5 hours of down (500m). The group was so shocked at the difficulty of day one (?? losers) that everyone but the Irish boys paid the local inflated rate to have a Chaskie carry their bag up the hill. So now we had the heaviest bags, compared to the lightest the day before – but that was fine, we were tough!
Day 2, we were woken at 5.20am with a cup of tea in our tent and then made our way to the dining tent for breaky, which was huge… fruit, pancakes, local porridge-stuff, bread and hot drinks.
This day, we were allowed to set off at our own pace, so we led the way with another couple and shocked the Chaskies at the morning ‘movie’ break half way up the hill with a very early arrival only 1 hour after we left. 1.5 hours later the back markers arrived. Yes, that is 2.5 hours to our 1!! To think, before we set off for the Inca Trail we were a little concerned with our fitness level. It had been a continuous uphill walk, but we did it is sections, 10 minutes walking and 3 minutes break, which worked well. The movie break was popcorn and cheese rolls, the guide had promised us movies (and yes, the Americans believed him and looked a little disappointed when he pointed out that the view was the movie!)… he just didn’t know the name for ‘morning tea’, so called it ‘movie break’!
After the ‘movie’, the next section got tougher… stairs, slopes etc. But we stuck to our 10 minutes walking and 3 minutes resting, although towards the end we did reduce it to 5 minutes walking and 1.5 minutes break! We powered on for another hour and reached the peak, Dead Woman’s Pass (the hill in the pass looks like a woman’s face in profile – kind of), the view was fabulous. The cloud was rolling in and about 10 minutes after we go there (and about 20 minutes before anyone else from our group made it) the whole valley had clouded in… ha ha ha!
At the top we waited for the rest of the group (minus the slow American couple, who were again about 1.5 hours behind). We had been told to carry a small rock up the hill to place on top of the hill, we presumed like a cairn, but our guide had other intentions. It is customary to place 3 coca leaves under your rock as a gift for Pachamama (mother earth), then we produced a bottle of rum from his bag, and we were all poured a huge shot of it, which we had to pour some on top of our coca leaves (for Pachamama) and then drink the rest, Pachamama got quite a good drink from both of us. Yukky rum.
The Americans turned up just as we all set off for the downhill walk to the campsite (this time she complained about being dizzy, yesterday it was the altitude… still no mention of just being totally unfit and unable to carry a backpack!). The downhill section was picturesque, if a little sore on the legs and ankles, but we made it down to yet another set up campsite and welcoming drink. This campsite had showers (cold), so we both jumped in before the rest of the group arrived. We had lunch at this campsite, then had some free time, then had afternoon tea and 1.5 hours later dinner. Hard work this trekking!
That evening we were told the next day would be a bit of uphill and then 3000 steps downhill – aagh, the dreaded Inca steps. We were also told a bit of a ghost story about spirits of the terrorists that Peru has had trouble with in the past, pulling people from their tents, which terrified a couple of the girls (and Seth).
We survived the night, and didn’t get pulled from our tents, although there were a few strange noises during the mid-night toilet venture! Again, we were woken early with a cup of tea, followed by another scrumptious breakfast, with a different local Quinua porridge.
Day 3 and we set off up the hill, with people complaining about having to carry their bags again! (The American couple paid some of the Chaskies to carry their bags again, and set of nearly an hour earlier than us). We were allowed to walk at our own pace again, so we quickly caught up with the Americans, much to their disappointment!
The view from the top of the pass was another great one, we climbed even higher on a little hill to the side and got 360 degree views of the valley and clouds below, there was even a small lake, which was in the shape of Australia (sort of).
After collecting the whole group again we headed onto some Incan ruins, of which our guide gave us a good explanation and also of the culture and ways of the Incans. The ruins were in very good nick and again the construction, amazing.
There were quite a few little Incan ruins around and these were placed all along the Inca Trail as they were messenger posts for the original Chaskies, they would run messages and letters by foot, swapping at these points, every 5/6km or so. Some of the ruins were villages and had houses with bed areas for each family, there were also intricate locks and window-hanging holes made into the rock.
As the cloud closed in, we walked onto our lunch stop and through quite a sub-tropical area, which was very green and lush, there weren’t too many flowers around, but it was nice to have a change of environment. Lunch was another large affair, before we headed off on a path up and down through the tropical greenery. It was nice to walk leisurely , rather than the solid uphill or downhill of the previous day. The views would have been quite spectacular off the side of the path, but we were walking through and above the cloud, so it wasn’t much to look at. After an hour or so we met the rest of the group at another pass, before heading down through more Incan ruins and then the start of the steps!
We knew there were 3000 steps to go down and started counting them, but only got to 108 before we decided that it was too hard to tell if a step was a step, or just a collection of rocks, anyway, there were a lot. Some of them were quite slippery and we were very glad it wasn’t raining and it would have been a very slow, downhill wander. (‘Scared of the slipperiness’ – was the American’s excuse on Day 3). The steps went on and on for a couple of hours, which was quite a strain on the knees, but we didn’t rush too much and had an enjoyable walk, as the Chaskies rushed past us, flying down the steps as fast as their little legs took them, not even pausing to see where they were planting their feet.
