Happy Christmas to everyone!! We are a bit behind with our blogging so have decided to add an update of our adventure on the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu and then back track to the rest of Colombia, Ecuador and Northern Peru!
As we had to book Machu Picchu 6 months in advance, it was always going to be a milestone moment in our trip. We knew we needed to be in Cusco for December 16th so worked our travel plans around it. We arrived in Cusco 3 days before the trek started, flying in from Lima, the capital of Peru.
Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire and later a major city in the colonisation by the Spanish, is a beautiful city. The main square, Plaza de Armas, is surrounded by cobbled streets, a cathedral and church and many colonial Spanish buildings. The city architecture is said to be half Inca, half Spanish. It is a high city with an altitude of 3240 metres above sea level so we were advised by our tour operator, Peru treks, to arrive a few days early to adjust to the altitude. We suffered a bit from altitude sickness on our hike the week before to Laguna 69 but drinking mata de coca tea and chewing the coca leaves seems to alleviate the symptoms of headaches, shortness of breath and tingly hands. Coca leaves actually work!
The Inca trail is a 4 day, 3 night trek through the Urubamba mountain range arriving at Machu Picchu on the fourth morning. When we originally booked it online, we hadn’t really thought about how tough the trek would be until the days leading up to it when we started reading other blogs. There were so many horror stories! We hoped we would be fit enough for it and had brought everything we needed. We were sure we were missing something vital to make it to the end.
Day 1 began with a pick up at 5am by our trek guide Raul. We were the second pick up by the mini bus that continued around Cusco stopping at various hostels until all 16 of our party were on board. We drove 2 hour to the base town of Ollantaytambo where we stopped at a restaurant for breakfast and got to know our fellow trekkers. There were 2 group of 16 trekking with Peru treks this time and we got to meet some of other group but didn’t have much interaction with them over the next 4 days. After breakfast it was back on the bus for another hour until we reached the start of the trail at the Vilcanota River. Here we packed up our bags, got our rain coats out and somehow hung our sleeping bags and mats from our backpacks with the bit of string we picked up at Cusco’s market the day before. The park authorities checked our passports and we crossed the bridge to start the hike.
We slowing trekked uphill at a steady pace for about 2 hours. This was the easy part and a good way to get used to the terrain to come. We began to get to know our fellow trekkers which were a mixed group from all over the English speaking world. As well as our Peruvian guides, Raul and Flor, there was father and daughter Andrew and Natalie from England, intrepid traveller Alice also from England, South African duo Marius and Johann and a rake of Australians, Andre & Alex who were just starting a year of travelling, Adrian & Tara and the super clan Fosters, Mum and Dad, Susan & Andrew and their three kids aged 11-15. As our guide Raul was so fond of saying, we were ‘family’ for the next 4 days!
Our first stop was the top of a cliff that overlooked the ancient Inca farming town of Llactapata. We got some info on our first Inca ruin from Raul who promised bigger and better to come. After our second of many group photos were travelled on with our destination being our camp for the night.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download
As we trundled on, our porters flew past basically running up the trail with massive backpacks (20kg each!) of our food, tents and other belongings for the trek. It was amazing to see the weight they carried and their speed.
When we got to the campsite (which was a bit of land beside a Peruvian family’s house) the tents were up and dinner was ready to go, such luxury! Before dinner we were introduced to the 20 porters and two chefs who had to tell us their name, age, marital status and how many children, or ‘wawas’ they had and we all had to tell them our names and where we were from, en Espanol. A great icebreaker even if it was a bit awkward.
The 4 course dinner of soup, salad, chicken and rice and a bit of jelly was the best ever after a hard day’s walking. The group were getting to know each other and share info about their countries. I had to convince one or two of the Australians, or convicts as I liked to call them, that we do eat food other than potatoes in Ireland. I was shocked to find out that that they don’t travel around on Kangaroos, you learn something new every day! Bedtime was 8.30 with an early rise at 5am!
Day 2, which is said to be the toughest day, started with a wake up call by Flor and the roosters at 5. We had breakfast and started the day’s trek by half 6. It had lashed rain during the night but thankfully it was a dry morning and continued like that for the day. Most of the group were using a personal porter to carry some of their stuff throughout the trek. We thought we would be fine carrying our own stuff but being the toughest day we took the option of a day porter to get our sleeping bags and mats to the next camp. We split the porters service of carrying 10kg with Andre and Alex which really was a help going uphill to the ominously named dead woman’s pass (4200 metres).
For 6 hours we trekked uphill. The higher altitude added to the struggle but everyone was in good spirits and cheered each other on to the summit. We had great laughs with Johann and Marius who became our markers of when to take a break, got a lesson in botany from Marius and found out more about Afrikaans culture, Die Antwood, and why South Africans say ‘Fuck’ the same way as Dublinners! As we ascended the scenery got better and better. We could see back down the valley we had climbed as well as numerous waterfalls, lush rolling hills and the odd group of Llamas & sheep grazing.
