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South America » Peru » Cusco » Inca Trail
May 27th 2009
Published: June 2nd 2009
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Firstly, people at home you can now stop asking us when are we doing the Inca Trail. It’s over. Secondly, so much went on while doing it I’m going to have to divide it into different stories. Fifteen months ago when the idea of travelling entered our heads, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was the first on our list. It was to be the pinnacle of our South American adventure, the very reason why we came to this amazing continent. Now it is over, but here is the lead up, to without a shadow of a doubt, the best thing we have done.

Problems
When we arrived in Cusco we received an e-mail to come to the office of Llama Path as soon as possible as there was a problem. Not good. When we got there they explained there was a strike on the day we were to start our Inca Trail and it wouldn’t be possible to go. On the other hand for $35 each we could go an extra day to beat the strikes and road blocks and get on the trail early. I was delighted with this as it was an extra night camping out in the wilderness. Our group meeting was held a day earlier so we could organise the extra details and collect our bags to fill which our porters would carry. Our group was made up of American, Dutch, Australian and Japanese. From the start we got a feeling that some weren’t exactly the people we could like to have a drink with, let alone camp with for five nights. We left the meeting knowing that Dead Women’s Pass (the hardest part of the trail) wasn’t going to be the hardest thing to cope with!

Diarrhoea
The morning we were to go on our trail I knew I wasn’t feeling 100%! (MISSING)I just didn’t feel right. As the day progressed I started to get worse and had bad stomach cramps. We contemplated going to the doctor to see if doing the Inca Trail was advisable but I decided to soldier on. Before leaving I had made numerous visits to the toilet and I had gotten a whole lot worse. I had a three hour bus journey ahead of us and didn’t know if I could hold tight for that long! We arrived at camp where I made a burst for the toilets. What I was to find was my worst nightmare. These were no toilets. It was small room completely covered in you know what with a whole the size of a gutter pipe to aim at. I stood there for a few minutes staring at my predicament. Luckily a few guys playing football nearby opened up their new toilets for me that were beside their 5-aside football pitch. They were still squatting toilets but far cleaner and a bigger hole to aim at. Before dinner was ready I had made a few visits to the ‘good toilets’. When dinner was ready I couldn’t eat anything. It was becoming clear I had got food poisoning and I just had to give in and go to bed. I made one last trip to the toilets to find they were closed. My worst nightmare. The only option was the toilets with the Wavin pipe to aim at. I decided to go to bed a and try and hold out for the night. Our guide gave me some medication and the cramps stopped. My nightmare continued when they wore off at 12am. It was in pain again and lying on a thin mat in the tent. I had two options. Stick the pain or trek to the toilets in the rain with my headlamp and try my luck. The toilets were so bad I decided to stick with the pain. I didn’t sleep at all until out 5:30am wake up call. I was now in a desperate state but I couldn’t give in and not do the trek. I ventured over to the toilets and again couldn’t muster up the courage. My body though was telling me I had long left before it would just force it’s way out! I had to take action. Every where I thought would be a secret place, there would be somebody standing nearby. Eventually I got some corner and I was ok again. I returned to where breakfast was and had to turn on my heals again, this time to get sick. All that was going through my head was why now. Why the day of the Inca trail? I got back to the tent and I was handed a hot cup of the something that the chef had made and was told ‘you wont feel sick after this’. I drank the tea like drink and prayed it would work. We left camp and I did feel a little bit better. I was still feeling completely drained and had no energy at all as I hadn’t eaten in nearly 24hrs. The walking helped as it made me forget my ordeal and think about what was ahead. One thing I did think was that when you’ve got diarrhoea a sit down toilet is the only thing you need in the world. I didn’t have that!

Our Guide
Casiano was our guide for the 5 days and 4 nights. If it wasn’t for him the trek would not of been half as good. His knowledge of the Incan Empire and his passion for what he was doing was immense. He always got everyone motivated and kept everyone in good spirits. He called us his ‘Superhikers’ and would always tell us that we were walking at a good pace and doing really well. He played a wooden flute and his favourite song to play on it was Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. He was faster than us and he would wait in the distance and as you approached him you would hear…… Turn around, Every now and then I get a little bit closer…… He had studied Tourism and Inca history since he was 18 and you could tell it was his passion. We really don’t think we could have got a better guide.

