Peru - the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

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South America » Peru » Cusco » Inca Trail
January 26th 2011
Published: January 26th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Where to begin! Put it this way, we were both tempted to buy the tackorama ‘I survived the Inca Trail’ T-shirt after we finished. The souring altitudes, pouring rain, slippery stone steps, sweat, 3am/5am starts and scorching sun on the Inca Trail made Machu Picchu the biggest pot of gold that we have ever seen at the end of the Inca Trail rainbow.

The facts:
4 days, 3 nights organised tour with 'Inca Point'
21 tourists, 22 porters, 3 guides
43 kilometre trail
Altitudes of up to 4300 metres above sea level
Temperatures ranging between -5 to +25-30 degrees

Day 1

Early start with a 630am pick up (South American time so it was around 715am) from our hostel, we joined 19 other backpackers on a bus and made our way to Ollantaytambo, a lovely little town nestled amongst hills with an Inca Ruin overlooking the town. Here we had breakfast (I actually think we ate cow tongue) and bought all the necessary tools for the trip: walking sticks, coco leaves, coco candy, toilet paper and chocolate.

After half an hour back on the bus we then arrived at the start of the Inca Trail, at Qoriwayrachina. We had to go through a check point and show our passports and Inca Trail permit. Only 500 permits are issued each day, this number includes tourists plus all the porters and guides. So only around 250 tourists walk the Inca Trail each day. This is a good thing as most of the time we felt like we were the only group on the Trail (until we arrived at the camps on day 2 and 3 that is).

Looking back now, day 1 was easy peasy... and absolutely no indication of the hardship to come. We meandered slowly along the path for a couple of kilometres passing horses, donkeys and a huge bull, all being herded by local farmers. We looked down onto a great Inca ruin (Patallacta) and slowly made our way to the lunch site. The porters literally sprint ahead with enormous bags and set up the tents so it’s all ready for when we arrive, they are truly amazing and the fittest people I have ever come across. We then walked on to our dinner and sleep camp (Hatunchaca – 2950m above sea level). Unfortunately we were allocated a tent on a massive angle so we spent the night sliding down the tent! Poor David did not sleep a wink.

Note about coco: coco leaves is what cocaine is made out of. It’s not illegal to grow coco plants here in Peru – in fact we are served leaves everyday (in hostels, on the trail etc) for breakfast, to make tea. For the trek many porters and some of the group would roll it into a ball and put it in the side of their mouth and ‘suck’ on it (you don’t eat it). Apparently this (and the tea) helps with upset tummies and all the effects of altitude sickness (headaches, energy). What is not allowed is mashing the leaves into a paste – the first step to making cocaine.

Day 2

5am wake up, breakfast, then the walking began. We were told it was the toughest day of the Trail. 10 kilometres up stairs to reach the ‘second pass’ – Abre de warmi wanusca (Dead Woman’s Pass) - a mountain 4300 above sea level. Then 3 kilometres down stairs to the camp.

David seemed to skip and dance up the bloody stairs... he “loves walking up stairs”... bloody hell, crazy boy. I on the other hand felt every step like a stab in the heart with a rusty butter knife... my lungs were nearly bursting and I was leaning on my walking stick like it was my life support... for 10 kilometres... finally I reached the peak with a smiley happy David wanting to take my photo. I would have knocked him out with my stick if I had the strength! I quickly recovered after some food and drink, then we started the walk down hundreds of steps to our camp for the night (Paqaymayu). We slept that night at around 3500 metres above sea level.

Together with all the stunning views of the mountains, including roaring waterfalls, a little highlight of this walk was seeing a hummingbird. David I had just passed the peak and saw the little fellow – bright blue and green – buzzing around eating nectar. Very cool. Too fast for a photo though.

Really rewarding day, our bodies ached and calve muscles throbbed but it meant we all had a great night sleep (flat camp site helped a lot!).

Day 3

Another early start and back on the Trail at around 6am. It was the downhill day and I was rejoicing! No more uphill! I skipped down like a mountain goat, unfortunately David hates downhill so I guess that means we’re perfectly balanced.

On this day it poured with rain. All. Day. This made the downhill walking very tricky – the stone steps became incredibly slippery and slimy. David managed to borrow a ripped up plastic poncho that protect his backpack and part of him somewhat and I was using my massive, supposedly-water-proof-that-turned-out-not-to-be poncho. It protected me somewhat, but thank god for the gortex jackets and gortex lined walking boots (I love my boots!) which we were both wearing. We were actually 95% bone dry!

We hardly took any snaps on this day, we were literally walking in cloud and couldn’t see a thing except for the rainforest like surroundings that we were walking through. We’re sure there were magnificent views but we missed them all. David was quite stressed that the weather would carry through to our Machu Picchu visit the next day!

I think it was about 16 kilometres in total to the camp site for that night.

The camp site is the last stop before Machu Picchu so all 500 visitors camp there the night. It is on a steep mountain that is terraced for the camp sites. We think that there were around 10 sites in total. The camp site is very well set up with a bar (where we ate all our meals), toilets and hot showers – hurrah, first shower in 3 days!

Around 5 minutes walk behind the bar there is a really impressive Inca Ruin, Winay Wayna. Although our legs were screaming and the hot showers were beckoning we decided to visit, together with Caroline and Robin. It did not disappoint! It was a great site and we were rewarded for our effort!

We had a fairly chilled night, just a few drinks then off to bed around 9pm ready for the 3am wake up the next day...

