The Inca Trail!
From Rachael's perspective:
The day before the Inca trail we set off from our hotel in Cuzco and got onto the minibus with the rest of the group. That day we were just travelling through the Sacred Valley visiting Inca sites and arriving at a town near the beginning point of the Inca trail. We were quite apprehensive about who was going to be in our group as it would make all the difference but we were lucky and had an amazing group from lots of different countries, we were the only English people. The day was lovely the Sacred Valley was stunning, our little minibus wound its way around the side of mountains. We also visited a traditional community where the people still wore the same dress as they had for years and where they were spinning alpaca jumpers, gloves etc. We decided that it was necessary to buy a few items to support their community, so didn't have to feel too guilty about spending money!
The night before the Inca trail I think we were both feeling quite nervous, not that the rest of our group was! Everyone seemed very confident about it all.
Day one finally was upon us! I think Jo would highly disagree with me but I had one of my best days ever. The sun was shining and the scenery was so beautiful. Although it was a challenge it was really rewarding. I liked the fact that all the hard work was taken out of the trail for you. You only had to follow a path and didn't have to navigate yourself, porters carried the majority of our things so we only had to carry a small day pack, and the porters also cooked all our meals which were amazing and which we ate in a large tent with tables and chairs, and they put up our tents too. I was pleasantly surprised that the altitude wasn't really effecting me at all. I chewed coca leaves anyway as our guide said it was a really good idea, and without the ash they were fine. At our first campsite it dawned on me that I wouldn't be seeing a proper toilet, let alone a shower, for several days. The toilets were just holes in a little hut. At the first camp the toilet was located outside some farmer's house, and a
donkey was tied up right by the side of it. Every time you had to use the toilet the donkey would start making horrible noises which would alert the whole camp as to what you were doing.
Day 2 of the Inca trail was supposed to be the hardest day as it involved getting up and starting walking at 6.30am and climbing uphill for 5 hours going from 3000m above sea level to 4200m. It was definitely a challenge although I took it slowly so I didn't get too exhaused and when you reached the peak at Dead Woman's pass it was incredible. Some of our group managed to get to camp about 3 hours before us, apparently they ran all the way downhill in about half an hour, whilst I actually found going downhill the hardest part as it was so steep. If we hadn't had our walking sticks I don't think we would have made it! The views from where we were camped were amazing, of the valley and the mountains. That night after dinner the chefs presented the group with a huge sponge cake that they had made us and somehow transported up the mountains. As
we were higher and more exposed we were expecting to be much colder that night and were all prepared with our thermal tops, alpaca gear, gloves, hat etc but actually it wasn't too cold.
Day 3 of the Inca trail was tough for me. We started climbing very early again. That morning was a very steep climb and it started to rain as we were up in the clouds which didn't help matters. After lunch the real fun began as it was all downhill and very steep steps once again. I have quite weak ankles it turns out, and after hours of this my ankles were in so much pain I sat down on a rock and burst into tears! Luckily a member of my group lent me his walking stick so I now had 2 sticks to use as crutches, and a kind passerby lent me her ankle supports. I think Jo was despairing of life when after hours and hours or so it felt we still had not arrived at camp. She was so sweet and carried my rucksack the whole way to help me out. That evening we had been promised beer and a hot shower, but sadly neither materialised so it was another day without washing! The highlight of the day was probably when me and Jo braved the toilets and the whole group heard us screaming when we fell in the mud.
Saturday was the last day of the Inca trail and the day we arrived at Machu Picchu! That morning we were woken up just before 4, and started walking at 5.30am. It was still dark when we began walking so I had to borrow a headlight from a member of our group, as I had no free hands to hold a torch given that I needed 2 walking sticks to support my ankles. I was in quite a lot of pain at first but luckily the painkillers kicked in and the first hour or so was OK. However walking with 2 twisted ankles was exhausting and I wasn't at my best that morning! Sadly we arrived at Sun Gate where you can view Machu Picchu from a distance it was so cloudy that we couldn't see anything. I got quite grouchy in fact and when we actually arrived at Machu Picchu I think Jo can attest for the fact that I was thoroughly unimpressed (although that was only for a second as we weren't at the actual site but in between the site and the gift shop lol). In fact when we arrived at Macchu Piccu and we stepped out into it for the first time I was overwhelmed. I had seen so many pictures of the site, but to actually be there after days of trekking was indescribable. Our guide took us around the site which was much larger than I expected. There were more steps!!! After being shown around we took the time to explore ourselves and then sit and take in the views.
After the Inca trail getting back to civilisation felt amazing - proper toilets, hot showers, access to coffee and Coke, internet, and no more walking up or downhills, and no more carrying walking sticks! However, I really missed being away from it all and being outdoors in nature, and of course all the people in our lovely group, although we did hang out with most of them in Cuzco for a couple of days after. All in all it was definitely one of the best things I have ever done in my life I loved it!