Porters
Serious hard workers is all I can say. They carry 27 kilos on their backs each day from camp to camp. Every thing has to be carried. Plastic stools, stove, pots and pans, food, tents, our stuff we don’t need during the day. There were 21 porters and 1 chef between 16 people. These guys would run past us on the trail so that everything would be ready when we get to the next campsite. Even at the campsite they ran about for every job they had to do. The Red Army (see pics) were without doubt the hardest workers I have ever seen. You could see there was a good relationship between them all with plenty of the messing and playing practical jokes on each other. They would always clap when we arrived back into camp and then make sure we had a cold drink straight away. These guys were real Superhikers.

The Inca Trail
The trail in total was 45km long. We started at a point called KM82 which was at 2720m above sea level. The trail started out by crossing the Urubamba river, where we would then have to walk for 5hrs approx to a height of 3000m. The trek was easy enough and mainly flat. Along the way we stopped to look at Wayllabamba Inca ruins from a distance and Casiano explained when it was found and that the Spanish never found this site when they arrived in Peru. From there we trekked another to our camp where we had our first lunch. We did this trek in a little under 4hrs so we knew our pace was above average. After lunch we had a quick accent of 300m over an hour and a half. This was testing but it was only a short walk which we completed in about 50mins. The views from our campsite were amazing and upon arrival we got a basin of hot water to wash off and clean our feet with. I was feeling better that evening but still not 100%.

The next day was to be the biggest and hardest day of them all. We had to climb 900m over 4hrs to our first test called Dead Women’s Pass. This is where the problems with some of our group became noticeable. Wake up was at 5:00 and we were to leave at 6:00. Some of the group would just arrive in at 6am for breakfast without a care in the world for everyone else who was up and waiting to go. Eventually at 6:50 our guide told us those who were ready could go so we half of us set of to try and complete Dead Women’s Pass. I was feeling a lot better and myself and Michelle soon moved ahead of the rest of the group. The walk along the way was through a forest and very scenic but always uphill. Most of the trek was steps which make it even harder as your leg has to push up into your lungs to get over them. We found a nice steady pace for ourselves where our breathing was slow and not deep. It meant we didn’t need to stop for many breaks along the way. We reached the half way point with an hour to spare and were delighted with the pace we were going at. After the half way point we were out of the forest and soon the sun was starting to get hot. We trekked on after a little break wondering which point was Dead Women’s Pass. There were higher mountains around us and we had hoped none of them were it. We soldiered on and it wasn’t long before we found our pace again. Porters would pass us out running and everyone always said ‘Hola Amigo’. We soon realised which was Dead Women’s Pass. We could see people there that had left from a campsite at the halfway point of our trek that morning. We knew it wouldn’t take long. The steps were big and made it harder push yourself on. Remember as well we were at 4200m above sea level so our breathing was always going to be harder. Breaks were becoming more frequent but we eventually made it to the top. It took us 2hrs 15mins to complete the trek. The next ones in our group were 20mins behind us. I think we deserve a clap on the back. It is without doubt that every trek we have done before had stood to us and especially that we had been nearly a month at high altitude. Getting to Dead Women’s Pass was another milestone in our South American Trip. It’s what we had talked about. The hardest part of our climb for the Inca trail. The reason for so many other treks. It felt great to know we had conquered it. We had to take our t-shirts off because of the sweat and leave them to dry. It was also cold at the top so we had to put on other layers while we waited for the others to follow. We had some snacks and the rest of the group arrived over the next two hours. Some of the group carried heavy bags and some were not used to the altitude so they were a little slower.