Day 4

It started raining at 1am that night so it wasn’t looking encouraging for the all important fourth day.
3am wakeup call! All the more annoying because we then spent around 2 hours just hanging around after breakfast before we walked out the door at 6am.

The walk was slow as we were amongst the 500 other people making our way to Machu Picchu. It was a fairly easy walk, lots of downhill steps/stone. There was quite a bit of cloud around and a few drops of rain when we set out. We saw the famous Wakanqui orchid on the way (bright red and heart shaped). It was just like walking through a rain forest for some of the track.

In total I think it was around 2kms to the Sun Gate – the grand entrance to Machu Picchu. As the sun rose it really did sit perfectly in the Sun Gate entrance. Spectacular.

Just before the Sun Gate there was an enormous and extremely difficult ‘last test’ set of steep stairs. I swear some people were crying as they tried to climb it, knowing how close yet so far away they were!

We arrived at the Sun Gate to cheers, high fives and hugs.... and unfortunately to a huge amount of cloud covering Machu Picchu! Oh No!

But wait! The cloud was clearing... slowly but surely over the course of 1-2 hours we sat and waited in the mist, watching the clouds melt away, ever so slowly revealing the beautiful, majestic Machu Picchu (MP)! Hurrah, huge smiles! We meandered down from the Sun Gate gasping at every turn at the wonderful MP.

We reached MP and had a great 2 hour tour with our guide Sonia. She took us to a few of the important places – the Temple of the Sun (best stone work in MP, round building with pure white stones), Intihuatana (featuring a pointy carved rock that enabled the Inca astronomers to predict the solstices) and the Temple of the Three Windows (housed the most important ritual stones of MP). After the tour we meandered around and saw the Temple of the Condor which had a cool little cave behind it that we squeezed through. We saw the interesting quarry section that isn’t really ever photographed for postcards, and saw loads of llamas wandering the site. There were two tiny babies, one was just two weeks old.

One thing that we weren’t really expecting was the awesome view surrounding MP. The steep, rocky mountains were spectacular. They surrounded the site and we just sat and looked at them for ages, almost forgetting that MP was behind us!

So yes, lots of really old rocks... but my god, it was worth the trip, we recommend it to everyone, but don’t catch the train, DO walk the trail – then MP is even more spectacular.

At around 2pm we’d had enough – no food and little sleep meant that the lure of the town, also called MP, was too strong. We caught the bus down the super windy hill with a dodgem, brake slamming driver and had lunch with our good friends from the tour, Caroline and Robin. It was glorious! Real food, a big steak and icy cold pisco sours... the meal felt like the first real meal for four days. They fed us well on the tour but I tell you what, we did not want to eat another grain of rice for many days!
We then moved to another bar, being lured by the offer of 4-for-1 drinks (yes! Four cocktails for the price of one!) and drank, played cards and laughed with more lovely tour group folk until we set of for the train station at 7pm.

We will never ever forget that train ride. The stewards on the train were more than happy to plug in the young Argentinean’s ipod and blast the carriage with tunes. We drank the bar dry of beer and then started on the 50ml bottles of spirits they had! Imagine this: conga lines, salsa, singing in the isles... it was magic! David even impressed all the youngsters with a nifty bottle dance... no idea what it was but he jigged around an empty bottle on the floor of the carriage, I wish I had videoed it!

Home to Cusco at midnight and crashed! What an adventure. Muy Bien! (Very good)

MP – the aftermath

We met so many great people on the tour. Most were Argentinean, some Brazilian, one from Portugal, two from Paraguay and two from Sweden. Caroline and Robin from Sweden spoke only a little Spanish so it was always the four of us that were taken aside and spoken to in English – ie site tours, itinerary updates etc.

The entire tour group got along really well and decided to meet up for dinner the next night in Cusco. Led by Frederico, 21 of us squeezed into a tiny Argentinean BBQ restaurant and had a fabulous meal. The night ended with the restaurant giving us a guitar and amplifier and around four of the more talented ones of the group played and sang tunes. Awesome night, awesome people!

We kept bumping into people from the tour around Cuzco and ended up going on an adventure with Denise, Dani and Joel to a specialist guinea pig restaurant in Tipon (outskirts of Cusco) where we had some great Cuy al horno (roasted guinea pig). They were actually delicious but far too hard to eat to really enjoy – like eating quail or something, too much work for too little meat! We then were taken into the kitchen to meet the live guinea pigs (very cute)!

Good bye Cusco

Cusco was just a fantastic city, we’re going to miss it a lot. We’re now in Puno, heading off to Arequipa tomorrow for a few days. We then come back to Puno and go on our Lake Titicaca island hopping adventure! So stay tuned! Thanks so much for reading, we hope you are enjoying our blog.

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26th January 2011

Lucky Buggers!!
So happy for you truly looks like the trip of a lifetime. Stay safe and soak up every minute!! :)
26th January 2011

Amazing adventure
Hi Kirsten, having just returned from my adventure I became most fascinated by yours and so tuned into your blog today and thoroughly enjoyed it, I wish I had done similar for my trip, never mind, have 3500 pics anyway and just put bits and pieces up on fb for family and friends. Anyway, well done, and what a trek to Machu Picchu, I wonder if the trek is too much for oldies, looks like a young person's stamina needed. Great Blog, you will treasure the memories it stimulates when you eventually return and the realities of work swamp the delights of this journey. Enjoy each moment, life is indeed good and travel safe.

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