About ¾ of the way down we took a detour to visit a very impressive Incan terrace (Intipata), it was huge. We were going to walk up to the top, but decided that we really didn’t need another set of steps to walk down.
Our last night camping was a relatively flash set-up (Winay Wayna) with a bar and hot showers, which we all enjoyed, but not too much as our wake-up call for the final day was to be at 3.50am. This campsite was huge, with 27 different camping areas (we got lost when we arrived from the opposite entrance, after visiting the terraces), but were still the 2nd couple to arrive – it did seem a little like the Amazing Race each day, seeing who had made it to camp!
Dinner was a fun meal, with a huge cream cake for desert, singing by the Chaskies and of course... the tip-giving, which was very well spelt-out on the itinerary!
For our final day, we had no tea at wake-up, but still got pancakes etc for breakfast at 4am! The plan was to head to the checkpoint at the edge of the campsite and wait for it to open. You weren’t allowed onto the last part of the trail until after sunrise at 5.30am, but we were in the queue at 4.30am, much to the grumbling of most of our group. But the early morning paid off – we were the second group through.
The guide made us follow him again this morning, but he set off at quite a pace that the back markers soon dropped off. We had about 1 hour walk to the Sun Gate, but it was quite an easy walk. About 10 minutes before we got to the Gate our tour guide stopped, as there was a part that had fallen last year and a guide-friend of his had died, we went on while he paid his respects. Just after we left the guide we had to climb about 20 metres of near vertical steps, which we did on all-fours, and we were quite excited about getting there so we all climbed really fast and were then knackered at the top, it was very amusing!
We finally made it to the Sun Gate, just as the sun was rising, so it was still early-morning-hazy. (The sun only rises perfectly through the Sun Gate at the December Solstice). The clouds were swirling around above and below, showing Machu Picchu as the proper ‘City in the Clouds’, during the 20 minutes we were at the Sun Gate, the clouds started to rise and pretty soon the whole place was covered in clouds, at that point we were all glad we had got up so early to see the sights. We took a million photos, wearing our bright yellow tour t-shirts, of course, before heading down a little further where you can actually get a better view.
It was about a 20 minute walk down from the Sun Gate into the city and the path was blocked several times by llamas, which we carefully walked around (behind, not in front, so that we didn’t get spat on). By time we arrived in Machu Picchu the cloud had lifted completely and we were able to get the picture-postcard photos (whilst waiting for the Americans, for the last time!).
The place gradually filled up with tourists (can’t imagine how busy it must be when the trains are fully running at capacity!) and we got lots of comments about doing the Inca Trail (thanks to the t-shirts), most people were very impressed that we had walked for 4 days, rather than a leisurely train ride!
At the site you can walk up another hill, Wayna Picchu, but only 400 people a day are allowed to, as seeing as the gates open at 6am (before the Inca Trailers get there) the tickets are usually all gone, but with less people there and us being early we managed to grab some tickets (although the prospect of walking up another hill was a little daunting). About half our tour group got tickets (the Americans didn’t bother!).
After everyone hitting the kiosk for some very-missed treats, our guide gave us a 2 hour tour of Machu Picchu, it is so large that the tour could have been a full day really. The site is huge and is divided into farming terraces, temples, housing and squares. There is a definite ‘city’ section where there are houses, with bed areas and bathrooms. The temples are constructed around the special Incan numbers of 1,2,3,5 and 12. With many temples having 3 or 5 windows. There were also a lot of corners with 3 steps (part of the Incan cross) - depicting the 3 worlds, basically the sky, the earth and underground.
A lot of the area wasn’t cordoned off, which makes you wonder how long this place will last with so many tourists, as an example, as our guide was explaining the significance of a rock that works like a sundial, and is in the shape of the South Cross constellation, this guy sticks his foot on the rock and starts tying his shoelaces, with no idea what he was stepping on.
Before heading up the Wayna Picchu hill we went up to one of the main temples to get some energy from the rock there… You are supposed to meditate near it - but we just touched it for a while! We set off on our last little uphill trek, not really sure what it entailed. The walk started off fine, up hill - but we coped. After about 30 minutes of walking we got to the top section which involved some very precariously-placed large rocks. People were just sitting on the edge of them with their feet dangling off the edge.
At this point Sarah realized this was a stupid idea and that she really shouldn’t be there, but the path continued up to the top, in order to get back down again. The last part involved a step-ladder to the summit. Not good. At the top we paused for a very quick photo, before trying to work out how to get down. This involved walking across a sloping rock face and then heading down some steps with no edge. It was terrifying!
The steps down were ridiculous. Most of it was done on bottoms.
Glad to be back on solid ground, we had a walk through the urban-side of Machu Picchu, before heading down the winding road to Aguas Calientes for a farewell lunch and then onto the train. The train was still not running properly because there was no track across one section! So we caught the train to km82, where we had started the trek and then onto a minibus back to Cuzco. We arrived pooped at 7pm, very glad of a good shower and a comfy bed!