Unfortunately what goes up most come down. The next part was a 600 decent over 2 hours. It was steep the whole way down. Also it was steps so you had to be careful the whole time. It was especially difficult on the knees and Michelle struggled with her knees. We got to our lunch site in maybe an hour or so and waited while the others arrived. The advantage of arriving first was that you got a longer break and was more prepared for the next leg. We had one final challenge for the day before it ended. We had to climb back up 400m to our second pass where we would see some Inca ruins along the way. It wasn’t as difficult as earlier but we made it in good time and the relief to know that there were no more big climbs left was good. All was down hill after this except for a few Inca flats (small hills) we would have to climb. We made it too the final ruins and some chose to continue on to the camp site in the distance as the steps up to the ruins were steep and unappealing. I couldn’t think that I trekked all this way not to see the sites. I ventured up the steps and the ruins were amazing. To walk around the going from room to room was amazing, wondering what the people lived liked and how short their history was. I walked back to the campsite myself, through the lush green cloud forest. Just having those few minutes away from everyone lets you appreciate where you are and what you are doing. Some people turn their nose’s up at the Inca trail as some ‘tourist’ trap, but the scenery along the way is amazing and you are also doing something unique. There are also reports of the trail been crowded, which are totally untrue as myself and Michelle were on our own most of the time and only ever saw porters pass us. Again the view from camp was amazing and the food better than what we get in most restaurants. At dinner Casiano pointed out that we were very late this morning and we needed to go on time. Everyone agreed they would be ready to go on time!

The next part and third day of our trek was all down hill. We had to go from a height of 3680m to 2680m. It would be a 1000m drop in 3hrs. Michelle was dreading the thought of it and not looking forward to it. It would be nearly 3000 steps to the bottom and very hard on the knees. We got up at 6am this morning as we had a short day of trekking. Breakfast was to be at 6:30 and leave at 7am. Again the same people arrived in for breakfast at 7am when we were meant to leave. Half the group was ready and the others not. It was starting to annoy people as the ones who were late were inconsiderate of others. The clearly couldn’t give two hoots and pottered about at the own leisure while others waited. We left camp 50mins late and most people just had to stand around waiting. When we did get going a few of us decided something had to be said at dinner that night as the next day was the biggest and most important. We would need to be at the checkpoint first so that we could be at the Sun Gate over looking Machu Picchu for photo’s before the hoards started to arrive. The trek down hill was to bad and we arrived in camp at 12:30 after stopping at ruins along the way. We had our happy hour which consisted of popcorn, biscuits and hot chocolate before grabbing a celebratory beer for completing the trek. After lunch we visited another ruin called Winay Huayna. On our return we decided to buy our porters a beer each and instead of them serving us, we would get them to sit down an serve it to them. We also gathered tips for the porters and chef between us all and handed an envelope to their boss with the beers. Songs were sang but soon we went to bed as we had to be up at 3:30 to leave at 4:10 to have any chance of getting the top spot. It was said at dinner about going on time and our guide said if anyone wasn’t ready he would go without them. That wasn’t really possible as all our group had to be at the check point together to get through. We all feared the worst.

Next morning the same people arrived in a 4:10 for breakfast. Our guide was having none of it. He said you had your chance, we go now. We left exactly at 4:10 and left the usual crowd behind to follow. We got there on time and were first in line with me and Michelle been first in our group. The rest of the group arrived a few minutes behind us just before another group came. They were lucky as there might have been some sharp words from others. We had and hour wait before the gates opened and then a two hour trek to the sun gate that over looks Machu Picchu. The crowds were gathering quickly and we were happy to be first. If you got caught behind any slow people you may as well give up the path was that small.

