Inca Trail

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August 30th 2013
Published: September 6th 2013
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There are approximately a million companies offering the 4D/3N Inca Trail trek in Cusco. After much research from Australia (you need to book months in advance) I decided on Wayki Trek.

Day 0 – Wayki Experience

The company we booked through offered a free option the afternoon/night before you begin your trek which they call the Wayki Experience. We were the only people from our group that decided to take up this option so following lunch (empanadas) we caught local bus with a guide out to the porters village for a homestay. Along the way we picked up some rice, sugar and bread for the family we’d be staying with as a thank you. The final leg was fairly amusing as we were crammed along with 25 other people into a minibus which was really not designed for people like Scott who are 6ft tall. The school children in the bus flew a homemade kite out the window most of the way, screaming at various times when it came a little too close to an unsuspecting cow or tree before eventually losing it when we had to slow for a corner and it got stuck under a branch.

About 2hrs after we left Cusco we arrived at the Porters Village which was a farming community of about 400 people. Our guide introduced us to Sophia, the wife of one of the porters and our hostess for the night, who was working away in the dark kitchen with guinea pigs running around her feet which we suspect is where she spends the vast majority of her life.

We then set out with our guide to explore the village. The scenery was absolutely stunning, clear blue sky, steep hills, snow in the distance and mud brick houses and fences. The fields were fairly quiet as most people had opted to spend the day working around the house as the ground was soaked following the heavy rain of the previous day. After exploring for a while we headed back to Sophia’s house to meet her husband Benito and her 6 year old daughter and ~12 year old son. We then helped to pull the kernels off the dried corn cobs so that they could be ground at a later stage to make maize flour for the family. Dinner was boiled potatoes with a yummy sauce made from ground peanuts and a little chilli, followed by a very warming barley and potato soup.

After dinner with the whole family once Benito and his son returned from the fields a radio was produced and we sat around for a while innocently listening to Peruvian folk music until Benito coaxed me up to dance. Scott seemed to think this was hilarious until Sophia walked over to him and grabbed his hand and dragged him up to dance as well. We’re now both considering a career change to become Peruvian folk dancers…not really, but it did warm us up which was quite nice considering it was probably nearing zero degrees outside and was not much warmer inside the kitchen despite the wood fire stove. Being the night owls that we are and having not had our four hour nap that day we retired to our tent at about 8pm.

Day 1 – “Training Day”

We awoke the following morning at about 5.30am. Our tent was completely covered in ice so it took us a little while to get out of our sleeping bags. Breakfast was boiled potatoes, oven roasted corn kernels and delicious maize tortillas which tasted like Australian potato cakes and went really well with vegemite.

As we were finishing breakfast the Wayki Trek bus arrived to pick us up so we said some quick goodbyes before piling into the bus with the ten porters, our two guides Edgar and Havier, driver and two of the people our trekking group Hector and Adhara from Colombia. On the way to Ollantaytambo we picked up the other two members of our group Peter and Amy from England. In Ollantaytambo we picked up some stylish hats before hopping back onto the bus and making our way along the mostly one lane dirt road to the 82km point – the starting point for our trek.

The various supplies, including our bag and sleeping bags, were divided up by weight equally between all of the porters. Once this was sorted out we grabbed some snacks from our guides and then grabbed our day packs and set off to the first check point.

During the first day we covered 12km of mostly ‘Peruvian flat’ (i.e. up and down) trail. We learnt fairly quickly that slow and steady on the uphill sections seems to be the best way to stop your heart from trying to escape from your chest because of the altitude. The scenery along the trail was absolutely spectacular though mostly brown as it’s currently the dry season. The weather was perfect – clear blue sky and not too hot. Along the way we passed through a number of small communities who live along the trail and saw two Incan ruin sites.

Lunch was a three course meal which we ate in our dining tent. After we finished lunch we all sat around feeling quite full while our porters played a very lively game of soccer. I have no idea how they had so much energy after carrying incredibly heavy loads!

That night we camped near a small town called Wayllabamba. The villagers were celebrating the festival for Saint Rosa of Lima (fittingly the patron saint of police) in the town hall. When we arrived the band was already playing Peruvian folk music very enthusiastically and we were fairly happy that our campsite was located slightly away from the town hall, unlike some of the other campers who were set up about 2m away from the fiesta.

Dinner was another three course affair. The chef (in full chef gear including a hat!) had cooked a cake complete with elaborate icing and ‘Feliz Cumpleanos” written on top for Peter’s 40th birthday. Edgar and Havier told Peter that it was a Peruvian tradition to take a bite out of the cake before it was cut. As a slightly sceptical Peter lined up to take a bite; when he got close to the cake a strategically positioned Havier pushed his face into the cake – hilarious. We retired to our tents at 8pm hoping to get a good nights sleep before the challenging day ahead.

Day 2 – “Personal Challenge Day”

We slept incredibly well despite the celebrations for Saint Rosa (apparently) raging till 11pm and were only woken up at 6am when one of the porters knocked on our tent and brought us tea and hot water for washing. This was probably the best preparation we could have had for what would be the hardest day of the trek – an 8km uphill slog to 4215m above sea level followed by a fairly steep 4km downhill descent.

The ascent was broken up into three sections which made it much more enjoyable. The first section was mostly on stone paths with a few sections of stairs. This section was in the jungle so there was a fair bit of shade which was nice as walking uphill at altitude you quickly warm up. This section took about 1.5hrs including all the little breaks we had to take along the way to catch our breath.