After numerous breaks and water stops we reached the mountain pass. It felt like such an accomplishment to get to the top and we were somewhere in the middle of 16 so were glad not to be last!
After some cheesy photos, it was over the pass and all the way down the other side of the mountain. We joined our guide Flor and got some local info on Peruvian life, the history of the trail and our itinerary for the rest of the trip. Alex quizzed Flor on Peruvian politics and got a buzz out of the upcoming election in March.
When we arrived at the camp about 2pm, the tents were all set up (trojan work again by the porters) and we were done trekking for the day, a hard day but a short day. The afternoon was our time to chill out and relax. The group were all getting to know each other with loads of shared experiences of endless steps, sore legs and food to bond us. To ease the pain we all chipped in to get a bottle of rum which Raul and the porters heated and added some cinnamon and sugar to make a hot toddy type drink. It was a great way to relax – especially with Johann and Marius dishing out seconds and thirds we were feeling the warmth as we headed off to bed for another 5am start. The sleeping bags we rented were really good but we were getting to the stage of wanting a real bed not a mat on the ground!
December is the middle of the rainy season in Peru. We had been lucky up to now but it lashed rain overnight and continued for most of day 3. Despite this, the group kept each others spirits high for our longest day of trekking. With backpacks on, ponchos covering as much as they could and walking sticks in hand, off we went for the day’s 10 hour trek. At this stage it felt like we were in the military, left, right, left, right, along the trail. Day 3 wasn’t as steep as day 2 but it still had its hills and dips. We passed two stunning Inka ruins and then onto the ‘gringo killer’ of 1000 steps. After 2 days of mainly uphill, the downhill section made use of different muscles. As we took it slowly down, the Foster family flew past us copying the small but quick steps that the porters did. It was definitely the best way to get down but was a killer to the hamstrings!
As we arrived at camp 3, the porters who had been there for a few hours gave us a big cheer. We were nearly at our goal of Machu Picchu. That night, our last night camping, was a bit of a celebration with the chef preparing a special congratulations cake. I really don’t know how he came up with such good food and all carried by the porters for three days. We said goodbye to the porters who would take the early train back with the gear while we went on to Machu Picchu.
Day 4’s wake up call was 3am so that we could get there for sunrise. When we awoke it was again raining but there was no lying in, the porters needed the tents down and packed so we were out of the tents, into the breakfast tent and then onto the entrance gate of Machu Picchu within 40 minutes. When we got there, there were other groups ahead of us, some must have been waiting since 2am!
The idea was to get into Machu Picchu as soon as the gate opened at 5.30am so you would have an view unspoiled by other people. But getting up at 2am to get first in the queue was a bit much I thought!
We got through the entrance gate at 5.30am and marched for an hour to the vertical climb of 50 steps to the sun gate. This was the last push and we hoped for a great view of Machu Picchu but when we got to the top there was only fog! I was kinda glad we weren’t the ones who had got up earlier. But as we caught our breath and had a rest, the fog parted and we got our first view of the ruins of Machu Picchu. Everyone cheered and clapped, amazed by the view that we had trekked all this way for.
Over the last few days, time had got very messed up. It was only 7am but we had been up 4 hours! Our last mission was to get down from the sun gate on top of the mountain to the base of the ruins. We nearly sang as we went downhill, knowing we were nearing the end of our trek.
It’s possible to get the train direct to Machu Picchu as a one day trip and we met the day trippers as we came down to the ruins. They looked so clean and healthy to us and we must of looked like mountain savages descending from the hills to them! One guy asked Alex how to get to the sun gate and it sounded like the most stupid question ever asked. He didn’t know what we’d been through, how dare he ask the way to the sun gate, he hasn’t trekked for days to reach it, he hadn’t earned it haha. Yeah we were becoming mental cases, time to get back to civilisation!!
We took our last group picture at the gate house over looking Machu Picchu, freshened up in proper bathrooms and got ready for our tour of the ruins. Raul walked us through Machu Picchu, explaining how an American Scholar, Hiram Bingham discovered the ruins that were covered by jungle when he visited the valley in 1911.
Raul explained the agricultural area, divided from the urban area by a canal. We also saw the temples that, like Newgrange, are configured to mark the winter solstice and the sun dial and quarry where all the stone came from. A truly amazing place! We were left to wander the city for a few hours and take numerous photos. It’s such a peaceful place built on the side of a mountain, hidden for hundreds of years. Raul also told us that the surrounding mountains have still to be fully explored and may contain more ruins so maybe more spectacular cities to discover!
We were bused back to local town Aguas Calientes where we had our last lunch with the group and a few beers. We were still dreaming of real beds and hot showers that evening!