The Inca Trail from Jo's perspective: I'm not going to lie, I was absolutely dreading the Inca Trail. I'm not the fittest of people in the world and so many people had told us how hard it was, especially on the second day when you climb uphill for 5 hours straight. I had that horrible feeling for the few days beforehand, like a constant sinking feeling in my stomach. We started off the trip with a night in a nice hotel, and I was very tempted to just pull out of the trek and stay there while everyone else went without me! We had a welcome meeting the day before we started where we met our group and guides. We were the only English people out of 16 which at first worried me a bit, but as it turned out they were actually all lovely people and we couldn't have asked for a better group! I still felt sick though and on the first morning, seeing everyone in their hiking boots at breakfast I was very close to running away! But I didn't, and the bus came to pick us up to take us to our first destination, the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We'd been told that this day was very easy with very little walking involved and to start with it seemed to be true. We stopped at a traditional Inca market where all the women were dressed in indigenous clothes and weaving things out of alpaca wool. Needless to say I bought a few souvenirs! However the next stop was not so enjoyable - a huge hill which we had to hike up to find some Inca ruins... my lungs felt like they were going to explode and my legs nearly fell off. So that did not bode well for the remaining days! We then went for a nice buffet lunch where I tried alpaca meat, which tasted a lot like beef. I ate it whilst listening to everyone chat about how hard the next few days were going to be... I just ate my food and tried to drown them out! After lunch we went to another Inca site and climbed up more steps but again got to see a very beautiful view at the top, and at that point I had to take a breather just to remember where I was and how lucky I was to be having this experience.
The first day of the actual trek was not too bad. We were given our hiking sticks at which point we felt like proper hikers, and set off on a nice flat trail through the mountains. When the hills began it became quite difficult, especially at one point when the hill nearly killed me. To make it worse it was absolutely boiling hot and no matter how much suncream I put on I still managed to get burnt! The absolute highlight of the day came when our guide asked me and Rachael if we were a couple - we were laughing about it for the rest of the day! The rest of the day was tough and when we finally arrived at our campsite I felt the biggest sense of relief I've ever felt! It was very nice just chilling out there with all our group, although the not so fun part was having to use the toilet, which was basically a hole in the ground, and let's just say it wasn't exactly the cleanest, nicest smelling place I've ever visited. It also didn't help that there was a donkey hanging around outside, glaring at us and "eeyoring" through the door!
Day 2 came around all too quickly and I soon found myself struggling up the 5-hour hill, aptly called "Dead Woman's Pass", suffering immensely and wondering if it was all really worth it. I made friends with one of the porters, (they carry all our tents and equipment, often weighing 50kg, throughout the whole trail... I have no idea how they do it!) who reassured me that I could do it and it would be so worth it when I reached the top. And he was right - when I finally reached the top I felt like I'd conquered the world! The next challenge came though when we had to get back down again - it was actually almost as hard as going up! There were rickety steps for one and a half hours which seemed to never end, and I had no energy whatsoever. Getting to our campsite was one of the best moments of my life! The rest of the day was very lazy and we had a 'pinch me'moment when we were watching the sunset over the Andes. It really was an incredible sight.
On Day 3 we got up early again and set off up another steep hill. I knew though that the steepness only lasted for about an hour and then the rest of the day was downhill, so I pushed myself and reached the top feeling very pleased with myself! Going down was hard again and this time it was made worse by the fact that Rachael hurt both her ankles and had to borrow some supports off a passer-by. I helped by carrying her bag on my front for the rest of the way :) Back at camp one of the women in our group, who was a doctor, gave Rachael some cooling ankle pads to wear overnight which I think seemed to help a lot. That evening in camp we had a little ceremony where the porters, cooks and guides all gathered around so we could shake their hands and thank them for all their hard work. It was really nice and as hard as the hike had been, I felt sad at that point because I was really going to miss all the people and the experience as a whole. We then had a hilarious toilet experience involving a steep muddy hill on which we both fell over, screaming because we thought it was sewage (which it more than likely was!) The whole camp heard but luckily they found it funny!
The last day was incredible. We got up at 4am in order to reach Machu Picchu early enough to avoid the crowds. The walk started off with lots of downhill steps which wasn't great for Rachael's ankles but luckily it flattened out, which was also good as it was still dark. We walked for about an hour until we reached the Sun Gate and although it was really cloudy and rainy since we were in the clouds, I was really enjoying myself. When we eventually arrived at Machu Picchu it was too cloudy to see anything but our guide told us that it would clear, so we went for a drink, (I got a Coke which I had been craving throughout the entire trip!) and enjoyed sitting down knowing that we had done it! The first view I got of Machu Picchu was breathtaking. It was so much bigger than I had been expecting and I really could not believe I was there! Finally all the trekking seemed worth it. Our guide took us on a tour around the site, showing us the most famous ruins and then we were left to our own devices. Rach and I just wandered around trying to take it all in!
The entire experience was incredible and I'm so glad I didn't run away at the beginning! It's definitely the best thing I've done probably in my whole life and I would recommend it to anyone, even if you think you're not fit enough to do it because let me tell you, if I can do it, you can definitely do it!
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