The second ascent section of the day was supposed to be one of the toughest sections of the trail as it’s just steps. A whole lot of steps. Again we were walking through mostly jungle but as we got higher the vegetation changed to dry grasslands with shrubs. This section took about 2hrs. At the top of this section we had a 20minute break to prepare ourselves for the final continuous uphill slog of the day.

The final section of ascent was mostly on a stone path, however the top half an hour or so was steps again. The reward for climbing all the steps was an absolutely amazing 360 degree view over the Andes. We overheard someone at the top say someone from their hotel had done the trek the previous week and there was a blizzard when they reached the pass – but we were really lucky with the weather again so were able to spend about 20minutes at the top enjoying the view under the clear blue sky.

The 4km descent was much more pleasant than the uphill slog as breathing got easier and easier as you went downhill. Scott and I arrived at the camp before the rest of our group (but definitely didn’t beat the amazing porters) so were able to wash our feet in the icy cold stream before our campsite was shaded over as the sun disappeared behind the mountain. Once the sun was gone, it got fairly cold pretty quickly. When the others arrived we had a late lunch then did the introductions with the porters, followed by a siesta in our tents and then dinner.

This was definitely the toughest day of the trek but the amazing scenery made it really enjoyable. Fortunately neither of us suffered that much with the altitude apart from getting puffed really easily, but that was easily managed by taking it slowly.

Day 3 – Scenic day

The third day of the trek commenced with an ascent of approximately 300m which was tough, but not as difficult as the previous day. What goes up must come down, so the next hour was spent climbing down a whole lot of stairs.

After the stairs the trail flattened out a little, though it seemed like the mountain knew when we were going to start getting a little cold and would throw in an uphill section to warm us up again. We stopped for lunch at Chakicocha which had an amazing view. We could see Aguas Caliente, about 3 Inca ruin sites and the rear of Machu Picchu mountain.

After lunch, we had another section of steep stairs to climb down to reach Phuyupatamarca (another Incan ruin site), followed by another section of stairs before the trail flattened out and we continued walking to Intipata.

Intipata was quite an impressive ruin site with spectacular views over the valley. We shared the ruins with a few other tourists and a llama family complete with a very fluffy baby! We spent a while there taking photos and sneaking up on the llamas before continuing on to Winaywayna, the last ruin site of the day. We only had about 10minutes to explore Winaywayna, which is known as a baby Machu Picchu as we had to make our way to the campsite before dark. The chef had spoilt us for our final night, when we arrived we had popcorn and deep fried wonton wrappers filled with cheese (great with vegemite). Dinner was another delicious three course affair (including another cake for dessert). We all headed to bed fairly early in preparation for our super early start the following morning.

Day 4 – The Big Day

Our final day started at 3am. We had a quick breakfast of pancakes, bread and tea before heading to the check point for the final 5km section of track which leads to Macchu Picchu. The checkpoint opens at 5.30am and its apparently a big challenge to try and beat the other groups there. Much to our surprise we were the first group in the queue which meant we not only had prime position but also wooden bench seats for the 2hour wait until the check point opened.

Once the checkpoint opened it was as if our group had found a second wind, we powered on along the track to try and stay ahead of everyone else. Edgar asked at one point whether we wanted to take a short break and take off all our layers. This was met with a very resounding “NO!” from the group as we stampeded on…for about another 15minutes until we hit some stairs and needed a few minutes to catch our breath (a bit). We were only overtaken by a few people on the trail who probably would have pushed us off the side of the mountain in order to get in front had there not been hundreds of witnesses following behind.

As we reached the sun gate we got our first look at Machu Picchu! Machu Picchu is in such a spectacular location and looking over it, it was fairly hard to believe that we were actually there. We stopped for some quick photos before making our way down the hill a bit to watch the sun hit Machu Picchu for the first time that day. Again we were really fortunate with the weather – clear blue sky once more!

By the time we reached Machu Picchu there were already quite a lot of (lazy, clean) tourists who had caught the bus from Aguas Caliente that morning. Edgar gave a guided tour around the site and spoke a lot about the damage which is being caused by the number of tourists who visit every year. Apparently the site is settling by 2cm / month and UNESCO have recommended that the number of tourists be reduced or that the site be closed completely. He also spoke a lot about the ongoing archaeological explorations, as Machu Picchu was only rediscovered fairly recently there is still a lot about it that isn’t known. After the tour, we dropped Amy and Pete off at the Huayna Picchu checkpoint. While they climbed the rest of us sat in the shade admiring the view and thinking about how happy we were to not be climbing another hill! After a nice break in the shade we ventured back out into the hot sun to explore some more before catching the bus down the mountain to Aguas Caliente, finding the restaurant we had arranged to meet in and ordering some drinks. We didn’t move from the restaurant until we had to go to the station to catch our train back to Cusco.

The train back to Cusco was a fairly average experience. They force tourists to catch very expensive trains back while Peruvians can catch the local train. We took the cheapest train and it cost 76USD per person for a four hour trip in a stuffy carriage. We arrived back at our hotel at about 9pm and enjoyed a well-earned shower before packing up ready to catch our bus to Puno at 7am the following morning.

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13th September 2013

Fantastic photo's of your travels, we look forward to seeing many more.

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