The gate opened at 5:30am and we motored on up the path way in the dark with only our headlamps for light. Myself, Michelle, Craig and Lisa got a good start on everyone and had got well in front. Two English guys did eventually pass us out running but I’m afraid we weren’t that competitive! The trek was difficult as it was dark and we saw lots of weird eyes looking at us when we shone our headlamps on them. It didn’t stop us though and went kept up a good pace. There was one last obstacle in our way before reaching the Sun Gate. Fifty steps that most people have to literally crawl up. They’re called the monkey steps for that reason. Craig arrived to the top in front of me with Lisa just behind. The first reaction is the relief that you have finally made it to the end and secondly that you can see Machu Picchu for the first time in the distance. It was and incredible feeling to know we had trekked 45km over 4 days to reach the only recently discovered Incan ruins. It was also sad as I knew it was near the end of something we had been dreaming about for along time. After all this was the first reason why we chose to come to South America. The reason we did so many other tough treks. This was it and it was as sad as it was exciting. We also had luck on our sides as most people don’t get clear skies at that time of the morning to witness Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate. Michelle arrived about five minutes after me and we got our photos taken together looking down on the amazing ruins. The feeling of achievement will stay with us forever. Although not the hardest trek it was with out doubt an amazing adventure helped by our guide, porters and the amazing Inca culture that’s has been hidden for over 400 years until Hiram Bingham found it in 1911.

Machu Picchu
When the rest of our group arrived and had their photo’s taken we completed the 30min trek down to Machu Picchu. We were there early enough and got pictures before the crowds arrived. We checked in again after another group photo and got our passports stamped with the picture of Machu Picchu. We were told that there was only 15 tickets left to climb Wanyu Picchu and three of us wanted to do it. Waynu Picchu is a 400m steep climb up a mountain over looking Machu Picchu. The climb is literally straight up and very difficult. We had to run from one side to the other to get them. It was about a 7min walk to get there so three of us ran like crazy people through Machu Picchu. We got there and there seemed to be no problem with tickets. We walked back still out of breath from our run. Our guide was giving a tour of Machu Picchu at 8am and we would do the climb at 10am.

Casiano started the tour but we had to wait for the same people again as they had not left their walking sticks outside Machu Picchu even though they had been told numerous times. Casiano explained everything about the ruins and walked us through the different temples and rooms telling us what they were used for. As time approached to go and climb Waynu Picchu our energy was draining. We had been up since 3am and I hadn’t fallen asleep until 11:30 the night before. Our tour was also going to be another hour long and was very interesting. We decided against climbing the mountain to stay on the tour but really because our bodies were fading considerably. One thing that I thought about while walking around was to try and picture this city in full flow, full of life, with everyone working and doing their thing. It most of been some sight and a pity it lasted less than 50 years. I also thought what it would have been like for these people to just decide to pack up shop and leave before the Spanish arrived. It was a huge decision as this was a religious city full of the most important and intellectual people in Incan civilisation. Strangely the Spanish never found Machu Picchu and it got lost under the growth of the forest for hundreds of years.

The ruins itself were fascinating with the most amazing stone work I have ever seen. For buildings of importance the never used anything to stick the blocks together. They were all carved so perfectly that they fitted in together like a jig-saw would. There is some much to tell about Machu Picchu but my advice is for people to go and see it for themselves. We were really sad when leaving Machu Picchu after our five days trekking there. There was a feeling that things were over. Our plans from 15 months ago were now a memory and no longer a dream. Soon we will be over the sadness though and have great memories of our trek through the Peruvian Andes to Machu Picchu. South America is within days of being over and we will be extremely sad to leave. On the other hand there is an excitement about picking up our camper van in New Zealand in just a weeks time. Now, where’s that map!

In a (sad) bit: DH

Song of the blog: Bonnie Tyler - Total Eclipse of the Heart





Additional photos below
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2nd June 2009

Congrats
Congratulations and well done. Thanks for the fab photos and insight into Inca Trail. What an achievement.
5th June 2009

Well done guys, so proud of ye! Here in France with Mags for the week on a school trip n Mags is reminiscing here beside me of her trip to Machu Picchu! Time for Immodium Dar! Enjoy New Zealand xx
14th April 2011

Inca Trail Photography
Your Inca Trail & Machu Picchu photos are awesome! What photography equipment did you bring with you on the trail? I'm leaving in a couple of weeks to hike the Inca Trail and am trying to decide what equipment to bring (flash, tripod, lenses, etc.).
15th April 2011

Hey. I just used a basic Nikon D40 SLR and my hands. The scenery is to good to be able to take bad photo's!

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